By Guest Writer
on 1.23.09

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By Guest Writer and Gear Enthusiast Edward Cheng

Comic books have had a rich and storied history, influencing society and culture in undeniable ways. Yet, they still maintain a bad rap in contemporary culture. They were prevalent and quite popular half a century ago, when World War II was raging and adults were turning to comics to see morale-boosters like Captain America simultaneously punching out Nazi and Japanese caricatures in one mighty swing.

Since then, graphic novels have done their damnedest to promote comic books as a legitimate source of literature, and judging by the massive influence of comics in movies, television, and the public eye, it’s slowly but surely starting to work. This list represents the graphic novels that I believe do that very thing the most effectively; They strive to prove that just because it’s a comic book, or contains superheroes, doesn’t mean it can’t tell a story as superbly as any prose novel ever could.

1. Watchmen by Alan Moore, art by Dave Gibbons:

watchmen.jpgWhen the first issue of Watchmen was released in 1987, it breathed new life into a shallow medium rife with campy stories and “aw, shucks” humor. With compelling characters, a complex, carefully narrated plot, and an unforgettable climax, it’s no wonder that, for better or for worse, Moore’s magnum opus has become the unanimous champion of the medium today.

Cost: $12, paperback

2. Maus by Art Spiegelman:

maus.jpgThe only graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize (albeit a Pulitzer Prize Special Award), Modern Literature and History courses around the world often cite Maus as required reading – and for good reason.

Cost: $10, paperback

3. Batman: The Dark Knight Returns by Frank Miller:

batman-returns.jpgMuch like Watchmen did for comics in general, The Dark Knight Returns did for Batman: it singlehandedly changed the franchise from a hokey Adam West character play to the raw, gritty badass opus we see today. Seriously, who knew that a story about a retired, geriatric Batman donning his cowl once again would be so entertaining?

Cost: $10, paperback

4. Sandman by Neil Gaiman:

sandman.jpgWhat if the Sandman really existed, and he did more than just sprinkle dirt in your eyes to help you sleep? It’s a basic premise, but the result is a rich, intellectually satisfying fantasy story, with elements of comedy, pure horror, and suspense thrown in for good measure.

Cost: $10-$16, each paperback

5. Preacher by Garth Ennis, art by Steve Dillon:

preacher.jpgEnnis’ controversial religious/supernatural/Western epic is what introduced me to the medium and what an introduction it was! Ennis has penned what is quite possibly the ugliest, most pitiful comic book character in history in the person of a botched-suicide loser who calls himself Arseface…yes, that’s not a typo.

Cost: $10-$13, each paperback

6. Blankets by Craig Thompson:

blankets.jpgFrom one religious comic to another, except this one carries a more serious tone. Thompson has the amazing ability to perfectly recapture the twists and turns of adolescence, creating a yarn that’s so relatable that even the most hardcore, emotionally stubborn man will shed a bittersweet tear (or two) and unendingly sign to thoughts of his first love.

Cost: $23, paperback

7. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware:

jimmy-corrigan.jpgWare’s innovative novel incorporates creative layouts and simple drawings to create one of the most emotionally packed examples of modern American literature. With a jarring style and off-putting subject matter, the comic may not be for everyone, but, in my eyes, it sets an indisputable benchmark for storytelling in the medium.

Cost: $15, paperback

8. Superman For All Seasons by Jeph Loeb, art by Tim Sale:

superman-for-all-seasons.jpgSuperman’s invincible, right? How are you going to make someone like that relatable?” Superman For All Seasons manages to humanize Clark Kent in a way that no other comic has, or probably ever will, and finally makes the public care about the Man of Steel yet again.

Cost: $N/A, each or Google

9. We3 by Grant Morrison, art by Frank Quitely:

We3.jpgWe3 is a shining example in modern comics that less can often result in much, much more. It’s Homeward Bound on steroids and PCP, with a plot involving the US Army chasing after three experimental future weapons that consist of a dog, a cat, and a rabbit in high-tech exoskeletons.

Cost: $11, paperback

10. Bone by Jeff Smith:

bone.jpgSmith’s huge tome may not have the heavy influence of some on the list, or may not be quite as serious, but it’s just a well told story that, above all, is fun.

Cost: $10+, each paperback

Agree? Disagree? Leave us a comment and let us know.

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