Author Brian Wood released his first graphic novel, Channel Zero, in 1997 but has spent much of his life consuming comics. While most of his time is now spent creating comics, he shares his top five graphic novels (and series) of all time with us. Catch Wood's newest work, The Massive, now on Kindle.
I often joke, in interviews and panel discussions, that after fifteen years of writing comics, I read very little of them. I liken it to knowing how hotdogs are made – once you’re fully aware of the behind-the-scenes process, the finished product can lose a lot of its magic. But that’s not always true, and here’s a few of my favorites that stand my test of time.
Transmetropolitan by Warren Ellis and illustrated by Darick Robertson: This series debuted just as I decided making my own comics was something I wanted to try, and this was more influential than even I probably know. Really funny, nasty, prescient, heart breaking, profane, and violent, this political-journalist-in-the-future epic is so much more than the sum of all of its parts. Warren Ellis’ career as a predictor of the very near future is still going strong today, but this is really where it all started. For me personally, this became the benchmark of what I hoped to attain as a comic book writer, and my own series DMZ owes a lot to Transmetropolitan.
The Life and Times of Martha Washington in the Twenty-First Century by Frank Miller and illustrated by Dave Gibbons: Frank Miller is known for a lot of books, but this isn’t one that’s often cited. Shame, since for me, hands down, this is as good as it gets. You could call it dystopia, but it's really not, at least one what you expect when you hear that word. A young woman pulls herself out of poverty (in a world where a cyborg Nixon is still president, no less), fights in some pointless war that seems to be perpetrated by warring factions of the fast food beef industry, and falls into a rapidly changing future of corrupt politics set against a second American civil war. This is an INCREDIBLY progressive series, on both the political front and also for featuring one of the strongest, most complex, most human female lead characters I think comics has ever produced. Another big influence.
The Winter Men by Brett Lewis and illustrated by John Paul Leon: Perpetually out of print and/or difficult to track down, this single volume about post-collapse Soviet superheroes is perfection. In terms of dialogue, it has no equal in or out of comics; the art is John Paul’s absolute best. This is the comic that every single other person I know who makes comics moan and groans and pulls their hair out because HOW DID THEY MAKE SOMETHING SO PERFECT AND BEAUTIFUL AND OH MY GOD, AHHHH. The ultimate comic book cult classic. Last time this book was released, I bought 20 copies to use as gifts. I think I have two left.
Punisher MAX by Garth Ennis: This is actually a series of about ten volumes, each one standing on its own. They are all worth your while, Garth’s r-rated version of Marvel Comics’ The Punisher, an aging, bitter, war-torn version of the costumed hero. In the MAX series, Frank Castle wears a windbreaker and takes on the mafia, soldiers from his past, white slavers, Russian special forces, and fellow hitmen. It’s unrelentingly dark and violent, but never without rays of hope, and I’ve never felt for any superhero like I do for Garth’s Punisher. Standouts include the volumes Mother Russia, Man Of Stone, and the gut-punch that is Slavers. Start there.
The Filth by Grant Morrison: I’ve read this book a dozen times since it was published almost ten years ago and each time takes me a little closer to figuring out what the hell is going on. Don’t let that scare you off, though, this is an insanely inventive, raw, and perverted story about secret societies, commie chimpanzees, sex police, and split personalities. This is pretty pure sci-fi, and while challenging, is also one of the most original comics I’ve read. And like I said, it rewards multiple re-reads. Not for the puritanical, though.
I’d point out that all of the above are at least five years old, and most are more like a decade. That’s not (only) me showing my age, but it speaks to the fact they all stand the test of time, no easy feat when dealing with science fiction or speculative fiction or social commentary. Details can change, tech can turn obsolete, and political and geographic realities shift, but great sci-fi is always, at its core, about how people are affected by it. That’s the access point for the reader, that’s what makes us give a damn.