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The 5 Graphic Novels That Changed My Life

The 5 Graphic Novels That Changed My Life

By Eric Garneau

Being that it's Book Week, a lot of the SparkNotes and MindHut crew are talking about books they've read that have changed their lives. Since I typically write about comics on these blogs, I thought it'd be appropriate for me to pay tribute to a few of the comic books and graphic novels that've had a giant impact on me. These are the five books I can concretely say have caused me to be obsessed with this entrancing combination of words and pictures we call comics. But reading is good for you, so obsession is okay, right?

1. Transformers #1: I still remember vividly that this is the first-ever comic I got. As a wee one of seven I was laid up sick one day, so my dad went out and bought me the first ten issues of Marvel Comics' 1980s Transformers series, based on the original toy line. Interesting how it took something I knew from TV to get me reading these things! (Although as a nerd I have to point out that the Marvel comic actually came out before the original cartoon.)

2. X-Men: God Loves, Man Kills: Though I read comics off-and-on after that initial gifting of Transformers, it again took something from elsewhere in pop culture to bring me all the way in to being a weekly reader—and this time, that was the 2000 X-Men movie. After I saw that bad boy, I ran to my local shop right away to find out more about those lovable mutants. This graphic novel, originally published in 1982, caught my eye right away. As a high-schooler who was obsessed with rebelling against his religion in pretty much any lame way he could (Hey, I went to Catholic school, can you blame me?), I was completely drawn into this critique of overzealous believers. In this book, an influential preacher named William Stryker begins a religious crusade against mutants, who he thinks are the worst kind of sinners, abominations in God's eyes. Can the X-Men prove that this beloved public figure's the real bad guy? Ironically, 2003's X-Men sequel X2 would adopt the basic plot of God Loves, Man Kills on the big screen, but it would not do nearly as good a job as this book.

3. JLA: Tower of Babel: Once upon a time, except for the Batman cartoon, I was a hardcore Marvel guy. Then my friend Tom told me about this collection of a 2001 JLA story where Ra's Al Ghul systematically takes down the Justice League one-by-one… using Batman's own plans. Um, what? (If you saw the recent direct-to-video movie Justice League Doom, that story's based on this one.) I bought this trade paperback and was instantly hooked on the adventures of the League, with their god-like heroes, amazing powers, and clever storytelling. With this new-found enthusiasm, I quickly snatched up every other available collection of the League's adventures. Now I am pretty much DC 4 Lyfe.

4. Sandman vol. 1: Again I owe my friend Tom for this one. You hear this a lot (well, I do, anyway), but Sandman is the first book I got into that had really mature, literature-y stories. This first volume, about the King of Dreams returning to his throne after an 80-year exile, is full of arresting situations and beautifully detailed characters. Author Neil Gaiman is one of the best at letting us know just who a character is through his or her dialog, and as a young college student just beginning to find my writing voice, I was entranced by his vivid verbiage. The first volume of Sandman also trods on kind of familiar territory, as our hero Morpheus must recover a lost artifact currently in the possession of Justice League villain Dr. Destiny. Though future volumes of the series would leave the world of DC Comics behind almost completely, that early common ground was all I needed to dive into Gaiman's masterpiece and become hooked.

5. Persepolis (book 1): My second semester of college, I was ready to take my love of comics to the next level—I enrolled in a class on graphic novels that was full of books I'd never even heard of. There was a ton of great stuff in there, but the one that stuck with me most is this 2000 memoir from Iranian writer Marjane Satrapi. It tells the author's story of growing up in tumultuous wartime Iran, and shows us how Marjane develops a counter-cultural identity of her own despite opposition from her friends, family, and her very government! (I mean, in one of the chapters she buys an Iron Maiden poster… come on, that's awesome.) Put simply, this book is incredibly compelling and incredibly touching. Persepolis was the first totally superhero-free comic book I ever read that I fell in love with, and it made me realize that comics really can tell any kind of story, maybe better than even novels or movies can. Since this realization, I haven't looked back.

What comics would you call life-changing? Share them in the comments below!

Tags: books, books we love, graphic novels, comics, books-and-comics, books week, comics we love

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