Gerard Way, the lead singer of My Chemical Romance and the author of "The Umbrella Academy," is our featured contributor on The Essential Shelf, and this is the final installment of his Top 10 all-time graphic novels. You can find the first installment here and the second one here. Below are Nos. 1, 2, 3 and 4 on his list:
"Watchmen" by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
This is the first graphic novel I tell people to read if they are slightly unfamiliar with comics, and it is the graphic novel that changed the way I thought about superheroes and mainstream comics. I often refer to ‘Watchmen’ as a gateway drug because that’s exactly what I think about it. It’s the one graphic novel that leads you to more cerebral, “outside-thinking” works. In suggesting this first to people, I realized that it actually does help to have an understanding or nostalgia for traditional superhero works, because that’s exactly what it deconstructs.
"The Dark Knight Returns" by Frank Miller
The other work that comes to mind from the ’80s that pushed what you thought about traditional superhero comics, specifically Batman. A total deconstruction of the character, altering everything you thought about the character, his supporting cast, and even Superman, who is portrayed as a government tool. This is Batman past 50 years old, at his grittiest, his darkest, and it paved the way for a whole generation of “darker heroes.”
"The Doom Patrol: The Painting That Ate Paris” by Grant Morrison
This is the 2nd collection of Doom Patrol stories by Grant Morrison, and you should definitely pick up the first volume before reading this one, but this is the one where it really cements itself as the first “post modern superhero comic.” There are insane concepts and wild ideas on every page, from sleepwalking super-villains to sentient streets. This was the main influence in starting "The Umbrella Academy" and Grant Morrison is my favorite writer of all time for the sheer volume of ideas on every page, and the wit and style in which he presents them. Way more than deconstruction of the hero, Grant actually loves superheroes and writes with a nostalgia for the Silver Age of comics while at the same time creating something entirely new.
"The Sandman: Preludes And Nocturnes" by Neil Gaiman.
I remember this being the first comic where the best way to describe it was "literary." Drawing upon folklore, mythology, mysticism, and Shakespeare, Neil Gaiman created one of the most original comics of our time, using a very simple concept as a vessel for imaginative and thought-provoking stories. This is the kind of idea and storytelling you are jealous of as a creator, because you will always wish you had dreamed it up.
Thanks Again to Gerard for taking the time to share his favorites with Hero Complex. Check back here for more guest commentary in The Essential Shelf feature.
— Geoff Boucher