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Critical Fail: Piers Anthony

Friday Five: 5 Graphic Novels to Hook Your Friends after Watchmen

Global FrequencyWith the advent of the world's most over-exposed movie, bookstores are all rubbing their hands with delight. After gawking at Dr Manhattan's bobbing blue Oppenheimer for three hours, people will be pouring into shops - dazed, confused and eager to spend their hard-earned Ameros on these so-called 'Graphic Novels'.

The secret is, Watchmen is a really tough graphic novel, and a terrible introduction to the comic book format. A lot of people crash out on their first time through. Alan Moore is brilliant, but can often be impenetrable. Dave Gibbon is his perfect artistic match for the project, but the art is deliberately symbolic and often dense and unfriendly.

A lot of the existing 'Top 10' lists and bookstore recommendations are based on the same well-meaning, but blundering, enthusiasm. The geek, retail and geek-retail populace need to take a deep breath and think about their audience. Approachable characters; self-contained storylines; absorbing plots. The ideal graphic novel should stretch their perception of what the comic format can achieve, but it also shouldn't be so far from their initial expectations that it comes across as wanky modern art. It should be commercial, fun and engaging.

So without further ado, some graphic novels with which to subvert your unenlightened kin-folk:


The pitch: A self-contained mystery with a good, clever twist - this New York neighborhood is populated by characters from fairy tales and nursery rhymes.

The hook: ABC has optioned the series. You're ahead of the curve!

The next step: There are 11 more volumes of Fables to throw at them.Or the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (see below).

Kingdom Come

The pitch: Watchmen-lite. All the recognizable heroes (Batman, Superman, etc) have retired under a cloud of shame. But the next generation isn't quite ready to beat swords into plowshares. The plot is thin, but self-contained and dramatic.

The hook: Let them flip through it - the Alex Ross art is stunning.

The next step: Kurt Busiek's Astro City continues the Alex Ross theme, or JLA: Year One will reintroduce the classic heroes in a more traditional setting. For sake of all that's holy, do not give them The Kingdom. The Ultimates does the same thing for the Marvel heroes if they preferred the Iron Man movie.

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen

The pitch: Fictional Victorian characters band up to save the British Empire. Kind of like the movie, except for funny and interesting.

The hook: Well-read friends will recognize the characters and feel smug.

The next step: Alan Moore is pretty prolific - there's a second book that's a great follow-up (and a third - Black Dossier - that will scare them off instantly). Top 10 is a lateral shift, but has a similar amount of rewarding detail.

Global Frequency: Planet Ablaze

The pitch: Ultra-modern, episodic thriller. Specialists (astronomers, hackers, linguists and mobsters) around the world answer their phones and immediately report to the front line against disaster. Every issue is a self-contained story with a different artist.

The hook: Almost, but not quite, a TV series. No silly capes.

The next step: The second volume. The writer - Warren Ellis - is everywhere, but be sure to sidestep his occasional bouts of insanity. Fell has a similarly episodic, mystery-focused gimmick. Orbiter and Ocean are both stand-alone, scientific thrillers.

Death: The High Cost of Living

The pitch: Gaiman's Death is the original foxy goth, a surprisingly spritely spirit with some life-lessons to share. No action whatsoever, and just enough tension to keep you invested in the characters.

The hook: 15 minutes of charming.

The next step: Neil Gaiman is unavoidable - some of the Sandman collections (start with the short stories like "Ramadan", not Preludes and Nocturnes) are the easy follow-up. The Books of Magic - the long-running series, not the Gaiman graphic novel - captures the same nostalgic, British-summertime feeling.