Four Great Dystopian Graphic Novels

Got any comics fans out there?

Sure, Ok, there was a time when comics were largely the province of awkward teenage boys drawn to steroidal action heroes and anatomically improbable women in tight clothes, but not anymore. I mean sure, that stuff is still out there, but the world of comics is so much bigger now than it was when I was one of the aforementioned awkward teenage boys. You can easily avoid all that stuff and focus on some not-to-be-missed literature.

In fact, I was perusing my bookshelves lately and got to thinking lately about how there are a bunch of really great comics out there that deal with post-apocalyptic or dystopian worlds. I thought I go over a few key titles. These are stories that create amazing worlds and characters and also, and this is something we haven't talked much about here yet, do an incredible job of looking at how systems-governments, families, religions etc--handle crisis as well.

Even if you're not a natural comics buyer I highly recommend checking a few of these out! (If you are a regular comics buyer, sing their praises in the comments. Let's make some converts, people!)

Y: The Last Man: The premise alone is worth the price of admission.
In 2002 a plague strikes and in a matter of minutes it wipes out every single male on the planet except for two, Yorick Brown, a slacker/amateur escape artist and Ampersand, his capuchin monkey. 

The story follows Yorick, Ampersand and their protector, the mysterious Agent 355 (who kicks more ass than any woman I've seen since Buffy) as they travel across the country, and later the world, in search of safety and an answer to the mystery of the plague.

The storytelling is fast-paced, twisty (the writer eventually joined the writing staff of Lost) and very funny. It explores the idea of a world suddenly without men from a number of angles, all of them interesting, none of them simplistic. If you read one thing on this list, make it this one.

DMZ: This series revolves around a second US Civil War, with the US government fighting the "Free States" for control of the country. Manhattan is the site of a stalemate between the two forces and is the demilitarized zone of the title. The story follows Matty Roth, an intern at a big cable news agency who was supposed to be simply following along with a veteran reporter on assignment in the DMZ. When the veteran reporter is killed in action, Matty takes up a camera and decides to broadcast the truth about what's going on in the DMZ.

I'm about 3 volumes into this one now and am liking it a lot. The storytelling is strong and involving. The characters, especially Matty, are great. For me though,  the best part is how the art manages to really evoke the chaos of the DMZ. It's a bombed out ruin of NYC where danger comes from too many angles to count but where there is also unexpected moments of kindness and humanity. The residents of the DMZ have managed to form a fairly workable society and it's exploring that society that I found most interesting.

V for Vendetta: A lot of you probably know this one from the movie, which I liked, but the original graphic novel is definitely worth checking out. It's a bit more detailed and richer. This is by Alan Moore, the super genius behind classic graphic novel The Watchmen, From Hell, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and others. The story is similar to the film. Set in a fascist-controlled Britian, V for Vendetta follows a (depending on your POV) terrorist/freedom fighter/hero/lunatic named V in his efforts to expose and overthrow the evil of the government. This story is intertwined with V's relationship and radicalization of a young woman named Evey and the story of the policeman, Finch, tasked with investigating V.

It's a great, thought-provoking story that examines life in a police state and how far it's acceptable to go to confront such a system. Its violent and difficult at times but well worth the read.

The Walking Dead: I'm just one volume into this one. Full disclosure, I'm not the biggest fan of it so far but I wanted to include it here for a few reasons. 1) it's about the aftermath of a zombie apocalypse and we love those around here and 2) a lot of people really love it and all accounts I've read say the story and the characters strengthen and get more detailed as the series goes on. (Anybody read the whole thing? Is this true?) This one is also on it's way to becoming a new AMC TV series so you might want to check out the original before it starts airing.While the 1st volume didn't grab me as much as I would have liked I'll probably pick up one or two more and see where it goes.

The book centers on Rick Grimes, a former policeman, his family and a small community of other survivors as they travel the US, looking for a place to call home. Along the way they fight hordes of zombies, each other, and human monsters like The Governor, who runs a small Georgia town like a dictatorship. If the series does move it's focus to center more squarely on the characters I think it'll be a real winner.

So I hope you all take a moment to check some of these out, or if you already have, let us know what you think in the comments. Also, as always, if you've got picks of your own, let us know!


Erinn said...

I worked in a comic book shop for two years, you picked some of my favorites.

I loved Y the Last Man. I thought it did a great job of blending humor and science and excellent story telling.

Niki Smith said...

All great titles. You might also check out Dragon Head (Japanese manga). The Battle Royale novel was also adapted into comic form and has been released in English, though I don't know if it compares to the movie.

April (BooksandWine) said...

I LOVE comics! V For Vendetta is amazing. It's interesting how radically different the movie is.

I was also a big fan of Watchmen, which I'm not sure that qualifies as dystopia at all, my guess is totally not, but still I love Alan Moore's work!

Mandy P.S. said...

I've never been into comics, but these do sound interesting. I didn't even know V for Vendetta was based off of a one! (I feel so ignorant!)

Actually the real (and funny) reason why I never got into comics was the label "graphic novels". When I was younger the word "graphic" translated to "lots of violence and sex" in my mind. (You know like when someone says that movie was really graphic). So I thought graphic novels were like rated R books. It made me afraid to even walk down that aisle.

Didn't realize the truth until college! Silly me.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi guys,

Niki, I totally need to check out some Manga. I've always avoided it. All those characters with big starey eyes and funny hair always freaked me out. I'll look into Dragon Head.

I was actually thinking of including Watchmen in this. I think you could definitely make a case that the story takes place in a dystopia and is all about the lead up to some kind of apocalypse. Good point April!

Hi Bittersweet! Actually for a few of these the "graphic" tag can be pretty descriptive!

baileythebookworm said...

Another really great series is "Preacher" -I just finally got my hands on a copy of the first book, and I haven't put it down yet!

I've only been reading graphic novels for about 2 years, but it's like an addiction. They're so much fun!

Angie said...

I'll have to check out Y. If the writer can hang with the Lost crowd, then it's definitely worth a look.

Elana Johnson said...

Very cool! I've never really been into graphic novels, but my husband has bought a few over the years for his classroom. Stuff like Maximum Ride and the like. I'll give these a look. Thanks, Jeff!

Michelle Fluttering Butterflies said...

I'm kind of new into graphic novels, but these sound pretty good. V For Vendetta was already on my list, but I'm definitely going to look out for Y! Thanks.