There are those that push the comic book medium to its limits, not only trying to come up with a story and simply illustrate it, or figure out a way to make something profitable. Graphic novels are something like noble comic books. The art style is in a whole different league and the format grants more freedoms that the conventional panels by far. Here are a few graphic novels that are truly works of art.
Persepolis is a graphic novel that serves as an autobiography of Marjane Satrapi, an Iranian-born novelist, and illustrator. She uses the comic book as a medium through which she can convey her childhood, including the struggles of growing up, radical regime changes in Iran, differences in ideologies and how we perceive certain nations and intellectual ideas around the world. The art style is simplistic and, at first glance, one could confuse this with a children’s book.
The comic book is black and white, not because of printing preferences, but because the childhood of Satrapi in Iran was darkened by the political turmoil. The childlike drawings may be seen as a tool to soften the blow of the events or to point out how a child would re-tell a story. Either way, it is a good read, translated into several languages and it was turned into a movie, using the same art and drawings.
While it is arguable whether Sandman is a comic book or a graphic novel, mainly due to the fact that it is a comic book series and Sandman has a lot of issues (pun intended), we feel it still deserves a spot on this list. Why? The stories are complex, the art style changes periodically, and there is an element of fantasy and dreaming that makes it abstract at times. Written by Neil Gaiman and published by DC Comics, it won the Eisner Award. Sandman is one of the rare pieces of art that made it to the New York Times Best Seller List. It is well worth the read if you want to discuss dreams, death, fear, and life.
Arkham Asylum: A Serious House on Serious Earth
This is, you guessed it, a Batman graphic novel. It follows the story of a breakout in Arkham. It was written by Grant Morrison and illustrated by Dave McKean. Arguably, it is one of the best Batman stories of all time. The psychological nightmare, the supernatural forces, and the terrifying and amazing artwork make Batman: Arkham Asylum a true work of art. McKean combined several media to show the psychological downfall of the characters and the madness of the place. He used collage, paintings, photography, and drawing. The graphic novel comes with notes from the staff working on it and they explain the motifs behind every page in great detail.
What makes a hero? Is it the costume, cooperating with the government, having superpowers, or, like the Übermensch, being willing to save the world whatever it takes? The graphic novel is full of symbolism and has a story within the story that follows the horrific fate of a shipwrecked man trying desperately to survive. Tales of the Black Freighter are not just similar to what Edgar Allan Poe would write, they also follow the strife, conflict, and fear that follows the main characters. The title is there to remind us of the famous phrase: Who watches the Watchmen?