Countdown to Comic Con: The Very Best in Graphic Novels

Jimmy Jacob        Print Edition: Dec 22, 2013
Countdown to Comic Con
Participate in the costume competition at the New Delhi event, and you may get a chance to meet Batman and Robin at the New York Comic Convention 2014.

They came along in long capes, with underwear worn over their colourful tights for some inexplicable reason. The most recognisable one donned blue and red, flew faster than a speeding bullet, and could carve a neat hole through the toughest of concrete walls with his laser vision. The other dressed like a nocturnal creature, turning into a veritable nightmare for the scourge of Gotham. Do you remember the rest?

Whether it is DC's superhuman vigilantes or Bill Watterson's depiction of a sarcastic boy and his stuffed tiger, few among us have escaped the lure of comic books in our formative days. Though the typical parent - at least in my time - was never too appreciative of little hand-drawn characters who communicate with each other through speech bubbles in the panels of a comic book, we always found innovative ways to read them anyway. Some took their DCs and Marvels under the sheets when it was way past bedtime, others stayed behind after school to catch the final showdown between Spidey and Doc Ock. Me, I would stuff the comic book between the pages of my Mathematics textbook and studiously hide behind my glasses as the teacher droned on about quadratic equations and Pythogoras theorems. Explained my bad grades, it did.

It is in this context that the 4th Annual Indian Comic Convention, to be held from February 7 to 9 at the Thyagraj Stadium in INA, Delhi, assumes significance for the avid comic fan. For one, it is likely to feature many personalities who we grew up with, whether it's Mark Waid - the Eisner-winning comic book writer best known for his depiction of Captain America - or David Lloyd, illustrator of Alan Moore's iconic V for Vendetta. If it was Peanuts you liked better, this time's edition of the fest will also feature a path-breaking exhibit on the 'Life and Art of Charles M. Shulz'.

Other attractions comprise an international pavilion, featuring some of the best international comic publishers, and a costume play where kids and adults dressed as their favourite superhero or gaming character get to win a golden ticket to the New York Comic Convention 2014.

Don't know which costume to wear for the event? Here's a list of the best graphic novels in recent times, and some characters you can be without going medieval on your wallet. And yes, we will be skipping the men-in-tights.

Created by Neil Gaiman, this series tells the tale of Morpheus - one of the many siblings from the family of The Endless. He is the hard-yet-just lord of a fantastic land called The Dreaming, with subjects as diverse as the Biblical Cain and Abel, a pumpkin-headed scarecrow called Mervyn, the Corinthian (a nightmarish being with eyes that kill, literally) and a merry little piece of grassland called Fiddler's Green, among others. He knows not the difference between good and evil, and lesser still the need to interfere with the trivialities of humankind. But then, nobody - not even an entity as mighty as him - can always get what he wants.

It's here that I should spare a mention for Morpheus' older sister Death, the scythe-weiling grim reaper reimagined as a pretty goth girl who goes about her task with disarming cheer. Makes you wish you had a sister. Like her.

Costume hints: Dress up as Morpheus, it's easy! Just put on a black robe, paint your face white (dab lots of mascara) and maintain an ultra-bored expression. And yes, being tall and lanky helps.

Zombies have reigned over the worlds of cinema and comics for ages, but nobody made them look as menacing as Garth Ennis (of Hellblazer and Preacher fame) does in 'Crossed'. Why? For one, they can't technically be called "the living dead", because they don't really die - just turn into crazed, homicidal versions of themselves bent upon murdering or torturing everything in their way. How do you identify them? Look for that stray person in blood-splattered clothes with a big rash-like cross across his face. And yes, he will most likely be holding a severed limb or two.

It starts with a contagion that spreads across the world, overturning governments and turning peace-loving humans into creatures who wouldn't think twice before chopping their closest of kin into little fragments to satisfy their cranial pleasure points. As mankind quickly gets reduced to a minority race, a motley crew of survivors try to make it through the lines of the infected to the higher reaches of frozen Canada - killing everybody from opportunistic psychopaths to cannibalistic children along the way.

A good read, if you can handle the violence and blood-letting. Also, you have to be an adult to buy a copy.

Costume hints: Wear a rag for a shirt, sprinkle yourself abundantly with vermillion red, paint a large cross-shaped rash across your face, and there - you are an infected bloke from Crossed!

American Vampire
American Vampire
If zombies are here, can their bloodsucking cousins be far behind? A March 2010 Eisner Award-winning series created by Scott Snyder and Rafael Albuquerque, American Vampire imagines the bloodsuckers as a population that has existed over the ages, and starts off by charting moments of their evolution and inter-species conflict throughout history. The focus then falls on a tougher American bloodline of vampires, born in the American West of the late 1800s through the unholy "resurrection" of outlaw Skinner Sweet. Though a being of questionable morality, he finds it in his cold heart to save the life of Pearl Jones - a 1920s silent film actor who is attacked by a coven of European vampires - "turning her" in the process. The rest of the tale spends as much time portraying the complicated relationship between Sweet and Jones as it does describing their battle with the older vampires, who aren't very keen on going the way of the dodo. This one certainly gives the fanged gentleman from Bram Stoker's classic a run for his money.

Costume hints: If you are well-built and goodlooking with long unruly hair, you could probably throw on a cowboy hat and wear plastic fangs to turn into Skinner Sweet. Oh yes, remember to lick your lips suggestively from time to time.

What would you say to a comic series about your favourite fable characters jumping out of the pages of their respective storybooks and settling down in uptown New York? Nothing much, I bet, because you'd rather leave the Cinderellas and Snow Whites to your five-year-old daughter.

But, then again, there's nothing remotely kiddish about Fables - created by Bill Willingham and brought to life on paper by legends like Mark Buckingham, Lan Medina and Craig Hamilton. The Big Bad Wolf loses his middle name in this revisited saga of mystery and adventure, turning - instead - into a heroic investigator who falls for the charms of Snow White, now divorced from Prince Charming. No longer is Goldilocks an innocent girl visiting the three bears; in this version, she is a communist heading an uprising a la George Orwell's Animal Farm. Pinocchio's still the good li'l wood boy, but Geppetto - you don't want to know what he has become!

Costume hints: You could dress up like Boy Blue. Wear a blue shirt with blue trousers and carry a trumpet along; blonde hair and boyish looks would be a plus. Alternately, you could put on a werewolf costume and pretend to be Bigby Wolf.

V for Vendetta (Alan Moore): A masked vigilante battles against a totalitarian government in dystopian United Kingdom. With a painted smile to boot!

Sin City (Frank Miller): A sordid look at the corruption and criminality in Basin City, a fictional place where paid thugs double up as the police and murder always lurks at your doorstep.

Watchmen (Alan Moore): Superheroes are outlawed, and the only ones that remain work for the government. But somebody murders The Comedian, and a parchy-faced guy called Rorschach wants to know why.

30 Days of Night (Steve Niles): Vampires operate only by night because they detest sunlight. But who will save the good folk of Barrow, Alaska, where the sun does not rise for 30 days?

A History of Violence (John Wagner): Tom McKenna seems like just another small town Michigan cafe owner, until the day he is visited by a gang of hoodlums. Looks can be deceptive.     

Lucifer (Mike Carey): What does the Fallen Angel do after he gives Morpheus the key to Hades? Here's what to pick if you thought that the Sandman series left you high-and-dry on that one.

Preacher (Garth Ennis): 
Jesse Custer, a preacher, is accidentally possessed by a supernatural creature called Genesis in an incident that kills his entire congregation and flattens his church. The lowdown on what Custer did next.

The Walking Dead (Robert Kirkman): Pick this one if you haven't watched the TV series already. A good take on the zombie genre, but with lots of melodrama and not a scratch on Crossed.

Persepolis (Marjane Satrapi):
  An autobiographical graphic novel that describes the author's childhood, up to her early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic revolution.

Maus (Art Spiegelman):
One of the darkest periods in human history, depicted as a deadly cat-and-mouse game. A look at the holocaust.

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