Ten Unconventional Comics | Mechanics' Institute

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Ten Unconventional Comics

Although most people probably don’t think of comics as a particularly experimental art form, I believe that it is one of the best mediums for the unusual, the surreal, the existential, or the absurd. Comics' unique combination of visuals and text lends itself well for a wide range of stylistic and storytelling possibilities, and has much more to offer than superheroes or pugnacious lasagna-loving-cats. There's a whole world out there of comic artists/authors trying new things and pushing the storytelling envelope in new and intriguing ways. So here to celebrate the medium and its possibilities are ten favorite unconventional comics/graphic novels found at the Mechanics’ Institute library. 

Building stories / Chris Ware (OVERSIZED 741.5 W267b)
Consisting of 14 separate pieces in an oversized cardboard box, this graphic novel initially feels more like a board game than a book. But once you begin to immerse yourself in the numerous beautifully designed books (and accompanying foldouts, newspaper, booklet, board and poster) you are rewarded with an extremely unique and moving reading experience revolving around an unnamed woman and the losses that she experiences. 

The Portable Frank / Jim Woodring (COMICS 741.5 W893)
Part dream-world, part Mickey Mouse, part Hindu mythology, part Carl Jung, the unpredictable, hallucinatory (and mostly wordless) tales of Frank, Frank’s pet Pupshaw, the pathetic Manhog, and the devilish Whim are like no other. This book is a collection of 14 stories from the Frank series of comics, which Woodring has been releasing since the early 1990s.

Here / Richard McGuire (COMICS 741.5 M148)
This book is an examination of a single space: a corner of a room in a family home in Perth Amboy, N.J. Sounds pretty boring? Oh but it’s not! It’s an ambitious and groundbreaking book that uses overlapping panels to tell many stories of one place, ranging in time from 500 billion BCE to the distant future.
Diary of a teenage girl : an account in words and pictures / Phoebe Gloeckner (Fic Gloeckner)
The line between novel and graphic novel disappears in this semi-autobiographic story told through diary entries of a 15-year old girl growing up in late 1970s San Francisco. Pages of text are sprinkled with drawings, followed by pages of comic panels. The story is a very honest telling of adolescence and sexuality, and its mixture of drawings and comics with the text makes the candid story feel all the more personal.

Big questions, or, Asomatognosia : whose hand is it anyway? / Anders Brekhus Nilsen (COMICS 741.5 N712)
Something of a 600-page existential parable revolving around a group of curious birds, a grandmother, her grandson, an airplane pilot, and an unexploded bomb - it’s a beautiful and sad book that Samuel Beckett would likely have enjoyed.

Like a velvet glove cast in iron / Daniel Clowes (COMICS 741.5 C648L)
Daniel Clowes is a master. The Oakland based writer/artist has released so many great comics through the decades that it’s hard to pick just one. But for me that one is "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron": a Lynchian journey into a seedy, sadistic and surreal world. It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, but I find it to be his most interesting and convention defying, plus it’s the one that introduced me to a whole new world of comics.

Soft City / Hariton Pushwagner (COMICS 741.5 P987)
The Norwegian pop artist Pushwagner created this visual novel in the early 1970s after which it went missing until someone (thankfully!) discovered it in a suitcase in 2002. With its remarkable repetitive and minimal illustrations the book shares the "story" of a single mundane day in a dystopian urban future filled with uniformity, surveillance and anxiety. 
Black hole / Charles Burns (COMICS 741.5 B96)
This classic graphic novel tells the disturbing story of a group of suburban teenagers suffering from grotesque physical mutations caused by a STD. As their mutations become more and more obvious they begin to withdraw from society and set up an encampment in the nearby woods. The eerie story is reinforced with Burns’ distinct ink-heavy black and white illustrations.

Ant colony / Michael DeForge (COMICS 741.5 D315)
Like comedians and Acquisition Librarians, Canada is also known for producing phenomenal graphic novelists, and for me Michael DeForge is one of the best around. His colorful artwork is extraordinary and his stories are both absurd and profound. This is DeForge’s first book and it tells the multi-facet story of an ant colony falling apart. 

My favorite thing is monsters. Book one / Emil Ferris (COMICS 741.5 F394)
This recently released book revolves around the life and imagination of Karen, a 10-year-old girl growing up in 1960s Chicago. Written, drawn, and colored by hand on a legal pad, this wonderful book somehow mixes B-movie monsters, fine art, a murder, the Holocaust, sexuality, racism, and family life to create an utterly unique coming of age story. This is the first of two volumes, with the second volume being released in April.

Posted on Dec. 6, 2017 by Joel Webb