Mountain’s Book Recommendations
The Sculptor, by Scott McCloud
This is my single favorite graphic novel, bar none. Death appears to a struggling artist in New York and offers him a deal—he’ll gain the ability to magically sculpt any material with his bare hands, but in return, he only gets 200 days left to live. The artist, of course, takes the deal. Over the next few months, however, his life goes in a very, very different direction than he was expecting.
Scott McCloud has been, until now, better known among comic book creators than comic book readers. He’s the author of Understanding Comics and Making Comics, generally agreed to be the two best resources for comic book writers and artists. Since his competition largely consists of assorted crappy “How to draw…” guides, that’s not hard, but they are excellent resources. Plus, they’re actually laid out as graphic novels themselves. He hadn’t published any fiction comics since the early 90s, and The Sculptor’s appearance was a big surprise.
It’s not a perfect work, by any means—some of the romantic dialogue is a bit cheesy, for instance. It is a profoundly human work, however. McCloud has an immense amount to say about the role of the artist, and his gentle art style fits the story perfectly. The first time I finished the book, I cried, then promptly opened it back to the beginning and read it a second time in a row.
Safe Area Goražde, by Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco holds a relatively unique spot in comics—while there are a few comics journalists out there, he’s THE war reporter graphic novelist. Safe Area Goražde tells the story of Goražde, a Bosnian town surrounded by hostile Serb territory during the Bosnian War in the 1990s.
Safe Area Goražde consists largely of interviews with various locals. Sacco keeps himself very much sidelined—this is the story of the survivors of the conflict, not his story. This isn’t even remotely a happy book—it covers massacres, executions, rapes, and deprivation. Even late into the war, when Sacco was embedded, there was ample danger from hostile forces.
The Bosnian War is something of a forgotten conflict, despite being so recent. It gets maybe a paragraph in most K-12 history books, despite being the most brutal and destructive European war since the Second World War.
Safe Area Goražde won multiple awards, including an Eisner. Joe Sacco helped proved that the graphic novel format is eminently suited for addressing topics of this seriousness—it’s often compared with Art Spiegelman’s Maus. Something about the unreality of the graphic novel format lends a certain visceral reality to its subject matter that print can’t provide. Likewise, the ability to translate the interviews into English directly advantages it over video interviews where the speaker is dubbed over by a translator. I also cried at Safe Area Goražde, and not just at the end.