Cynthia Clark Harvey's List of Graphic Novel Must-Reads (Before You Check Out This Year's Bestsellers)

Welcome back to Explicitly Graphic, a monthly column by Cynthia Clark Harvey (who's working on a graphic novel of her own). From time to time, Harvey will review graphic novels, talk to artists, and dive into the scene of all things explicitly graphic. Today, she talks about a few novels she's catching up on before she tackles this year's list of best sellers.

Two months into 2013, I'm still tearing through books from 2012. With my teensy little OCD tendencies, I can't quite embrace the 2013 crop of graphic novels until I've made an attempt to get at some of the most interesting from the year before.

Here are five books, which are recent arrivals to my library and/or attention. In the order in which I read, which is the order in which I got them from the library, they are:

See also: - Ellen Forney Talks Mental Health, the Life of a "Crazy Artist," and Her latest Graphic Novel, Marbles - A Soldier's Daughter's Heart: A Conversation with Graphic Novelist Carol Tyler

5. Dotter of Her Father's Eyes by Mary Talbot (script) and Bryan Talbot (illustration); Dark Horse Books An autobiography -- remember that quaint term, before everything written about oneself was a memoir? -- paired with a biography.

Mary, a noted academic with several books in print, writes in her first graphic novel about a difficult relationship with her father, a noted Joyce scholar, and parallels her own story with a history of Lucia, James Joyce's only daughter. Mary is ably accompanied in this work by illustrator/husband Bryan, an award-winning graphic novelist.

I found Mary's notes pointing out Bryan's mistakes in visualizing her text charming evidence of their collaboration. I'm looking forward to each of these authors' next comics, either alone (Bryan is working on the third volume of his Grandville series of steampunk detective thrillers) or together (Mary is now scripting a historical graphic novel).

4. My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf; Abrams. Wow, wow, wow. Stunning. Disturbing. Chilling. I felt that if I were to read it in public, I'd have to put a brown paper cover on it. When we are currently asking ourselves how the profoundly disturbed can live among us and no one questions or seeks help for them, Backderf's story about his high school friend, Jeffrey Dahmer, is even more uncomfortable to read than any other story of a real-life cannibal and necrophiliac might be.

Derf's drawing style, which I was familiar with from his political cartoons, brings an unsettling sort of hyper-realism to a surreal topic -- how that weird kid you knew in high school really did turn out to be a mass murderer. In the epilogue, when his reporter wife calls to say that a guy he went to high school with is accused of being a serial killer -- Derf's second choice guess is Dahmer -- which is disturbing and telling all at once.

Now I want to go back and read Derf's 24-page comic about the same topic in 2002. Yeah, it's disturbing -- I know, I repeated that word three times -- but it's compelling, too.

3. The Voyeurs by Gabrielle Bell; Uncivilized Book Don't let the title worry you after reading the previous entry. The title in this memoir refers to voyeurism in its modern non-pornographic "reality" TV sense.

Bell, who has had work selected for the 2007, 2009, 2010, and 2011 Best American Comics anthologies, brings an extreme level of self-contemplation and self-exposure to her work. This book, an illustrated diary of four years in Bell's life, made me squirm in recognition more than once. "August 12th -- 'Back home I started to read my old journals and was suddenly struck by the overwhelming banality of my life.'"

Yep, yep, uh-huh, uh-huh. I'm now a junkie of Bell's 'semi-autobigraphical' comic "Lucky." Making me one of her voyeurs, I guess.

2. Anya's Ghost by Vera Brosgol; First Second Found in the teen section of Phoenix Public Library, this book is pure enjoyment, and there isn't anyone over the age of 12 who couldn't enjoy it. It's a quick-moving story with distinctly drawn characters.

Brosgol, a Russian immigrant to the United States, charmingly riffs on how to avoid acting "fobby" (fresh off the boat) in the cutthroat world of high school. Add to these a new best friend who happens to be a snarky teenage ghost girl, a murder mystery, and young romance. This is Brosgol's first book and it's a winner. I'm looking forward to more from her.

5. Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel; First Second A novel (that just happens to be graphic) filled with memorable characters, including a mermaid, who is no shiny, Disney-fied fish-girl, but is a sexy, scheming creature from the deep and charcoal illustrations that are a joy to behold. I'd hang almost any page of this book on my wall as art.

Siegel, a children's book author and illustrator, previous graphic novelist and editorial director at First Second, a graphic novel publisher, knows exactly what he's doing in marrying story, words, and pictures and it shows. This is a big fat book that can deliver the story as fast as you can flip the pages, but that begs you to return to linger and put together the pieces you missed the first time or two through. I borrowed it from the library, but I probably have to go buy this one.

Here's the catch in trying to play catch up: Each book I read didn't help me to cross off anything from my reading list -- it just made me want to read the next or the previous (or the serialized version or the minicomics or something else) work of the authors. So instead of a clean slate, I got a more crowded one -- and I haven't yet cracked a single book of the now not-so New Year.

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Cynthia is a freelance writer/artist living in Phoenix. Reading comics has been a lifelong pleasure for Cynthia; creating comics is a more recent pursuit. Cynthia's other job is framing art.