From Comics to Graphic Novels… and beyond

From an early age I can remember reading BDs (in French comics are referred to as Bande dessinées or simply as BDs) such as Astérix et Obélix, as well as Les Schtroumpfs. The stories were fun and lighthearted; furthermore, no matter what kind of adventure the heroes embarked upon, no matter what kind of peril they faced, there was always a happy ending.

In time, I replaced those classic BDs with DC and Marvel comics. The sharp witted Spider-Man was one of my favourites, not to mention the caped crusader otherwise known as Batman. Every now and again I would jump on my BMX and ride off to Comic Cave, which at the time was located across the street from Glenlawn Collegiate. There I would pick and choose which comics to buy and which to leave behind. The problem was that it was a comic store and there were far too many options to get my head around. Should I buy back-issues of Spider-Man, or should I buy the newest issue of Spawn? In time, and after a lot of second guessing, I’d make my choice and head off back to the suburbs to devour my latest purchase.

Years later, I came to the fateful decision to stop collecting comics. As a teenager it was getting more and more difficult to manage my meagre earnings from my flyer route. Despite my love of certain Marvel Comic classics like the X-Men, I couldn’t afford the outrageous price of 3.50$ for a comic. After all, my illustrious career as a flyer delivery boy couldn’t cover all of my mounting expenses.

It was only after I began working at the Saint Boniface library, that I discovered the ever-growing collection of graphic novels. To my delight, the titles seemed endless; DMZ (Brian Wood), V For Vendetta (Alan Moore), Scalped (Jason Aaron), 100 Bullets (Brian Azzarello), Hellboy (Mike Mignola), Heavy Liquid (Paul Pope), Hellblazer (Mike Carrey), Transmetropolitan (Warren Ellis). It was as if I had stumbled into a long forgotten crypt, only instead of finding gold or jewels, I found a treasure trove of comics.

What impressed me more than anything was how the stories had changed. These stories were nothing like what I had grown up reading. The days of super-heroes dressed in tights, fighting against super-villains (who were also dressed up in tights) were a fading memory. Instead, they were replaced with a collection of bold anti-heroes and diabolical protagonists who sought to destroy or (possibly) rebuild the world in their own image. Furthermore, the heroes’ happy endings were no longer guaranteed. Instead, it was replaced with hard-fought battles in which the hero found themselves against seemingly impossible odds. The battles against good and evil had higher stakes than previously. The hero’s morals, which had once been ironclad and unwavering, were now being questioned. The antagonist, who once wanted nothing more than to wipe out a major metropolis with their death ray, now is nothing more than a pawn, wielded by a sadistic puppet master who remains lurking, unseen in the background.

For me, it was the beginning of a very bold and exciting new world.

One great local example is the Imagination Manifesto series, a graphic novel trilogy written by GMB Chomichuk, James Rewucki and John Toone. It is a remarkable series that is both well written and beautifully illustrated, by Chomichuk himself. This is an important detail to note, because it is an anomaly within the comic book industry for the writer to also be the illustrator.

In these three volumes, the reader discovers stories that feature cowboys, heroic deeds, time travel, super powered heroines, and a hoard of weird monsters. It may sound like a strange formula for a graphic novel and it is. But it draws strength because it’s so unique. What happens when a soldier fights against the present while still being haunted by her past? When you no longer know the difference between reality and the nightmares that plague your sleep? Do you listen to the wisdom of your friends and find the will to fight? Or do you allow the horror to consume you? These are some of the questions which the author poses while slowly pulling you into a dark world filled with betrayal and chaos. But there’s no reason to be afraid, because there is hidden beauty in each of these stories. Here are some examples:

The Tomorrow Society

Our own world is a place fraught with peril. It is a place where billions of ordinary people go about their lives with the simple hope of being able to live peacefully and comfortably. In “The Tomorrow Society” we encounter a variety of individuals who are much more than ordinary. They possess great powers and strive to accomplish great deeds in spite of the odds that they face. Some might call them super-heroes. After all, some of them do wear tights. In spite of this, it becomes difficult for the reader to be able to tell the difference between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.

In that moment of uncertainty, when even the reader cannot tell the difference between friend and foe – that’s when you know that the writer was smiling while he was writing this story.

There is a moment where one of the main protagonists finds herself betrayed by a comrade in arms. The wound she suffers is fatal. Our heroine is dying. This act of betrayal caught her completely by surprise. They had fought side by side countless times. Why? How could this happen? It is because the world she is fighting to protect is not our world. It exists in another time. This battle is happening in an alternate reality.

Therefore, it is not the same comrade; it is a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

The Imagination Manifesto

A woman is summoned by an old acquaintance. A clue to an old mystery convinces her to return to her old life. She once served a queen. Forgotten battlefields are home to the scores of dead she slew. Those who are still alive remember well the terror she wielded. Her name is Endswell and she is more than a soldier she is a legend that soldiers still tell to one another, (albeit) in hushed tones.

“The Imagination Manifesto” is a wonderful tale of revenge and rebirth. Along her journey, we meet a diverse cast of characters (some of whom happen to be monsters) including but not limited to an ancient lich (undead wizard), a succubus, and even a troll. Our journey introduces to us a world of mystery where magic is within reach and legends are as real as the laws of gravity. Or is it? A brilliant blend of mythology and mystery, this story will peak your interest and leave you wanting more.

The popularity of graphic novels has been on the rise for years, and while comic book enthusiasts (also referred to as geeks) debate among themselves about whether this is good or bad, there is a real danger that exists. That danger is that an influx of poorly drawn comics which feature mediocre writing will come into print and taint this beloved genre. Quality does matter. Fortunately, there are some heavy weights that continue to produce excellent work. And while companies such as Marvel, DC and Vertigo possess an edge in the market, it is writers such as GMB Chomichuk that will introduce a dose of creativity that will re-energize this industry.

The Imagination Manifesto is available for your convenience at the Winnipeg Public Library.

Join the fight!

– D.P. Bohémier

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