Autumn graphic novels

Five of the best.

Slowly but surely, comics and graphic novels are being accepted as the art they have the potential to be. The release schedule for this autumn shows as eclectic a mix of titles as you'd expect in any other medium. Although they can only ever be personal picks, here are the five I'm looking out for (click on any page to see it full-size):

The Hive

Charles Burns's seminal coming of age/mutating STD story, Black Hole, took ten years to come out over the course of 12 issues, but boy was it worth it. For his new story, he's copying the Franco-Belgian model of 60-odd page comic albums; the first volume, X'ed Out, came out in 2010, and was something like Tintin meets David Lynch.

Given it was just the first of three, however, it did rather end with the reader still in the dark. The Hive, the second of the trilogy, ought to bring the story further to the centre. But whether or not it does, the beauty of Burns's art – X'ed Out was his first work in full colour, and this is his second – is reason enough to give it a go.

Building Stories

Chris Ware is a strong contender for greatest living graphic novelist. But his last full-length work, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, came out in 2000, and the world has been eagerly awaiting something new. Ware has kept himself busy in that time – a groundbreaking digital comic for McSweeneys, and several editions of his serial Acme Novelty Library – but Building Stories makes its welcome appearance in October.

Hitting the headlines for its format as much as anything, the book – if that's the right description – ships as an enormous box, with fourteen books, pamphlets, sheets and posters of varying sizes contained within. There is no recommended reading order, and Ware makes the most of the various formats he has to work with, from broadsheet newspapers to hardback children's books (the page below, for instance, is slightly bigger than the Telegraph). All are presented in his trademark hyper-detailed style, and the work is sure to take your breath away.

Saga, volume one

Brian K Vaughan is one of the best loved writers of genre comics. Making his name with Y: the Last Man, a high-concept serial which explored a world in which every animal with a Y chromosome had died except for one man and his monkey, Vaughan has spent the last few years writing for television, honing his skill in the writers' room for Lost. Saga marks his return to comics, and also a maturing of his writing.

The series is almost unwieldy in its scope, but it never forgets the human story at its core: that of a couple, from either side of a war between two feuding races, and their quest to give their daughter a life which seems almost impossible. Ostensibly a space-opera, the series connects on a far more emotional level than many examples of the genre.

Hilda and the Bird Parade

Luke Pearson's follow-up to 2011's Hilda and the Midnight Giant sees him return to Hilda, his delightful all-ages creation (all-ages being comics-speak for "suitable for children, but really you should read it even if you are an adult, because it's great" – think Pixar or the Simpsons). The stories – of which this is the third, but just as strong an entry point as either of the first two – have a deliberate Scandinavian twinge, focusing on that same unquestioning acceptance of the supernatural that gives stories like Tove Jansson's Moomins their unmistakeable feeling.

In this book, Hilda and her single mother have moved from the fjords to the city of Trolberg, and Hilda is struggling to fit in. But when she saves a raven from being killed by her new friends, she finds out he can talk. Together, they embark on an adventure through her new home.

Goddamn This War!

Jacques Tardi's It Was the War of the Trenches took altogether too long to make it into English. One chapter made it into Art Spiegelman's Raw magazine – most famous for being the site of the original serialisation of Spiegelman's own groundbreaking work Maus – while another two were published in the 1990s by Drawn and Quarterly magazine. But when it Fantagraphics finally published it in full in 2010, Anglophonic audiences were able for the first time to experience an incredibly powerful exploration of the horror of the First World War.

Goddam This War! is more spiritual successor than actual sequel, but it is easily the equal of It Was the War…. Eschewing the latter's splintered storytelling for a simpler, chronological tale, told through the first person narration of an unnamed soldier, it's an accessible look at one of the masters of French comics tackling the subject which he writes about like no other. Plus, it's presented in Tardi's beautiful pen-ink-and-watercolour.

Browsing for graphic novels in a shop in Washington DC (Photograph: Getty Images)

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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Kate Mossman on extreme pop tourism: who would fly 5,000 miles for a gig?

Glen Campbell’s daughter says, “Dad, she’s come 5,000 miles to see you!” I add, “How sad is that?”

I only became a journalist because I once travelled five thousand miles to see Glen Campbell do a concert, and a friend said that if I liked him that much, maybe I should write about it.

I was working for a children’s charity at the time. Consulting a seating plan of the venue on my work computer, I established that A15 was in the middle of the front row. If I sat there, I would be about 12 feet away from Campbell. The seat lay in suburban Los Angeles – so I saved pound coins in a Quality Street jar from August 2006, and in March the following year I set off.

I knew that LA was the size of Wales. I can’t drive, but planned to take buses from Santa Monica as far as they went and walk the rest of the 42.4 miles to the Haugh Performing Arts Centre at 1,000 W Foothill Boulevard, Glendora. On the appointed day, I marched along a motorway, Discman in hand, listening to “Wichita Lineman”. I was helped along by a wall of warm air from the side of passing trucks. My eyes streamed with wind and grit.

In the foyer of the venue, a man was talking on his mobile phone: “Dude – I’m here. The demographic is, like, deceased.” He was right to say the crowd was on the older side. Glen was 70 then, and yet to be diagnosed with Alzheimer’s.

I watched him singing in that effortless way of his: the keyboard player once said, “It’s like a bird flying. It’s like someone breathing. It is easy for him.” His hands looked smooth and papery like the ones on the armrests next to me. His daughter, whom I’d chatted to on the Glen Campbell Fan Forum, took me into the wings and said, “Dad, Kate has come all the way from London to see you!”

“How sad is that!” I snapped at Glen. Embarrassment is one of the principal emotions associated with extreme music tourism, should you actually meet the artist.

On finding I had no means of getting back to my hostel that night, a middle-aged couple took me to their car for energy bars and bottled water. They went an hour and a half out of their way for me, making a detour by the campus of Pepperdine University at midnight and up to the floodlit memorial to Thomas E Burnett, Jr, one of the men who bust their way into the cockpit of United Airlines Flight 93 on 9/11.

After that night, gigs became my access to Middle America, an excuse to get to towns and suburbs I’d never otherwise see. Stranded in the mountains of Colorado after the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, I hitchhiked back to Denver with five frat boys who passed around a Coke-bottle bong. I learned how to while away a night in picket-fence towns with unspoken curfews and venues that chucked out by ten. CVS Pharmacy and Dunkin’ Donuts are the places to go, if you’ve enough battery left on your phone to locate them.

I flew to America to see Bruce Hornsby in freezing Albany, upstate New York, two winters back. Hours on the train track after the gig, no other passengers. A police car watched at a distance till the Amtrak ground in at 1.30am.

I get a kick from the effort and uncertainty of it: the tight connections, interminable waits and the addictive, stoned state you slip into from travelling for far too long. The alienation is counterbalanced by the strange comfort of spending the night in a room with the musician who soundtracks your daily commute back home. On a deserted platform in a closed-up town, with everyone you know fast asleep across the Atlantic, you’re just a leaf edging across a vast continent. Anything could happen to you.

Hornsby played in Pennsylvania this month. I was the only non-Amish person on the bus to Intercourse. I fed on samples from the Amish relish factory, and at dusk I walked miles to find a motel down a strip of road with no sidewalk, past a jumble of old gravestones pushed together in the middle of a modern traffic island.

I dumped my bag and jogged down the dual carriageway to the venue, arriving as the band took to the stage. For them, it was just another gig.

 

Kate Mossman is the New Statesman's arts editor and pop critic.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain