Graphic novels without super-heroes

Now don’t get me wrong – I think Watchmen is a work of utter genius. And it has more superheroes than you can shake a big, shiny stick at. But I’ve found myself immersed in some great graphic novels lately that don’t match most people’s idea of what a graphic novel should be.

First there was Tamara Drewe by Posy Simmonds. I loved her cartoon in the ’80s and ’90s in The Guardian about middle class family life, the academics and business people portrayed so insightfully and with a gentle but slightly savage edge were so much like the parents of some of my school friends back in Bristol. I tried but failed to follow Tamara Drewe in the paper, and one day I found it in a bookshop and treated myself… devoured it in a day or two, unable to tear myself away from it. Such a compelling story, such wonderful artwork.

Today I had to go shopping to buy a present for someone, found myself in Waterstones, looking at graphic novels. Trying to find to find a new graphic novel by Shirley Hughes. She breaks the stereotype a bit. She is female, she is famous for her picture books for young children and she is 82 years old. Bye Bye Birdie is a sinister, wordless, black and white story of a man being consumed… by a creature he takes to be a woman, a bird… but who is actually a bird.

I also saw Gemma Bovery by Posy Simmonds. Had to get it. Man on till asked me if I’d read it. Said no, just read Tamara Drewe, loved it so much. This is better, he said. And from the first page I’d say he’s right. Perfect first page. Perfect opening paragraph:

Gemma Bovery has been in the ground three weeks. People have begun to forget – or anyway I don’t hear talk in the shop any more. But I – I never stop thinking of her. The nights are the worst. If I sleep, I dream of her eyes which are the blue of stained glass.

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