Sequential art Ã¢Â€Â” a.k.a. the humble comic book Ã¢Â€Â” isn’t just for the funny pages or the superhero shelves. If you’re paying attention, you already know it’s become the art form of our age. (And if you haven’t been paying attention, read this.)
We’re living in a golden age for graphic novels. Every year, every month, every week, it seems the best sequential art just keeps pushing the boundaries of the form.
Which also means that there are a lot of them Ã¢Â€Â” and as in any artistic field, the majority of anything is dross. How do you pick out the good stuff?
Luckily, we at Mashable know a thing or two about comics. So going forward, we intend to supply you with one graphic novel recommendation per week Ã¢Â€Â” either a new release, or an older one that has become newly relevant. Either way, you’ll have the Mashable Choice guarantee of a book that is well worth your time.
Our first selection wasn’t hard to pick Ã¢Â€Â” because after years of waiting, we’re about to be graced with a new book from Daniel Clowes called Patience. It may be the graphic novel of the year, let alone the week.
Clowes is one of the great writer-artists of our time. You may recognize his work from the cover of the New Yorker Ã¢Â€Â” or you may have read Ghost World, his account of two teenage girls in a nameless modern suburbia, which led to the movie of the same name (also written by Clowes) that launched Scarlet Johansson‘s career.
Ghost World began in the pages of Clowes’ periodical Eightball, which was stuffed with his quirky, surreal, crude, clever, scattershot strips. It came out in 23 issues between 1989 and 2004. Eightball also gave us Art School Confidential, which became a John Malkovich movie, and Wilson, which is set to become a Woody Harrelson picture. Just to make the rest of us feel like slackers, Clowes wrote all the screenplays as well.
Patience, however, is the first Clowes graphic novel that isn’t based on an Eightball strip. It still has his signature style Ã¢Â€Â” the same queasy weirdness and ennui of Ghost World, all rendered with clean lines and accessible art that deliberately hearkens back to the cheap four-color comic strips of the 1950s.
But there’s something different this time, something cosmic. Clowes isn’t quite the same laughing nihilist as he was before. Patience is a genuine, selfless love story that stretches out across space and time, and it isn’t spoiling things to say you may well have your mind pleasantly expanded by the ending.
The story follows Jack, a troubled loner who can’t hold down a decent job. He’s caught precisely one break in life Ã¢Â€Â” his girlfriend, Patience. The story opens in the year 2012, at the precise moment the couple discover they’re going to have a baby. Here are the first few pages:
But before the baby can arrive, Jack loses Patience in the worst possible way. The police suspect him of her murder, but let him go for lack of evidence. Jack spends years on a fruitless search for her real killer. Fast forward to the future, and he finds a scientist who has developed an imprecise form of time travel. Naturally, Jack wants to use it to go back and protect the only woman who ever mattered to him.
But this isn’t The Time Traveler’s Wife. Jack isn’t skipping back and forth through Patience’s existence. He has to spend long decades hunkered down, watching her from a distance, gathering data on suspects. He’s desperate not to meet or interfere with her life, lest this prevent her from meeting young Jack in the future. He doesn’t care for the rest of his worthless existence; all that matters is changing things around so Patience and the baby can live.
Of course, things go wrong. Jack has nursed an impulsive rage for decades, and his presence in the past has inevitable effects on Patience’s life. Furthermore, he’s starting to lose himself, to skip out of existence in a much more trippy and terrifying manner than Marty McFly ever managed.
Three messages that ring loud and clear in this book: Firstly, you can’t just be a bystander, and every action has consequences. Secondly, the 1980s was a terrible decade, a cultural desert that you would really, really not want to live through if you had the choice. And the third message is a little hard to explain, but it’s about life, the universe and everything. Just read the book, and you’ll know.
Patience is out officially on March 21. But publishing dates can often be an imprecise form of time travel, so check your local comics store. And if it hasn’t arrived from the future yet? Well then, like Jack, and like one of the few good groups of the 1980s, you just need a little patience.