When I was in library school in Chapel Hill, North Carolina we had our own library. Of course, the School of Information and Library Science (SILS) Library mostly consisted of materials on all things information and library science, but they also happened to have a stellar graphic novel collection.
I didn’t know a thing about comics when I first began library school. I had never even read one. Sometimes I’d glance over at the graphic novels with curiosity, but I had no idea what to even look at if I went near the section. One day I got brave, walked into the library, and headed straight for the graphic novels thinking today was the day I’d actually check something out and read my first comic. I picked up an intriguing looking book that had been placed on display. One of my fellow classmates that worked at the library passed by, looked at me, and said of the book in my hand “that is freakin’ awesome.” I couldn’t think of a better endorsement, so I checked it out and promptly fell in love with the graphic format. That first “freakin’ awesome” book I read was Black Hole by Charles Burns and my classmate didn’t lie, I loved it.
It only took that one book to turn me into a graphic novel convert. The power of the graphic format to tell a story is unparalleled. The images in a good graphic novel add layers to the text, lending these stories a complexity and emotion you can find in some of the best literature. And, the graphic format can be enjoyed by anyone no matter what genre you prefer; there’s narrative nonfiction, mystery, literary works, history, memoir, fantasy, sci-fi, everything. Anyone no matter what age or reading preference can find something to love (though please note that the books listed below were selected with an adult audience in mind). If you don’t know where to find something to love, take a look at these recommendations and links – they’re sure to help match you to a graphic novel that is “freakin’ awesome.”
BodyWorld by Dash Shaw
A fictional story about a Timothy Leary-type professor and botanist that travels to a strange town to look into a strange plant found growing behind the local school. Turns out the plant when smoked gives people telepathic powers and this discovery slowly turns the world of each character upside down.
Daytripper by Fabio Moon & Gabriel Ba
Set in Brazil, different episodes in the main character’s life are depicted revealing more about him, the life he has led, and his relationships with his friends and family in this literary fiction style work. The main character’s death is also depicted in each episode encouraging all who read it to take a closer look at their own lives. The author and artist are brothers from Brazil and the stunning artwork and profound musings will impress and inspire.
Epileptic by David B.
A moving account of the author’s brother’s epilepsy and how it effects his relationship with his brother and entire family. The author is also the artist and the intricate black and white drawings are worth pausing over.
FreakAngels by Warren Ellis & Paul Duffield
You can read this for free online (or, we have volume 1 at the library). It’s by Warren Ellis, a well-respected man in the comics industry, and chronicles a post-apocalyptic world in which 12 young folks that all look eerily similar and have strange powers seem somehow responsible for. Think Village of the Damned only modern and more imaginative.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
A powerful memoir about the author growing up in a dysfunctional family with her closeted gay father as well as her coming-of-age and lesbianism. Bechdel’s sensitive, emotional portrayal and beautiful artwork make this one of the best memoirs I’ve ever read.
Habibi by Craig Thompson
A magical, epic story following two lovers, former child slaves, through a difficult and cruel world. Thompson is best known for Blankets, a critically acclaimed memoir of his youth, and he does not disappoint in this much anticipated new book.
Locke & Key by Joe Hill & Gabriel Rodriguez
This is a horror series by Joe Hill, Stephen King’s son, full of Lovecraftian influence. A family undergoes a terrible tragedy and relocates to an old family home in a small town. The house has many surprises in store and a few dark secrets it is desperate to share with the kids that now reside there.
Palestine by Joe Sacco
Joe Sacco is known for pioneering the comic journalism genre. After time spent in the Israeli-occupied territories, Sacco brings us a story of the people and the conflict there that you’ll never hear from mainstream news outlets.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This now famous memoir of a young girl growing up during the Iranian revolution give us a character to fall in love with (Satrapi is a precocious and amusing child) and reveals much about Iran during this tumultuous time in it’s history. If you like Persepolis, you’ll love the famous Maus by Art Spiegelman and vice versa.
The Sandman by Neil Gaiman & Various Artists
This series is required reading for any graphic novel fan. It tells us the story of Dream primarily, but also his goth sister Death and a cast of characters referred to as The Endless. It’s hard to narrow this comic down and give a nice description, but Norman Mailer once called it “a comic strip for intellectuals” and I think that’s pretty apt.
Best Books of 2011: Graphic Novels
The best graphic novels of 2011 as decided by Library Journal
Drawing on Reality: Graphic Nonfiction From Bechdel to Zinn
This is an article I wrote for Library Journal about the best graphic nonfiction for libraries. It includes a list (after the article) of some of the best graphic nonfiction I know of and each title has a nice description under it, so you can find something you’ll love. It was written with an audience of librarians in mind, so feel free to skip the article and just look at the list of recommended books.
An excellent site maintained by Dr. Ian Williams of Wales in which he recommends graphic novels that he believes can help patients and caregivers alike in coping with illness and health conditions. Check out his lists of recommended graphic novels here and here.
The Greatest Graphic Novels of All Time
New York Times Graphic Bestsellers
Still don’t see anything here that catches your fancy? The New York Times keeps a graphic bestsellers list, just scroll down toward the bottom of the page to see this week’s list.
Posted by Bonnie, a second floor librarian