Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Graphic Novels for People Who Don't Read Graphic Novels

I recently had the opportunity to butt my nosy self into a conversation two co-workers were having about graphic novels. Bill, who reads all sorts of superhero comics, was attempting to explain their appeal to Michelle, who has no experience with or interest in graphic novels. It wasn't going well.

"It's like being 8 again," said Michelle, obviously not interested in indulging her inner child.

"No," said Bill, "some of them are really quite grown up."

Michelle remained skeptical, so I jumped into Bill's corner. "It's a hugely varied format," I argued. "I bet I could find some things that you'd like: graphic novels for people who don't read graphic novels."

Mirdza, another librarian, popped her head out of her cubicle and into the conversation like an eavesdropping prairie dog. "I'd like to see that list! I've read bits of graphic novels I've liked but never knew where to start."

Thank goodness for Mirdza, because Michelle was having none of it. She let out a bit of good-natured grumbling and went back to work. I shifted my lecturing to Mirdza, not wanting to waste a good head of pedantic steam.

"It's important to remember that graphic novels are a format like DVDs or audiobooks, not a genre like fantasy or mystery. Just as one may make a DVD about any number of subjects, a graphic novel can deliver memoir or journalism as easily as it delivers a superhero story."

Somewhere during those opening remarks Bill slipped out of the workroom and Mirdza sat back down, pretending I wasn't there. I've worked here long enough that folks understand they must sometimes ignore me if they're to get anything done. Like any dumb beast, I'll eventually forget what I was doing and wander away.

But my failures as an ambassador don't change the fact that there are all sorts of great graphic novels being published these days! All the superheroes you remember are still around and are still lots of fun, but that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here's a short list of suggestions for a variety of readers.

For the memoir fan:

Special Exits by Joyce Farmer
The author unflinchingly relates her attempts to care for her elderly parents as their physical and mental health deteriorates. Bring tissues.

Or Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

For the non-fiction reader:

Palestine by Joe Sacco
Groundbreaking journalism hidden away in the graphic novel section. Sacco shows us a uniquely personal view of the Palenstinian people.

Or Students for a Democratic Society: A Graphic Adaptation by Harvey Pekar

For the sci-fi fan:

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
Vaughan was a big name in comics before he ever wrote for TV on Lost. His new sci-fi series is equal parts epic space opera and intimate family story.

Or Finder: Voice by Carla Speed McNeil

For the foodie:

Oishinbo by Tetsu Kariya
A manga series whose thin plot is little more than an excuse for some expertly-drawn and highly informative discussion of Japanese cuisine.

Or Get Jiro! by Anthony Bourdain

For the fantasy fan:

I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
A young girl escapes troubles at home by losing herself in a terrifyingly real fantasy life.

Or Conan by Roy Thomas.

For the artist:

Building Stories by Chris Ware
An experiment in form from an established master. Ware's work is always expertly composed, great to look at, and full of soul-crushing ennui and isolation.

Or Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli

For the mystery/thriller fan:

Blacksad by Juan Diaz Canales
A collection of classic noir private eye stories in which the detective happens to be an anthropomorphic cat. Great art, atmosphere, and tough guy antics.

Or Queen and Country by Greg Rucka

For those interested in a fiction with religious themes:

Buddha by Osamu Tezuka
Tezuka's so important to Japanese comics that it's ridiculous to pick just one of his titles, but his tale of the founding of Buddhism is a personal favorite.

Or Habibi by Craig Thompson

I'll end there, as I have to end somewhere. Did I not address a genre or topic you're interested in? Did I not name a graphic novel you'd love to see more people read? Speak up in the comments!



  1. Last night I just read "Poorcraft" recommended in a staff review in August. Not at all what I expected from a graphic novel. I liked it. Here's a challenge. How about suggestions for historical romance fans? chel

    1. Well, it's not your traditional Regency period historical romance, but have a look at A Bride's Story, a shojo manga series.

    2. A Bride's Story has two lambs (maybe goats?!?) on the cover and two chickens on the fly leaf. How can I NOT like it? chel

    3. Oh yes! A Bride's Story is a beautiful graphic novel full of historical detail, but only the most gentle of romances.

      It looks like we own "The Exile: an Outlander graphic novel," which might be interesting...

  2. Thank you, Andrew! This list is AWEsome! It has many possibilities for me. Also, having witnessed the workroom scene you describe, I can attest that the graphic novel discussion was as you say, but your version is funnier. Your ever-curious neighbor, the Prairie Dog.