A List Of Must-Have Graphic Novels For Any School Library

On October 12, 2013 · 2 Comments

This is by no means a comprehensive list – I haven’t read everything out there! And there are plenty I’ve read that I’m probably forgetting at the moment. But librarians ask me often enough for graphic novel recommendations that it seemed worthwhile to compile a list.

These are all graphic novels that I’ve personally read and enjoyed. They all have genuinely top-notch cartooning, and I’m confident kids will enjoy them. I’ve tried to make a list that includes both “obvious” graphic novels, and lesser-known works that are nonetheless excellent and entertaining.

Some graphic novels for all ages.

  1. Bone, by Jeff Smith.
  2. Smile , by Raina Telgemeier.
  3. And also Drama, by Raina Telgemeier. Raina’s books are magic; she has a direct portal from her drawing board to the hearts of young girls everywhere. It’s uncanny.
  4. Beanworld, by Larry Marder.
  5. American Born Chinese by Gene Lee Yang
  6. Inuyasha, by Rumiko Takahashi.
  7. Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley. I love both Castle Waiting books; fantasy that emphasizes friendship and humor rather than danger and daring, and somehow is fascinating rather than cloying. Plus, no one draws castle architecture better than Linda Medley.
  8. Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon Hale and Nathan Hale.
  9. Courtney Crumrin, for those kids who like stories that are gently macabre.
  10. Jellaby, by Kean Soo. Out of print, as is the sequel, but available secondhand and worth it; sweet and unique.
  11. Meanwhile, by Jason Shiga. A completely fresh take on the choose-your-own-adventure genre.
  12. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales, by Nathan Hale.
  13. Amulet, by Kazu Kibuishi
  14. A Wrinkle in Time: The Graphic Novel, amazingly well adapted by Hope Larson from Madeleine L’Engle’s novel. I’m not generally favorably inclined towards adaptations, but this one is an exception.
  15. Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma.
  16. Zita the Spacegirl, by Ben Hatke.
  17. Friends with Boys, by Faith Erin Hicks.
  18. Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm. (Okay, this one isn’t “all-ages,” it’s for little kids.)
  19. Amy Unbounded, by Rachel Hartman.This is a “hidden gem,” long out of print and available only used. A fantasy comic full of accurate details about the daily life of a bright ten-year-old girl in the middle ages.
  20. The Baby-Sitters Club, by Ann M Martin and Raina Telgemeier. I normally tend to recommend more “indy” titles, but the charm and excellent cartooning in these three books is irresistible.

Superhero Graphic Novels. Gotta have a few of ’em, I guess. Other than Superhero Girl and Supergirl, these are for older kids rather than all-ages.

  1. The Adventures of Superhero Girl, by Faith Erin Hicks. More of a parody of superheros than a standard superhero book, this one can be enjoyed by both superhero fans and superhero skeptics, and contains no grimness and next to no violence.
  2. Supergirl: Cosmic Adventures in the 8th Grade, by Landry Walker and Eric Jones. This graphic novel, about an 8th grade Supergirl trying to find her way through school and through superheroing, is just ridiculously fun. There’s a little superhero violence, but nothing gory or brutal, and the theme of a misfit struggling to fit in will be relatable for many middle schoolers.
  3. Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection, by Scott McCloud. This is my favorite superhero comic. It is optimistic rather than grim, and although it has moments of intense adventure it’s not especially violent. A teen coming-of-age novel in superhero form, the hero’s girlfriend Jenny is at least as much the protagonist as Zot himself is. There’s an earlier color Zot! book, which I also like, but the black-and-white book is better and can be read on its own.
  4. Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan. Fun superhero action with a diverse cast of main characters. Like most superhero comics, Runaways can get rather grim and violent; there are betrayals and some characters die. I only recommend the first eight volumes, after that the quality plummets.
  5. Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. THE classic of the superhero genre, much better than the movie of the same name. WARNING: Extreme grimness and violence, and some sexual scenes depicted non-explicitly, including one panel depicting a rape.
  6. Batman, Year One, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. If you’re going to stock just one Batman graphic novel, this is the one. Christopher Nolan clearly kept this book by his bedside while he was making “Batman Begins,” but the version on paper is much better. Grim and violent, however.

Graphic Novels For Older Kids – books with death, tougher themes, etc..

  1. Incognegro, by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece.
  2. Maus, by Art Spiegleman.
  3. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi.
  4. I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Nimura. (Might be okay for middle school kids, too. I need to reread it to see. But it has some tough themes about bullying and trauma, so I’m putting it here for now).
  5. Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol. WARNING: The main character – who is wonderfully written – smokes and swears. (Although I think she quits smoking by the end of the book).
  6. Aya, by Marguerite Abouet. As well as being a gorgeous comic book, this is the one of the best portraits of daily life in Africa (specifically, the Ivory Coast) you’ll ever read.  Again, might be okay for middle schoolers, but I’d have to reread to be sure.
  7. The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot. Excellent graphic novel about a girl recovering from sexual abuse.
  8. Ivy, by Sarah Oleksyk. WARNING: This book contains R-rated nudity, sex, drug use, and swearing, so may not be for every library, despite its high quality. A realistic coming-of-age novel about a young girl and wannabe artist.
  9. Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. An entertaining comic book textbook about the medium of comic books, this won’t appeal to all kids, but the intellectual nerdy comic book fan types may dig it.
  10. Making Comics, by Scott McCloud. This is the book I recommend to high schoolers who are beginning to get serious about making their own comics and want to know what they should read.

Some All-Age Classics

  1. Pogo, by Walt Kelly
  2. Peanuts, by Charles Schulz
  3. Uncle Scrooge, by Carl Barks
  4. Calvin and Hobbes, by Bill Watterson
  5. The Adventures of Tintin: Red Rackham’s Treasure ) and…
  6. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, both by Hergé. Normally I don’t recommend particular books within a series, but if you get only 2 Tintin books, get these two (which form a single two-part story). They’re both an example of Hergé’s cartooning at its best, and also an example of a Hergé book without any offensive racial stereotypes to worry about. (Although one character is an alcoholic.)
  7. Moomin, by Tove Jansson.

And hey, while you’re at it, please consider picking up a copy of Hereville. :-p

Dicebox book one flip-through!

On December 6, 2011 · 0 Comments

My friend, the brilliant cartoonist Jenn Lee, is self-publishing the first book of her sci-fi webcomic Dicebox. Last week she posted the flip-through:

Jenn let me contribute a blurb to Dicebox. Here’s what I wrote:

Molly and Griffen are blue-collar workers in space looking for work and avoiding past mistakes. Jenn Manley Lee’s unique brand of science fiction — part slice of life, part travelogue — is daring, refreshing, whip-smart, and gloriously entertaining.

And Scott McCloud’s blurb:

In Jenn Manley Lee’s elegant pages, the mysteries of the universe are matched by the mysteries of the human mind. Dicebox is science fiction done right.

The book also includes a short Dicebox story written and drawn by me, years ago. (I’m kind of embarrassed by my old artwork, to be honest, but Jenn says she likes it.)

Dicebox is available as a hardcover, a softcover, and a very affordable pdf — all three versions are for sale at Jenn’s store. A warning, though: The book does have a little sex and a little swearing, so probably for grown-ups only.

Read “Modest Medusa”

On January 30, 2011 · Comments Off on Read “Modest Medusa”

Jake Richmond, the cartoonist who (among a zillion other things) colors “Hereville,” has started a new webcomic, called “Modest Medusa,” which is genuinely funny, charming and nice to look at. The first strip is here, but I’ll post a sample:

Go check it out!

My favorite Cerebus covers (gallery)

On November 11, 2010 · 4 Comments

For my money, few comic books has been as thrilling and interesting as Dave Sim’s Cerebus — and no other comic has been as infuriating and disappointing in the end. Here are some of my favorite covers, drawn by Sim and Gerhard. (Sim does the figures and lettering, Gerhard does backgrounds, objects and colors).

Issue 87. The cover, depicting two characters falling off a cliff during a blizzard, is lovely in its own right. I liked it even better once I realized that it was a parody of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight cover — but Sim and Gerhard’s version looks better.

Issue 123. I love this cover portrait of a character who seemed simple, but turned out to have many sides, some of them quite ugly.

Issue 140, one of many nice Cerebus covers in this period featuring small figures in front of amazing Gerhard drawings of architecture. This cover stands out to me because of the subtle but perfect body language; Sebastian sick and exhausted and facing a long climb still to go, and Robbie so worried for his friend and eager to help.

Issue 206. I wanted to include a cover from “Guys,” because I really liked the way that the covers were just additional pages in the comic, and fit into the paperbook book collection seamlessly — but are still lovely cover designs in and of themselves. Also, these covers feature Sim drawing in his Drucker-influenced caricature style, my favorite of Sim’s drawing styles.

Issue 96, probably my favorite of any cover to an individual Cerebus issue. This was the second of a series of five covers featuring tight close-ups of Cerebus, all drawn in a rough cross-hatched style. It’s a powerful image, and a great use of cropping to create drama.

Then there are my two favorite phone book covers:

High Society. A stunning pen-and-ink drawing of a small Cerebus climbing the steps to an enormous hotel. Click on the image to see it larger, or see a huge, high-quality scan on Cerebusfangirl’s Flickr page.

Click on it to see it bigger! As I said, I love Dave Sim in his Mort Drucker influenced mode, and the huge crowd scene on this cover certainly gives me a lot of that. A zillion elements — the insane crowd, the overwhelming mountain and architecture, and the little tiny Cerebus making huge gestures on top of the building — are held together by Sim’s solid design sense, and form a perfect illustration for the story inside.

This is a wrap-around cover, by the way. I couldn’t find a really great scan of the whole wrap-around, but here’s the best I did find (click on it to see it larger).

I don’t think this is a cover, but while looking for Cerebus covers, I came across this impressive painting by Sim and Gerhard of Cerebus having a nightmare. And I have no idea where the painting came from! So if you know, please leave a comment.

Colleen Coover Is The Only Essential Batman Artist

On October 21, 2010 · Comments Off on Colleen Coover Is The Only Essential Batman Artist

This two-page Batman story by Colleen Coover is one of the best things I’ve seen this month!

Comics I Like: A Page From Phoenix

On May 3, 2010 · 2 Comments

Barry: Oh wow. (Looks around, sees Jake.) Hey, Jake, look at this layout.

Jake: Oh? (Picks up book, looks at page.) Wow.

This is from “Space,” the fourth volume of Osamu Tezuka’s Phoenix series, originally published in 1969. The layout device, which on this page emphasizes the group coming together as a team but eventually emphasizes each character’s separateness, is continued for many pages of the book.

It’s hard to describe Pheonix, which I’ve so far read the first five volumes of. Each volume is a story that stands entirely on its own, set thousands of years apart from the other stories, some of which take place in prehistory, others in a science-fiction future — but through reincarnation, the same characters appear as different people in multiple volumes. The ambition and scope of some of these stories is jaw-dropping. If you’re going to read just one, I’d recommend Karma, which is the best one I’ve read so far (and, some people say, the best manga ever created).

(A lot of Pheonix would be rated “R” if it were a movie, due to occasional nudity and also some extreme violence at times, so if you’re a kid you should check with your parents before reading it.)

Comics I Like: Lotus Root Children

On April 28, 2010 · 6 Comments

One of the comics I picked up at Stumptown was Lotus Root Children, by Wei Li.

(SPOILERS below!)

Image from Lotus Root Children

Li told me that he was inspired by the documentary “China’s Stolen Children.” As you might expect, the approximately 50 page comic tells a sad story, but Li tells it very well. The main character is a child trafficker. She doesn’t personally steal the children; she takes care of the children between when they are kidnapped and when buyers for the children are found. During this time, she mothers the children, with genuine affection, and also brainwashes them to forget their prior lives. The character was believable and — despite what we learn about her in the course of the comic — likable, although I wanted to know more about her and her background. How did her life reach this point?

Li’s artwork is nice; he uses very lively brushstrokes both for the linework and for the coloring, which I enjoyed. The underlying drawing isn’t always assured — the anatomy seems a bit shaky sometimes – but it’s good, and I’m sure it’ll get better as Li goes on. (His new project, The Old Woman, looks great — you can see preview artwork for it here). The layout approach is also a little inconsistent; early on, Li plays around a little with breaking up a three-tiers-per-page layout, while in the last half of the book he hardly ever strays from it, and I don’t see any story-based reason for the change in approach.

But I’m nit-picking. The art is very well-done and shows potential to get a lot better, and the writing is ambitious and interesting. Li is definitely someone who believes comics can be more than fight scenes, and I’ll be looking for more of Li’s comics at future cons.

I do have one actual complaint, which is that the paper version of Lotus Root Children is in gray tones that are rather muddy. Later on, I checked it out online — and discovered that the art was drawn in color, with rich blues popping the characters out of greenish graywash backgrounds. It looks twice as good with the colors. So while I’d hate to deprive Li of sales, I’d recommend reading Lotus Root Children online instead of buying the comic.

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