Little Known (but AMAZING) Graphic Novels
By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Comic Books, Graphic Novels, Sequential Art; call it what you want it is still one of the hottest collections in libraries and book stores. The greatest thing is that you can find wonderful reads at your reading level and every level below you. You could probably go the other way, but some of the content of the teen and adults graphic novels are a little much for our younger readers. I am lucky enough to have a kid in the children’s section and one in the teen’s section so I get exposed to a lot of great comic books passing through our house and stuff I might of missed is thrust into my face (often literally) with an exuberant “Read this, Dad!” on a regular basis. Whether it’s collected volumes of individual issues, manga volumes from overseas, or new purpose written stories, these books are showing up in every library for every age group and here are some of the best you might miss.
In the Children’s Library:
There are a plethora of options for everyone in the children’s section. There are the standard Pokémon and superhero books and some graphic novels based on mythology that are all good, but there are also some hidden gems with the power to delight all ages.
Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet Series is a favorite for all ages. This bildungsroman tells Emily and her brother’s story as they travel worlds, fight elves and search for their mother. It is remarkably evocative and pulls no punches, despite being written with children primarily in mind. It will only take ten pages before you realize this series may require tissues.
Judd Winick’s HiLo Series was originally designed to be an all-ages comic that he could use to show kids his work. The alien boy who came to earth tale really does appeal to all ages as Winick uses his gift for storytelling to create a story for all
Scott Chantler’s The Three Thieves series is one of the best series of fantasy comics I’ve ever read. The story keeps making you think you know what’s going on only to take another unexpected twist. This comic has heart and pathos as well as action and wonderful characters.
Rapunzel’s Revenge and Calamity Jack by Shannon and Dean Hale is a western fantasy meets steampunk fairytale mashup. The couple that brought you some of the outrageously popular Squirrel Girl storylines has a series of their own. Rapunzel and Jack are far more different than you’ve ever seen them before and the changes make them more interesting.
In the Teen Section:
Here we find the meat of the graphic novels. Here is most of the manga, almost all of the mainstream DC and Marvel titles, and all the avant-garde books like Maus that have hit such heights of recognition that they sometimes appear on school reading lists. It’s hard to find something that a teen hasn’t already talked up but here are a few options.
Takehiko Inoue and Vagabond tell the fictionalized tale of the life of Miyamoto Musashi. In recounting the tales of the life of one of Japan’s most famous and dangerous samurai, the series does not paint too nice a picture. The art is fantastic, the subject mythical and the story compelling.
Age of Bronze from Eric Shanower is another retelling. In this case it is a graphic version of the Trojan War. Shanower takes the tale back to its roots as sequential pictures on ancient Greek vases and fleshes out the whole story not just the small sliver we know from the Iliad. Best of all, after a long hiatus, this series is finally getting continued.
Superman: True Brit by Kim Johnson and John Cleese bring you the only superhero entry on the list. The man who created some of Monty Python’s best helps to create an Elseworlds man of steel who was brought up in England. At times you’ll think he ended up Clark Dursley.
Makoto Yukimura’s Planetes is the story of space garbage men. It tells the tale of several characters that remove space debris and their goals and personalities. While it is a near future science fiction tale, this series is really a character driven masterpiece.
In the Adult Department:
All those great graphic novels that make the New York Times Review of Books or are mentioned in The Atlantic are here. From the classic old Peanut’s strips through the biographical Persepolis to the big publishing house critical darlings of The Sandman and Fables, they’re over with the adult books.
Blade of the Immortal just became a major, live action motion picture in the last few years but the graphic novel series by Hiroaki Samura is over 25 years old. It takes a common theme, redemption, and tells the hackneyed story in way that makes you still care how it turns out.
Brian K. Vaughn’s We Stand on Guard starts in the year 2112, 300 years after the war of 1812. It tells the story of freedom fighters taking on their technological giant oppressor and doing their best to renew their way of life. The political commentary and twist in the aggressor/defender relationship is truly spectacular.
Abe Sapien from Hellboy and BPRD is a newer edition. Mike Mignola has focused on telling the story of the aquatic amnesiac in his new collection. More than a spin off, it is rather an opportunity to expand on a fan favorite character. A green skinned, gill breathing fleshing out of a great soul.
Valerian is another one that was a movie recently. Luc Besson’s infatuation with this Franco-Belgian comic has influenced his films and caused him to adapt one of the stories into a major motion picture. Pierre Christin and artist Jean-Claude Mézières tell the tale of a galaxy traveling time hopping duo with interesting characterization. The European art style also provides an interesting change for those used to North American or Asian drawing techniques.
The Cartoon History of the Universe is my final entry here. Larry Gonnick uses with and silly art to guide readers on a journey through our semi-mythic prehistory and all the way to the creation of the modern world. His often overlooked works are as informative as they are entertaining.
So while these books aren’t as well known now as I might think they deserve, here’s to hoping that a few of you out there might pick up a book and take up their cause with me. I can guarantee you’ll find something on here that will amuse you.