By Lon Maxwell, Reference Department
Thirty years ago reading a comic book in the presence of your classmates in a middle school was a surefire plan to get picked on relentlessly. Now, every third movie and new television show is about one superhero or another or a team of them combined. The world has changed and now the geeks rule pop culture. So what do you read if you like being on the cutting edge of graphic novels? How do you boost your geek cred in a world where the popular people know the significance of Bobbi Morse and who Caitlin Snow really is? There are only two places left and I’m going to tell you where to find them (if you don’t already know).
Before I delve into the mines of alternative superheroes, I want to quickly mention other options. There are plenty of great graphic novels out there that don’t have anything to do with super heroes. You can find everything from mystery to fantasy to history to horror and even physics covered in books of sequential art. Our blog titled Little Known (but Amazing) Graphic Novels covers some great options that are not as well known. By that same token, Superhero 101: Foundations in Superhero History can give you some great reading suggestions from the heroes of the distant past. In fact there are a lot of great books out there that might even be considered superhero books if I weren’t sticking with the cape and cowl set. So while Buffy and Harry Dresden and the New Types of the Gundam universe might be super powered they’ll have to stay on the shelf today.
The most common place to look for new super heroes for your reading enjoyment is …the other publishers. There are dozens of small imprints and local publishers but you don’t even have to look that hard. If you are a fan of the super hero books from Marvel and DC, but just want something new try looking at Image, Valiant, and Dark Horse. While these guys are outside of the big corporations, they’ve been around for a while and many of their books have the history and depth you are used to.
Dark Horse is the oldest, dating back to 1986, and has specialized in the types of characters that don’t fit the traditional mold of a superhero, but they do have a few exceptions in their history.
- They had a revival of Doc Savage, a physician trained mentally and physically to superhuman levels (think Batman). There are many claims that he is the first superhero, predating certain Kryptonians by five years.
- Ghost was another more traditional hero, she was an undead spirit who spent her afterlife righting wrongs.
- The American was a cynical take on the patriotic type superhero.
Valiant is more traditional in its character creation. While they did some revivals back in the early nineties, like Turok and Doctor Solar, they had their own stable of superheroes.
- X-O Manowar is a Dark Age European warrior kidnapped by aliens who stole their greatest weapon and turned it on them only to return to earth and discover that, due to time dilation, 1600 years had passed.
- Ninjak is a superspy meets techno ninja. It sounds like cool overload, but this Joe Quesada created hero manages to pull it off.
- Bloodshot was a nanite infected assassin who was trying to rediscover the past that was stolen from him.
Image is possibly the best known of the alternative publishers. In actuality it was a collection of creator owned studios trying to start a company where the idea men actually remained in control of their characters. The initial line up of talent with image was legendary. Rob Liefeld, Jim Lee, Todd McFarland, Erik Larsen, Jim Valentino and Marc Silvestri all had their own studios producing new characters and new stories like we’d never seen before. Liefeld eventually left somewhat acrimoniously, Lee sold his Wildstorm Productions to DC and the modern day has seen a shift to a more diversified field of titles with things like Saga and Walking Dead (which we have at the library). While the company has seen changes to its direction since 1992, the list of superheroes they created is lengthy and many are worth a read.
- The Savage Dragon was Erik Larsen’s childhood creation brought to the page in form he wanted. A green, scaly, fin headed humanoid with invulnerability and super strength.
- Spawn took a deal with the devil and turned it into one of the most popular anti-heroes of the era.
- Witchblade is a series detailing the stories of a mystical gauntlet that bonds with women and gives them the ability to fight evil.
One other place to look for stories you’ve never read is the past. Golden age comics are where it all began and while there are decades of stories out there about the heroes you already know, there are other great heroes you may not be quite so familiar with. Marvel predecessor, Timely Comics, gave the world Captain America and Namor, but they also created the original versions of the Angel, Vision, and Human Torch as well as the speedster known as the Whizzer (the Nazi-fighting Destroyer), and the Blazing Skull (the champion of Freedom). DC’s history is even deeper. Not only do they have a host of golden age superheroes you’ve never heard of, they have added those of other now defunct companies to their in-house universe. Fawcett comics gave the line Captain Marvel and the Marvel family, probably better known as Shazam. Quality Comics published the early adventures of the hero Plastic Man as well as Will Eisner’s original Spirit. Fox Comics (and later Charlton Comics and Americomics) created the Blue Beetle, Captain Atom and the Question. These are just a few of the many options from golden age.
If you’re bored with the current run of comics and tired of seeing the same old stories retold, look into the corners of the other heroes and the past and find new books to rekindle your love of heroes.
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.
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Our juvenile graphic novel section is very well loved here at WCPL. Kids can’t seem to read enough of them. However, their favorites are often checked out, and while this is a fantastic problem to have, we hate to see kids leave disappointed and empty handed. With that in mind, I’ve compiled a brief list of readalikes for some of our most popular graphic novels.
If you can’t get enough Calvin and Hobbes…
Try Phoebe and Her Unicorn!
Phoebe and Her Unicorn by Dana Simpson (J 741.5973 SIM) is a weekly comic strip about a precocious nine-year-old girl named Phoebe and her best friend Marigold Heavenly Nostrils, a unicorn. Their adventures begin when Phoebe skips a rock and accidentally hits a Marigold Heavenly Nostrils in the face. Improbably, this led to Phoebe being granted one wish, and she used it to make the unicorn her obligational best friend. With seven volumes and counting, kids will be reading and laughing about Phoebe and Marigold’s wacky and hilarious antics as long as they like.
If you absolutely love Smile and Sisters…
Try Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point, Pashmina, and Cici’s Journal!
In Surfside Girls: The Secret of Danger Point by Kim Dwinell ( J 741.5973 DWI), things are getting very weird for Samantha. Lately, her best friend Jade explodes into fits of giggles whenever she sees a boy, and it’s throwing a wrench into the laidback summer of surfing and hanging out that Sam had planned. But after swimming through a secret underwater cave, Sam starts to see things. Like ghosts. And pirates. And maybe something even scarier! Can she and Jade get to the bottom of this mystery in time to save their town?
Pashmina by Nidhi Chanani (J 741.5973 CHA) is the story of Priyanka Das, who has so many unanswered questions about her mother and about India. For Pri, her mother’s homeland can only exist in her imagination. That is, until she find a mysterious pashmina tucked away in a forgotten suitcase. When she wraps herself in it, she is transported to a place more vivid and colorful than any guidebook or Bollywood film. But is this the real India? And what is that shadow lurking in the background? To learn the truth, Pri must travel farther than she’s ever dared and find the family she never knew.
Translated from French, Cici dreams of being a novelist in Cici’s Journal by Joris Chamblain (J 741.5973 CHA). Her favorite subject is people, especially adults. She’s been watching them and taking notes. Everybody has one special secret, Cici figures, and if you want to write about people, you need to understand what’s hiding inside them. But now she’s discovered something truly strange: an old man who disappears into the forest every Sunday with huge pots of paint in all sorts of colors. What is he up to? Why does he look so sad when he comes back?
If you think Narwhal and Jelly is delightful….
Try The Great Pet Escape,Cici, A Fairy’s Tale, and Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfluffle!
In The Great Pet Escape by Victoria Jamieson (J 741.5973 JAM), the class pets at Daisy P. Flugelhorn Elementary School want out, and G.W.—short for George Washington—the deceptively cute hamster in the second-grade classroom, is just the guy to lead the way. But when he finally escapes and goes to find his former partners in crime, Barry and Biter, he finds that they actually LIKE being class pets! Just as G.W. gets Barry and Biter to agree to leave with him, a mouse named Harriet and her many mouse minions get in their way.
A lot is changing for Cici in Believe Your Eyes, the first book in Cici, A Fairy’s Tale by Cori Doerrfield (J 741.5973 DOE). Her parents are separating, her wacky abuela is moving in, and on her tenth birthday, she wakes up with fairy wings! Cici’s new magical powers let her see people as they truly are, but what she learns about her friends and family isn’t always easy to accept. She has only one day to decide whether to keep her wings. When Cici wishes life could just be normal again, will she choose to believe in the power of fairies?
Brobots and the Kaiju Kerfluffle by J. Torres (J 741.5973 TOR) begins with robot brothers Panchi, Joukei, and Kouro reeling in a “big one” while fishing. When the giant threatens to demolish their city, the three bro-up and spring into action!
If you like Hilo…
Try Cosmic Commandos, Dream Jumper, and Fish Girl!
In Cosmic Commandos by Christopher Eliopoulos (J 741.5973 ELI), Jeremy and Justin are twins, but they couldn’t be any more different from each other. They both love video games, however, and when Jeremy wins a cereal-box charm that brings his favorite video game to life, villains and all, he finds that he’s in way over his head. Can these two mismatched brothers work together to beat the video game that has taken over their life?
Dream Jumper: Nightmare Escape by Greg Grunberg (J 741.5973 GRU) is the story of Ben, who has the ability to jump into other people’s dreams. So when his friends start falling victim to an evil dream-monster that prevents them from waking, Ben knows he has to help them. But can he get to them in time? With a mysterious companion, Ben might just be able to defeat the monster and save his friends…if he can figure out how to use the power within him.
Fish Girl by Donna Jo Napoli (J 741.5973 NAP) begins with a show at Ocean Wonders, an aquarium filled with several ocean animals and Fish Girl, the elusive star attraction. When Fish Girl has a chance encounter with an ordinary girl, their growing friendship inspires Fish Girl’s longing for freedom, independence, and a life beyond the aquarium tank.
If you need more action-packed adventures like Amulet…
Try Red’s Planet, Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race, and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur!
Red’s Planet by Eddie Pittman (J 741.5973 PIT) is the story of Red, who longs to live in her own perfect paradise far away from her annoying foster family. But when a UFO mistakenly kidnaps her, Red finds herself farther away than she could have possibly imagined—across the galaxy and aboard an enormous spaceship owned by the Aquilari, an ancient creature with a taste for rare and unusual treasures. Before Red can be discovered as a stowaway, the great ship crashes on a small deserted planet, leaving her marooned with a menagerie of misfit aliens. With her newfound friend, a small gray alien named Tawee, Red must find a way to survive the hostile castaways, evade the ravenous wildlife and contend with Goose, the planet’s grumpy, felinoid custodian. Surely this can’t be the paradise she’s looking for.
In Clem Hetherington and the Ironwood Race by Jen Breach (J 741.5973 BRE), Clementine Hetherington and her robot brother, Digory, have run away from the orphanage they’ve been living in since their parents died. Clem and Dig want to follow in their famous archaeologist mother’s footsteps, but no one will take them seriously. Their chance arrives when a man from their past saves Digory’s life, and to repay the debt, they enter a multiday race to recover stolen artifacts! Clem and Dig hope to win so they can give the artifacts to a museum, but their opponents want to sell them on the black market. The Ironwood Race has no rules, and Clem and Dig might be in over their heads!
The first volume in the Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur comic series by Brandon Montclare (J 741.5973 MON) introduces Lunella Lafayette, a preteen genius living in mortal fear of her latent inhuman gene. There’s no telling what she’ll turn into, but Lunella’s got a plan. All she needs is an Omni-Wave Projector. Easy, right? That is, until a red-scaled beast is teleported from the prehistoric past to a far-flung future we call today! Together they’re the most Marvelous Team-Up of all — the Inhuman Moon Girl and time-tossed Devil Dinosaur! But will they be BFFs forever, or just until DD’s dinner time? And Lunella soon learns that there are other problems with having a titanic T. Rex as a pet in the modern-day Marvel Universe. School, for one. Monster hunters are another—especially when they’re the Totally Awesome Hulk! Then there’s the fact that everyone’s favorite dino didn’t journey through time alone. Beware the prehistoric savages known as the Killer-Folk—New York City’s deadliest tourists! Can Lunella handle all this turmoil and keep herself from transforming into an inhuman monster?
If Dog Man makes you laugh your pants off…
Try Making Scents, Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom, and Catstronauts!
Mickey isn’t quite like his brothers and sisters in Making Scents by Arthur Yorinks (J 741.5973 YOR). They’re all stronger, faster, and have a much better sense of smell. That’s because his “brothers and sisters” are dogs―bloodhounds, to be exact. Mickey’s mom and dad are crazy about canines. Their dogs are the loves of their lives and their livelihood. So, naturally, they’re raising their son as if he was a dog, and Mickey wants nothing more than to make his parents proud. Just as Mickey is mastering the art of sniffing, a tragic accident forever changes his happy family. Mickey is sent to live with relatives he’s never met―relatives who are not fond of kids . . . and who hate dogs!
In The Doughnut Kingdom, the first book in the Cucumber Quest series by Gigi D.G. (J 741.5973 GIG), the seven kingdoms of Dreamside need a legendary hero. Instead, they’ll have to settle for Cucumber, a nerdy magician who just wants to go to school. As destiny would have it, he and his way more heroic sister, Almond, must now seek the Dream Sword, the only weapon powerful enough to defeat Queen Cordelia’s Nightmare Knight. Can these bunny siblings really save the world in its darkest hour? Sure, why not?
CatStronauts: Mission Moon by Drew Brockington (J 741.5973 BRO) begins with the world being thrust into darkness due to a global energy shortage. The World’s Best Scientist quickly comes up with a bold plan to set up a solar power plant on the moon. But someone has to go up there to set it up, and that adventure falls to the CatStronauts, the best space cats on the planet! Meet the fearless commander Major Meowser, brave-but-hungry pilot Waffles, genius technician and inventor Blanket, and quick thinking science officer Pom Pom on their most important mission yet!
As always, you can put any of these on hold through our website, and once your kids plow through these, our children’s librarians are ready to recommend even more titles!
By Katy Searcy, Children’s Department
Comics and graphic novels. When I say those magic words, there are typically some pretty strong feelings evoked: I either receive rants and raves or wailing and gnashing of teeth. I’m here for those of you who may fall into the latter category. Maybe you hate them because you feel they aren’t “real” literature, because there’s absolutely no way cartoons can contain value. Maybe you hate them because your kid won’t read anything else. Or maybe you just hate them because you don’t know anything about them. So I’m here to provide you with a crash course in comics and graphic novels with the hope that hating them will no longer be your first reaction.
Comics vs. Graphic Novels: What’s the Difference?
Comic books are periodicals that contain a single story or a collection of stories, often featuring a continuing set of characters. Comic books are a form of sequential art, following a left-to-right, panel-to-panel reading convention and containing textual devices such as speech bubbles, captions, and onomatopoeia to convey dialogue, narration, and sound. Many American comic books involve adventure stories that incorporate elements of fantasy and science fiction. Superhero characters in comic books are especially popular. Some comic series have been merged into giant collections, like The Walking Dead, so they read more like a graphic novel.
A graphic novel is a book-length story that combines pictures and text. Graphic novels do resemble comic books, but they’re typically much longer than comic books with more serious subject matter. Many graphic novels do explore adult themes, but there are just as many graphic novels created specifically for children and young adults. Graphic novels are not necessarily novels—the format includes fictional stories, informational text, essays, reports, memoirs, biographies, and even poetry told using a combination of text and images following the panel-to-panel conventions of comics.
Where Does Manga Fit?
Manga are Japanese comics. The panels and text are read from right to left, and the reader turns the page in a right-to-left fashion as well. This can catch many readers off guard, but trust me, once you start, it’s easy to catch on. The art style of manga, however, differs drastically from its American counterpart. Manga characters are hyper-stylized, typically drawn with large eyes, small mouths, and giant heads of brightly colored hair. Emotions are exaggerated and can take over a character’s entire body.
Why Should We Read Them?
- The first reason is obvious: Comics and graphic novels are fun! Why should reading be boring and miserable? It shouldn’t. Letting kids read something fun of their choosing gives them a sense of initiative and responsibility towards their own reading, and they’re less likely to view reading as a chore.
- We live in a hyper-visual culture, and the visual sequences in comics and graphic novels just make sense to kids.
- Kids use complex reading strategies when comic books and graphic novels. Readers must rely on dialogue and visual cues to infer what is not explicitly stated by a narrator, and they develop multiple literacies through the combination of pictures and text.
- Comics and graphic novels are GREAT for reluctant readers. For kids who are intimidated by large amounts of text, the combination of text and images makes the book seem more accessible.
- Personally, I read them when I want a more immersive, inclusive reading experience. I’ve found that some stories are just told better through a visual medium.
Which Ones Should I Read?
I’m glad you asked. If you’d like to know more about comics as a genre, Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud (call number YA 741.5 MACC) is a wonderful resource. Often used as a textbook in literature classes (I needed it a total of three times during my undergrad and graduate work. Three!), McCloud delves into nearly every historical and perceptual aspect of comics. As far as good comics and graphic novels to read, here is a basic list of some of my personal favorites for each age group that we have available here at WCPL.
Babymouse: Queen of the World! (J 741.5 HOL)
Squish: Super Amoeba (J 741.5 HOL)
Lunch Lady and the Cyborg Substitute (J 741.5 KRO)
Chi’s Sweet Home (J 741.5952 KON)
Zebrafish (J 741.5 EME)
Roller Girl (J 741.5973 JAM)
Amulet: The Stonekeeper (J 741.5973 KIB)
Astronaut Academy: Zero Gravity (J 741.5973 ROM)
Brain Camp (J 741.5 KIM, 7th and 8th shelf)
Chiggers (YA F LAR)
Battling Boy (J 741.5 POP, 7th and 8th shelf)
Drama (YA F TEL)
In Real Life (YA F DOC)
Scott Pilgrim’s Precious Little Life (YA F OMA)
This One Summer (YA F TAM)
Runaways (YA F VAU)
The Shadow Hero (YA F YAN)
Fun Home: An American Tragicomic (741.5973 PEC)
Over Easy (741.5973 PON)
Saga (741.5973 VAU)
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (92 CHA)
Blankets (F THO)
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud