Five Great Graphic Novels That Should Be On Your Shelf,
or at least borrow them from a friend once okay?
Let’s face it the Internet is full of lists, must have lists, best of lists, all sorts of things listed for all sorts of reasons and if you’re a comic book fan you’ve seen a ton of these over the years. So why another one? Because I am constantly amazed that people still seem to think that comics=superheroes. I grew up on capes and tights, lord knows my 80’s (and 90’s) are a blur of X-Men blue and yellow, but as my perception widened I realized there was much much more out there.
I’m not talking about “serious graphic novels” either. I find the need to separate “art” and “entertainment” abhorrent. What I’m presenting here are my 5 favorite non-superhero (alright a bit superhero-y), maybe art, sometimes deep, definitely entertaining, graphic novels. And you really should read them, really.
I Kill Giants is a rare treat. It combines purposeful storytelling, effective art, and a compelling plot into a highly readable, enjoyable, heart-rending story you need to read.
Barbara Thorson is a child in crisis. Picked on in school, lost in the middle at home, crushed by her mother’s sickness she feels like most middle schoolers, though she handles it a bit differently. She hunts monsters. Now this isn’t Buffy, we’re not talking about your usual fare here. These monsters are behemoths. Giant Kaiju like creatures that leave destruction in their wake.
How can a twelve-year-old girl fight such creatures? Why would she want to? Her journey to and through the problems life presents her is an awesome one. It’s a journey not only of facing problems and fears but facing up to life itself. A journey of discovering that life does go on.
This book hits the mark on all points.
I Kill Giants Fifth Anniversary Edition TP
Author: Joe Kelly
Artist: J.M. Ken Niimura
Format: B&W, 232 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL
Publisher: Image Comics
Age Rating: 12+ Only
Purchase at you local comic shop or from Amazon (www.amazon.com/Kill-Giants-
Another coming of age story (sensing a trend?) Joe the Barbarian is a little different. The teen years aren’t being nice to Joe, his father is deceased, his mother is on the edge of losing their home (the only home he’s ever known), top all that off with being diabetic and you have a perfect storm. One that is about to get even rougher when a run-in with some local bullies puts Joe off his sugar and he finds himself in another world. Though the world of Under Country is familiar, it’s populated by all manner of Joe’s toys and favorite characters, it’s obviously not real. Or is it? Well he definitely doesn’t belong there. Does he? The themes of personal growth, of facing one’s fears, interposed with the real life struggle of Joe trying to find a way out of the diabetic shock he’s in makes for an amazingly tense and unbelievably enjoyable read.
Joe the Barbarian
Author: Grant Morrison
Artist: Sean Murphy
Colors: Dave Stewart
Letters: Todd Klein
Format: color, 224 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL
Purchase at your local comic book shop or from Amazon (www.amazon.com/Joe-Barbarian-
This is the book on the list most often referred to as “art”. Paul Pope is one of those rare writer/artists who has attained fame without an enduring affiliation to any major publisher, save for some Eisner winning work for DC (he’s won 3 Eisners for his work, two were with DC.) Called an “alternative comic” writer/artist he made his mark in Manga before moving to work with DC and publishing work through his own company (Horse Press) as well as Dark Horse and First Second. But I digress.
Battling Boy is a complex tale of a city, (Acropolis) besieged by monsters, a slain hero, and a boy sent upon a ramble who may be her savior. If he can grow up enough to be a hero that is.
One of the things I treasure most from my favorite novels was the mix of excitement and fear when the protagonist was facing “their moment”. When Huck and Tom set off on the river, when Jim Hawkins realizes he may be in over his head, when David Copperfield asks for “more”. As a youth I think we all wonder what our moment will be and will we stand up and own it.
That truly is the story of Battling Boy. When the twelve-year-old demigod is dropped unceremoniously into the city of Acropolis his father tells him, in no uncertain terms, that saving the city is his test. He must decide whether he will stand up and do this on his own or fail. He has monsters to defeat, a city who assumes he’s more powerful than he is, the jealous daughter of Acropolis’ deceased hero giving him grief, trust that this is not a simple hero’s journey. What makes the book work, is that Paul Pope has written a true journey of self discovery, a journey to manhood despite uncertainty and avarice.
Author: Paul Pope
Artist: Paul Pope
Colors: Hilary Sycamore
Format: color, 208 pages, GRAPHIC NOVEL
Publisher: :01 First Second
Age Range: 10 – 18 years
Purchase at your local comic shop or from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/
Look Straight Ahead is a graphic novel ostensibly about mental illness but at its core it’s very similar to the previous entries on this list. A teen struggling with the changes life is sending his way. Unfortunately in this case one of those changes is a mental breakdown.
The book takes us through the story of Jeremy Knowles, a High School senior, whose grip on reality is quickly slipping away. What follows is a hallucination filled trip through Jeremy’s day to day life. It’s all at once frightening, mesmerizing, and totally believable. But this story is about more than mental illness, yes Jeremy definitely suffers from manic depression and is in need of help. And he does get it, finally. The story, however, is about Jeremy’s journey, what he sees, experiences and how he handles it. It’s not an easy journey and it’s certainly not easy to watch but I think if you have any desire to understand what a victim of mental illness goes through you need to read this book. And after you’ve read it? Pass it on, more people need to see this.
Look Straight Ahead
Author: Elaine M. Will
Artist: Elaine M. Will
Format: B&W, 256 pages, TRADE PAPERBACK
Publisher: Cuckoos Nest Press
Age: 14 & up
Purchase at your local comic shop or Elaine Will’s site (http://lookstraightahead.
This is arguably the most “mainstream” of the entries but I think it deserves a place here. A “superhero” book of sorts it follows the later half of the lives of group of children. Adopted by a mysterious benefactor and raised to use their gifts to help the world. When we catch up with them tragedy has befallen their family. Their benefactor, and father, Sir Reginald Hagreeves has passed away. The now grown team, though missing some members meets up for the funeral and of course conflicts arise (from inside the family as well as from others.) Though this is a superhero themed book the character development all stems from growing up, taking on responsibilities (or not), finding one’s place in the world. Gerard Way found a sublime way to show what intelligence with out maturity, and the effects of being the outsider can do, not only to the young but to those who grow up without growing through such problems.
Umbrella Academy Apocalypse Suite
Author: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Ba
Format: FC, 194pg., TRADE PAPERBACK
Publisher: Dark Horse
Purchase at your local comic shop or from Amazon (http://www.amazon.com/The-
So there you have it. Five great graphic novels, all dealing with the trials and tribulations of growing up. Whether you’re a normal, a super, or someone battling illness we all face similar fears, experience similar dreams, and we all have hope. One of my hopes is that in reading these books you may see your own problems mirrored there, and find what you need to grow through them.