books · writing

Words in a Picture: The Wonder of Graphic Novels

It is an odd time in the world of graphic novels. Superhero movies remain money making bastions. People laud Alan Moore, Joss Whedon, Neil Gaiman, and others who write graphic novels. Despite these signs of popularity, the New York Times recently eliminated its Graphic Bestseller lists. One of the major centers of literature reviews is choosing to no longer track these books, which leaves open the question of how graphic novels will evolve.

Because we are seemingly at a juncture, I want to take a moment to celebrate a few of the graphic novels that have meant something to me. The following books all contain beauty and heartache. For some, it is in the plot. In others, character. And in many, it is in the art itself. Images are, after all, what set graphic novels apart.

As with all of my lists, this one lacks any semblance of order. The titles are not ranked even if they are all loved.

—     —     —

persepolis-marjane-satrapi-8413256-600-312-630x420Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi tells the story of her own life in Tehran as she witnessed the Islamic Revolution. It is a tale of politics, family, the complexity of war, and the value of history.

Fables: Legends in Exile by Bill Willingham, James Jean, and Alex Maleev

Fables is a series for those who love mythological remixes. As a result of a terrible evil that has overtaken their homelands, creatures of folklore have fled to New York City. There, Snow White unites with the Wolf, now a detective, in order to track down her missing sister.

The Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith, and Mike Dringenberg

Like FablesThe Sandman deals with creatures of myth. It follows the ancient, immortal creature Dream as he seeks his lost objects of power.thewickedthedivine_1_b

The Wicked + the Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie

This novel tells another type of myth. In this one, gods undergo cyclic and doomed reincarnations. In this cycle, the gods also play roles in pop culture with all of the sex, violence, and rock and roll that entails.

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman

Maus explores the Jewish Holocaust through several lenses: that of the actual event, and that of how the Holocaust continues to affect subsequent generations. Using cats to represent Nazis and mice to indicate Jews, Spiegelman relates the compelling and painful story of his father’s survival of WWII.

comic_MONSTRESS_02.jpgMonstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Last but not least is one of my new favorites. In a steampunk version of Asia, a young woman shares a mysterious connection to a ghastly monster that may have the power to end the war that is ravaging her world. It is utterly beautiful.

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The graphic novels that I have listed above may not be the most avant garde examples of their class, but they are all books that have had an impact on me and that add more nuance to the world.

Let me know if there are other graphic novels I should explore. I’m slow to stumble across new ones.


19 thoughts on “Words in a Picture: The Wonder of Graphic Novels

  1. The only two on your list I’ve read are Preludes and Nocturnes and Maus, both of which are great. I’ll give the others a read. Watchmen by Moore is a fantastic book if you haven’t read it. I would also recommend “At War With the Empire” by Gerry Hunt, which is about the Irish struggle for independence.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. WRT The Sandman, I’m quite partial to “Seasons of Mist” (Book 4 I believe) where we see The Endless family all together (save for Destruction) for the first time. I think I’ve read that first chapter a dozen times. WicDiv lost me pretty early, but I love the concept, just not a fan of Kieron Gillen’s dialogue. I think I can confess here that as a longtime comics reader I’ve read more graphic novels than novels the last 25-30 years.

    My highest recommendations: SAGA by Brain K. Vaughan & Fiona Staples, VELVET by Ed Brubaker & Steve Epting and LAZARUS by Greg Rucka and Michael Lark. Just to name a few 🙂

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    1. There is no shame in reading a lot of comics! They are a wonderful format for telling stories.

      And Saga is a great one that I somehow overlooked. It inspires a lot of passion in its readers. A friend of mine practically forced the first volume into my hands and sat on me until I read it.

      Thanks for the other suggestions as well. Lazarus in particular has piqued my interest – who doesn’t love mafioso cyborgs? – so I may have to pick up the first volume.

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      1. Nah, no shame at all. Although there is a detriment to reading tons of graphic fiction because to read and enjoy comics is to want to create and write comics as well. The quest to find collaborating artists has thrown me off my regular writing game. I’ve had to reassess that priority recently. Btw, did you enjoy SAGA? Chapter 42 from last month was the first time a very long time a comic brought tears to my eyes. As for Lazarus, it’s not what it seems, it’s very layered. So layered I need help explaining it LOL. From a recent article about it:

        “Lazarus is a dystopian possible future where corporations have replaced countries, and a small number of a families have all of the power. While the series is decidedly science fiction, there’s a grounding in reality and our own world’s potential for catastrophe that makes Lazarus one of the scariest comics on the stands.

        The series primarily follows Forever Carlyle, AKA Eve, who is the titular Lazarus of the series. In order to maintain a peace between the families, they each have their own Lazarus — enhanced by biological, technological or other means — who is more a weapon than an actual member of the family, although they don’t always know that’s how they’re seen.

        The world of Lazarus is one of the most interesting and well built in comics, and the population is divided into three categories. There’s “Family,” who belong to one of the sixteen controlling factions. There’s “Serf,” who are the working class, which includes doctors, chefs, soldiers, and pretty much anyone who has a job that contributes to the families. Then there’s “Waste,” which is everyone else.

        The only way to get a job in the world of Lazarus is to participate in the Lift, where people can be elevated from “Waste” to “Serf” based on skills valued as useful to the Families. The Lift is attended by millions of people who travel from all over the territory just to get a chance of a better life for them or their children. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m a millennial and I see how competitive it is for even the most unskilled of jobs, but this aspect of the series feels terrifyingly familiar in an overstated sci-fi way.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Sci-fi is always at its best (and most terrifying) when it reflects society. There is a reason that ‘1984’ and ‘The Handmaid’s Tale’ have both popped to the top of the bestseller lists again. I really do enjoy intricate world building though, so Lazarus will be a good weekend read.

        As for Saga, I’ve enjoyed the first portion of the series – it captures humanness extraordinarily well despite the lack of humans – but I’m a little behind on reading it! My tear ducts have been extra leaky lately, so I’m sure when I have the chance to pick up the most recent chapters, I will have an overabundance of feelings.

        Liked by 1 person

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