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: 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 Fables, The Sandman deals with creatures of myth. It follows the ancient, immortal creature Dream as he seeks his lost objects of power.
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.
Monstress 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.
— — —
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.