Recommended Graphic Novels

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Recommended Graphic Novels


Graphic Novels recommended by Eric Shanower

I've made a list of graphic novels that I think are worth your attention. I'm going to skip the works of Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Frank Miller, Chris Ware, art spiegelman, and others whose works are absolutely worthy of attention, but which can readily be found on recommended reading lists. Today I'd like to bring to your attention worthy graphic novels that you might otherwise overlook. These are by no means the only good graphic novels out there, but this should provide a solid list to start with.

I've divided them into age groups, even though in my experience kids read all sorts of stuff and don't pay much attention to age groups. But I've noticed that adults find age groups useful. So . . .

Lower Elementary

For lower elementary children, two bodies of work have stood the test of time. I recommend them highly.

Uncle Scrooge and Donald Duck
by Carl Barks, half a dozen publishers have produced comics featuring the Disney company characters, but they are currently published in the USA by Gemstone
A lot of cartoonists have put the Disney ducks into comics, but children's comics as a whole don't get any better than the stories cartoonist Carl Barks wrote and drew for Donald and his miserly Uncle Scrooge, a character created and developed by Barks himself.
WARNING: Some of the Barks material published in the 1950s and 1960s features stereotypes that are unacceptable today. To avoid this material, look for editions published after 1986.

Little Lulu
by John Stanley, currently published by Dark Horse, ISBN 1593072708 (volume 1)
Although Lulu Moppet was originally created by Marjorie Henderson Buell as a single panel gag comic for the Saturday Evening Post, it was in John Stanley's comic book stories that Lulu achieved a status second only to Barks's ducks.

Harvey Comics Classics
edited by Leslie Cabarga, published by Dark Horse, ISBN 978-1-59307-781-5 (volume 1)
Beginning with Casper, the Friendly Ghost, these volumes present the rollicking adventures of many of the Harvey Comics characters. The Casper volume is a little slow to start, but a third of the way through the stories become utterly charming. Later volumes include Richie Rich, the richest kid in the world; Hot Stuff, the little devil; and more. The art is reproduced mostly in black and white from original proof prints, but there are sections where color has been restored.

Moomin: The Complete Tove Jansson Comic Strip
by Tove Jansson, published by Drawn and Quarterly, ISBN 978-1894937801 (volume 1)
Jansson transferred her popular Finn Family Moomintroll characters to a comic strip for a British newspaper. These stories aren't as sombre as the prose series, but the antics of the familiar characters are quick to delight.

Middle Grades

For middle grade readers I'm going to cite examples of some good graphic novels, but with a little exploration, you'll be able to find more good work.

The Adventures of Tintin
by Herge, published in the USA by Little, Brown (about 22 separate titles), ISBN 0316358398 - Tintin in Tibet
In this world famous series from a Belgian cartoonist, the intrepid boy reporter Tintin and his little white dog Snowy travel to the far corners of the world on all sorts of exciting quests.
WARNING: Some of these volumes contain stereotypes unacceptable today. Tintin in the Congo, The Red Sea Sharks, Land of Black Gold, and Cigars of the Pharaoh contain "mushmouf" black people. Tintin in America contains "redskin" Native Americans.

Bone
by Jeff Smith, published by Cartoon Books, ISBN 188896314X, also full color editions are being published by Scholastic
This engaging and exciting fantasy has achieved incredible popularity.

The Courageous Princess
by Rod Espinosa, published by Antarctic Press, ISBN 0972897860
This is a beautifully drawn magical adventure.

Then there is my own Oz graphic novel series available in one volume published by IDW
Adventures in Oz
by Eric Shanower, published by IDW, ISBN 1933239611
These are new stories founded on and continuing the famous Oz books by L. Frank Baum.

Steve Canyon
by Milton Caniff, currently published by Checker, ISBN 0971024995 (volume 1)
Steve Canyon was a daily comic strip that ran for decades in the newspaper. Many of the best comic strips have been collected into graphic novels, and Caniff's cold war adventures of Steve Canyon and his colleagues is a good example.

Scary Godmother
by Jill Thompson, published by Sirius Entertainment, ISBN 1579890156 (volume 1)
Hallowe'en was never so much fun as this.

Akiko
by Mark Crilley, published by Sirius Entertainment, ISBN 1579890423 (volume 1)
Amazing adventures of an earth-girl on the strange and hilarious planet Smoo.

Young Adult

This is a longer list, simply because in the past twenty-five years there just haven't been many comics published for children. Time after time I'm surprised and dismayed by people who think comics are somehow a medium restricted to children, but the fact is that most comics are for young adults and adults, so, obviously, that's where you'll find most of the best work published. So, for young adults we have . . .

Finder
by Carla Speed McNeil, published by Light Speed Press, ISBN 096736910X (volume 1)
Multi-faceted science fiction featuring a fully imagined society as a backdrop to complicated personal relationships.

Berlin
by Jason Lutes, published by Drawn and Quarterly, ISBN 1896597297 (volume 1)
Historical fiction set in Germany between the World Wars.

Castle Waiting
by Linda Medley, published by Cartoon Books, ISBN 1888963077 (volume 1)
A group of eccentric characters with completely engaging characterizations living in one castle.

Blueberry
written by Charlier, art by Moebius, Marvel/Epic Comics, ISBN 0871355698 (volume 1)
A French masterpiece about the American Old West. Unfortunately the English translation is out of print. You can find it on the secondary market from vintage comics dealers or through internet sources like Amazon.com or ebay.

Stuck Rubber Baby
by Howard Cruse, published by DC/Paradox Press, ISBN 1563892162
During the Civil Rights movement in the American South, a young man comes to terms with being gay.

Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind
by Hayao Miyazaki, published by Viz, ISBN 1591163528 (volume 4)
In the future one girl is destined to save the world. Here I have to mention a word you might have heard in connection with comic books and graphic novels: the word is manga. Manga is simply the Japanese word for comics. Any comic art produced in Japan, no matter the style or subject matter, is manga. In the mid-1980s manga began invading the USA and has become so popular--particularly among girls, a readership that American comics have for decades failed to reach--that many US publishers are producing comics drawn with the artistic conventions of manga. This US material is called American Manga or Amerimanga. Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind is an example of Manga.

Table for One
by Bosch Fawstin, published by Mainspring Comics, ISBN 0974955809
One evening behind the scenes at an upscale restaurant tensions go out of control.

Gotham Central
written by Greg Rucka and Ed Brubaker, art by Michael Lark, published by DC Comics, ISBN 1401201997 (volume 1)
So far I've refrained from recommending material featuring superheroes--for two reasons. Since most superheroes are properties owned by corporations, the writers and artists can change at the owner's whim. This revolving door policy guarantees a wide fluctuation in quality. And the other problem with superhero comics: if you don't know the often-convoluted histories of the characters, the chance of confusion is high if you simply plunge in at random. When it comes to superhero comic books and graphic novels, unless you know what to look for, odds are you'll be disappointed. But I'm making an exception with Gotham Central. This is a Batman related series; however, Batman rarely appears. Instead, the story focuses on the day-to-day challenges of the police officers of Gotham City as they solve crimes.

Faith: a Fable
by Bill Knapp, published by Carbon-Based Books, ISBN 0967485002
A twelve-year old demagogue affects everyone around her.

The Tale of One Bad Rat
by Bryan Talbot, published by Dark Horse, ISBN 1569710775
Addresses childhood sexual abuse using elements of Beatrix Potter.

Age of Bronze
by Eric Shanower, published by Image Comics
A Thousand Ships ISBN 1582402002 (volume 1) and Sacrifice ISBN 1582403600 (volume 2)
The story of the Trojan War.

Now, beyond the more obvious benefits of increasing verbal and visual literacy, all these graphic novels can lead to other areas of reading and inquiry--from the Klondike Gold Rush where Uncle Scrooge made his fortune and the sciences of rocketry and astronomy with Tintin's trip to the moon, through fantasy worlds like Oz and Middle Earth which helped inspire Bone and Courageous Princess and the many worlds of science fiction which have much in common with Finder and Nausicaa, through the American West where Blueberry rides as well as Berlin's Weimar Republic.

The idea I want to leave you with, what I think is the most important concept for you to understand, is that the medium of comic books and graphic novels is a valid artform unto itself. The goal of literacy isn't solely to achieve the ability to read, important as that is. It's to gain the ability to use what we read in order to learn, to think, to understand the world around us, to understand other humans, to understand ourselves. When you read a graphic novel, you're experiencing how someone else sees the world. Just as travel in the physical world is broadening, so is travel into the minds and hearts of our fellow humans. And this, really, is what makes the best graphic novels worthwhile--not as collectibles, not as bridges to reading so-called "real" books--but for the sake of how deeply each cartoonist's vision touches the common humanity in each of us. Graphic novels allow us--more directly than the written word alone and more intimately than images on film--to travel on journeys--to experience tangible expressions of creators who have dug down into their hearts and souls and carefully arranged what they found there for the rest of the world to see. As far as I can tell, that's what art is for. That's the power of comic books and graphic novels.


Internet Resources

Comics Worth Reading

Recommended Graphic Novels for Public Libraries

Recommended Graphic Novels from the Highland Park Public Library

Graphic Novels for Young Adults

Recommended Graphic Novels sorted by Genre
This is a pdf file, so you need Adobe Acrobat to view it.

Getting Graphic at your Library

Brodart's list of links to other resources

If you'd like other comic books and graphic novels which have something in common with Age of Bronze, click on Links on the menu at top left, or click here.


About Eric Shanower

In February 1991, Eric Shanower conceived the idea to tell the story of the Trojan War using the medium of comics by combining the myriad versions of the Greek myth with the archaeological record to dramatically and visually present the complete story in authentic historical detail. That idea became Age of Bronze, for which Mr. Shanower has won several awards, including the 2001 and 2003 Eisner Awards for Best Writer/Artist.

His past comic book work includes his Oz graphic novel series, An Accidental Death written by Ed Brubaker, introductory pages for Harlan Ellison's Dream Corridor written by Harlan Ellison, and The Elsewhere Prince written by Moebius and R-JM Lofficier. His illustrations have appeared in many comics throughout the USA and Europe and in magazines, in books, and on television. He is the author of two prose books. He lives in San Diego and has been a professional cartoonist since 1984.

 
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