If you think “graphic novel” is just a term used to re-brand superhero comic books and make them more socially acceptable reading material for adults, think again. Graphic novels really are novels, they simply employ imagery to convey setting, mood and action. While it’s true that most are priced a bit higher than text-only novels, that’s because they include a so much more content in the form of graphic art—art that’s often so gorgeous, it’s worth buying the book for its beauty alone.
Those who consider themselves lovers of both art and literature really owe it to themselves to give graphic novels a try. Any of the following graphic novels are a great place to start for those who are new to this literary form. They’re all intended for adults, they all have remarkable depth, and run the gamut from historical fiction to modernism.
From the incomparable David Rakoff, a poignant, beautiful, witty, and wise novel in verse whose scope spans the twentieth century
Through his books and his radio essays for NPR’s This American Life, David Rakoff has built a deserved reputation as one of the finest and funniest essayists of our time. Written with humor, sympathy, and tenderness, this intricately woven novel proves him to be the master of an altogether different art form.
LOVE, DISHONOR, MARRY, DIE, CHERISH, PERISH leaps cities and decades as Rakoff sings the song of an America whose freedoms can be intoxicating, or brutal.
The characters’ lives are linked to each other by acts of generosity or cruelty. A daughter of Irish slaughterhouse workers in early-twentieth-century Chicago faces a desperate choice; a hobo offers an unexpected refuge on the rails during the Great Depression; a vivacious aunt provides her clever nephew a path out of the crushed dream of postwar Southern California; an office girl endures the casually vicious sexism of 1950s Manhattan; the young man from Southern California revels in the electrifying sexual and artistic openness of 1960s San Francisco, then later tends to dying friends and lovers as the AIDS pandemic devastates the community he cherishes; a love triangle reveals the empty materialism of the Reagan years; a marriage crumbles under the distinction between self-actualization and humanity; as the new century opens, a man who has lost his way finds a measure of peace in a photograph he discovers in an old box—an image of pure and simple joy that unites the themes of this brilliantly conceived work.
Rakoff’s insistence on beauty and the necessity of kindness in a selfish world raises the novel far above mere satire. A critic once called Rakoff “magnificent,” a word that perfectly describes this wonderful novel in verse.
Pressure. As an underwater welder on an oilrig off the coast of Nova Scotia, Jack Joseph is used to the immense pressures of deep-sea work. Nothing, however, could prepare him for the pressures of impending fatherhood. As Jack dives deeper and deeper, he seems to pull further and further away from his young wife, and their unborn son. But then, something happens deep on the ocean floor.
Jack has a strange and mind-bending encounter that will change the course of his life forever.
Equal parts blue-collar character study and mind-bending science fiction epic, The Underwater Welder is a 250-page graphic novel that explores fathers and sons, birth and death, memory and truth, and treasures we all bury deep down inside.
Daytripper (4.5/5 stars, currently priced at $11.49)
What are the most important days of your life? Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá answer that question in the critical and commercial hit series that took the industry by storm, winning praise from such comics veterans as Terry Moore, Craig Thompson and Jeff Smith. Follow aspiring writer Brás de Oliva Domingos as each chapter of DAYTRIPPER explores a completely different moment in his life. Moon and Bá tell a beautifully lyrical tale chronicling Domingos’s entire existence— from his loves to his deaths and all the possibilities in between. Introduction by Craig Thompson (BLANKETS).
“One of the most memorable things we’ve read in a long time.” — io9
One Amazon reviewer says:
Honestly, I would not have chosen this book myself and simply started to read it as I’d been sent a review copy. I had no idea what to expect and again, honestly, wasn’t sure I’d even like it.
This book is exquisite! Bras de Olivia Domingos is the only son of a famous Brazilian author, and a miracle child to his mother, who himself is an aspiring author but at the moment has the lowly job on a newspaper as obituary writer. This story takes a look at Bras’ life, a day at a time. A random day, each chapter focusing on a different age, going back and forth from young to middle age to youth to elderly and each day ends with his death. These are the possibilities of his life; throughout we are given a whole life story of Bras and yet we see how his life could have ended any day. Heroic deaths, tragic deaths, accidental deaths ironic deaths; they are all possibilities.
The Battle of Thermopylae ranks as one of the ancient world’s most important events, where Spartan King Leonidas and his 300-man bodyguard met the massive army of Emperor Xerxes of Persia, who intended to add Greece to his empire. To no one’s surprise, the Spartans were destroyed. While the battle bought the Greeks enough time to defeat the mighty Persians, it was more important for the metaphor it created: occasionally one has to lose to win. This is clearly the inspiration behind Miller’s attempt to place this epic tale in the context of a graphic novel. A renowned comics artist and writer known for hard-boiled stories of almost operatic intensity and stylishly overwrought violence, Miller (Sin City) injects his own brand of graphic sensationalism into this ancient tale of national survival.
Miller clearly isn’t as interested in being a historian as he is in telling a story, but his portrayal of the ancient world is compelling. His drawings of the bearded Leonidas are pensive and starkly imperial. The Persian King Xerxes is represented as majestically African, his body covered in a gaudy and bejeweled network of meticulously rendered chains and bracelets. Form and content are ideally wedded: Miller’s writing is stark, his drawings moody and dramatic, and intensified by Varley’s grimly appropriate palette of earth and blood. The reader can see and feel the harshness of both the Grecian landscape and Sparta’s battle-worshipping culture, as Miller presents the complex historical moment facing the 300. - Publishers Weekly
This critically-acclaimed graphic novel was recently chosen as one of Canada Reads’ Top 5 Essential Canadian Novels of the Decade! It is also the winner of the American Library Association’s Alex Award, the Doug Wright Award, and the Joe Shuster Award. And here’s a brand new printing!
Where does a young boy turn when his whole world suddenly disappears? What could change two brothers from an unstoppable team into a pair of bitterly estranged loners? How does the work of one middle-aged nurse reveal the scars of an entire community, and can anything heal the wounds caused by a century of deception?
Set in an imaginary version of Jeff Lemire’s hometown, ESSEX COUNTY is an intimate study of an eccentric farming community, and a tender meditation on family, memory, grief, secrets, and reconciliation. With the lush, expressive inking of a cartoonist at the height of his powers, Lemire draws us in and sets us free.
“A rich tapestry … Mr. Lemire infuses his characters with vivid details that make them burst to life.” — George Gene Gustines, The New York Times
“Jeff Lemire’s Essex County trilogy represents one of the most remarkable recent achievements in indie comics: three interlocking graphic novels about the mysteries and melancholy of a small Canadian farming community, rendered in a distinctive style and turned out surprisingly quickly.” — The AV Club
“The subtle inter-weaving of Jeff Lemire’s Essex County Trilogy is brilliant and constantly surprising. The cumulative impact left a lump in my throat.” — Jeff Smith, creator of Bone and RASL
“These three books on Canadian lives are individually striking, and cumulatively stunning.” — Paul Gravett, author of Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life
“This is the comics medium at its best.” — Booklist (from one of three starred reviews)