I wasn’t much of a comic book reader until I started this graphic novel collection in the public library I used to work at. (For those who of you who aren’t in the know, a graphic novel is a collection of serial comic books bound together in a hardier cover, or an original one-time longer story in a stronger cover) All of the sudden, I discovered how cool GN’s were and I was hooked. As in addicted, man. I devoured most of Sandman, and a handful of other titles, most of which you’ll find below. The only thing you’ll probably never find here is manga–I’ve never been able to understand the appeal, but I know lots of teen folk LOVE it. Unfortunately, you’ll just have to get your big-eyed fix somewhere else. Get into graphics, they’re just fantastic! And for more great graphic novel suggestions, visit Robin Brenner’s excellent No Flying, No Tights
It’s no small task to take an iconic piece of prose, break it down into a graphic format and also manage to say something new. But that’s exactly what Ari Folman and David Polonsky did in this utterly arresting transformation of one of the world’s most iconic texts, The Diary of Anne Frank. As many of you already know, Anne Frank was a Jewish teenage girl who kept a diary from 1942 to 1944 while living in hiding from the Nazis with her family in Amsterdam. The original diary is full of wry observations, silly asides and bursts of teenage angst, rage and sadness. Folman and Polonsky condensed and edited down Anne’s well-known words, instead using highly expressive character faces and richly designed two page spreads to further convey her thoughts, fears and dreams. The results are vivid, moving and in some ways, even more intimate than Anne’s prose entries. Seeing Anne’s jealousy of her perfect sister Margot depicted on a single page of devil/angel poses or the two sets of bickering parents drawn as fire breathing dragons adds a fascinating new dimension to a classic many know by heart. Both a compelling true story and stunning work of art, Anne Frank’s Diary is a book you’ll want to own so you can pore over the full color pages again and again.
Way back in the day when Amazon was still just an online bookstore, I was hired to write freelance reviews of YA novels (which sadly, are now long gone from the site.) In one of my very first assignments, I was sent three ARCs: Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger, Monster by Walter Dean Myers and Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. Yeah. If you know YA literature at all, you know that those were the BIG THREE, the titles that ushered in the new golden age of YA lit by dealing frankly with issues of race, sexual identity and sexual assault while also being universally accessible and beautifully written. They broke the ground for Angie Thomas, John Green, Libba Bray, Jason Reynolds and basically every other modern YA author you know and love.
All of these books have continued to resonate with teens, but in particular, the popularity of Anderson’s Speak has grown exponentially. It won multiple awards, was made into a movie and is taught in high schools all over the country. And in 2018, twenty years after the publication of the original book, Laurie Halse Anderson and artist Emily Carrol have transformed it into a simply spectacular graphic novel.
Speak the Graphic Novel tells the now classic story of Melinda, a high school freshman who has stopped talking because she was raped at a party the summer before ninth grade. She is shunned by former friends and ignored by her busy parents. The only adult who shows her any positive attention is her art teacher, the goatee-ed Mr. Freeman, who instructs her to to take one subject (a tree) and “explore it in every way possible until you figure out how to make it say something, express an emotion.” Both Melinda and her tree evolve over the course of the school year until she finally finds her voice again and confronts the boy who assaulted her. Melinda’s voice is sardonic, self composed and darkly humorous in a way that felt revolutionary when Speak first came out, and continues to today.
Carroll has taken that voice and embellished it with her own ominous , shadowy style, full of close ups of mouths that smile, spit, snarl and snicker, all mocking Melinda’s own lips that rarely open and are dry and scabby from biting. Faces melt, eyes go black and panels flow like blood into each other, visually depicting the pain Melinda won’t voice. The pages lighten as spring approaches, except the two page spread where Melinda confronts her rapist and does everything she was too stunned to do before–screams, hits and says “NO!” in one long, savage word bubble that bursts into a dozens of sharp triangles. Like her tree, Melinda survives, grows, and renews herself, refusing to give up even when the pages go dark.
Fans of Speak will find their old friend freshly and inventively interpreted, while newcomers will fall under Carroll’s dark spell immediately, only resurfacing to go back to the beginning and read again before heading to their school library to check out the original. Do not miss this brilliant reimagining of one of the most celebrated books in YA history!
After recently becoming completely enamored of Penelope Bagieu‘s Brazen, I was delighted to discover the author had also written this longer form, graphic biography of the indomitable Cass Elliot. Elliot was best known for her role in the Mamas and the Papas, a folk rock band that was famous in the 1960’s. Much has been written about her and the band, especially their dramatic arguments and Cass’s tragic death at age 32. But Bagieu focuses here on the early life of the ground breaking singer, back when she was just Ellen Cohen from Baltimore who was her father’s favorite and loved to sing. With small panels that can barely hold Cass’s big expressive eyes, Bagieu traces her path to fame, from leaving home at nineteen to falling in love with men who didn’t always appreciate her talent, but somehow ended up leading her to new and better singing opportunities. Each chapter is narrated by a person from Cass’s life, from her little sister and her vocal coach, to her father and first (brief) husband. And pretty much everyone in between, including the other members of the Mamas and the Papas. It’s like getting a meet and greet with all the major musicians of that time! While this is some ways a classic music bio, it’s also a terrific story of a woman refusing to squeeze herself into the mold society expected her to fit. Bigger than life and twice as bold, Cass Elliot made her own rules, and this graphic bio will inspire anyone looking for the courage to buck the system and forge their own path.
David Small’s graphic memoir, Stitches, absolutely gutted me when it came out in 2009. Now he has published an equally wrenching graphic novel of small-town, 1950’s boyhood that utterly destroys, in the most cinematic and moving way possible, any nostalgic, rose-colored views of that turbulent time. Russell’s mom dumps his dad for another man, so Russell and his uncommunicative, alcoholic father leave Ohio for California, where his father hopes to bunk with his rich sister until he can get back on his feet. But Aunt June isn’t interested in her male relatives invading her clean, quiet mid-century modern home, and sends them packing pretty quick. After finally finding and renting a room from a kind Chinese couple, Russell’s father finds work at the local prison. Russell starts school and falls in with Kurt and Willie, brutal, bullying teens who smoke, drink and ogle waitresses at the town diner. As he slowly becomes accustomed to his new life, Russell finds himself confronted with a wide array of conflicting male role models. Should he be more like his drunk dad and Kurt: loud, rude and arrogant? Or is he more like like Mr. Mah, his gentle landlord who practices tai chi in the backyard or Warren, the quiet neighbor boy who lives with his grandma and loves all animals? Over the course of one long, savage summer, Russell finds himself mentally and physically tested by all these different versions of manhood as he tries to discover which one fits him best. Small’s evocative panels, full of frowning, sneering faces, dead pets and interior shots of dim, empty rooms grimly foreshadow Russell’s long, tragic journey to self acceptance. Deeply sad, but never despairing, Small’s work luminously captures the dark side of adolescence in a way that still manages to be forgiving. Coming to a library or bookstore near you September 2018.
Remember those good old days of summer before you got roped into horrific high school summer projects/jobs/chores? It was just you, your best friend, a couple of bikes and two months of do-nothing stretching out to the horizon.That’s how it always was for Bina. She couldn’t wait until June so she and her best friend Austin could hang at the pool and add points to their Summer Fun Index (scientifically based on number of video games played, movies watched and stray cats petted, of course). But the summer after seventh grade, Austin has traded the Summer Fun Index for soccer camp, and Bina is convinced that her summer is gonna suck–hard. When her parents lock her out of their Netflix account because she’s “watched a summer’s worth of TV in a week,” Bina is forced to hunt down entertainment elsewhere. Oddly enough, without Austin around, Bina discovers that there’s a whole other world out there of cool older girls, indie music and her own untapped inner talents. This utterly endearing, oh-so-true graphic novel about one rising eighth grader’s summer adventures in babysitting, mean-girl-taming and indie-band-watching will make you feel so nostalgic for middle school that I bet you go dig up your Muji Pen Set and find an old notebook to doodle in. A terrifically un-taxing summer read that you’ll finish in an afternoon and think about the rest of the week!
Do you know who the powerful Chinese empress Wu Zetian was? Have you ever heard of the three rebel Dominican sisters (Las Mariposas) who defied the dictator Trujillo? Or how about super sexy singer/songwriter Betty Davis? Or passionate Afghan rapper Sonita Alizadeh? ME EITHER, until I read graphic artist Penelope Bagieu‘s candid, colorful, cartoon collection of girl-power-mini-bios. This unputdownable volume of glorious girls and wondrous women, both notable and not-so, is easily one of my favorite books of the year. In just a few short pages, Bagieu chooses the most compelling tids and juiciest bits of each woman’s life and then illustrates them in tiny, perfect panels that completely captures them in all their funny, fierce femininity. Then she closes each story with a stunning full-color, two-page spread that often left me gasping in awe. I loved DISCOVERING volcanologist Katia Kraft, bearded lady Clementine Delait, and Apache warrior Lozen. And I loved learning MORE about astronaut Mae Jemison (did you know she studied medicine before space?) writer Nellie Bly (who basically invented investigative journalism) and collector Peggy Guggenheim (who discovered and financed practically every major twentieth century artist). The historical list of haut and hip goes on and on, and each page is a visual and intellectual delight. Don’t miss amazin’ Brazen!
Nicole Georges first met Beija at an animal shelter when she was sixteen. Beija was a Shar-pei/Dachshund mix with “inflatable” ears and a fear of men and toddlers. Nicole was a punk rocker coming out of a feral childhood with a fear of chaos. They fell in love immediately. For the next fifteen years, girl and dog were inseparable. Nicole survived car accidents, navigated a half dozen romantic breakups and makeups, worked at farm sanctuary, and even dabbled as a pet psychic. Through it all, Beija was there, dependably growling at babies, peeing on the carpet, and always being completely, thoroughly herself. Though Nicole sometimes questioned her sexuality and her calling as an artist, the one thing she never questioned was the loyalty of her quirky, protective, big-headed dog. “Forgiving and earnest, heartbreakingly faithful, Beija loved me even when I lapsed in loving myself. Neither of us had ever been chosen, but we chose each other.” This touching graphic memoir is so much more than just another doggy love story. While Beija features prominently, this is really the story of Georges’ young adulthood and transformation into an artist, writer and self-actualized human. Her detailed, intimate artwork poignantly conveys the message that while her experiences may have been specific, Georges’ feelings of fear, confusion and insecurity are universal. FETCH is for anyone who ever found love and acceptance with people after a fur person showed them the way.
Addison Merrit is used to taking risks. Ever since the toxic Spill transformed her hometown of Poughkeepsie, New York into a mutant wasteland three years ago, Addison’s been taking her life in her hands to take illegal photographs of the Spill Zone. She only rides her motorbike in after dark, and the photos make enough money on the black market to keep her and her little sister Lexa together after their parents disappeared in the Zone. But the local authorities are starting to ask dangerous questions, Lexa’s stopped speaking, and her photo dealer has betrayed her. So when an enigmatic underground art collector offers her a cool million to take one last ride into the heart of the Spill Zone and drop off a mysterious package, she reluctantly agrees. But what she doesn’t know is that she just may have become an unknowing operative for the North Koreans, who have has Spill Zone issues of their own and are looking for answers. Full of wicked cool mutant monsters and out-of-this-world action, this freaky, fast paced graphic novel will please the pants off sci-fi and horror readers alike.
Not being a big fan of weddings in general, it took me awhile to pick up Lucy Knisley‘s charming graphic memoir about her own wedding experience. What I should have remembered is that Knisley has a knack for drawing me in to whatever she’s drawing (pun intended)–whether it’s food, travel or family, and Something New was no exception. In her usual small, tidy trademark style, Knisley lovingly chronicles the year leading up to her wedding in upstate New York, warts and all. She details arguments with her mom, worries about the budget and ambivalence towards the whole idea of a traditional wedding. She also describes her shining love for her fiancé, John, the thrill of finally finding the right, simple dress and the joy of making your own decorations. What I liked best about this book was Knisley’s honest examination of conventional wedding components and her pleasure in subverting each one. In the end, Knisley created an heartfelt account of her unique experience that also managed to feel universally human. Teen peeps, while you may not be at the point of planning a wedding yourself, you can still enjoy Knisely’s quirky adventures in dress shopping, family drama and DIY reception crafting. And it also makes a great gift to bring to all those weddings you’re going to be dragged to this summer!
Yvain, a little (ish) known knight from the court of King Arthur, wishes for adventure and gets more than he bargained for when he kills a local lord in battle and then promptly falls for the dead lord’s lady, Laudine. Luckily he is saved from this uber-awkward situation by Laudine’s maid, Lunette, who convinces her lady with logic to marry the lovelorn knight. But Yvain messes up royally again when he fails to return from adventuring by the deadline Laudine has set for him. Cast out of her castle, he roams the countryside seeking a way to win his lady’s heart back, encountering dragons, giants, and demons, and picking up a pet lion in the process. With an emphasis on the importance and wisdom of the women who help school naive Yvain in the ways of the world, this sumptuous medieval graphic novel has a distinctively 21st century feel. Yvain’s journey is lushly illustrated by artist Andrea Offerman, who’s detailed watercolor & ink panels beautifully convey the opulence of the medieval courts and the dusty green of the mythical English countryside. My only quibble was that some panels were far too small to capture the lavish action captured within. Fans of Anderson’s rich historical fiction will enjoy this attractive venture into a new format, and can continue their exploration of King Arthur’s court by checking out Excaliber: The Legend of King Arthur and Here Lies Arthur.
Within the walls of the Nameless City, there are the conquerers and the conquered. The city is re-named each time it is taken over, but none of the names last for long, and none of the conquerers ever ask the citizens what they want. Kaidu, the bookish son of one of the current conquerers, is in training to become a warrior, which isn’t going so well. Rat, a conquered native, is a streetwise orphan who lives by her wits and is always hungry. They strike up an uneasy alliance when Kai sneaks out of his dormitory to explore the busy city on his own and soon becomes lost. Rat shows him the way home and reluctantly agrees to teach him her patented mode of getting around town quickly–by racing over rooftops–in exchange for food. It turns out that Kai is a much better runner (and friend) then he is fighter, and the two discover they have more in common than they ever would have thought. But when Rat gets wind of a plot that could help drive Kai and his kind from the Nameless City, she has to decide if her new friendship is worth more than her city’s freedom. Kai and Rat’s kinetic, shy-high exploits and hotly competitive relationship are expertly depicted by amazeballs graphic novelist Faith Erin Hicks in breathless panels that ooze with color. This cross-cultural adventure (which seems to be set in or inspired by medieval China) feels contemporary and fresh, despite it’s historical-ish frame. If you dig Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints or Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, don’t hesitate to take a trip to the Nameless City (the first in a new series).
Anyone who has ever picked up a pen and dreamed of creating their own graphic novel is bound to be inspired by graphic novelist Sara Varon‘s latest charming short comic collection. Originally published in 2003, these eighteen vignettes are now accompanied by personal notes that detail her inspiration and who the different characters symbolize, giving a fascinating glimpse into the mind of the artist. Everything from the divine (the process of beekeeping!) to the mundane (a day in the life series) are represented here, along with all the in between stuff: friendship, heartbreak, and lots of and lots of eating delicious things. If you like food, animal folks and fun, or have an interest in the creative process (which is lovingly detailed in each and every story) then you are going to want to wrap yourself up in Sweater Weather.
In this raucous medieval-ish fantasy turned upside down and sideways, Nimona is a sassy shape shifter who offers her slick sidekick services to professional villain Ballister Blackheart. In turn, she wants nothing more than to take out a few good guys. But that’s not the kind of villain Blackheart is. In fact, he’s kind of…kind, more like a Robin Hood than Sheriff of Nottingham. So when Nimona’s unstoppable powers attract the attention of the deadly Director of the mysterious Institute, Blackheart does his best to keep things from getting too heated between Nimona and the Institute’s champion, Ambrosius Goldenloin. But for sad and terrible reasons of her own, Nimona is out for blood, and soon Blackheart finds himself trapped between his arch enemy and his closest ally, no longer able to tell which is which. This inventive graphic novel was originally a web comic that earned oodles of raves, all heartily well deserved. Stevenson’s small scale art and text is packed with big universal truths about corruption, morality and heroism while also delivering some hardcore giggles along the way. You’ll find yourself wanting a Nimona of your own after finishing this delightfully subversive tome.
Pakistani American teenager Kamala Khan wishes she could just be like everyone else. She’s tired of the kids at school making fun of her culture and her Muslim parents’ strict rules. “Why do I have to bring pakoras to school for lunch? Why am I stuck with the weird holidays? Everyone else gets to be normal. Why can’t I?” But one night, after sneaking out to a party that her parents forbid her to attend, her wish to be someone else comes true in a way she could never have imagined. When Captain Marvel, Iron Man and Captain America appear to her in a sea of fog and ask who she wants to be instead of Kamala Khan from Jersey City, she quickly replies, “Right now? I want to be beautiful and awesome and butt-kicking and less complicated.” In other words, she wants to be like Captain Marvel herself. But when the fog clears and her wish is granted, Kamala discovers that her new shape shifting abilities have made her life more complicated, not less. While she does manage to pull off a pretty heroic rescue, she also accidentally destroys her school locker room when her “embiggen” powers get away from her. “What does it mean to have powers? To be able to look like someone I’m not? What if I don’t fit into my old life anymore? Like it’s a pair of pants I’ve just outgrown? Would I still be Kamala?” As Kamala struggles to answer these questions, she and her friends are drawn into a battle with shady villain known only as “The Inventor.” Does Kalmala have what it takes to bring down the Inventor? Maybe…if she learns to believe in herself as much as she does her beloved Captain Marvel Carol Danvers. “I’m not here to be a watered-down version of some other hero…I’m here to be the best version of Kamala.” This fresh, funny, thought provoking graphic novel featuring a realistic teen who turns the superhero stereotype upside down makes a terrific read alike to Gene Yang’s equally awesome Shadow Hero.