This is by no means a comprehensive list – I haven’t read everything out there! And there are plenty I’ve read that I’m probably forgetting at the moment. But librarians ask me often enough for graphic novel recommendations that it seemed worthwhile to compile a list.
These are all graphic novels that I’ve personally read and enjoyed. They all have genuinely top-notch cartooning, and I’m confident kids will enjoy them. I’ve tried to make a list that includes both “obvious” graphic novels, and lesser-known works that are nonetheless excellent and entertaining.
Castle Waiting, by Linda Medley. I love both Castle Waiting books; fantasy that emphasizes friendship and humor rather than danger and daring, and somehow is fascinating rather than cloying. Plus, no one draws castle architecture better than Linda Medley.
Babymouse, by Jennifer Holm and Matthew Holm. (Okay, this one isn’t “all-ages,” it’s for little kids.)
Amy Unbounded, by Rachel Hartman.This is a “hidden gem,” long out of print and available only used. A fantasy comic full of accurate details about the daily life of a bright ten-year-old girl in the middle ages.
The Baby-Sitters Club, by Ann M Martin and Raina Telgemeier. I normally tend to recommend more “indy” titles, but the charm and excellent cartooning in these three books is irresistible.
Superhero Graphic Novels. Gotta have a few of ‘em, I guess. Other than Superhero Girl, these are for older kids rather than all-ages.
The Adventures of Superhero Girl, by Faith Erin Hicks. More of a parody of superheros than a standard superhero book, this one can be enjoyed by both superhero fans and superhero skeptics, and contains no grimness and next to no violence.
Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection, by Scott McCloud. This is my favorite superhero comic. It is optimistic rather than grim, and although it has moments of intense adventure it’s not especially violent. A teen coming-of-age novel in superhero form, the hero’s girlfriend Jenny is at least as much the protagonist as Zot himself is. There’s an earlier color Zot! book, which I also like, but the black-and-white book is better and can be read on its own.
Runaways, by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona, Joss Whedon and Michael Ryan. Fun superhero action with a diverse cast of main characters. Like most superhero comics, Runaways can get rather grim and violent; there are betrayals and some characters die. I only recommend the first eight volumes, after that the quality plummets.
Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. THE classic of the superhero genre, much better than the movie of the same name. WARNING: Extreme grimness and violence, and some sexual scenes depicted non-explicitly, including one panel depicting a rape.
Batman, Year One, by Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli. If you’re going to stock just one Batman graphic novel, this is the one. Christopher Nolan clearly kept this book by his bedside while he was making “Batman Begins,” but the version on paper is much better. Grim and violent, however.
Graphic Novels For Older Kids – books with death, tougher themes, etc..
I Kill Giants, by Joe Kelly and J.M. Ken Nimura. (Might be okay for middle school kids, too. I need to reread it to see. But it has some tough themes about bullying and trauma, so I’m putting it here for now).
Anya’s Ghost, by Vera Brosgol. WARNING: The main character – who is wonderfully written – smokes and swears. (Although I think she quits smoking by the end of the book).
Aya, by Marguerite Abouet. As well as being a gorgeous comic book, this is the one of the best portraits of daily life in Africa (specifically, the Ivory Coast) you’ll ever read. Again, might be okay for middle schoolers, but I’d have to reread to be sure.
Ivy, by Sarah Oleksyk. WARNING: This book contains R-rated nudity, sex, drug use, and swearing, so may not be for every library, despite its high quality. A realistic coming-of-age novel about a young girl and wannabe artist.
Understanding Comics, by Scott McCloud. An entertaining comic book textbook about the medium of comic books, this won’t appeal to all kids, but the intellectual nerdy comic book fan types may dig it.
Making Comics, by Scott McCloud. This is the book I recommend to high schoolers who are beginning to get serious about making their own comics and want to know what they should read.
The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn, both by Hergé. Normally I don’t recommend particular books within a series, but if you get only 2 Tintin books, get these two (which form a single two-part story). They’re both an example of Hergé’s cartooning at its best, and also an example of a Hergé book without any offensive racial stereotypes to worry about. (Although one character is an alcoholic.)
To create a complete 24 page comic book in 24 continuous hours.
That means everything: Story, finished art, lettering, color (if applicable), paste-up, everything. Once pen hits paper, the clock starts ticking. 24 hours later, the pen lifts off the paper, never to descend again. Even proofreading has to occur in the 24 hour period. (Computer-generated comics are fine of course, same principles apply).
Although one can do a 24-hour comic any day of the year, it’s more fun to do it in tandem, hence 24 Hour Comics Day. Yesterday, at the studio where I work, myself, Jake Richmond, Ben Lehman, and Alan Ward all did 24 hour comics.
So here’s mine. It’s silly and not enormously well written or drawn, but perhaps you’ll enjoy it anyway. And it not, at least it won’t take more than a few minutes to read.
My friend, the brilliant cartoonist Jenn Lee, is self-publishing the first book of her sci-fi webcomic Dicebox. Last week she posted the flip-through:
Jenn let me contribute a blurb to Dicebox. Here’s what I wrote:
Molly and Griffen are blue-collar workers in space looking for work and avoiding past mistakes. Jenn Manley Lee’s unique brand of science fiction — part slice of life, part travelogue — is daring, refreshing, whip-smart, and gloriously entertaining.
In Jenn Manley Lee’s elegant pages, the mysteries of the universe are matched by the mysteries of the human mind. Dicebox is science fiction done right.
The book also includes a short Dicebox story written and drawn by me, years ago. (I’m kind of embarrassed by my old artwork, to be honest, but Jenn says she likes it.)
Dicebox is available as a hardcover, a softcover, and a very affordable pdf — all three versions are for sale at Jenn’s store. A warning, though: The book does have a little sex and a little swearing, so probably for grown-ups only.
Ongoing work-in-progress for a drawing that will be auctioned off as part of this year’s “Women of Wonder Day.” The woman in the drawing is Rochelle Wayne, who was Robin in an “Elseworlds” Batman comic set during the French Revolution. Rochelle Wayne was designed by the wonderful José Luis García-López; my attempt to draw García-López hair looks pretty silly, but it was fun to try!
The completed drawing will include 4 female Robins, 5 Batgirls, 2 Batwomen, 2 female Black Bats, Huntress, Spoiler, Oracle, and Ace the Bat-Hound.
Jake Richmond, the cartoonist who (among a zillion other things) colors “Hereville,” has started a new webcomic, called “Modest Medusa,” which is genuinely funny, charming and nice to look at. The first strip is here, but I’ll post a sample:
For my money, few comic books has been as thrilling and interesting as Dave Sim’s Cerebus – and no other comic has been as infuriating and disappointing in the end. Here are some of my favorite covers, drawn by Sim and Gerhard. (Sim does the figures and lettering, Gerhard does backgrounds, objects and colors).
Issue 87. The cover, depicting two characters falling off a cliff during a blizzard, is lovely in its own right. I liked it even better once I realized that it was a parody of Frank Miller’s Dark Knight cover — but Sim and Gerhard’s version looks better.
Issue 123. I love this cover portrait of a character who seemed simple, but turned out to have many sides, some of them quite ugly.
Issue 140, one of many nice Cerebus covers in this period featuring small figures in front of amazing Gerhard drawings of architecture. This cover stands out to me because of the subtle but perfect body language; Sebastian sick and exhausted and facing a long climb still to go, and Robbie so worried for his friend and eager to help.
Issue 206. I wanted to include a cover from “Guys,” because I really liked the way that the covers were just additional pages in the comic, and fit into the paperbook book collection seamlessly — but are still lovely cover designs in and of themselves. Also, these covers feature Sim drawing in his Drucker-influenced caricature style, my favorite of Sim’s drawing styles.
Issue 96, probably my favorite of any cover to an individual Cerebus issue. This was the second of a series of five covers featuring tight close-ups of Cerebus, all drawn in a rough cross-hatched style. It’s a powerful image, and a great use of cropping to create drama.
Then there are my two favorite phone book covers:
High Society. A stunning pen-and-ink drawing of a small Cerebus climbing the steps to an enormous hotel. Click on the image to see it larger, or see a huge, high-quality scan on Cerebusfangirl’s Flickr page.
Click on it to see it bigger! As I said, I love Dave Sim in his Mort Drucker influenced mode, and the huge crowd scene on this cover certainly gives me a lot of that. A zillion elements — the insane crowd, the overwhelming mountain and architecture, and the little tiny Cerebus making huge gestures on top of the building — are held together by Sim’s solid design sense, and form a perfect illustration for the story inside.
This is a wrap-around cover, by the way. I couldn’t find a really great scan of the whole wrap-around, but here’s the best I did find (click on it to see it larger).
I don’t think this is a cover, but while looking for Cerebus covers, I came across this impressive painting by Sim and Gerhard of Cerebus having a nightmare. And I have no idea where the painting came from! So if you know, please leave a comment.