A few months ago I shared a few of my favorite books. But one thing you may not have guessed from that list is that I also happen to be a bit of a graphic novel fan. There’s something about seeing the story visually come to life in front of you that makes you experience the story in a new way — and it’s cool to see a variety of art styles across the graphic novel genre, much like authors have their own voices. It gives you a reason to slow down and appreciate the craft that went into creating the art. So in no particular order and with the caveat that this isn’t an exhaustive list, here are some of my favorite graphic novels.
Joe the Barbarian by Grant Morrison and Sean Murphy. I don’t remember how I first heard about this book, but I’m really glad I did. It tells the story of a boy with diabetes who gets transported into a fantasy world during one episode when his blood sugar drops. The story bounces back and forth between his quest to defeat King Death in the fantastic world and his attempt to raise his blood sugar level in the real world. This sets up some really cool parallels between both worlds, like his pet rat becoming his anthropomorphic warrior-rat companion in the fantasy world. These cool insertions and imaginative illustrations combine to make an awesome portal fantasy.
reMIND by Jason Brubaker. This began as a webcomic, so I first read it online (where it’s still available to read for free). Putting aside the fact that Brubaker using the blog format to both host the webcomic and chronicle his journey in publishing reMIND is awesome itself, the volumes also tell an engaging story. Though it begins with a normal girl living in and maintaining a lighthouse, it soon introduces a talking cat, lizard-men, and an underwater kingdom to create a story much larger than what you see on the surface. This quirkiness is complemented by a unique art style that blends Brubaker’s background in storyboarding with textured colors, and was designed from the ground up to play with different ways of filling the pages.
Bone by Jeff Smith. This is probably on more than a few top 10 graphic novel lists, and it’s easy to see why. The story begins with the antics of a trio of cartoony brothers getting lost and gradually but consistently growing in scope until it becomes an epic. After getting separated, the brothers begin exploring a secluded valley, meeting its inhabitants, and discovering that life there may not be as idyllic as it originally seems. It has just the right mix of humor, adventure, drama, suspense, and romance, and Smith’s smooth illustrations demonstrate what a labor of love it was for him to craft it from beginning to end.
Mouse Guard (series) by David Petersen. I think the first book in this series (Fall 1152) is what first got me into graphic novels. In this world, mice live in a pseudo-medieval civilization, and are protected by the Mouse Guard, who are essentially knights who travel the land to protect villages and travelers from threats. The story of the first entry begins with a patrol out on a mission where they soon discover that the Mouse Guard itself may have threats of its own to worry about. Each entry develops the world even further, introducing different elements of life in the mice’s world. This setup, combined with Petersen’s wood-engraving-esque style of illustration and the square format of the books, make this a really unique series of graphic novels.
Rust (series) by Royden Lepp. One of the advantages of graphic novels is the ability to read them without technically reading words. Rust is probably the best example of that that I’ve read. The series follows a farm family who takes in a strange boy with a jetpack after he protects them from a massive, violent robot. But while he’s trying to keep his past a secret, others are doing everything they can to uncover it. It’s set in a alt-history world where robots and steampunk-esque technology aren’t out of place on sprawling farms and prairies, but the sepia-toned artwork helps it all to feel timeless. And Lepp isn’t afraid to let that art tell the story by itself. Action scenes in particular can go on for pages without word bubbles interrupting them, allowing this graphic novel to really play up what makes this medium so special.
Again, these are just a few of my favorite graphic novels — and I’m always looking for new ones! Do you have any suggestions?