I don’t read nearly as many graphic novels (or comic books, if you will) as I used to. To be honest, I often find myself a little intimidated about starting in on any long-running series – because I can easily get through three or four volumes on a regular day’s commute, I find it especially hard to manage reading comic series’ through the library, and since that’s where I get all of my reading material these days, it means i mostly stick to regular old prose. But, that’s not really a great excuse! The thing is, there’s plenty of great stand-alone graphic novels out there, and I have been remiss in dropping them off my reading repertoire.
So, anyway, as a reminder to myself to get back into the graphic novel-reading game, here’s a list (in no particular order) of some of my favourite stand-alone graphic novels:
Pride of Baghdad, by Brian K. Vaughan
Based on true events, this graphic novel follows the story of a pride of four lions that escaped from the Baghdad zoo following an American bombing raid. The lions ‘ newfound freedom is, inevitably, fraught with danger and new challenges that they can’t understand and were not prepared for.
To be honest Niko Henrichon’s artwork is more than enough reason to pick up the book, but I also found the story deeply affecting, as the lions leave behind the caged safety they’ve always known, instead choosing freedom, whatever the cost (and the cost is high).
WE3, by Grant Morrison
This strange stand-alone volume tells the story of three animals (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) who have been enhanced with robot exo-suits and heightened intelligence as part of an experimental military program (as you may well have guessed). When they are slated for de-commission, they must work together to escape death and try to find a new home for themselves in the world.
It’s a silly enough premise, I admit. And as I write this post, I’m realizing the thematic parallel between this and Pride of Baghdad are unmistakable – apparently this is a story arc I am particularly drawn to. I challenge you, though, to read this story and not be affected by the confusion, fear, and ultimate bravery of these strange and unfrotunate creatures.
Tina’s Mouth: an existential comic diary, by Keshni Kashyap
And now, for something completely different! Tina’s Mouth is presented as the “existential diary” of high school student Tina M., written as an assignment for her advanced honours English class.
The diary is a genuinely charming and insightful look at high school (featuring all the standard characters, from estranged best friend, to unattainable crush), all addressed as a series of letters to Jean-Paul Sartre. Through the diary, Tina struggles with developing a sense of identity, feeling out of place both a school and with her extended family.
The art here is understated black-and-white line drawings, generally unremarkable, but fitting with the premise that this is a high school student’s diary. It’s really Tina’s witty and often sarcastic voice that carries the book, as Kashyap has given this teenager credit for the level of depth and critical thinking skills that many other authors seem reluctant to credit teenagers with.
Through the Woods, by Emily Carroll
I love everything about this one! It’s a collection of short horror stories, based – with varying degrees of fidelity – on classic folklore. Carroll’s illustrations are striking, with strong black-and-white foundations given depth through the judicious use of bold primary colours.
And the stories! The stories are fabulously creepy in the particular way that folkloric themes often encourage, drawing as they do on strangely primordial, instinctive human fears. I honestly can’t recommend this book enough.