Quarantine life has posed many alternatives for us to consider–from how we work, to how we cope with stress–and this is especially true with reading habits. I have been reading a lot more, often for hours at night to decompress. Some days, though, I am not in the mood for heavy reading, but want to enjoy some literary entertainment with the fast accessibility of a movie or TV show. Graphic Novels have always filled in this gap for me insofar as they occupy the disparate space between abstract language and strict visual signfier; graphic novels fuse the signifier and signified seamlessly for an engaging literary experience that has the depth of a novel with the visual cues of the best visual mediums. Below is nine recommended graphic novels that I’ve read separated according to general age range. I encourage teens and adults to read “down” from their age group as these picks transcend their audiences’ age range.
3 Children Best Bets
El Deafo is an adorable book that should appeal to all readers. Set in the 1970s, our main character is hard of hearing and must wear a bulky hearing aid that comes with an intrusive box receiver (that is more walkman than ipod). Her teachers carry a microphone around while teaching so that she can hear. Of course, they still have the microphone when they go into the staff room to gossip. Thus the creation of the class superhero “El Deafo” who has supersonic hearing! Drawn in whimsical “bunny people,” this graphic novel will leave readers in a good mood while maturely depicting the overcoming of personal hardships.
Big Nate is a cultural phenomenon. With such a variety of comics published, it can be hard to pinpoint where to start. Spoiler alert: start with any volume! Series like Geronimo Stilton or Diary of a Wimpy Kid work well–like some of the best comedic shows–because of their episodic nature where you can jump into the series anywhere. Big Nate has this feature, revolving around a rambunctious boy who has school adventures with his friends. Hoopla host a plethora of volumes of the precocious Nate for your enjoyment! Be sure to have a needle and threat on hand because you will be left in stitches after reading this series.
Lumberjanes is a tween comic in fine form. Five girls spend the summer at scout camp going on adventures, making friends, and encountering supernatural creatures! You know, typical camp stuff. Featuring a diverse cast of young ladies who let their unique personalities shine, this comic series has exploded in popularity that will satisfy the kid in your house who wants something a little more playful and adventurous than your typical comic. These lumberjanes aren’t afraid to conquer nature by playing homage to strong women in history (e.g. Bessie Coleman) all while balancing the summer camp feeling so many kids enjoy. Skip the tent outside, dive into this instead!
3 Teen Best Bets
Star Wars has seen a resurgence from the new (disappointing) film trilogy in the last couple of years. Capitalizing on the hype, Marvel has released a slew of new Star Wars graphic novels, including Darth Vader. This series–all featured on Hoopla–are what the new films should have been: deep explorations of their characters, coherent action scenarios, and compelling force powers. While all of these aspects are somewhat found in the new trilogy, Darth Vader’s narrative truly highlights the best aspects of the extended Star Wars universe with compelling new characters that deftly shows how the coolest Jedi of the universe became the most feared Sith in the galaxy.
Sarah Andersen, who became popular from her webcomics, collects some of her best work in her first volume–Adulthood Is a Myth. A perfect blend of comedy and insight, Sarah Scribbles uses sparse paneling to articulate the blassé nature of daily life and meaningfulness. This comic, along with the two follow-up volumes also on Hoopla, will leave readers with a smile on their face. Sarah offers readers funny introverted antics to the deep analysis of what adulthood really is: persistent child-like venturing into the unknown with the adult stress of not knowing. It’s funny because it is true.
John Lewis is an American hero. He is the last person alive who spoke during the “March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs” (the event that saw MLK’s “I Have a Dream” speech). He has since spend his entire life dedicated to public service and justice. March Books 1-3 outline this journey for social justice. When it was released, it took the literary world by storm. Now the trilogy has become a high school and university curriculum staple. This is an unmatched depiction of the Civic Rights movement narrated by one of the key players. Lewis, however, spends a lot more panels on how the political project came to be, he was, in his words, merely a active participant. He is a continued advocate for non-violent resistance and creating “good trouble.” Perhaps of this pandemic, because of the way those in power have fumbled the world’s health and financial care, people can heed Lewis’ words of creating good trouble for social justice in the new century.
3 Adult Best Bets
Fun Home is an impressive literary feat. It does so, in part, because of Bechdel’s masterful usage of the comic format. Bechdel, known for her long standing comic series, Dykes to Watch Out For, intimately portraits her vexed relationship with her late father while jumping back in forth in time and space to interweave a compellingly human story. The narrative explores her sexuality as a young adult, her relationship with her gay father, and the Shakespearean questions of life and struggle. While reading, I was in awe of the masterful touch Bechdel has and supremely impressed with her balanced (yet intimate) approach to her subject (both her father and herself from the past). This is groundbreaking work and deserves to be experienced if you have any interest in graphic novels or LGBTQ+ culture. It is one of my favourite books I’ve ever read.
The late 70s/early 80s comes alive in this uniquely funky comic that explores the origins of Hip Hop. With its oversize format, and washed out 70s comic paper aesthetic, Hip Hop Family Tree is a complex mixtape of how Hip Hop became a cultural phenomenon. This series can be hard to follow for newcomers to the Hip Hop scene, but it is well worth the trouble. Piskor has historian levels of detail in each panel. This is a perfect book to pair with your favourite rap artist as you jam to the beat of one of the globes most iconic musical landscapes.
Lone Wolf and Cub is an epic journey set in Japan during the Edo period. This manga spans 28 volumes, all on Hoopla, and is the perfect series to get lost in. Our main character is framed for committing murder and loses his wife as a result. As such, he takes his young son and decides to seek revenge, via meifumadō (The Road to Hell), to those who are responsible. The child/samurai dynamic is thoroughly explored with increasingly clever scenarios. This comic revolutionized manga in the 1970s and did what Akira Kurosawa did for samurai movies for action comics. Some of this series’ chapters read better than entire historical novels (e.g. one women’s revenge for her fallen husband) and the graphic format (in all its meanings) serves well for depicting action and introspection. This is truly an epic saga that requires the use of its glossary of terms in the back. Sharpening a sword on a whetstone requires a lot of patience and time; this series takes this methodical pace to ensure at the end of the story it pierces you thoroughly.