What are the Graphic Novels That Always Work?

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EW recently put out a “best of everything” issue, and Johanna Draper Carlson caught the ten best graphic novels list, which I’ll quote from her post. Snarky comments are her own:
1. Maus by Art Spiegelman (also appears as #33 on the overall book list)
2. The Adventures of Tintin: The Secret of the Unicorn by Herge
3. Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
4. Sandman by Neil Gaiman (and some artists they don’t bother to name)
5. Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons
6. Chicken With Plums by Marjane Satrapi (not as well known as her Persepolis, but a shorter, stronger book)
7. Blankets by Craig Thompson
8. Mendel’s Daughter by Martin Lemelman
9. Stitches by David Small (a horrible book, badly paced, and not living up to the revelations it promises, but it’s trendy graphic memoir with a shocking real-life event)
10. Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra


As Johanna points out a pretty safe, middlebrow list. She notes, as I do..Mendel’s Daughter? It’s not bad but We Are On Our Own is better….and so is The Property. And Gemma Bovary. And Bone. And…well you get the point.

I did like Stitches a bit more than she did but it isn’t as good as Marble Season, My Friend Dahmer or…Building Stories.

All my opinion, of course.

I’ve been toying with the idea of a list of “Graphic Novels That Always Work” — what books would you give a friend to get them to read a comic? It wouldn’t have to make them a Wednesday lifer…just convince them that graphic novels are good reading.

You are not allowed to mention The Big Six:

Watchmen
The Dark Knight
Maus
Persepolis
Fun Home
Bone

Okay….go!

Comments

  1. Currently I’d hook people with Bone, Y The Last Man, Clumsy, Hawkeye and Saga.

  2. “Kings in Disguise” by Jim Vance and Dan Burr. Though I was already into comics when I read this it completely cured me of my superhero obsession and opened the floodgates for all the fantastic potential the medium has to offer.

  3. Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
    Goliath by Tom Gauld
    I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason

  4. Ali T. Kokmen says:

    Back in the day, Kyle Baker’s “Why I Hate Saturn” was the graphic novel I most often recommended to ‘civilians’ to impress that there is more to comics than guys in capes beating each other up…

  5. All-Star Superman by Morrison and Quitely
    The Nao of Brown by Glyn Dillon
    Marbles by Ellen Forney
    Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel
    …and many. many more. (Endless variety, yo!)

  6. giuliano says:

    Why I hate Saturn by Kyle Baker
    Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli
    Hate by Peter Bagge (collected in multiple volumes but so is Sandman)

  7. Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison. This is the closest example I can think of of a “graphic” “novel”, telling an engrossing story featuring a bunch of normal people in today’s NYC.
    Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise. Romance, crime, slice of life… this one’s got it all. And the format should ring a bell with fans of modern TV shows.
    For crime fans, Brubaker & Phillips’s Criminal, Rucka/Southworth’s Stumptown, and Darwyn Cooke’s Parker.
    On the superhero side, Darwyn Cooke’s DC: The New Frontier and Rucka/Brubaker/Lark & co’s Gotham Central.
    And Jimmy Gownley’s Amelia Rules for readers of all age. Honestly, this stuff’s brilliant, on the level of Peanuts and Calvin & Hobbes.

  8. Depending on what the person in question likes to read, I’ll set them up with any or all of:

    The Abominable Charles Christopher (Karl Kerschl)
    Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight (Chris Onstad)
    American Born Chinese (Gene Yang)
    The Cartoon History of the Universe (Larry Gonick)
    Cross Game (Mitsuru Adachi)
    Digger (Ursula Vernon)
    Drops of God (Tadashi Agi & Shu Okimoto)
    Echo (Terry Moore)
    Finder (Carla Speed McNeil)
    Girl Genius (Phil & Kaja Foglio)
    Gunnerkrigg Court (Tom Siddell)
    Leave It To Chance (James Robinson & Paul Smith)
    Mercury (Hope Larson)
    Queen and Country (Greg Rucka, et al)
    Scott Pilgrim (Bryan Lee O’Malley)
    Shazam: The Monster Society of Evil (Jeff Smith)
    Skullkickers (Jim Zub, et al)
    Smile (Raina Telgemeier)
    Strangers in Paradise (Terry Moore)
    Starman (James Robinson, et al)
    All-Star Superman (Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely)
    Usagi Yojimbo (Stan Sakai)

  9. jonboy says:

    Daytripper, It’s a Bird, Pride of Baghdad, We3, Fables, Scary Godmother, Beasts of Burden, Blacksad, Asterios Polyp, Fax from Sarajevo, Yossel, Goon, Top Ten, Torpedo, Darwyn Cooke’s Parker, From Hell, Carl Barks, Joe the Barbarian, Books of Magic
    And for more “superhero” fare: Batman Year One, New Frontier, All Star Superman, Planetary, Gotham Central, Arkham Asylum, Animal Man

  10. Lots of good work in “Blankets” and “Fun Home”, but they don’t really appeal much to me as a person – too damn ‘nice’ and ‘dry’ respectively. Chester Brown’s “I Never Liked You”, one the other hand, hits the spot completely.

    Bagge’s “Buddy Does Seattle”, I guess, but you probably need to have some vague kind of inner ‘punk’ to really like it. I dunno. There’s probably nothing out there that’s bound to appeal to everyone. “Sandman” is essentially a fantasy epic, which is not for everyone. also, much of the art in that is a little bit too US mainstream for people who love cartooning as an art-form.

    I nominate Emmanuel Guibert’s “Alan’s War”, I guess. I think it’s as good as “Maus”, but on the other hand you can’t fill the list with WWII books.

  11. The Essential Dazzler Vol 1
    The Essential Dazzler Vol 2

  12. Another vote for Kyle Baker’s Why I Hate Saturn, Terry Moore’s Strangers in Paradise, and We3 by Grant Morrison & Frank Quitely.
    Leviathan by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli.
    Judge Dredd: America by John Wagner & Colin MacNeil.
    Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks.
    Incognito by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips.
    Saga by Brian Augustyn and Fiona Staples.
    Nikolai Dante by Robbie Morrison and Simon Fraser.
    Any Love & Rockets!

  13. Blankets–I’ve loaned this book out so many times. Almost everyone went and bought their own copy.
    Y the Last Man
    Scott Pilgrim–perfect series
    Freak Angels–Ellis and Duffield. It’s perfect. At my last job, there were two of us reading it at the beginning. At the end there were 15 or so following the story. Then I had to start loaning out my Ellis trades.
    All Star Superman. Batman: The Long Halloween. Classic superheroes done right.
    Death: The High Cost of Living In my experience it hooks non-comics people quicker than Sandman.
    Usagi Yojimbo
    Courtney Crumin
    Queen and Country

  14. Thomas Wayne says:

    Laurent beat me to it….BOX OFFICE POISON is sharp and exceptional for a real world depiction described through comic panels.

    As far as other stuff goes….well…best of lists are all about “taste”…so one man’s fillet is another man’s scraps…but for me I’d go with…

    All Volumes of PREACHER
    All Volumes of 100 Bullets
    BATMAN: The Long Halloween and THE KILLING JOKE
    Steven T. Seagle’s IT’S A BIRD…a fantastic real life tale of life and death…essentially a Superman story that isn’t about Superman…LOVED IT AND STILL DO!

  15. Zainab Akhtar says:

    I’ve been thinking about this recently, and I think there’s 2 types lists: one of ‘favourites’ (which is more subjective) and one which is ‘best’ (more objective). I think ‘best’ would -or should- encompass facets such as merit and accessibility more, so here’s my top 10, in no order:

    Duncan the Wonderdog
    Y: The Last Man
    Domu
    I Kill Giants
    Fables (first arc which ends with the Adversary’s defeat)
    Pinocchio by Winshluss
    Gotham Central complete run
    Daytripper
    Locke and Key
    Leviathan by Ian Edginton and D’Israeli

    (I have to admit eve these change quite often)

  16. 1. Eagle by Kaiji Kawaguchi
    2. Three Fingers by Rich Koslowski
    3. Queen and Country by Greg Rucka et al
    4. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
    5. Top Ten: The 49ers by Alan Moore and Gene Ha
    6. Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
    7. Death: The High Cost of Living by Gaiman, Bachalo and Buckingham

    Also, I’d hesitate to call the following ‘graphic novels’ since they’re all shortish stories, but I’d give them to any potential comics reader without hesitation.

    8. The Man by Vaughn Bodē
    9. Heartland by Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon
    10. Big Man by David Mazzucchelli

  17. Red Lanterns

  18. Rich Johnston says:

    Preacher Always Works. Less for Garth Ennis, more for Steve Dillon. He is one of the most new-reader friendly artists there is, for the West-influenced eye.

    Some will get turned off by the grossness and the various prejudices on display, but everyone I’ve tried it on ends up reading the whole thing fast and wanting more.

  19. Synsidar says:

    Isn’t EW’s list yet another case of treating graphic novels/comics as a genre, rather than a format? Unless someone can make a case for readers new to comics finding a GN’s artwork involving all by itself, there’s no reason for a genre fiction reader to find a picked-at-random GN particularly interesting.

    The assumption underlying the “10 best” list seems to be that readers will find them interesting or entertaining irrespective of the subject matter, which is, again, a shaky assumption, akin to assuming that a reader will find a current best seller satisfying whether he’s familiar with the author and genre or not.

    SRS

  20. Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fies. Personal, true, moving, and uses comics to tell the story better than just words. A real eye-opener.

    Understanding Comics, for a different kind of non-fiction and a real surprise to people who’ve never thought past Peanuts.

    I guess neither one of those are novels, but they are graphic.

  21. I’ve had good success with Wil Eisner’s later works.
    Also Joe R Lansdales Jonah Hex was a hit with my Father in Law.

  22. I think my gateways of choice would be:
    -Ultimate Spider-Man for pre-teen/teenage boys.
    -For young girls, I’m a little more stumped. I’ve heard enough great things about Anya’s Ghost and Zita the Spacegirl to hand those out. Maybe Bendis/Oeming’s Takio?
    -Scott Pilgrim for the slightly older teenage/gamer set.
    -Akira, just in general (I presume we don’t have to have strictly American choices here, yeah?)
    -Ditto on Usagi Yojimbo! It’s consistently new-reader friendly, and a great example of quality short stories that slowly build into larger scenarios.
    Ditto also to American Born Chinese and Joe The Barbarian.
    -Goodbye, Chunky Rice (the best unfilmed Pixar movie I’ve ever read).
    -Dan Clowes’ Ice Haven for the reader of adult literary fiction. It works in the familiar tropes of newspaper comic strips, but subtly adds up to tell a larger story, and it’d be a good intro to the Pantheon/Raw set of literary cartoonists.

  23. I don’t get why Seth doesn’t show up on more of these lists. I may be blinded because he’s a personal favorite, but I still think It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken is as good an example of comics “memoir” as anything, even more so when you get the impact of his sliding into the fiction.

  24. Gianni says:

    Alack Sinner by Muñoz and Sampayo
    Ghost World by Clowes
    Black Hole by Burns
    The Ballad of the Salt Sea (first Corto Maltes) by Pratt
    Valentina by Crepax
    I killed Hittler by Jason
    Pluto by Urosawa
    Mort Cinder by Oesterheld and Breccia
    Alec by Campbell
    H.P. and Giuseppe Bergman by Manara
    Ici Meme by Forest and Tardi
    La Tour by Schuiten and Peeters
    And some already listed.

  25. Lately the one book that I’ve been recommending to everyone, loaning out and not getting back, buying for my non-comic friends and family is “Daytripper” by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá.

    Before “Daytripper” it was usually Kyle Baker’s “Why I Hate Saturn” that I would share with people.

    Great question, by the way.

  26. Chris Hero says:

    I’ve given Bone to almost everyone I know. Every single one has loved it and told me they had no idea comics could be so good.

    Acme Novelty 18 is the best book I’ve ever read about a disabled person. It really resonated with me due to my disabilities. Acme 20 is also damn good.

  27. Thomas Wayne says:

    Chris Hero…
    I LOVE the first sentence of your post…..the ten year old boy in me snickered relentlessly….

    So I shall repeat it….

    I’ve given Bone to almost everyone I know.

    Good for you sir…on any number of levels….I salute you…lol.

  28. Steely Dan says:

    “The Mice Templar”
    By Bryan J.L. Glass, Michael Avon Oeming, and Victor Santos

    “The Silent Invasion”
    By Michael Cherkas and Larry Hancock

    “Batman: Year One”
    By Frank Miller and David Mazzucchelli

    “DC: The New Frontier”
    By Darwyn Cooke

    “Lost in the Alps”
    By Cosey

    “Cages”
    By Dave McKean

    “It’s a Good Life If You Don’t Weaken”
    By Seth

    “Criminal”
    By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips

    “Hawkworld”
    By Timothy Truman and Alcatena

    Any (or all) of the “Paul” books
    By Michel Rabagliati

  29. Kiel, you’re right!

  30. Bill Gatevackes says:

    Like was said before, it depends on the individual likes of the person you are giving them to. But here are my ideas:
    FABLES because it takes characters they already know (Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf),and reframes them in a whole new light,
    STRANGERS IN PARADISE for the strong characterization and the character arcs that carry through the series.
    For superhero fans, I’d choose MARVELS. It has an entry level character to act as a surrogate for the readers and I think the artwork is beautiful.
    I don’t think you can go wrong with any AMERICAN SPLENDOR volume either.
    I like Daniel Clowes and I think ICE HAVEN is a great choice to people familiar with the films made of his other works.
    BONE is a comic book series that is good for just about all ages.
    100 BULLETS, Y THE LAST MAN and EX MACHINA are also good choices, especially if the reader you’re giving them to likes the dramas found on HBO and SHOWTIME.

  31. In addition to the above…
    Mouse Guard
    The Unwritten
    Cursed Pirate Girl
    King City

  32. Chris Hero says:

    @Thomas Wayne

    Oh wow. I’m sad to say it took me a few reads to even get what was so bad! Now I’m laughing hysterically, too! Why can’t I be that witty when I try??

  33. Steve Eidson says:

    1. “Pop Gun War”- Farel Dalrymple
    2. “3 Story”- Matt Kindt
    3. “Garage Band”, “They Found the Car” or “The Innocnets”- Gipi
    4. “The Placebo Man”- Tomer Hanuka
    5. “Pizzeria Kamikaze”-Asaf Hanuka
    6. “Escapo”- Paul Pope
    7. “Three Shadows”- Cyril Pedrosa
    8. “Tell Me, Dark” Kent Williams, John Ney Rieber, Wagner
    9. “Brooklyn Dreams”- J.M. DeMatteis, Glenn Barr
    10. “Barefoot Serpent”- Scott Morse
    I tried to add some different ones but I would second the recommendations for 100 Bullets, Criminal and Gauld’s Goliath.

  34. Also in my experience, these have been a big hit with teen and preteen girls – I’d call these safe bets for turning your friends’ kids into comics readers:
    Astro Boy
    Oh My Goddess!
    Gon
    Nausicaa of the Valley of Wind
    Power Pack by Gurihiru

  35. Serhend Sirkecioglu says:

    For me I suggest these comic depending on the age of who im recommending them to:

    ASTERIOS POLYP
    Blankets
    Pride of Baghdad
    Persepolis
    Habibi
    The Wandering Son
    Mouse Guard
    Yoshihiro Tatsumi’s Abandon the Old in Tokyo
    Carl Barks’ Donald Duck Comics
    I Shall Destroy All Civilized Planets
    Paying For it
    Louis Riel
    Essex County
    Anya’s Ghost
    Bone
    Flight
    Amulet
    King City

  36. Andrew Brown says:

    Transmetrpolitan
    Scalped
    Punisher Max
    Unknown Soldier (Dysart)

    I’ve never given it to anybody, but I will still second Truman’s Hawkworld for its SciFi awesomeness anyone could follow

  37. I’ll try not to repeat all the great books others have mentioned (eg Bone, Mouse Guard, Batman: Year One, Scott Pilgrim), but I’d love to add a few:

    Parker: The Hunter, The Outfit, and The Score by Darwyn Cooke
    Relish by Lucy Knisley
    Wizard of Oz series-es by Shanower and Young
    300 by Frank Miller
    Far Arden by Kevin Cannon
    Monkey Food by Ellen Forney
    Sock Monkey by Tony Millionaire
    Too Cool To Be Forgotten by Alex Robinson

    Thanks to everyone who mentioned Top 10. I’m embarrassed that I’ve never read Box Office Poison before now. Need to add that to the pile.

  38. Donn Ha says:

    Anders Nilsen’s Big Questions. Dork by Evan Dorkin, collected editions.

  39. Akira
    Black Hole
    The cartoon utopia
    Ed the Happy Clown
    Is that all there is?
    Dal Tokyo
    Orc Stain
    Lose( I know its not a “graphic novel” yet, but it probably will be one day and oat so very very good.
    RASL
    David Boring

  40. I am obviously biased, but based on the hundreds of people we hear from each month who had never read a comic before… I can assume that “Smile” by Raina Telgemeier should be on any list of this nature. :)

  41. I’m in the midst of bringing my stepmother over to graphic novels (she read comics as a kid).

    I started off with Persepolis (in part because it had some parallels to her own life), and it really got her attention and she is now sharing it with friends. I’m following that up with volume 1 of Bone, to see if humor will work for her (thought about Why I Hate Saturn, but it might be a smidge too racy for her 80 year old genteel self… but I may try it soon anyway.) There are certainly plenty of good downbeat memoir/pseudo-memoir books which could follow her liking for Persepolis (Fun Home, The Imposter’s Daughter, Stuck Rubber Baby, Maus, It’s A Good Life If You Don’t Weaken, Stitches, etc.) but I’d rather find her range than just find one thing she likes.

  42. …and how could I forget Ranma 1/2?

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