In this, the Year of our Lord 2016, I, Jillian Denning, got into graphic novels.
We never thought this day would come. We, the collective we, the people who care so deeply about my reading habits. (Me.)
I don’t know why I hadn’t read a graphic novel before this year. I had just kind of dismissed the genre as superhero comics I didn’t care much about and sexual manga storylines I really didn’t care much about.
And guess what? I read some superhero comics and didn’t care for them after all, just as I suspected!
This was, after all, the year of the graphic novel.
I tried every genre.
I read the classics. Sandman. Watchmen. I tried popular ones and standalone novels and series and super heroines and and and.
And I’m here to tell you that I really love graphic novels.
And I think you will too.
And, and, and.
Here’s where you should start. If you have taste like me.
(Which I assume you do, or that you’re related to me if you read this blog.) (Hi mom!)
1. El Deafo by Cece Bell
The first graphic novel I read, recommended by the lovely Bailey. It’s a graphic novel memoir, which turns out is my peanut butter and jelly. Based on her childhood, Cece Bell talks about growing up hearing impaired and what it was like having a phonic ear. Something about graphic novel memoirs really hits home. Being able to draw your feelings adds a level that I really, really like.
2. Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
The ultimate in the graphic novel memoir. Roz Chast draws for the New Yorker and this book was nominated for the National Book Award. I LOVED it and I have so little in common with Roz, who is caring for her aging parents. I am not a middle-aged cartoonist and my parents aren’t hoarders and yet I was HERE. You will be too.
3. Maus by Art Spiegelman
A classic in the graphic novel genre, it tells the story of Art Spiegleman’s father’s experience during the Holocaust. Maybe you read it in school? I hear people read it in school.
4. Here by Richard McGuire
An interesting one because there are practically no words, just pictures of this one room in this one house throughout time. It jumps to the past, future and present and explores how humans remain constant. How we lose things and gain things, fall in love and have our hearts broken and we are all the same, at the end. We are all human.
5. Smile (and Sisters) by Raina Telgemeier
Raina is a complete master of graphic novels and everything I’ve read of hers is flawless. Read Smile, you, you, anyone of all ages. Yes you. It’s the story of her dental work in middle school and you will relate and yes, it’s another graphic novel memoir.
6. Anything by Lucy Knisley
Someone called Lucy the Lena Dunham of comics. Is that because they are similar ages and write about themselves? Probably. I didn’t particularly find their humor or selves all that similar, but I did and do love Lucy.
She writes little travelogues and bits about her life. She loves Harry Potter (and made this incredible graphic SumHarry which I’m getting printed for my wall.) I also have a crush on her husband and their relationship. I liked her Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride best, I think. I just like her, really.
7. Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson
A sweet Newbery Honor book (see, graphic novels are all the buzz) about a girl who takes up Roller Derby right when she’s losing her best friend. I hope it’s a series. I hope it’s a movie. I hope you hope this too.
8. Fun Home by Alison Bechel
From the creator of the Bechdel test herself! Now a Tony-nominated Broadway musical! But really, Fun Home is kind of THE book in the graphic novel memoir genre. She’s cited by my dear Lucy Knisley many times. It wasn’t my favorite I read, but it deserves a place here, because what if it’s your favorite and I deprived you of that?
9. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
A National Book Award finalist and favorite on YA lists, American Born Chinese tells three interlacing stories about what it’s like to be a Chinese American. There’s this twist that made me go whoa and probably will make you go whoa whoa too.
Let’s talk about comics. No exclamation.
The difference between graphic novels and comics is that comics are serialized and come out regularly. Sometimes they are then combined into graphic novels you can pick up. But Superman? That’s a comic. A graphic novel memoir? That’s a…graphic novel.
Anyway. I am a person now who follows two comics. I read the editions and wonder what will happen and when I can get the next one. I am invested in characters and plotlines and part of me worries. Like what if this goes on forever? How long can I follow? Is this a til-death-do-us-part thing?
The musings of anxious comic reader.
1. Saga by Brian Vaughan
Star Wars meets Romeo and Juliet. A sweeping love story against the backdrop of an intergalactic war with so many twists sometimes I wonder what the brain (Brian Vaughaun) behind this all is like. It’s also one of those banned books that we celebrated a few weeks ago, so get on that.
2. Giant Days by John Allison
The story of three best friends in their first year college in the UK. I’m a sucker for female friendship stories and England so this was bound to get me excited, but it’s also witty and charming and fun. Let us not underestimate fun.
And now, I’ll leave you with a picture from Lucy Knisley’s Relish and the hope that you’ll join me on this graphic novel journey of mine.