By Ashly Moore Sheldon • July 10, 2019
Whether you're already a fan of the genre or not, there's no denying that so-called comic books have come a long way in the last several decades. No longer relegated to superheroes and sci-fi, today's graphic novels cover a diverse field of real-world topics and delve into complex emotional territory. Many readers—young and old—find that the evocative artwork adds nuance and power to the stories being told, whether historical or imagined. It turns out that the medium is uniquely suited to navigating socially and politically sensitive subject matter. Here we feature ten great reads that explore international culture, history, and profound emotional journeys.
For many of us the idea of learning world history from a comic book may seem, well, comical. But the truth is that many teachers are utilizing this genre as a way to get their students more engaged. And it works! The addition of striking images and snappy dialogue helps to immerse readers into unfamiliar environments and complex political dynamics. A pioneering example of this—first published in 1973—is Maus: A Survivor's Tale, in which author Art Spiegelman tells the story of his parents, a Jewish couple from Poland, who survived the horrors of the Holocaust during the Nazi regime. Rounding out our list: A pictorial account from 1960s civil rights leader and US Representative John Robert Lewis; A meticulously researched manga-style history of Japan during a fascinating era of the twentieth-century; Groundbreaking graphic journalism reporting on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; And an illustrated encyclopedic chronicle of the formative years of hip hop.
Graphic novels are also tremendously effective at quickly creating an emotional picture. A single image can really communicate so much! (A thousand words, maybe?) These beautifully illustrated books feature children and teens grappling with some seriously grown-up issues. Best known perhaps is Marjane Satrapi's memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. You'll fall in love with young Marji and her principled, dedicated parents as they struggle with the realities of living under such an oppressive regime. In Fun Home, feminist author Alison Bechdel (have you heard of the Bechdel Test?) tells the story of trying to unravel her late father's secrets. Craig Thompson's autobiographical novel serves as a meditation on the emotional highs and lows of first love. And then there's Mariko Tamaki's LGBT story of a high school girl trying to figure out why love has to hurt so much (or does it?). Finally, a 10-year-old girl obsessed with monsters tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor.
We know there are a plethora of terrific options out there in the graphic novel universe. Tell us about your favorites! And be sure to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to get daily book recommendations and more.