The following is a list of titles that I have read which would be catalogued for an adult readership.
Eisner, Will. A Contract With God (Baronet Books, 1978). Widely considered to be the first graphic novel, Will Esiner’s A Contract With God is a vignette of stories that shape the lives of Jewish characters living in a tenement building in New York City. The art is a combination of realism and caricature, and the time and space are not bound by panels alone.
Hicks, Faith Erin. Zombies Calling (Slave Labour Graphics, 2007). This first novel by Hicks follows Joss, a obsessed, spork wielding university student who is the only hope against a campus of zombies. This fun and fast read is a social commentary on tuition fees and accessibility to post-secondary education. Drawn in a manga inspired comic black and white, this book is filled with a humour and poignancy that Gen X and Y readers will enjoy. Hicks won the Joe Shuster Award for best new cartoonist in 2008.
Laboucane-Benson, Patti. The Outside Circle (House of Anansi Press, 2015). This is an exceptional and touching story about the effects of abuse and repression over generations in the aboriginal communities in Canada. Two brothers struggle to survive poverty, drugs, violence, separation, while exploring and accepting cultural identity. The fine lines and detail of the art offer a glimpse into the power of oral tradition and the art of storytelling.
Loeb, Jeph & Sale, Tim. Batman: The Long Halloween (DC Comics, 1997). Batman is trying to solve a crime in Gotham that sees every mobster and villain in the city as suspects. The mysterious killer, Holiday, is taunting Batman and through each holiday of the calendar year, forces the Dark Knight to face his most nefarious foes. Sale’s fine penciled and detailed art work and dark hues perfectly capture the engrossing story penned by Loeb.
Loeb, Jeph & Sale, Tim. Daredevil: Yellow (Marvel Comics, 2011). Through letters written to his lost love, Karen Page, Daredevil reflects on the events that brought him to the life of a vigilante and the deep personal cost of being a superhero. Sale’s sparing use of vibrant colour captures the plight of one of the most famous heroes before he donned the red suit. This is the second book in the Loeb and Sale Marvel Colour Series.
Loeb, Jeph & Sale, Tim. Hulk: Grey (Marvel Comics, 2011). In this retelling of Hulk’s origin story, Bruce Banner contemplates his life, his relationship to Hulk, and his deep love for Betty Ross and her loss. In conversation with his friend and therapist Banner shares the intimate moments of his first hours as Hulk that have never been so effectively captured or humanized until now. Sale’s attention to detail and muted, grey colour pallet captures the essence of the first printed Hulk comics. Book three in the Loeb and Sale Marvel Colour Series.
Loeb, Jeph & Sale, Tim. Spiderman: Blue (Marvel Comics, 2003). Peter Parker speaks to his fallen love, Gwen Stacy, after years of fighting as Spiderman and marriage to Mary Jane Watson. Peter reflects on an intimate Peter and Gwen origin story and contemplates how the events in his life have shaped him. Loeb’s deeply affecting story is accentuated by Sale’s tremendously detailed art in the spirit of the earliest Spiderman comics. This is the first in the Loeb and Sale Marvel Colour Series.
Loeb, Jeph & Sale, Tim. Superman for All Seasons (DC Comics, 1998). This is an original interpretation of Superman’s origin story as seen through the four seasons. Loeb creates a duality between Clark Kent and Superman, each grappling with their responsabilities and roles in rural and urban life. Sale’s Rockwell inspired fine lines and striking colour add a deeply personal perspective to a superhero story.
Maroh, Julie. Blue is the Warmest Color (Glenat, 2010). This gorgeous story is one of love, loss, coming out, and growing up. When Clementine unexpectedly falls in love with Emma, her whole world is turned upside down and the two struggle to make life and love work in this honest depiction of modern day romance. Portrayed in stunning pencil work, the sparse use of only the colour blue heightens the intensity of the book. It has won many awards in France and was adapted into a French film of the same name.
Mazzucchelli, David. Asterios Polyp (Pantheon Books, 2009). A reflection on the decisions we make in life, this book follows a once renowned professor, now broke auto mechanic trying to navigate life after some poor life choices. The narrative and the art explore duality, right from wrong, and how closely both are connected.
McCloud, Scott. The Sculptor (First Second Books, 2015). David, an uninspired artist, makes a deal with Death that in exchange for his soul, he will be granted the power to sculpt anything for 200 days, then David falls in love and his understanding of art and life change. Realism is coupled with cartoon art in this touching story.
Millar, Mark. Superman: Red Son (DC Comics, 2003). This retelling of Superman’s origin story in Soviet Union considers how the Man of Steel would have been different had he landed on Soviet soil in the midst of the Cold War. Many characters from the DC universe, including Lex Luthor, Wonder Woman, and Batman make an appearance. The art is strikingly infused with shades of red and propagandized throughout the book. This is a book I often use when I teach Global History to high school students and encourage them to think outside of the box.
Millar, Mark & McNiven, Steve. Civil War (Marvel Comics, 2007). This Marvel event was built from previous cross-over events and spanned the entire Marvel 616 (mainstream) universe. In the aftermath of a hero-induced tragedy on an urban elementary school, the Marvel heroes must decide to join Iron Man in his quest to register all heroes with the government for accountability, or to join Captain America to protect the secret lives of heroes and their civil liberties. The event has direct and long standing repercussions for the Marvel universe and is largely considered canon. The story is a social commentary of American government in the early 2000’s. The film, Captain America: Civil War was inspired by the comic. This is the collected story, though many offshoots are available in collected editions.
Modan, Rutu. The Property (Drawn and Quarterly, 2013). Inspired by her own experiences, Modan creates the story of Mica, a young woman on a trip to Warsaw with her grandmother in an effort to reclaim property that was lost to the family during WWII. The story weaves multiple narratives that show how time and generations affect the choices we make in our lives. The art is exquisitely and realistically rendered and inspired by models who would pose for panels.
Murphy, Sean. Punk Rock Jesus (Vertigo Comics, 2013). In this critique of contemporary religion and reality television, a clone of Jesus has been created with DNA from the Shroud of Turin. This “clone” is followed closely by cameras for a reality television show, before becoming a punk rocker. The art in this book is terrifically realistic and detailed. The black and white, as well as metaphoric iconic imagery, deserves to be studied as intently as any elements of fiction in prose works.
O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Scott Pilgrim (Oni Press, 2004). This six volume series follows Scott Pilgrim, a slacker who falls in love with the mysterious Ramona Flowers. In order to win her favour, Scott must vanquish her evil ex boyfriends in Nintendo-styled battles. Set in Toronto Canada, and drawn in comic-manga inspired art, this series is a favourite among YA and adult audiences alike. There are six volumes in this series.
O’Malley, Bryan Lee. Seconds (Ballantyne Books, 2014). This is the story of Katie, a restauranteur who learns she can erase her past mistakes after eating a magical mushroom and writing the mistake down in a magical notebook. Katie is haunted by her decisions and a spirit who will not leave her restaurant. Like his Scott Pilgrim series, this too is drawn in the manga inspired comic art form.
Memoir and Biography
Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (Houghton Mifflin, 2006). This seminal work by Bechdel explores her complicated relationship with her father at the same time as she comes to terms with her sexuality. Bechdel references great works of literature to better understand her life, and her allusions to them encourage further reading on the part of her audience. The monochramatic drawings and attention to detail convey both the nuances of growing up and the agony. This book is a pioneer in LGBT comics and is the recipient of many awards.
Bechdel, Alison. Are You My Mother? (Houghton Mifflin, 2012). In the follow up to the critically acclaimed Fun Home, Bechdel contemplates the difficult relationship she shares with her mother while interweaving literary works, particularly that of strong women, to aid in her own psychoanalysis. It has won the Judy Grahn Award for Lesbian Non-Fiction.
David B. Epileptic (Pantheon, 2002). An honest portrayal of growing up with an epileptic older brother, this graphic novel follows the ups and downs of life marred by illness. Though drawn in black and white, the images are accentuated with sparse usage of vibrant yellow, in an effort to single out the chaos and visibility of life with epilepsy.
Fitzgerald, Meags. Long Red Hair (Conundrum Press, 2015). This is the story of a teenage girl grappling with sexual identity and honouring the pop cultural rites and rituals of teen girls in the ’90’s. Rendered in tones of sepia and muted green, the expansive array of emotions and angst are expertly conveyed through the lines on the characters’ faces.
Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir (Avery, 2012). An intimate look at mental illness and the search for creativity in this true story about Forney’s diagnosis of bipolar disorder. Through comic art, Forney researches the science behind bipolar disorders and the world class artists who suffered from it.
Leavitt, Sarah. Tangles: A Story About Alzheimer’s, My Mother, and Me (Freehand Books, 2010). In this poignant and moving recount of her mother’s relationship to alzheimer’s disease, the author reflects on her own struggles and those of her family as they watch the woman they loved so much slip away from them. Through minimal detail and easy lines, Leavitt invites her readers to experience love and loss amidst dementia.
Peeters, Frederick. Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2001). This true story chronicles the author’s romantic relationship with a woman who is HIV positive. The story is about endurance and life in the face of death. The stark contrast of the black and white art coupled with themes of despair and hope are perfectly married. This is a gripping and compelling novel that is an honest portrayal of life with HIV as opposed to a death sentence.
Rice, Philippa. Soppy (Andrews McMeel Publishing, 2014). Soppy is the honest love story of two artists and the tender everyday moments they share. It is drawn in a manga inspired comic art, and in black, white, and red.
Satrapi, Marjane. Embroideries (Pantheon, 2003). In this collection, Satrapi contemplates the sex lives of her Iranian female family members and neighbours as they exchange stories over tea one afternoon. Drawn in her signature bold black ink, embroideries is both poignant and humorous.
Satrapi, Marjane. Perspepolis (L’Association, 2000). This multiple award winning, two-volume memoir is the story of Satrapi’s childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution. The first volume centres on her childhood in Iran while the second focuses on her teen school years abroad in Vienna and eventual return to Iran. The bold blank ink depicts the isolation, loneliness, and uncertainty of a teenager witnessing first hand the effects of war.
Small, David. Stitches (W.W. Norton, 2009). This is the true story of David, who was a sickly child who would develop cancer as a direct result of the work of his radiologist father. Struggling to survive both cancer and coming of age, David ran away from home at sixteen. This story captures the poignancy of illness, the uncertainty of teenage years, and the disparity between family members when cancer plays a role in their lives. The art is a blend of sketching and watercolour, with black and white tones used to emphasize the stark realities of growing up sick.
Thompson, Craig. Blankets (Top Shelf Productions, 2003). This multiple Eisner, Harvey, and Ignatz award winning novel took the comic world by storm when it was published in 2003 for its raw and deeply personal portrayal of growing up in a small town. The book is the true story of Thompson as he grows up an evangelical christian in a small community. His relationship with his brother and his first love are central to his coming of age, out of childhood and into adulthood. The black ink and charcoal images are as engrossing as the narrative. This graphic novel is foundational to the medium as it dispels preconceived ideas about length, figurative elements, art and story telling in graphic novels.
Tiwary, Vivek & Robinson, Andrew. The Fifth Beatle (Dar Horse Comics, 2013). This tale chronicles the life of Beatles’ manager Brian Epstein who catapulted the Fab Four into superstardom. The story is accentuated by the realistic artistic portrayls of public figures we know so well, but who are gently rendered in personal and vulnerable images. Winner of an Eisner Award and two Harvey Awards.
Wertz, Julia. Drinking at the Movies (Three Rivers Press, 2010). When Julia impulsively moves from San Francisco to New York in her twenties, life doesn’t turn out quite the way she thought it would. Poignant, honest, political, and funny, this tale documents a year that would inform the rest of her life. Wertz’s art is black and white and comic-based. Though there is an element of realism missing in the art, the real-life recounting of news stories contributes to its effectiveness.
Mystery and Crime
Canales, Juan Diaz & Guardino, Juanjo. Blacksad (Darguad, 2000). In film noir style, Blacksad follows the lives of anthropomorphic characters in 1950’s America. The title character, Blacksad, is a detective bent on uncovering crime. The book is visually rendered with clean-lined watercolour images, strikingly descriptive facial features, against a realistic backdrop of urban America. The series won two Eisner Awards in 2013.
Miller, Frank. Batman: The DarkKnight Returns (DC Comics, 1986). This dystopic telling of an aged Batman coming out of retirement to defend Gotham city once again is considered one of the most important Batman stories ever told. Introducing new characters (Carrie Kelley as Robin) and pitting theDark Knight against The Man of Steel, this graphic novel has inspired countless new stories and character development for both Batman and Superman. The new film, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice was largely influenced by this book. A new chapter in this series, Dark Knight III, will be available in trade May, 2016.
Fantasy and Science Fiction
Bendis, Brian Michael & Pichelli, Sara. Miles Morales: Ultimate Spiderman (Marvel Comics, 2011). Miles Morales, the Black Hispanic teen who dons Spidey’s spandex, is a fan favourite and quickly becoming one of the most important superheroes in Marvel continuity. This is an ongoing series.
Bendis, Brian Michael &Gaydos, Michael. Alias (Marvel Comics MAX Imprint, 2001). The origin story for one of Marvel’s current television hits was the first R-rated comic in the MAX imprint. Jessica is a troubled P.I. and former hero who has been traumatized by the time she spent captive by The Purple Man. The contrast between light and dark tones in the images captures Jessica’s internal struggle and dual personality. There are four volumes of this series.
Churchland, Marian. Beast (Image Comics, 2009). Colette, a young sculptor is comissioned by a mysterious client to sculpt a statue from a rare marble. As she uncovers the otherworldly secrets of her benefactor, she also uncovers a deep longing within herself. With exquisite detail and soft pencil, the images in sepia and monochromatic tones convey the stark reality of desire and the range of human emotion.
Del col, Anthony; McCreery, Connor; MacLeod, Kagan. Kill Shakespeare (IDW Publishing, 2010). The world, as Shakespeare created, is in peril and Prince Hamlet of Denmark is the one prophesied to save it! Banning together with Falstaff, Juliet, Othello and others, to find Shakespeare himself and save the world from the evils of King Richard and Lady MacBeth. The series, which is collected across four volumes, has been nominated for a Joe Shuster Award and a Harvey Award. There are four volumes of this series.
Gaiman, Neil. Sandman (Vertigo, 1989). Considered by many as the game changer in the comic industry, Sandman is a twelve volume series that follows Morpheus of the Endless as he navigates the world of the living, the dead, and the dreaming. Combining myth, folk tale, fiction, multiple artistic renderings, and a bevy of figurative language, this series is considered to be, not only the best comic ever, but also high literature. It is the recipient of Hugo and Eisner awards.
Johns, Geoff & Jiminez, Phil. Infinite Crisis (DC Comics, 2006). This ensemble crossover event was an agent of change within the DC universe and its continuity. A sequel to Crisis on Infinite Earths, this story sees the Justice League torn apart only to have to find their way back again after tragedy repeatedly strikes among its members. The fine, realistic detail and sprawling splash pages make this a visual event not to be missed.
Moore, Alan & O’Neil, Kevin. League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (DC Comics, 1999). A group of literary giants (Mina Murray, Allan Quartermaine, Dr. Jekyll, Captain Nemo, and more) banned together to stop nefarious foes from turning the leading nations of the world against one another in this Victorian setting (two volume) epic. Filled with exquisite detail, both in the narrative and the visuals, this book is for literary and steampunk enthusiasts. Winner of both Bram Stoker and Eisner awards, the graphic novel was adapted for screen starring Sean Connery.
Moore, Alan & Gibbons, Dave. The Watchmen (DC Comics, 1986). A critique on society and the wholesome image of superheroes, in this critically acclaimed collected series, Moore asks “Who are the heroes, really?” and “Who Watches the Watchmen?”. A combination of hero story, crime, and science fiction, The Watchmen began a new take on an old trope in comics. The story relies heavily on its fine detailed art, dark toned colours, and a visual interpretation that shocks the common perception of “hero”.
Moore, Alan & Lloyd, David. V for Vendetta (DC Comics, 1988). In this post-apocalyptic story, a nuclear war has left most of the world destroyed. V, the anarchist protagonist fights back against the fascist regime of the Norsefire, and their concentration camps, in what was once the UK. This film has been adapted for film.
Morrison, Grant & Quietly, Frank. All Star Superman (DC Comics, 2008). This trade collection of the twelve issue event is one of the most celebrated canonical Superman stories. Morrison wrote a narrative to breathe new life into a longstanding character by adding rich detail and subtle-personal qualities to the Man of Steel. The Herculean theme of the text does not escape the novice readers’ notice, nor the seasoned reader familiar with the mythological inspiration of the character. The artistic representation of Superman is as vulnerable and soft as the colours Quietly uses. This series won multiple Harvey and Eisner awards.
Morrison, Grant & Quietly, Frank. We3 (Vertigo Comics, 2004). In a dystopian future, animals are robot hybrids meant to be used as weapons. This is the story of three of these animals who flee captivity and struggle to survive in a world that both admires and fears them. Morrison’s writing is as poignant as Quietly’s art is affecting.
Vaughn, Brian & Staples, Fiona. Saga (Image Comics, 2012). This ongoing space-opera challenges social conventions of gender roles, sexuality, war, family, and social hierarchy. The narrative is all at once humorous and deeply affecting and the art is so real it almost has the power to stand on its own. This is a perfect marriage between text and visual art. Saga is an ongoing series, and has won multiple HArvey and Eisner awards since its first publication. Saga currently has six published volumes of an ongoing series.
Wilson, G. Willow. Ms Marvel: No Normal (Marvel Comics, 2014). Kamala Khan, the sixteen year old, Pakistani-American Muslim Inhuman is leading the charge in diversity in mainstream superhero comics. Filled with existential dilemmas, coming of age conundrums, and a visual realism rendered in the characters’ faces, this comic is for everyone. Winner of a Hugo Award. This is the first volume in an ongoing series.
Suspense and Horror
Aguirre-Sacasa, Roberto & Francavilla, Francesco. Afterlife with Archie (Archie Comics, 2013). Brace yourselves, Riverdale fans, everything you think you know about Archie is about to change! What happens when you combine a dark and stormy night, a hit and run accident, and some of Sabrina’s magic? A zombie apocalypse, and no one in Riverdale is safe. The muted colours and dark tones accentuate a frightening tale of beloved classic heroes. This is the first volume in an ongoing series.
Brookes, Max. The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks (Broadway Books, 2009). This graphic novel adaptation of the novel of the same name is a fan-favourite. The story follows a variety of survivors who reflect on their survival and loss during a zombie attacks throughout history. The black and white pen and ink artwork is emphasized by sporadic uses of colour to highlight tension and gore. Author, Max Brookes, is considered the foremost expert on zombies in our popular culture.
Burns, Charles. Black Hole (Fantagraphics, 2005). Teenagers in a Seattle community are hideously deformed as a result of a sexually transmitted disease. The stark language and the bold black and white images create a frightening story infused with realism. This book is the recipient of multiple Harvey Awards, Ignatz award, and the Gaiman Award in Japan.
Kirkman, Robert & Moore, Tony. The Walking Dead (Image Comics, 2003). This ongoing series is among the most popular comics today and has spun the critically acclaimed television series of the same name. The story follows survivors of a zombie apocalypse as they navigate the dangerous remains of the world as they new it. Predominently drawn in black, grey and white, Moore’s art is equally humbling as it is horrifying. It is the winner of an Eisner Award and there are currently 26 volumes in the series. Max Brookes has acknowledged that he is a fan! This is the first volume in an ongoing series.
Moore, Alan. Batman: The Killing Joke (DC Comics, 1988). Widely considered the definitive Joker story, Moore’s take on the Crown Prince of Crime began as a one-off and influenced Gotham lore and canon to this day. The duality between good and evil are displayed through characterizations of Batman, Gordon, and the Joker himself as they struggle to identify good in a chaotic world. The nuance of the narrative is accentuated by the deeply affecting images that help create this canonical piece of Batman lore. Recipient of an Eisner Award.