If you count yourself among the uninitiated, there are several ways to introduce yourself to comic art and graphic novels. First, consider picking up the four listed here — they will reveal to you the power of this art form. In addition, Paul Gravett’s Graphic Novels: Stories to Change Your Life not only presents a wonderful history and literary analysis of the American graphic novel, but also presents detailed introductions to some of the best published over the last 30 years. You might also simply wander over to the graphic novel section of the nearest bookstore, whether a local independent bookseller or a chain, and peruse the shelves. Mainstream graphic novels will probably dominate the shelves, but make sure you find the section with alternative graphic novels. You will be amazed at the rich variety!
— Paul Lopes
The Complete Maus. Art Spiegelman. New York: Pantheon. 1996.
Art Spiegelman created one of the most compelling testaments of the Holocaust. An epic tale of survival, a moving tale of self-discovery, and an amazing story of an artist’s struggle over self-expression and self-transformation, Maus is one of the greatest American artworks of the 20th century. No wonder the Pulitzer Prize committee gave a special citation award to Spiegelman in 1992 for this masterpiece.
Watchmen. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. New York: DC. 1987.
This graphic novel is the most sophisticated deconstruction of the superhero genre ever published. It weaves details of comic book history into a classic story of heroes rising to the occasion to defeat a megalomaniacal villain. At the same time, it is a dark story of the unintended consequences of individuals once wedded to a vigilantism that was long ago abandoned by their own society. Moore presents, in a feat of intertextual jujitsu, a complex story that even those unfamiliar with the superhero genre can appreciate.
Fun Home. Alison Bechdel. New York: Houghton Mifflin. 2006.
With Fun Home, Alison Bechdel ended up with more best-book-of-the-year citations than any other book in 2006. Already a highly regarded comic artist with her long-running comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For, Bechdel revealed herself as a brilliant and thought-provoking memoirist in this touching personal story of her troubled relationship with her closeted gay father and the legacy of his hidden life.
Persepolis. Marjane Satrapi. New York: Pantheon. 2003.
Persepolis is a must read for anyone interested in experiencing the full power of comic art. Iranian born, Paris-based Marjane Satrapi originally created this work in the French language. But since its translation into English, Persepolis rivals Maus as the most popular alternative graphic novel in the United States. This harrowing retelling of the Iranian revolution and its terrible effect on Satrapi’s family reveals an incredibly humane meditation on human tragedy and hope. Also like Maus, the style of graphic art transports the reader into an imaginative realm that makes the tale more “real” by its emotional and empathetic effect.