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Reading List: Graphic Novels for New Comics Readers

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Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis

It seems as though comics are everywhere these days, but for readers who feel like beginners, they can be somewhat intimidating. So many people think to themselves, “I don’t know where to start!” But guess what: If you’ve ever read the funny pages in your local newspaper, you’re already a comics reader! While the term “comics” seems synonymous with the dense and intimidating superhero genre that appears to have no discernible entry point, it actually is a medium of storytelling, just as prose is. There are plenty of amazing comics out there, specifically graphic novels and graphic memoirs, that aren’t a part of this type of serial shared-universe storytelling.

There are quite a few “traditional” gateway graphic memoirs: Maus, Persepolis, and Fun Home come to mind. But what if you’ve read these and need new recommendations? I’ve got you covered with these graphic novel and memoir recommendations that are excellent for readers newer to comics, as well as those readers who love the medium but are itching for some new reads.


Lucky Penny

This adorable graphic novel focuses on the character Penny, who’s having a bad day. She’s an unabashed fan of romance novels, but even her optimistic belief in a happy ending can’t help her when she loses her job and her apartment on the same day. But all isn’t lost. As Penny figures out her next move, she meets a cute guy working the desk at the community center. That must mean her luck isn’t all bad, right? This rom com is just so much fun, and readers will appreciate the fantastic and vibrant art.

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Emma, Vol. 1

I know I promised no series, but trust me on this one. This is actually translated manga (Japanese comics), which means you read it from left to right — the opposite of traditional English. The intricate drawings of Kaoru Mori are enough to get me to recommend this series, but the plot is excellent for anyone who enjoys Jane Austen-style stories. It focuses on a maidservant named Emma working in Victorian England who falls in love with William, an upper-class gentleman, and the struggles they face in their cross-class love affair.

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Can't We Talk about Something More Pleasant?

Watching our parents grow elderly and infirm is one of the most difficult things a child can witness, and it’s this process that Roz Chast chronicles in her award-winning graphic memoir. New Yorker cartoonist Chast manages to make her story heartbreaking while also injecting warmth and amusement into her narrative. She deals head-on with the difficulty of making hard decisions about parents, even though most of the time it’s easier for her to just ignore the problems in front of her and forge ahead. Its not always easy, but it’s definitely worth the read.

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Princess Princess Ever After

A current trend in comics is narratives aimed at all ages: Comics that can be enjoyed by adults and children alike. Katie O’Neill’s adorable fantasy graphic novel Princess Princess Ever After fits right into that description. Princess Sadie is waiting to be rescued from her tower, but she doesn’t expect her rescuer to be a fellow princess! She finds a true friend in Amira, and together they go on an adventure across the kingdom. Adults will appreciate the heartwarming, inclusive nature of this tale (with LGBQ+ themes and racial diversity), and children will love the story and art.

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Ichi-f

You may remember the earthquake that hit Japan in March of 2011 and the Fukushima nuclear disaster that followed. This anonymously penned graphic memoir (another work of manga) chronicles one person’s time working cleanup at the plant. It’s at once mundane and fantastical; the author takes readers into the plant’s inner workings, showing the extent of the disaster but also how well cleanup is going. This isn’t propaganda though; Tatsuta (a pen name) isn’t afraid to criticize procedures and express frustration at the way things work. It’s insightful and eye-opening, for sure.

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Understanding Comics

If you’ve ever found yourself struggling with how to read comics, you’re not alone. It might seem like a simple medium — after all, there are pictures! — but it’s actually a very complex form of storytelling that relies on structure. The way a page is laid out matters as much as what’s in the individual panels on the page; many people who don’t have a lot of familiarity with comics rely primarily on word bubbles for narrative. When it comes to storytelling, though, a lot more than that matters, and that’s where Understanding Comics comes in. McCloud’s fundamental work on comics takes readers through how exactly comics tell a story, how you subconsciously interpret visual cues on a page, and why all of it matters.

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Something New

Lucy Knisley wasn’t sure what to think when she started planning her wedding; she loved DIY but abhorred “wedding culture.” This is an exploration of what it means to be a bride and to plan a wedding; Knisley is very aware that the entire process is self-indulgent and manages to keep her memoir from straying too far into that territory. It’s a bright, splashy, contemplative read that will have you thinking about what marriage and family mean to you, regardless of your personal marital status.

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Prince of Cats

If you’re a fan of Romeo and Juliet and you haven’t read Prince of Cats, you’re missing out. This graphic novel, penned and drawn by acclaimed comics writer and artist Ron Wimberly, takes the classic story and turns it into a hip-hop tale set in 1980s New York. Two gangs, Capulet and Montague, vie for supremacy on the Duel List, an underground magazine that tracks which clan has slain the most of their foes. Romeo is currently at the top of the Duel List with the recent murder of Petruchio, friend of Tybalt, who’s the main character of our story (along with Rosalyn). It’s an engaging reinterpretation, and one that’s well worth reading.

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Shattered Warrior

This sci-fi graphic novel, which features Molly Ostertag’s excellent art and vibrant colors, is set on a future Earth where aliens have invaded our planets and enslaved the human race. The humans that manage to survive are ones that work for the Derichets, helping them exploit the natural resources of our planet. Colleen Cavanaugh lives a lonely existence in this world, taking care of her niece, Lucy. Most of their family perished in the costly war against the Derichets. But when Lucy disappears, Colleen must figure out what happened to her niece and how to get her back, even if it means working with members of the dangerous underground resistance to figure out how to help her niece — and perhaps help herself and the planet in the process.

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Swapna Krishna writes for Engadget, Syfy Wire, and the LA Times. Her work has been published at Paste Magazine, Bustle, Newsweek, and many other outlets.

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