Not Your Average Character
I hear a lot of complaints about graphic novels from adults who don’t understand the genre. They say, “Oh, I don’t like graphic novels, they’re all about superheroes and they always have the same type of villain. It’s all about the comic book artwork and not about the plot. They’re too predictable.” These graphic novels are anything but predictable.
The Unwritten by Mike Carey
If a story with an intricate plot is what you are after, try Mike Carey’s The Unwritten. It’s an ongoing series that follows Tom Taylor, son of famed writer Wilson Taylor and the inspiration for the beloved book character Tommy Taylor. The series intertwines different stories, blending the fictional world with the real one until even our heroes are unsure of what is real and what is not.
Sandman series by Neil Gaiman
Also inhabiting that in-between place of fact and fantasy is Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series. The hero Dream, is a superhero, but not in the sense you may be used to. He doesn’t have huge muscles, or a witty and trusted sidekick, though he does have enemies. He is the personification of dreaming, and reading the series is like being in a waking dream. As with any dreamer, there are horrors as well as pleasures and the world he inhabits is one that blends the past, present and future.
The Walking Dead by Robert Kirkman
For the characters in Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, the horrors of a post-apocalyptic society overrun by zombies is the only foreseeable future. The series, made even more popular with a record-breaking TV show adaptation, follows survivors of an undetermined plague as they battle enemies, both living and dead.
Y: The Last Man series by Brian K. Vaughn
Yorick Brown of Brian K. Vaughn’s Y: The Last Man series is also the survivor of an undetermined plague. He is the titular ‘Last Man,’ after everything in the world with a Y chromosome dies without warning, except for him and his pet monkey. Though his companions would study him to discover what kept him alive above all other men, Yorick would rather set off for Australia to find his girlfriend Beth, than become a science experiment for various governments.
Kill My Mother by Jules Feiffer
For those who find series of post-apocalyptic and dreams of fictional worlds sound far too intimidating, there is always Jules Feiffer’s Kill My Mother, a stand-alone graphic novel that reads like a noir film from the 1930s. It is a story complete with femme fatales, shadowy gangsters, mysterious film stars and dastardly deeds, all drawn in Feiffer’s distinctive style.
If the fantastical worlds of dreaming, worldwide plagues and murder mysteries is too fantastic, there is a multitude of biographical graphic novels that use the combination of text and illustration to convey their subjects’ story better than words ever could on their own. Try one of these three:
Maus: A Survivor's Tale by Art Spiegelman uses anthropomorphized mice, cats and pigs to explore the horrors Spiegelman’s father experienced as a Jew in Nazi occupied Poland.
For Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, the comic book medium serves as documentation of her childhood in Iran during the Islamic revolution, her teen years in Austria, and return to Iran as a young adult.
The bildungsroman graphic novel is a popular genre, as Austrian artist Ulli Lust uses this format to explore her hitchhiking through Italy as a punk teenager in 1984 in Today is the Last Day of the Rest of Your Life.
In all of these graphic novels, the artwork strikes a balance with the storytelling, creating something raw and intense. You’ll have a different experience reading a graphic novel than from reading just a plain, text book and your reactions will be different as well.