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Graphic Novels: Not Just for Superhero Fans

Graphic novels have become more than "just" comics and superhero stories. They can be factual, biographical or simply stunning works of art that tell a story.

I recently attended my very first Emerald City ComicCon. In spite of my library geek nature, I never thought to go to a comic convention before. I thought comic conventions were just for the superhero crowd. This was all before I discovered the rich world of graphic novels. Graphic novels have become more than "just" comics and superhero stories. They can be factual, biographical or simply stunning works of art that tell a story. Graphic novels are wonderful and I’d like to share some of my favorites for all ages. All these titles can be found in the King County Library System.

Kids

Owly: The Way Home & The Bittersweet Summer by Andy Runton. The "Owly" series are nearly wordless graphic novels that are perfect for little ones. Reminiscent of Winnie the Pooh and Frog and Toad, Owly is a little owl who is looking for friendship and adventure. He finds both in these first two stories, one about helping an unusual new friend and the other about dear friends who migrate south for the winter. Children and adults alike are sure to be charmed by this sweet series.

Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon and Dean Hale. Think you know the story of Rapunzel? Shannon and Dean Hale have teamed up to turn this classic story on its head. "Rapunzel's Revenge" takes place in a fairy tale land that closely resembles the Wild West. An evil witch has enslaved many and trapped Rapunzel in a tower. However, Rapunzel is not content to stay imprisoned. Instead she dares to escape. With her faithful companion Jack (of the Beanstalk) and her lasso hair she rides to right wrongs and seek justice. A rip roarin' good read!

The Stonekeeper (Amulet, Book 1) by Kazu Kibuishi. After the tragic death of their father, Emily, her little brother Navin and their mother move to a new house that was left to them by a distant relative. Once there, the family finds that the relative was keeping extraordinary secrets. A strange creature kidnaps Emily and Nav's mother, luring the children into a fantastic world that is filled with danger. The kids race to rescue their mother and shoulder new responsibilities. Ultimately they must decide to help the denizens of this strange world or return home. This book is the first in a series.

Out from Boneville by Jeff Smith. This series is wildly popular for good reason. Three young bone boy cousins (Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone) find themselves exiled from their hometown of Boneville. They embark on an adventure where they discover new friends and places beyond their wildest dreams. They also must work with their new allies to save a magical world from unimaginable evil. This is fantastic, witty writing that is chock full of great good vs. evil moments, high adventure and hilarious gags.

Teens

Edgar Allen Poe’s Tales of Mystery and Madness by Edgar Allen Poe and Gris Grimly. Edgar Allen Poe’s stories have always been favorites of mine, but my enjoyment was enhanced when I discovered this graphic novel. The pictures accompanying the classic tales are as weird and twisted as the stories themselves. You’ll find yourself shivering over more than just Poe’s classic macabre prose when you catch sight of odd shapes or faces hiding throughout the illustrations. This book is an excellent way to introduce reluctant readers to Poe.

Foiled by Jane Yolen and Mike Cavallaro. Aliera Carstairs is a loner who keeps to her routine and her one best friend. Her only passion is fencing. After her mother gets a secondhand foil at a tag sale, Aliera is shocked to find that she can suddenly see fantastical creatures. It turns out that she has been appointed guardian of a whole realm of faeries who are invisible to other humans. Aliera must use her fencing skills to defend these creatures and learn to open her heart.

The Arrival by Shaun Tan. Although this graphic novel has fantastical creatures and a setting that’s positively otherworldly, don’t dismiss this book as simply pretty pictures. This completely wordless story speaks beautifully on the subject of immigration. We join the main character as he is leaving his family and traveling to a distant land, in hope of a better life. The reader follows along with him as he tries to navigate this confusing new place. Along the way, he meets with the kindness of strangers who have their own tales to tell. 

Invincible: The Ultimate Collection, Vol. 1 by Robert Kirkman. Mark Grayson always knew he was special. His father is a superhero of some renown called Omni-Man. When Mark is in his teens, he does indeed develop super powers. Following in his father's footsteps, Mark embarks on a career of crime fighting with other super powered teens. However, his father is not all that he claims to be and Mark will soon have to decide his own path. Fans of well-known superheroes will enjoy getting to know this latest addition to the genre, from the very beginning.

Nonfiction

The United States Constitution: A Graphic Adaptation by Jonathan Hennessey and Aaron McConnell. How well do you know the Constitution? This graphic adaptation by Hennessey and McConnell goes through the Constitution, the amendments and the history surrounding this famous document with engaging text and graphics. This book is a perfect introduction to a complicated document. The graphic novel format is also an enormously helpful way to explain concepts like the Electoral College.

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders by Emmanuel Guibert. The photographer Didier Lefèvre decided to enter Afghanistan in 1986, when the country was at war with the Soviet Union. Lefèvre traveled with a small group of Doctors Without Borders in order to document their mission as they traveled through the Hindu Kush mountains. The incredible story, told with the help of illustrations by Emmanuel Guibert and Lefèvre’s own black and white photos, is well worth a read in this unique format.

Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. David Small pens a heart-wrenching memoir of his life growing up in an uncommunicative and emotionally barren family. When Small was a young child he dealt with sinus problems and his father, a radiologist, subjected him to copious amounts of x-rays. As a result, Small had a tumor that began to grow on his throat. It wasn’t until after a surgery that removed half of his vocal chords that Small was told the tumor was cancerous.

Pyongyang: A Journey through North Korea by Guy Delisle. In 2001 a French-Canadian cartoonist was sent to North Korea to oversee the animation for a children’s TV show. While he is there Delisle observes the people living within the totalitarian Communist society and depicts them with humor and pathos. The barrage of propaganda that Delisle endures is staggering. His simple illustrations beautifully communicate his experiences as he watches mundane absurdities and the people of North Korea coping as best they can.

Fiction (Adults)

The Sandman Vol 1: Preludes & Nocturnes by Neil Gaiman, Sam Keith and Mike Dringenberg. While "The Sandman" series could not be called mainstream, it has a wide enough appeal to appear on the New York Times bestseller list. Neil Gaiman pens this series of stories surrounding a being known as Dream. Dream is the personification of dreams. In the beginning of the story, Dream has just escaped being held captive for seventy years. To regain his strength, he must find his objects of power which have been scattered in his absence. This series has elements of horror, fantasy and mythology all wrapped up in great illustrations and an excellent story written by Gaiman.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Graphic Novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith; adapted by Tony Lee; illustrated by Cliff Richards.

“It’s a truth universally acknowledged that a Zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains”. Thus starts the adaptation of this classic book that was made for the graphic novel format. The Bennet family dances, flirts, walks and fights in pentagrams of death across the pages. Readers will never underestimate Elizabeth Bennet, Mr. Darcy or Lady Catherine de Bourgh again.

Frank Miller’s Sin City, Volume 1 The Hard Goodbye by Frank Miller. What to say about "Sin City"? Everything present in the movie is here, with the same brutal and iconic images. The first volume of this series follows tougher than nails Marv. Marv has just had the night of his life with a mysterious beauty named Goldie. However, Marv awakens to find Goldie dead. He vows to find the person responsible for the crime and make them pay. If you haven't seen the movie, a note of caution: this series is both violent and graphic.

Castle Waiting by Linda Medley. The minute Sleeping Beauty was woken by her beloved Prince, she immediately rides off with him...leaving her castle, her handmaidens and a small collection of subjects behind. Years later, the ancient handmaidens keep the castle going, waiting for another King to take his place as ruler. The building is known as Castle Waiting and it is a sanctuary for characters from the pages of fairy tales and folklore. This book is chock full of great themes and amusing characters – and did I mention the bearded nuns?

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