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August 4, 2011

Favorite Graphic Novels

I was never much of a comics fan growing up, but as an adult have developed a deep respect for the medium. When I started the 52 Books, 52 Weeks reading series, one of my goals was to explore genres I had ignored, and my newfound love for graphic novels was born.

When it comes to comics I tend to prefer biographical and nonfiction works, but am also open to fictional and even the occasional superhero work. These are the comics I consistently recommend to friends and family as my personal favorites.

All links either go to the original 52 Books, 52 Weeks or Book Notes posts.

Please feel free to list your own favorites in the comments, I always appreciate reading recommendations.

Bottomless Belly Button by Dash Shaw

Shaw's second graphic novel, Bottomless Belly Button is out this week. Shaw draws the story of this family reunion with rare attention to detail, the lives of every family member young and old are explored with his nuanced pen. From the elegant cover to the closing panel, this is a powerful emotional story, and one I will recommend as an example of the heights graphic novels can attain.

Epileptic by David B.

One of the bestsellers I chose was "the best European graphic novel of the 90's," Epileptic by David B. This engrossing book amazed me, as the author recounts his family (and personal) past. Dealing with his brother's epilepsy that defines his family, David B. paints (no pun intended) an expressionist picture of desperation and hope. David B. deals with these issues through his art, confronting personal demons along the way. The emotional depth of this graphic novel is simply astounding, and every panel can be treasured for its artwork alone. I simply cannot say enough good things about this book, and will be recommending it to everyone (except my wife, this is the kind of psychological drama that gives her nightmares).

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel's graphic memoir, Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic, is simply the most engaging book I have read this year, and the most interesting graphic novel since David B.'s Epileptic. Bechdel's ink and wash drawings are simple yet emotive, and her coming of age story blends well with her father's troubled, yet meticulous, life. Literary analogies abound through the book, but always work in their context and never weigh down the plot. Bechdel is as talented an artist as she is a storyteller, and this book is the proof. Fun Home is my favorite book of the year, and is strongly recommended.

La Perdida by Jessica Abel

Jessica Abel's graphic novel, La Perdida, explores Mexico through the eyes of a young, half-Mexican woman searching for her heritage. Much more than a comic travelogue, as the woman becomes engaged with a collection of less-than-desirable American expats and locals, the tension builds and sustains throughout the book. I read La Perdida in one sitting, and though the ending was perfectly satisfying, Abel left me wanting more.

Louis Riel by Chester Brown

When it comes to graphic novels, I am particularly attracted to biography, both personal and historical. Louis Riel follows a Canadian freedom fighter as he toils for fair representation for his people. Interestingly, author Chester Brown captures the ambiguities of Riel's character as the hero veers towards madness. I was drawn to this paperback by the accolades (two Eisner and two Harvey awards) the original hardback version received, but this graphic memoir exceeded even my grand expectations.

Percy Gloom by Cathy Malkasian

Of all the graphic novels I have read this year, Cathy Malkasian's Percy Gloom is the one I have been consistently recommending to friends and family of all ages. Imagine Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth written by Tony Millionaire...

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

In Persepolis, Marjana Satrapi tells the story of her childhood in Iran, both before and after the revolution. The graphics are as vivid as the prose, as an intelligent young person tries to make sense of turbulent times, both for her family and her country. Persepolis is one of the best books I have read this year, I cannot wait to read Satrapi's account of her return to Iran, Persepolis Volume 2.

Stitches by David Small

David Small's graphic memoir Stitches is captivating, the most impressive autobiography graphically told since Alison Bechdel's Fun Home.

Small recounts his youth with his unpredictable mother and emotionally distant father in hauntingly dark panels that convey his isolation perfectly. Small is a Caldecott-winning illustrator and author of critically acclaimed children's books, and his talent for storytelling with both his brush and through dialog is evident in this autobiography. Stitches may just not only be the year's best graphic memoir, but the year's most stellar memoir in any medium.

Tricked by Alex Robinson

Weaving the lives of six disparate characters into a successful storyline is a difficult feat, but Alex Robinson manages the feat with ease in his graphic novel, Tricked. Robinson creates three dimensional characters in the two dimension panels of this book. As they hurtle towards the book's conclusion, the reader is drawn into their lives and alternate universe. This book is easily the second best graphic novel I have read this year, behind only David B.'s astoundingly good Epileptic.

We Are on Our Own by Miriam Katin

Miriam Katin's We Are on Our Own follows a Jewish mother and her daughter as they flee Budapest and the occupying Germans. After faking their deaths and leaving on foot, the pair find both kindness and terror as they seek safety, and eventually, their missing soldier husband (and father). Katin's understated drawings and simple storytelling pull the reader into her world, especially interesting since she was the child portrayed in the story.

What It Is by Lynda Barry

Of all the cartoonists I admire, Lynda Barry continually fascinates me the most with her unique style. What It Is is Barry's exploration of the creative process, and both her illustrations and dialogue are sure to stir your mind as well as inspire heady conversations. Barry switches from comics to drawing to collage as she explains her creative process, inspiring the reader along the way not only with the definition of creativity, but also her ways to nurture and tame this sometimes elusive beast.

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