Written by Amber Appel
Books, television, audiobooks, plays, artwork, and poetry are all examples of different storytelling methods, each with its own strengths. Artwork, for instance, is a visual without words, and books are words without a visual. Graphic novels provide both words and images to convey a story, and because they require less work from the reader, some look down on this story-telling format. But that shouldn’t be so. With both illustrations and words, graphic novels are a fusion that creates something entirely different and worth a try. So for those who have yet to read one, I’ve compiled a shortlist of gateway graphic novels because no one deserves to miss out on amazing stories simply because of the form they take.
Written by: Rainbow Rowell
Illustrated by: Kris Anka
Number of Volumes: 2+
The Runaways is a group of five superhero teens that discovers that their parents are super villains and decides they must "run away". But all that was a long time ago, before Gert was killed and the team went its separate ways. Now years later, Chase travels back in time to keep Gert from ever being killed but only succeeds in bringing a dying Gert back to his present where he, Nico, Karolina, Molly, and Gert are given a second chance to become the Runaways once more.
These teens are not the most skilled heroes, but that’s kind of the point. They lack the organization of the Teen Titans and brute power of the Avengers. Their strength comes from their familial bond, having lost their families and being the only ones who can understand each other’s pasts. And that’s what resonates most throughout this graphic novel: family. The illustrations are thoughtful and detailed with both the characters and the environments. The colors mimic the lighting of a home, and each setting is given care as if to say that anywhere the Runaways are together is home to them. Not to mention that the Runaways themselves each has such expressive faces that oftentimes it replaces dialogue. Emotion is a big part of this superhero novel, and it stands out.
If you’re curious about novel superpowers like rainbows and dinosaurs and can handle a healthy dose of wholesome friendship, Scooby Doo nostalgia, and LGBTQ inclusion, this is the graphic novel for you.
Written by: Grace Ellis
Illustrated by: Shae Beagle
Number of Volumes: 2+
For LGBTQ inclusion and wholesome vibes, nothing will quite melt your heart like Moonstruck’s amorous werewolves. Julie, a werewolf barista, lives in the quaint college town of Blitheton where you’ll find many kinds of monsters and humans living in harmony. The excitement begins while Chet, a centaur that goes by they/them pronouns, is helping Julie prep for her first date with Selena, another attractive werewolf. All seems well, and incredibly adorable, when a shady magician comes to town to stir things up. Now Julie and her friends have a big problem and an even bigger mystery on their hands. Hijinks ensue!
The illustrations alone will make anyone feel as cozy as drinking tea by the window on a drippy day. The colors are all soft and warm, except when they aren't due to magical dangers, and each panel is populated with the fantastical citizens carrying out their own micro-stories that make multiple readings a veritable Easter egg hunt. It’s the graphics that make this book as lovable as it is, as if it were Valentine’s Day every day.
If you’re a fan of fantasy, romance, with a dash of excitement, this graphic novel will warm your heart. Come for the amorous werewolves and stay for Chet, a centaur with a personality reminiscent of Jonathan Van Ness from Queer Eye . . . It’s amazing.
Written by: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Illustrated by: Leslie Hung
Number of Volumes: 2+
Lottie Pearson is a fashion blogger. She’s always impeccably dressed, stunningly beautiful, and a confident trendsetter, except when her allergies kick in. Then she’s just Snotgirl. Lottie’s gorgeous in public and around her other fashion blogger friends, and a snotty, gross, insecure mess on her own. This is not an unfamiliar concept in storytelling, with a female character being considered “ugly” until she puts on makeup, but this graphic novel quickly proves that it’s more than just a story of vanity and social constructs when there’s a MURDER! Or was there?
Snotgirl has a choppy and unreliable storytelling style that makes it into a psychological thriller. You likely won’t be able to tell what’s real and what’s hallucinated or misremembered by the characters, but that’s all part of the fun. The graphics are a big part of the thrill. It’s as if the frame rate on a movie were drastically lowered, with panels inconsistently skipping ahead in time with little warning. This book also features bold colors, such as Lottie’s green hair, and sparsely detailed backgrounds to add to the surreal tone of the book. The characters are striking and cartoonish in opposition with the scenery to emphasize the (self-)importance of the characters and narrow the story’s perspective.
This book’s got bite and fashion to die for . . . And some characters might do just that. Who knows? I’m not telling. But if fashion, thrills, murder, and snot catch your interest, this graphic novel is for you.
Written and illustrated by: Jomney Sun
Publisher: Harper Perennial
Number of Volumes: 1
This graphic novel is a bit of an outlier as far as format goes, but it deserves a spot on this list all the same. everyone’s a aliebn when ur a aliebn too is a cross between a graphic novel and cartoon strip, with almost every page being a self-contained thought, but together they create an overarching narrative. It is an innocent story of an alien temporarily assigned to Earth to study humans. He spends his time meeting and speaking with Earth’s creatures, of which none are human, and periodically reports to his workaholic supervisors who check up on his progress. Who really could mind a little alien confusion?
Misspellings like the ones in the title and the graphics add to the naively innocent tone of the book. The drawings are simplistic and black and white, with a style that resembles a doodle. It gives the impression that a child drew it. All the objects and animals have kawaii faces, and the lack of color or hues makes every image instantly digestible as if the author wanted to ensure that nothing would obstruct the alien’s observations. Despite the child-like style, this is not a children’s book. The lessons taught by the Earth creatures often apply to a much older demographic who are more likely to ponder existential thoughts. Simply put, I doubt any book that matter-of-factly states that death results in nothingness is meant for a child, regardless of religious belief.
If cute and easy to swallow existential crises are your thing, then this would be the graphic novel for you. I, however, would prefer not to be kept awake at night by talking turtles.
Written by: Brian K. Vaughan
Illustrated by: Fiona Staples
Number of Volumes: 9+
This graphic novel series is somehow wholesome and NSFW (Not Safe For Work) at the same time. Saga, at its rocket-ship-tree roots, is a story of a family, and an ill-fated one at that. Alana (on the left) is from the planet Landfall, and Marko (on the right) is from Landfall's only moon, Wreath. The planet and its moon are locked in a vicious war that has been going on for generations and spread throughout the galaxy until every planet has taken a side. Alana and Marko, opposing soldiers, should never have fallen in love, but they did. They married, and now they have Hazel. Hazel, their child, is the omniscient narrator throughout the series. However, Alana and Marko's new family disgusts both species, and each species sends assassins to exterminate them before anyone else finds out. Alana, Marko, Hazel, and allies must brave the cosmos in their rocket-ship tree, evading those that want to destroy them and nurturing their big-hearted family.
Saga’s illustrations are a perfect match for its narrative tone. The style is rugged, much like Alana and Marko’s situation and personalities. The illustrator makes sure to portray everything as realistically as possible and isn’t afraid to make things ugly. Everything about the illustrations is mature, including the most graphic parts of this graphic novel. Furthermore, the panels’ sizes and layout are diverse and always match the pacing of the story. Single-panel pages can mark an impactful moment that needs time to be absorbed, and a multi-paneled page could capture the speed of a fight sequence. The artistic skill at play is incredible.
It’s a space adventure with Star-Wars-level stakes and size, but even though it’s about a family, it is in no way family friendly. It is gory, scandalous, and freely sex-positive, which is great but consequently very graphic. If you are over eighteen and looking for a story that cleverly mixes violence, tenderness, and sex, then this graphic novel is for you. Just let me know when you’re caught up, because I need to discuss the ending of Issue Nine with someone. I have a lot of feelings about it.
Edited by London Koffler