Reader’s Advisory Genre Guide: Graphic Novels

The Beauty Guru

There is a stigma with graphic novels: they are for the mindless, the nerds; they are worthless and detract from the serious work out there. This is how libraries and teachers used to feel about the genre (and let’s be honest, there are still those out there that hold onto this belief), after all, if someone wanted comics they could just open the Sunday funnies. But then, in 1986, something changed the way schools and libraries, and ultimately, parents approached comics: three graphic novels were released, which are to this day hailed as the greatest graphic novels of all time. Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons released Watchmen, Art Spiegelman released his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus and Frank Miller released Batman: The Dark Knight Returns. Suddenly, graphic novels were seen as thought-provoking, contributions to society. They were works of art from which lessons could be drawn and history learned; they critically examined society’s past, present, and future (Sanderson, 2012).

Graphic novels don’t just serve the purpose of informing society. Using images to tell the story (rather than accompany the story), they have many storylines, similar to fiction and nonfiction: mystery, action, adventure, romance, horror, suspense, historical fiction, and nonfiction. And in addition to educating the reader, they can also allow readers to escape while enhancing their reading comprehension, especially among youth (National Council of Teachers of English, 2005).

Graphic novels are not just for children, though. In recent years, the genre has expanded to include many works that will be of interest to adults, and some titles cross generations. Below are ten recommendations with reviews, separated by a readers’ interest. This list is by no means exhaustive or representative of all reader characteristics.

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51KQa0B4+DL._SX321_BO1,204,203,200_ Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned, Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guerra, & José Marzán, Jr., DC Comics, 2002, $14.99 paper, ISBN 9781563899805
Reviewed by Tina Reid

It’s 2002 and anything with a Y chromosome has been eradicated due to a mysterious plague … except for Yorick and his pet monkey. His mother is assisting the new president, his sister is missing, and he only wants one thing: to be reunited with his girlfriend… in Australia. The president has other plans for him. Who is going to repopulate the planet, after all? In this fast-paced series opener, Brian K. Vaughn, combined with the art of Pia Guerra and José Marzán, Jr., creates a terrifying world featuring extremist groups such as the Amazons… and female Republicans trying to overthrow the democratic system. This modern-era apocalyptic tale is part-thriller, part-mystery, and rooted in science fiction; Y: The Last Man is a quintessential read for adult science fiction lovers.

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Kindred: A Graphic Novel Adaptation, Damian Duffy, Octavia E. Butler, & John Jennings, Abrams ComicArts, 2017, $24.95 cloth, ISBN 9781419709470
Reviewed by Tina Reid

Damien Duffy and John Jennings recreate Octavia E. Butler’s timeless genre-blending Kindred in this beautiful graphic novel. The story takes place in the 1970s with Dana, an African American woman, and her Caucasian husband in California. After moving to a new apartment, Dana is unwillingly thrown back in time to Antebellum Maryland where she must face (and experience first-hand) the reality of slavery and find ways to survive and return back to her husband. On each trip into the past, Dana must save Rufus, the son of the plantation owner. Jennings illustrations, with Duffy’s words, tell a new tale; the images are raw and evoke new emotions for those unfamiliar with the story. The downfall of this adaptation is that it is missing the eloquence Butler created. Additionally, the story feels rushed; anyone who has read the poignant Kindred will certainly notice missing elements such as the more intimate conversations between Dana and her husband. Where it lacks in story, it makes up in illustration, which speaks slightly louder than the text. As Dana travels between time periods, the gritty illustrations change from muted colors (present) to vivid colors (past), visually demonstrating how vibrant and painful the past is for present-day African Americans. Adult fans of science fiction, fantasy, or historical fiction will be caught up in the story of Dana.


March: Book One, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin & Nate Powell, Top Shelf Productions, 2013, $14.95 paper, ISBN 9781603093002
Reviewed by Tina Reid

On the day of Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential inauguration, Representative John Lewis is called upon to share his first-hand experience of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Lewis, in collaboration with his assistant, Andrew Aydin, along with Nate Powell, takes readers back to his childhood where he acted as a preacher to his farm chickens and progresses to his meeting of Martin Luther King, Jr., his participation in the  Nashville sit-ins and also, a defining moment of the movement: the march on Selma. Through detailed black and white panels, March explains the uncomfortable preparation necessary behind the sit-ins. Lewis provides a refreshing, behind-the-scenes look at one of the most volatile times in the history of the United States and leaves readers with not only the hope that defined Obama’s campaign but also a sense of urgency to participate in the American democratic process. This first book in a trilogy is suitable for teen and adult history buffs alike.

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resizedfevermoon Fever Moon: A Graphic Novel, Karen Marie Moning, David Lawrence, Al Rio, & Cliff Richards, Del Ray Books, 2012, $25.00 paper, ISBN 9780345525482
Reviewed by Tina Reid

In Dublin, Ireland, the line between Fae and human worlds no longer exists. Demons, called Unseelies, hunt humans, wreaking havoc on the world. Mac, possessing one of only two known weapons that kill Unseelies spends her evenings bringing justice to the streets of Dublin. After two of her friends in up disfigured and in a coma, Mac and her partner take on a mysterious Unseelie that harvests its victim’s body parts. In this full-color, vibrant graphic novel based on the Fever series by Moning, readers will experience dark scenes of lust, sex, and violence that are action-packed. Though difficult to follow at first, Fever Moon gives readers a wild ride and a fast-paced introduction to Moning’s risqué work that will have them craving more by the last panel.


True Blood: Tainted Love coverTrue Blood 2: Tainted Love, Marc Andreyko, Michael McMillian, and Stephen Molnar, IDW Publishing, 2011,  $24.99 cloth, ISBN 9781613770191
Reviewed by Tina Reid

Fans of HBO’s hit series True Blood will fall in love True Blood: Tainted Love which features a familiar plotline within the series. Newbie vampire Jess drinks tainted True Blood, a brand of synthetic blood, at a faux prom thrown for her by her human and supernatural friends. The blood taps into her natural instincts causing Jess to turn savage, killing anything in sight. While Bill, Tara, Sam, and Hoyt work together to find and subdue Jess, Eric and Sookie begin seeking answers to who and what tainted the True Blood that has caused a deadly epidemic among vampires. True Blood: Tainted Love follows the television storyline closely and is featured in remarkably realistic, full-color images. Fans will be comforted by the similarity between the television actors and the book characters. This volume can be read without reading the first volume but those new to the series may have questions, as Sookie’s telepathy and Sam’s were-animal tendencies go unexplained, though this will not hinder the new reader’s experience of the Bon Temps world. True Blood: Tainted Love is recommended for mature audiences due to excessive gore and violence.

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51fqXn7FapL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Jane Eyere: The Graphic Novel, Charlotte Bronte, Amy Corzine, Clive Bryant, & John M. Burns, Classic Comics Ltd., 2008, $16.95 paper, ISBN 9781906332471
Reviewed by Tina Reid 

Orphaned and left with her Aunt and Uncle Reed, Jane Eyre spends the first years of her life in a cruel home following the death of Uncle Reed. At the age of ten, Mrs. Reed banishes Jane to charity school for girls where humiliation and hunger is the norm until more sympathetic members of society take over the school. Jane spends the next eight years at the school, the last two as a teacher until she places an advertisement for her services as a governess. At Thornfield, Jane finally experiences a life without want; she has a friend in Mrs. Fairfax, the mansion housekeeper, a responsibility for the education of little Adèle, and a companion in Mr. Rochester. But mystery and life have a way of shaking up Jane’s world, making her question if things are too good to be true. The graphic novel is beautifully illustrated but somewhat verbose. At any rate, Jane Eyre is a colorful, abridged adaptation of Brontë’s classic novel that will please fans of Brontë as well as introduce teens and adults to the magic and romance of classic nineteenth-century literature.

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deadpoolDeadpool, Vol. 1: Dead Presidents, Brian Posehn, Gerry Duggan, & Tony Moore, Marvel, 2012, $15.99 paper, ISBN 9780785166801
Reviewed by Tina Reid

The Merc with a Mouth, he calls himself. Wade Wilson, or Deadpool, a disfigured mouthy human with the ability to heal at rapid speeds, is contacted by S.H.I.E.L.D. to assist with a major job – one so large and complicated that even the Avengers are getting toasted: reigning in a legion of villain dead United States presidents. Or maybe S.H.I.E.L.D. did not want to deal with the PR nightmare that is Captain America giving a right-hook to George Washington. Yes, that is correct, Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan (along with dozens of others) have been summoned from the dead and are causing mass causalities. But why? In Deadpool, Volume 1: Dead Presidents, Deadpool comically takes on these zombie presidents with the help of ghostly Benjamin Franklin while seeking the mastermind behind the havoc. Deadpool is known to break the fourth wall, as any fans of the film are already aware, and this is demonstrated very clearly in the comic. If you are not a fan of vulgarity, then Deadpool is not for you. Juvenile humor is definitively Deadpool and to do without it would be an injustice to the series. If you can ignore (or embrace) the sex jokes and self-deprecating humor, the graphic novel will leave you laughing… and craving more!


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Ms. Marvel: No Normal, G. Willow Wilson & Adrian Alphona, Marvel, 2014, $15.99 paper, ISBN 9780785190219
Reviewed by Tina Reid

What would you do if you were a teenager… and one night you suddenly became a superhero? No, this isn’t SpiderMan but the concept is the same. Kamala Khan is a teenage Jersey girl who goes to a party normal and after a sudden fog wakes up as her favorite superhero, Captain Marvel, Reincarnated. Her Pakistani features are replaced with pale skin and blonde hair and she has gained superpowers, the ability to grow and shrink her body, ala Alice in Wonderland. As the story progresses, Khan struggles with her identity (why isn’t she herself), the expectations set forth by her parents and the Islamic faith, as well as the everyday teenager problems, such as friendship, boys, school, and secrets. Wilson and Alphona deliver a refreshing superheroine who happens to be the first Muslim character to lead her own graphic novel, a welcome addition to the Marvel family. The story contains violence but is absent of hardcore gore and violence and is overall wholesome. Kamala Khan is a highly relatable character that will speak to teenagers and long-time adult superhero fans, alike.

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9781101871515My Brother’s Husband: Volume 1, Gengoroh Tagame, Pantheon, 2017, $24.95 cloth, ISBN 9781101871515
Reviewed by Tina Reid

 Yaichi is a stay-at-home dad to his daughter, Yana. Mike Flanagan is the Canadian widow of Yaichi’s twin brother, Ryōji, with whom Yaichi had little contact. Mike has come to Japan after Ryōji’s death to pay respects to Yaichi and Kana, who had no idea he father had a twin brother, who was married to a man. Mike’s presence presents a great deal of excitement for Yana but uncertainty and plenty of uncomfortable moments for Yaichi who is quickly learning how little he knew his twin brother… and himself. My Brother’s Husband is a beautiful thought-provoking examination of cultural norms and values, homophobia, death, grief, as well as other themes such as parenting and divorce, and identity. Not a graphic novel but actually a manga, My Brother’s Husband is presented in black-and-white panels and reads like a typical manga, back to front, right to left. Those interested in LGBTQIA studies and literature will appreciate the honesty and positive story that is presented.My Brother’s Husband is genuine and makes waves in the fight against homophobia by displaying incredible humanistic elements.


41JgMUgEL6L._SX331_BO1,204,203,200_Pregnant Butch: Nine Long Months Spent in Drag, A. K. Summers, Soft Skull Press, 2017, $17.95 paper, ISBN 9781593765408
Reviewed by Tina Reid

Teek Thomasson is a thirty-something lesbian who identifies as butch. As she ages, she starts to contemplate pregnancy with her partner Vee. A child of adoption, it is important to Teek that the child be biologically hers. One of her long-time friends, K.D. (known donor), agrees to be the sperm donor and so, Vee artificially inseminates Teek with K.D.’s sperm. Pregnant Butch follows Teek through her pre-pregnancy days and 41 weeks of pregnancy. Summer explores what it is like for a butch woman to experience pregnancy, a unique experience for Teek as she, even in New York City, has few resources or friends to consult.  Because of the unfamiliarity of a pregnant butch woman, society responds to Teek and Vee in various ways: disgust, confusion, assumption that the couple would adopt. Summers’ Pregnant Butch is a fictionalized narrative of her own pregnancy and as such, the stories are rooted in truth, the fears, and concerns real. The graphic novel humorously examines traditional dichotomies of gender – masculinity and femininity – in relation to pregnancy through black and white panels that are often graphic but also tells a sobering tale of a lesser-known LGBTQIA experience.


References:

Alphona, A. (2014). Ms. Marvel book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Ms-Marvel-1-No-Normal/dp/078519021X

Burns, J. M. (2008). Jane Eyre book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Jane-Eyre-Graphic-Novel-Classical/dp/1907127410

Corroney, J. (2011). True blood, vol. 2 book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/True-Blood-2-Tainted-Love/dp/1613770197/ref=bseries_primary_1_1613770197

Guerra, P. (2002). Y: The last man book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Last-Man-Vol-Unmanned/dp/1563899809

Jennings, J. (2017). Kindred book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Kindred-Graphic-Adaptation-Damian-Duffy/dp/141970947X

Moore, T. (2012). Deadpool, Vol.1 book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Deadpool-Vol-1-Dead-Presidents/dp/0785166807

National Council of Teachers of English. (2005). Using comics and graphic novels in the classroom. Retrieved from http://www.ncte.org/magazine/archives/122031

Powell, N. (2012). March book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/March-Book-One-John-Lewis/dp/1603093001

Rio, A. & Richards, C. (2012). Fever moon book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Fever-Graphic-Novel-Karen-Moning/dp/0345525485

Sanderson, P. (2012, August 31). 1986, the year that changed comics: Introduction. Retrieved from http://sequart.org/magazine/15257/1986-the-year-that-changed-comics-introduction-part-1/

Summers, A. K. (2017). Pregnant butch book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Pregnant-Butch-Nine-Months-Spent/dp/1593765401

Tagame, G. (2017). My brother’s husband book cover. Retrieved from https://www.amazon.com/Brothers-Husband-Pantheon-Graphic-Novels/dp/1101871512

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Stepping into the World of Comics

mausI recently read The Complete Maus for my comics and graphic novel course. I attempted to read Maus I several years ago but could not find a purpose. I think I wanted to read it simply because of the acclaim but the sadness of the Holocaust kept me away. Since it was required now, I had no choice. And, I devoured it very quickly! The work is magnificent. What I enjoyed the most is how human Vladek is portrayed – an angry, curmudgeonly old man who must save, save, save.

I did not find the topic of the Holocaust to be too emotionally upsetting in Maus as I have in other works (Night or Number our Stars for example) or history books. Speigelman’s art was not as graphic as one would think when dealing with such a heavy subject – part of this could be because it was in black and white so instead of seeing red blood you saw a black puddle. Another reason could be that humans were not used in most of the graphic novel, mice rather. There were two scenes that stand out that were difficult to me. The first was when the crying children were swung against the wall and the second was when we discovered that Artie’s brother was poisoned. If you notice, though, the full scene of the children being killed (against the wall) was not presented. It almost looks as though it was erased.

 

I have also read Deadpool Vol. 1: Dead Presidents (three stars), The Watchmen (four stars), and many years ago I read Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic (five stars). Funhome, assigned in my history of sexuality in the U.S. course, was the first graphic novel I ever read and really stuck with me. When I was still working in the public library, a teenage girl approached me looking for graphic novels based on true stories. Her mother was with her and this was the first book that came to mind.

All three of these titles remind me history (even though Deadpool is tongue-in-cheek/slapstick humor) and how graphic novels can frequently be utilized in the classroom. Librarians, teachers, and, parents, please understand that there are so many benefits to using these in the classroom or letting your children read them.

  • increased vocabulary
  • increased interest in reading
  • strengthened skills (memory, sequence, understanding language, reading comprehension)
  • children with autism have the opportunity to learn about emotion through graphic novels

Teaching with Graphic Novels

Raising Super Readers: The Benefits of Comic Books and Graphic Novels

Literacy & Graphic Novels: Why There’s Nothing Wrong with Teens Reading Graphic Novels

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