Our Graphic Novel Recommendations

Here at Leicester we believe that all forms of literature are equally valid, that's why we're drawing attention to some of the best graphic novels we have here at the Library with our monthly recommendations. Leading the recommendations is Esther De Dauw, who just completed her PhD at Leicester on "Hot Pants and Spandex Suits: Gender in American Superhero Comic Books.” She'll be providing you with reading suggestions throughout the year alongside Jessica Moore, a member of staff here at the Library.

September 2018: Blankets

By Craig Thompson

Blankets

Blankets is an emotional autobiography that narrates the struggles of childhood, teenage experience and how to reconcile those experiences as an adult. Focusing on Thompson’s devout religious upbringing in light of his sexual awakening, as well as the sexual abuse he endured from a male babysitter, Blankets offers a beautiful blending of realist panels with decadent and fluid symbolism. The story is compelling and nuanced, approaching highly personal experience with honesty and a touch of irony. Considering the hypocrisy of his small-town faith community, the trauma of sexual abuse, the fear of his childhood bullies and his own conflicting responses as a teenager, Thompson creates a revelatory autobiography that is simultaneously an unique story and an universal one that connects with its readers on a visceral level.

Blankets’ artwork is confined to muted colour palette, but the bold brush strokes of his line work bring the pages alive. The graphic novel consistently uses traditional linear panels mixed with splashes that break through the white gutter space in between that creates vivid and powerful symbolism. With this book, the devil is in the details as the lush art work gives you something new with every read.

When first published in 2003, Blankets received widespread acclaim in both mainstream comic book presses and academic communities. It won several Harvey Awards in 2004, including Best Artist, Best Cartoonist and Best Graphic Album of Original Work. In the same year, it also took home two Eisner Awards and two Ignatz Awards. It’s been discussed and analysed in several academic works, for example, M.P. Garcia’s article “Writing the Self, Drawing the Self” and Emma Tinker’s “Manuscript in Print”. Interested? Find a copy in the David Wilson Library!

August 2018: Citizen 13660

By Miné Okubo

Citizen 1360

Citizen 13660 offers a glimpse into the history of Japanese Interment in America during WWII. Pressured by white farming lobbyists in the 1940s who encouraged a hysterical media, the United States government rounded up everyone of Japanese descent into “protective custody.” Written and drawn by Miné Okubo, this novel offers a stirring portrayal of the harshness of camp life and serves as an important historical document. Okubo’s personal experiences with the camps showed her the resourcefulness of human existence, the uncertainty and fear of wartime and the realisation that events like these can always happen again. The language and drawings are very matter of fact and mostly stick to objective reality. Nonetheless, it remains emotionally engaging and especially poignant in the current political climate both here and abroad.

The artwork is straightforward and plain, evoking the limited resources with which these original sketches were made. Some might question why this work exists on a Graphic Novel Recommendation list as the structure is not what we typically associate with comics and it reads more like an illustrated novel. It brings to mind questions asked by Scott McCloud in Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art, What are comics? Are they sequential art? Which combination of text and illustration do we need to say that something is a Graphic Novel?

Originally published in 1946 by Columbia University Press, our library has a copy of the 1983 Washing University Press reprint. It has received consistent academic attention in the field of Comic Studies and is often used in classrooms discussing Politics, Education, Communication, Media and other fields. Miné Okubo is a celebrated painter and illustrator, who continued to work for decades after being released from the camp in Topaz.

July 2018: Lumberjanes: What the Junk?

By Noelle Stevenson

Lumberjanes

Lumberjanes, Volume 1: Beware the Kitten Holy by Noelle Stevenson focuses on the adventures of five girls who are attending a camp for “Hard-Core Lady Types” who face increasingly bizarre threats and mysteries. Cute, fast-paced and energetic, this graphic novel is a mix of science-fiction and fantasy, with a hint of magic realism. The chapters are introduced with pages out of the Lumberjanes Field Manual For the Intermediate Program, creating both a nostalgic atmosphere for the ‘ideal American summercamp’ and tension between past and present expectations for girls. Dealing with three-eyed foxes, secretive camp leaders, river monsters, yetis and the “Scouting Lads from Mr Theodore Larquin Reginald Lancelot Herman Crump’s Camp for Boys”, these five hard-core lady-types can always fall back on their invaluable Lumberjanes’ training to see them through.

This graphic novel’s art is cartoon-like, used to great comedic effect, and doesn’t shy away from a bold colour-palette. The best way to approach this kind of book is to approach it the way you did cartoons when you were a kid: just go with it and don’t ask too many questions. You’re guaranteed to have a lot of fun. Those of you who are known to enjoy an episode or two of Gravity Falls, Adventure Time, Steven Universe or Over the Garden Wall should definitely give this a try and if you haven’t even heard of these shows yet, you’re welcome.

Winner of 2015 Eisner Awards and on the 2015 New York Times Bestselling Series list, Lumberjanes is also available in the David Wilson Library, in the Educational Resources Section on the first floor, check the catalogue for more information. Read it and loved it? Want more? Check out our More Books Scheme! to see if you can request Volume 2: Friendship to the Max!

June 2018: V for Vendetta

By Alan Moore and David Lloyd

vendetta

No recommendation list really feels complete without this classic by Alan Moore (unfortunately, no relation to our Jessica) and David Lloyd. Critically acclaimed and translated to the big screen in 2005, with Hugo Weaving and Natalie Portman, V for Vendetta follows the story of two characters named V and Evy in a 1990s dystopian Britain. Following a nuclear war in the late 1980s, Britain is now under the control of a fascist government, Norsefire and its citizens live regular, day-to-day lives under their watchful eye. The novel is bold, seminal and shocking. Divided into three parts, each part has its own complete narrative arch that ties into a brilliant overarching story. A masterful example of what a Graphic Novel can do, it’s a novel you simply cannot put down once you start.

With its first issue published in 1988, the Graphic Novel is influenced by events of the 1980s, including Moore’s conviction that fascism was just around the corner. He considered it naïve to think it would take something as catastrophic as a nuclear war to bring dictatorship to Britain. Considering the current political climate, both in the UK as abroad, this Graphic Novel makes a clear case for resistance and is, perhaps, more relevant than ever before.

It is difficult to underestimate the impact V for Vendetta has had on the comic book industry and the wider world. With hacker-group anonymous assuming the Guy Fawkes mask, which Amazon now sells thousands of per year, it’s certainly a recognizable reference. In fact, Channel Four announced in 2017 that they are developing a TV series! In academia, the Graphic Novel has received a considerable attention with books like V for Vendetta as Cultural Pastiche and Interrogating the Manipulation of Fear. Our library has several copies of the V for Vendetta Graphic Novel, although we do not seem to have a copy of the 2005 film. Check our More Books scheme! if you think we should have the film.

May 2018: Adamtine

By Hannah Berry

Adamtine Cover

Adamtine by Hannah Berry is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling Gothic narratives produced within the last ten years. It is hair-raisingly terrifying and a subliminal mix of horror, murder-mystery and gothic realism. Adamtine focuses on four main protagonists and a murder victim, Rodney Moon. No one really knows what happened to Moon and the four protagonists’ tenuous link to his fate will impact their own in far more tremendous ways. Most of the events occur on a train, in the middle of the night, and Berry uses its creepy atmosphere to startling effect. I personally read this when traveling on the train from Manchester to Leicester and I advise anyone who enjoys being profoundly creeped out to schedule in some train time with this graphic novel.

The artwork is incredibly detailed and while not black-and-white, it primarily sticks to muted colours and two-tone scenes. There is no such thing as a jump-scare in comics, but looking at a scene closely can jump-start your heartbeat when you realise that the innocent details, or the vast expanse of the black background, are hiding untold horrors. The narrative is shockingly sparse at times, with most of the ‘narration’ coming from newspaper articles and character’s dialogue, trusting the reader’s intellect to piece it all together and allowing new discoveries with every read.

Hannah Berry is a comic artist, writer, illustrator, podcaster and a wonderful public speaker. Her exploration of the Gothic is captured in interview with Alex Fitch, recorded at ‘Graphic Gothic’, the Seventh International Conference of Graphic Novels and Comics in 2016. You can find a special issue of The Journal of Graphic Novels and Comics based on the conference online. Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of this wonderful novel in the David Wilson Library, but those of you who’d like to read and or work on the book for your studies (say in English, Media and Communication, Philosophy or Politics) can always use our More Books scheme to request the library purchase copies for our students.

April 2018: Saga

By Brian K. Vaughan

Saga cover

Saga by Brian K. Vaughan is a modern space opera with a vague resemblance to Romeo & Juliet as two star-crossed lovers from planets at war go on the run with their child. Stalked by their respective species, pursued by bounty-hunters, Prince Robot IV and spurned ex-lovers, they struggle to keep their family together. Vaughan is a master at building a vast mythology the reader can easily slide into. With a host of fascinating characters, you find yourself rooting for people from every side of a multi-faceted conflict. The characters feel real, set in a completely insane universe and the action is dramatic, terrifying and yet completely hilarious. The tone and pace shift smoothly from panel to panel without compromising the narrative’s cohesive structure. Both victorious and tragic, this story takes place in a far-flung universe with people who look nothing like us, but eerily resemble us.

Saga’s artwork is drawn by the wonderfully talented Fiona Staples, whose work is absolutely gorgeous. While previous recommendations on this list have used more classic black-and-white art, Staples’ colours are bold and bright, combining the familiar with the fantastical. The glorious character-designs are jaw-dropping and the planet-scapes, in turns, are stunning and terrifying.

In 2013, Saga received Best Continuing Series, Best New Series and Best Writer at the Eisner Awards as well as the Hugo Award for Best Graphic Story. It continued to rake in awards with Best Painter/Multimedia Artist, Best Writer and Best Continuing Series at the 2014 Eisner Awards and Best Continuing Series and Best Penciller/Inker at the 2015 Eisner Awards. Saga is increasingly receiving a lot of attention from Comics Studies and other academic fields, as evidenced by its presence in the book Bad Girls and Transgressive Women in Popular Television, Fiction and Film. Unfortunately, we do not have a copy of this wonderful series in the David Wilson Library, but those of you who’d like to read and or work on the book for your studies (say in English, Education, Media and Communication, Philosophy or Politics) can always use our More Books scheme to request the library purchase a copy.

 

March 2018: Maus: Of Mice and Monsters

By Art Spiegelman

 


Maus by Art Spiegelman is a memoir based on his father, Vladek Spiegelman’s experiences as a Polish, Jewish person and Holocaust survivor. Like many holocaust narratives, the events depicted are absolutely gruesome and sometimes difficult to read. The graphic novel is gripping and intense, but also tender and light-hearted. It engages with national stereotypes, depicting Jewish people as mice, Germans as cats and Polish people as pigs, while discussing the inevitable rise of fascism and the psychological and physical cost it takes on communities. Despite its anthropomorphism, the text humanizes the holocaust and brings its insurmountable scope within a visible periphery.

The black-and-white artwork is reasonably simplistic at times, but remains inventive with a real impact on the reader. The use of animals lends itself to creative and sometimes frightening imagery. The narrative is not entirely chronological and sometimes zooms out to incorporate information we only discovered after the war, linking the personal to the political and vice versa.

The first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Award in 1992, it launched the idea that graphic novels could be sophisticated and not just for children. It received (and still receives) significant academic attention in the field of Comic Studies, Holocaust Studies and Literature and is taught here at the University of Leicester in Representing the Holocaust and Children’s and Young Adult Fiction. Check out the Harvard’s Gazette 2017 interview with Spiegelman to discover how Maus endures and remains relevant. For those of you whose interest has been peaked, The David Wilson Library has several copies available at the library as well as the interactive MetaMaus, which includes deleted scenes, additional research material and interviews with Art Spiegelman.

 

February 2018 - No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics

Edited by Justin Hall

No Straight Lines

 

Welcome to February and LGBT History Month! Our newest recommendation is an Anthology series, edited by Justin Hall, called No Straight Lines: Four Decades of Queer Comics. Covering the decades between the Stonewall riots (1969) and the modern day, this Anthology incorporates a host of legendary underground comic and cartoon artists. From established artists like Eric Shanower, Alison Bechdel, Howard Cruse and Trina Robbins, to up-and-coming talent like Ellen Forney, Erika Moen and Ariel Schrag, this anthology has it all. The comics range from comedy to drama, from the literary to the erotic. It encapsulates queer comics history and challenges the reader to think about questions concerning identity, belonging, community and the challenges of a (slowly) changing society. Its attempt to catalogue LGBT History also includes European comics which have been translated to English. With such a wide range of creators, this anthology has something for everyone.

Our previous recommendation already highlighted Alison Bechdel’s work, including Dykes to Watch Out for, which you can also find in this anthology. One of my personal favourites in this collection is Roxxie’s Boys and Sex, which is more like collage art-pieces combined with cartooning than traditional ‘sequential art’ comics. Yet, the art definitely contains a story within itself and its fragmented imagery works perfectly to encapsulate both the isolation and the claustrophobic feeling of being under a microscope.

Justin Hall is a teacher and cartoonist who initially curated a show called “No Straight Lines: Queer Culture and Comics” at the San Francisco Cartoon Art Museum in 2006. He’s currently teaching at the California College of the Arts, working to inspire a new generation of comic and cartoon artists. Catch his insightful interview with CBR.com here, published in 2012, when the anthology first came out. To read the anthology, visit our catalogue to find it in the library!

January 2018: Fun Home

By Alison Bechdel

FunHome

 

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel is the first ‘Graphic Novel’ I ever read and it was a welcome surprise to encounter it again on my “Women’s Writing” module during my MA at Cardiff University. I’d read comics and the European version, Bande Designee, before, but nothing quite like this. Fun Home, much like Persepolis, is an autobiography filled to the brim with rich detail. Bechdel focuses on her on childhood, growing up with her father Bruce Bechdel, who she paints as both a hardworking, loving father and a tyrannical patriarch. Her coming-of-age story is told in the shadow of his life’s choices; her discovery of her own sexuality is closely linked with the discovery of his hidden homosexuality. In Fun Home, the trauma of the closet spans generations and Bechdel’s unpacking of her guilt and grief is a liberating, therapeutic experience.

The art for this graphic novel is incredibly detailed and was systematically crafted. Bechdel took reference photos for nearly every single panel and redrew them, lending the art both surrealistic and hyper-realistic overtones. Simultaneously, the narration is very literary in tone, with references to James Joyce, the literary scene of 1920s Paris and queer literature, while maintaining a smooth style that is always present but never overbearing.

Alison Bechdel is a critically acclaimed American cartoonist, whose work is taught across a range of disciplines in Higher Education. Some of her best known work is Dykes to Watch Out For, a comic strip published from 1983-2008. If you’d like to dip your toe into Bechdel’s work. a selection of these strips are freely available on her website. Her graphic memoir, Fun Home, was published in 2006 and became a Tony Award winning musical in 2015. The David Wilson Library has several copies available for loan and you can find it here on our catalogue.

December 2017: Persepolis

By Marjane Satrapi

I’d like to start us off with Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. This award-winning Graphic Novel is an autobiography covering Satrapi’s childhood and early adult years in Iran during and after the Islamic Revolution. Engaging and gripping, the novel starts with young Marjane’s first interactions with the veil and her love for Kim Wilde, moving on to her early teenage years in Vienna and her first boyfriend as well as her return to her Iran and her eventual, final departure. By examining the Islamic Revolution through the eyes of a child, her account brings a fresh take to our understanding of these turbulent years and challenges pervasive Western stereotypes about the Middle-East as a region. It’s a fantastic, fearless exploration of her own life (with all its doubts and fears) and presents a rich and compelling narrative.

Persepolis’ artwork is relatively minimalist, with bold black and white pen strokes; sometimes simple but never simplistic. Satrapi demonstrates complete mastery over the Graphic Novel form and strikes the perfect balance between narrating events and allowing the art to speak for itself. Several of the Graphic Novel’s panels are completely devoid of text, but have the strongest impact. Persepolis is a powerful, poignant page-turner and a volume that I hope you too will read over and over again.

Currently, Persepolis is taught in many universities across a host of different disciplines and has been turned into an animated film. The David Wilson Library has several copies of both the graphic novel and the animated film available for loan.

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