The 5 Best Graphic Novels for Readers New to the Genre

October 9 2019
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This past summer, whether I was relaxing in the beach or traveling or enduring a hot and crowded commute, practically all I read was graphic novels. They are completely immersive experiences that take storytelling to new heights. They can be breathtakingly cinematic; they can be achingly intimate. They can transport us to a dystopian society, to a past that is more urgent than ever, to the farthest reaches of space. If you want to drop out of our world for a while, here are five graphic novels to help you escape.

The Handmaid's Tale
by Margaret Atwood; illustrated by Renee Nault

There are so many amazing graphic novel versions of beloved novels coming out, and I was particularly excited for this one. I was not disappointed. I would have thought it was impossible for this dystopian chiller to be any more visceral and immediate, but the art in this adaptation is truly affecting. So much is communicated in a facial expression or in a character’s eyes. And through it all, the blazing red of the handmaids’ robes punctuates each scene like a warning. If you’re obsessed with the TV series, you’ll love the graphic novel.

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The Handmaid's Tale
Margaret Atwood; illustrated by Renee Nault

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On a Sunbeam
by Tillie Walden

This may be my new favorite graphic novel of all time; Tillie Walden is a stunning talent and this hefty story is a masterpiece. It takes place in two timelines. In one, Mia is at boarding school, falling in love with a lonely girl named Grace, until circumstances abruptly separate them before they have a chance to say goodbye. In the other, years later, Mia is roving the galaxy with a group of women who restore old buildings and hoping that her travels with bring her back to the girl she could never forget. Mia and her space-faring family are willing to risk everything to give her the opportunity to see Grace again. The world Walden created is unlike anything I’ve ever seen: spaceships are shaped like koi fish, buildings look like Greek or Roman ruins but the walls are filled with tech, and all of it takes place in a world that only contains women. Her breathtaking outer space panoramas are a sight to behold. This combination of sweeping romance and space epic has something for everyone.

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On a Sunbeam
Tillie Walden

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The Silence of Our Friends
by Mark Lon, Jim Demonakos, & illustrated by Nate Powell

If you’re a history buff, this semi-autobiographical drama is for you. Based on real events, this story takes place in Houston in 1967, where five Black college students have been unjustly accused of a policeman’s murder. Two families, one white from a deeply racist neighborhood and one black from one of Houston’s poorest wards, come together to fight for justice. This graphic novel is wrenching, engrossing, and as urgent as would have been if the events were set in the present. It delves into weighty issues like systematic racism, family tensions, media coverage of civil rights issues, and the search for common ground despite vastly different backgrounds.

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The Silence of Our Friends
Mark Lon, Jim Demonakos, & illustrated by Nate Powell

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Roughneck
by Jeff Lemire

If you like realistic fiction and character driven, family drama, this one is for you. This moving and harrowing story centers on Derek Ouelette, a former hockey star whose career was cut short by a violent incident on the ice. He’s spent the last decade in his small, remote town drinking away his sorrows. But then his estranged sister shows up in town, running away from an abusive boyfriend. The siblings hole up in a cabin together to hide and must reconnect and reckon with the secrets of their past. The illustrations are full of emotion—Lemire is able to communicate so much with such minimal artwork. The understated but gnawing misery of the characters is something I won’t soon forget.

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Roughneck
Jeff Lemire

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Through the Woods
by Emily Carroll

For lovers of fairy tales or horror, THROUGH THE WOODS is a compulsively readable combination of both. Emily Carroll is a webcomic sensation, and her enormously popular, creepy comic “His Face All Red” joins four other haunting stories in this collection. These are fairy tales gone terribly wrong. There are houses from which no one returns, spouses with terrible secrets, and dark and mysterious woods. Carroll’s impeccable sense of pacing and ability to deliver bone-chilling horror that isn’t overdone or graphic make this collection a fresh and exciting addition to any horror bookshelf.

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Through the Woods
Emily Carroll

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