Gripping Graphic Novels

Sometimes perceived as ‘just cartoons,’ graphic novels actually pack a lot of emotion and wisdom within their drawings and dialogue. For those who love reading, for those who love drawings, and for those who love compelling stories, graphic novels can cater to all of your book-loving needs. Illustrations interwoven with words have a different effect on readers than classic novels.  You can simultaneously see what the author wants you to see while interpreting the story on your own. These graphic novels are great starting points for people who thought they would never get captivated by this type of book, and for those who need a new one to read.  

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is an inspiring, autobiographical, coming-of-age graphic novel about Marjane Satrapi’s life in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She engages the reader with the story of her own life, including humorous images of puberty and awkward teen phases, juxtaposed with the facts of the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Satrapi has the incredible ability of creating a personable, relatable character in an obscure world (to anyone who was not in Iran during the Islamic Revolution). She chronicles her changes as a young Iranian woman, as well as the lives of her friends and family within a historical context. While Persepolis is a story about incredible growth, it is also an insightful look at a family profoundly effected by the Islamic Revolution. 

Maus by Art Spiegelman

There is no shortage of Holocaust-based literature out there, but Art Spiegelman’s autobiographical graphic novel is a completely different take. As the son of two Holocaust survivors, Spiegelman dealt with his parents’ post-Holocaust survivors’ guilt, as well as his own troubled relationship with his father. His novel shows the complex identity of being a Jew generations after the Holocaust. Apart from his personal narrative, Spiegelman depicts his parents’ lives in Nazi occupied Poland and in Concentration camps. Different cultures are portrayed as different species, namely Jews as Mice and Germans as cats. While his stylistic choice could have come out campy, the use of animal characters is surprisingly effective. In combining his own story with that of his parents (and the history of Jews in the Holocaust), Spiegelman succeeds in telling a complicated story made up of guilt, historic bigotry, and memories.

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzuchelli

Asterios Polyp is filled with a number of compelling and intriguing characters and locations, each drawn in a different style to highlight their significance in the story. Mazzuchelli’s experimental novel in an existential look at a professionaly ‘established’ man who feels like he has a lot more to learn about himself and the world. The protagonist, Asterios Polyp, is an eccentric, middle-aged, womanizing architect and teacher in New York City.  His progression throughout the novel makes you feel a number of things, including annoyance and sympathy. The story takes a look at troubled lives, battling emotions, and a variety of moral conundrums. Mazzuchelli proves that illustrations can portray complex plots through visuals. 

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes 

Ghost World analyses two droll teenage girls, best friends, on the brink of adulthood. Clowes’ illustrations are incredibly fun and the goofy, yet somehow on point, caricatures capture something both disturbing and humorous about humans. The girls are sullen, hip-geeks, with distinct personalities that play off one another. They encounter and hilariously analyze a number of other geeks, pervs, and supposed nobodies. Instead of detracting from reality, the illustrations add a gloriously relatable element to this coming-of-age story. Even though Ghost World will make you want to cry, it will definitely make you laugh as well.  

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle

North Korea is shrouded in mystery and very few outsiders have been given a true glimpse of what life is like in the isolated country.  Canadian cartoonist Guy Delisle was given the opportunity to spend a couple months in the capital, Pyongyang, and he turned his experience into a graphic novel. Delisle’s book is comedic, with witty anecdotes and dialogue, without starying stray from the reality of life citizens ofone of the last totalitarian Communist nations. He only meets a handful of North Koreans, and, like all visitors, is restricted in where he can go. However, Delisle’s keen observations, experiences with blatant propaganda, and direct drawing style give a glimpse of the bizarre and distant lives of North Koreans.  

From Hell by Alan Moore

Alan Moore is famous for a bunch of Graphic novels, including V for Vendetta, Watchmen, and Batman: The Killing Joke: all must-reads for any lover of this genre.  In From Hell, Moore speculates about the identity of the infamous serial killer of the 1880’s: Jack the Ripper. The novel is built upon Moore’s assiduous research into the murders, and it is filled with facts, age-old gossip, and an inventive, thrilling storyline (accompanied by frightening drawings). Whether or not you accept Moore’s theory in From Hell, you will find the (mostly) historically accurate characters and settings, dynamic story-telling, and dark drawings highly impressive.

Safe Area Gorade: The War in Eastern Bosnia by Joe Sacco 

Joe Sacco is known as one of the pioneers of graphic journalism, and he is truly gifted in the field.  Safe Area Gorade is an oral history about the Bosnian War of 1992-1995.  It follows Sacco in Bosnia as he experiences, first-hand, the massive destruction caused by the war while confined to a danger zone.  Sacco’s illustrations are poignant; he magnificently captures the devastating human experience in war. Sacco mostly observes and listens, while the conversations he has with Bosniaks build the true narrative, creating a profoundly human piece of journalism. Safe Area Gorade is enthralling, and informative about the politcs and history of the Bosnian War.

Black Hole by Charles Burns

Many aspects of Black Hole are quite ordinary. It is set in a small, idyllic suburb of Seattle in the mid-1970’s, and focuses on a group of middle class teenagers. Many of them suffer from a sexually transmitted disease, which, sadly, is not too uncommon. However, the mysterious STD causes the infected to grow physical mutations, unlike the often-inconspicuous symptoms of common STD’s. The characters must deal with social stigmas and seclusion, and the gross consequences of an extremely odd disease. While Burns’ story and illustrations are definitely weird, combined with his surreal, retro imagery is realism, as well as relatable characters. Known as a graphic horror novel, Black Hole is symbolic of a number of common things (AID’s, for example) and captures the volatile emotions of teenagers in America.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

Fun Home, as the title suggests, is both tragic and comedic. Alison Bechdel’s innovative take on her memoir is beautifully illustrated, and an addictive read.  The cult favorite chronicles the difficulties Bechdel faced in her childhood: from her relationship with her emotionally aloof, closeted homosexual father, to dealing with her own homosexuality. Her gothic-style drawings contribute to the dark tale, while highlighting the humor that can be found in any story. Bechdel’s critically acclaimed memoir is now a hit Broadway musical

City of Glass: The Graphic Novel (New York Trilogy) by Paul Auster (adapted by Paul Karasik and David Mazzuchelli)

Originally a series of metaphysic novels, Auster’s The New York Trilogy was transformed into this bizarre graphic novel. The interaction between words and images highlight the mind-bending, mysterious plot, centered on a detective whose life starts out uncomplicated but turns into a nearly nonsensical disaster. Unescapable events lead him to question the nature of language, humans, and the concept of identity. The dialogue is innovatively portrayed through a variety of forms, such as cave paintings and speech bubbles in which the speakers seems to be eating their own words.  The thought-provoking comic closely follows the original novel, and will leave you absolutely baffled. 

Featured image courtesy of