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25 Essential Graphic Novels

Long dismissed as a less serious art form, graphic novels have finally started to gain more mainstream credibility over the last 20 years. There are many, many excellent examples out there, but if you’re looking for a place to start, start here! The world of the graphic novel is one that spans a wide range of authors, artists, styles, and subject matter, and this primer covers all the bases. While the distinction between graphic novels and comic books gets dicey (the term “graphic novel” was only introduced in the late 1970s), for the purposes of this list, they are lengthier, meatier book-like works — and they’re all brilliant for both their literary and visual merit.

blankets craig thompson

Blankets by Craig Thompson

Clocking in at 592 pages, Blankets may not be a light graphic novel (physically or stylistically), but Craig Thompson’s autobiographical coming-of-age story is sweet and dreamy, covering the profoundly intense experience of falling in love for the first time, questioning your faith, and negotiating your relationship with your siblings. This is a complex undertaking because of its breadth and winding narrative, but it’s still an altogether cozy and comforting effort, set in a small town in Wisconsin — and, yes, it’s the kind of book to pick up on a chilly day when you feel like being wrapped up in a pile of blankets, or just your own fuzzy nostalgia.

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15 comments
Max Berger
Max Berger

I get that you weren't trying to give it to any author twice, but that said "Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron" by Daniel Clowes I really think should have been included on this list...

drnels
drnels

I like a lot of this list, but a lot of these are not novels. Thompson, Bechdel, Satrapi, Spiegelman, and others are writing about the things they lived, not things they made up. These are nonfiction memoirs not fiction novels. Writing a memoir requires different skills than writing a novel. Those skills and those lived experiences should not be diminished.

scweber
scweber

I shall begin by saying that you have included many of my favorite books and authors on this list.   


However, I agree with some of the comments left below.  


As an English Lit. major who was a literary snob for over 20 years, I understand your high art prerequisite, but also have come to terms with returning to super hero comic books as both a valid and at times 'high art,' medium (SEE the anagogic title for The Escapists, below).  Rather than perpetuate this debate, which is mostly based upon genre prejudice, I will add a few titles that would have been on my top 25 graphic novels list.  Purely for simplification, I have NOT included graphic novels, or serialized comic books by some of my favorite authors that are construed as 'super hero comics.'  Plus, that list would be too large and overwhelming to comprise on a Sunday morning.  


Books that maybe could have been part of this list:


"The Book of Genesis" Illustrated by R. Crumb

"Freddie & Me" Mike Dawson

"American Splendor" or "The Quitter" Harvey Pekar

"Forget Sorrow"  Bell Yang

"Pride Of Baghdad" or "The Escapists" Brian K. Vaughn

"Drinking At the Movies" Julia Wertz

"Market Day" James Sturm

EdwardCole
EdwardCole

Although I personally get nothing out of Alan Moore's bleak, pointless, nihilism I won't quibble about his inclusion here. One of his books is very much like any of his books so V for Vendetta or Watchmen. Same diff.


I do think any list of this sort must include something by Harvey Pekar. E.g. Our Cancer Year (with Joyce Brabner).

MarkisanNaso
MarkisanNaso

Ugh. This list should be renamed "25 Essential Graphic Novels for Pretentious Hipsters." At least half of any Best Comics/GN list should be superhero stories. If not it's a complete fail. 


This list definitely does not cover all the bases as the introduction states. And I'm not just talking superheroes. I see no sci-fi on here either.  It's also completely hypocritical to introduce this list as "Long dismissed as a less serious art form, graphic novels have finally started to gain more mainstream credibility over the last 20 years" and dismiss superhero books like Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns that have actually penetrated the mainstream far beyond anything on this list, except maybe Sandman and Maus.


I know someone will probably try and point out that this list focuses on stories that came out as single GN volumes. Except Black Hole didn't at first. Neither did V for Vendetta. If those serialized books can be included here, then the door must be open for other comics that were first released monthly.


The books on here are terrific, Brie, but it's simply a mistake to create an Essential GN list and not include superhero stories. If you are going to champion comics as a credible art form you should not forget the books that actually helped to make that possible.

JasonPowers
JasonPowers

I don't care if you've read 10,000 graphic novels.  If you've included nothing by Osamu Tezuka in a list of "essential graphic novels", you have not read enough graphic novels.   

DarthPraxus
DarthPraxus

Personally, I rank From Hell as Moore's magnum opus, but V for Vendetta is a close second (and has the better film adaptation).

steff worthington
steff worthington

No Watchmen, Hellblazer, We3, or anything from Moebius. Odd.

BobbyNoyes
BobbyNoyes

I love Frank Miller's Ronin. Maybe it isn't top 10, but I have read it dozens of times. 

AustenCaldwell
AustenCaldwell

Shortcomings is a collection of three Optic Nerve issues.  A novella at best.  If that's allowed, then Mother, Come Home, collecting issues  2-4 of Paul Hornschemeier's brilliant Forlorn Funnies deserves a nod as well.  As does Derek Kirk Kim's Same Difference and basically anything by Sam Hiti.  I think most of the artists in this list would describe themselves as cartoonists, and as you pointed out in your article, the term "graphic novel" is problematic.  Publishers like to use it because it convinces non-comic book fans to read comic books, because hey, they're not just for kids, you know.  But cartoonists hate it because it's often applied incorrectly.  I'm not sure how to combat this problem.  I just call them all comics.  


Other suggestions:

Nate Powell, Swallow Me Whole

Brandon Graham, King City  (but read his collection, Escalator, first)

Dylan Horrocks, Hicksville

Corey Lewis, Sharknife (if like Bryan O'Malley, who also played way to much Nintendo as a kid)

Jeffrey Brown, pretty much all of them

Farel Dalrymple, Pop Gun War

Paul Pope, 100%, Heavy Liquid, Battle Boy, etc.


Oh, and Watchmen, because no one's been able to find that one on their own.

skybox
skybox

yes, I think this article is trying to be provocative by excluding Watchmen  


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