Comics Aren’t Just for Kids: Five Great Graphic Novels

Even if you're all grown up, there's no shame in reading books with pictures anymore. In today's bookstores, you'll find a rich array of unique graphic novels that deal with far more sophisticated themes than space mutants and superheroes. These are a few of our favorites.

When you were a kid, you might have spent hours engrossed in the romantic travails of Archie and Veronica, or hoarded a collection of tattered Batman comics big enough to fill up your entire closet. These days, you might still glance over the funny pages as a Sunday morning guilty pleasure while you sip your coffee – but for the most part, comics are just kid stuff, right?

Wrong: Just ask any of the 125,000 fully-grown attendees at San Diego’s Comic-Con, which sold out the city’s enormous convention center in July. Or check out a show like NBC’s hugely popular Heroes, which is essentially a comic book come to life. Plenty of popular movies these days are based on comics as well – X-Men, Sin City, and the brand-new hit, 30 Days of Night, just to name a few. Even if you’re long past the awkward adolescent years, there’s no shame in reading books with pictures anymore. In today’s bookstores, you’ll find a rich array of unique graphic novels that deal with far more sophisticated themes than space mutants and superheroes. These are a few of our favorites.

1. Maus, by Art Spiegelman
The Holocaust doesn’t sound like a natural subject for a comic book – but then again, Art Spiegelman’s Maus is not your typical comic. In this groundbreaking serial, which was initially published in small sections throughout the 1970s and 1980s, Spiegelman illustrates the memories of his father, a Holocaust survivor. In the comic, Spiegelman’s father and the other Jews at his concentration camp are represented as mice, while their German captors, of course, are cats. In 1992, when the comic strips were combined into a full-length graphic novel, the world finally took notice – Speigelman was awarded a Nobel Prize for his groundbreaking work, paving the path for other serious graphic novels to follow.

2. Ghost World, David Boring, and Ice Haven, by Daniel Clowes
If you’ve ever seen the film Ghost World, a dark and twisted sort-of-comedy starring Thora Birch as a sardonic teen and Steve Buscemi as a sad-eyed misanthrope, you’re familiar with the work of Daniel Clowes. The movie was based on his graphic novel of the same name, which delved even further into the melancholy world of the two lonely people at the story’s center, and the fragile friendship between them. With the talent of a novelist and an artist all in one, Clowes creates entire worlds just beyond our own that we want to linger in forever. Read Ghost World first, then check out David Boring and Ice Haven if you’re still aching for more from this master of the form.

3. Persepolis and Persepolis II, by Marjane Satrapi

What’s it like to grow up in Iran after the Iranian Revolution? You could consult a history book – but for a far richer portrait of life under the oppressive Islamic regime, read Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir, Persepolis. In this starkly illustrated novel and its sequel, Persepolis II, Satrapi takes her readers through a child’s view of life in modern-day Iran. Perfect for both teens and adults, these books create a powerful bridge towards understanding of a radically different culture.

4. Blankets, by Craig Thompson

At nearly 600 pages, Craig Thompson’s graphic memoir, Blankets, is surely one of the longest of its kind – but it’s also one of the best. With simple, beautiful illustrations, Thompson takes his readers through the frightening world of his fundamentalist childhood, finally venturing into the even more terrifying territory of young love. Thompson is a master of combining text and images in meaningful ways, bringing a depth and richness to his childhood memories that you’ll rarely find in literature.

5. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, by Chris Ware

Finally, we can’t cover the form without mentioning Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth. This graphic novel has been critically acclaimed even by those who generally turn their noses up at comics: The New Yorker called it “the first formal masterpiece of (the) medium,” and the UK’s Guardian paper awarded it with their annual book prize – the first time a graphic novel has ever been honored in Britain. The tale of an isolated man who comes to terms with the father who abandoned him, the book is filled with history and imagination, and Ware’s incredible artistic skill makes the story pop right off the page.

Don’t stop there – want to learn about even more graphic novels for grown-ups? Visit Time Magazine’s “Ten Best” list for additional suggestions.