Check It Out! Graphic Novels for the Reluctant Graphic Novel Reader

Welcome to Check It Out! CALS Collection Development staff will periodically post information about titles in the collection that we hope you will find useful and want to check out. We’ll probably focus less on blockbusters and bestsellers and more on publicizing titles that you might overlook.  These recommendations come from the Manager of Collection Development.

“Every year, when I go for my annual physical, my doctor and I spend the first 30 minutes talking about books we’ve read over the past year. She is a prolific and eclectic reader and I always leave with a great list of books to add to my to-be-read pile. On my recent visit, while waiting in the exam room, I was reading the graphic novel Oishinbo, a la Carte: Japanese Cuisine by Tetsu Kariya. When the doctor walked in and saw what I was reading, she grimaced. As I was telling her about the book, I could tell she wasn’t interested in hearing about a graphic novel. This got me to thinking about why some people are reluctant to read graphic books. When anyone tells me they don’t like to read, I always say ‘You just haven’t found the right book.’ The same is true of people who don’t like graphic books. Maybe they think it’s all Superman, Conan the Barbarian, or Archie. Of course, those graphic novels are still around, in new and updated editions and storylines, but there are so many other choices: memoirs, histories, travelogues, art, and really good fiction. Here are some titles to recommend for the reluctant graphic book reader.”

What Did You Eat Yesterday? By Fumi Yoshinaga – A hard-working middle-aged gay couple in Tokyo come to enjoy the finer moments of life through food. After long days at work, either in the law firm or the hair salon, Shiro and Kenji will always have down time together by the dinner table, where they can discuss their troubles, hash out their feelings and enjoy delicately prepared home cooked meals!

“If you like What Did You Eat Yesterday?, you might enjoy Oishinbo: Japanese Cuisine by Tetsu Kariya, a seven volume series about Japanese cuisine.”

Going Into Town: A Love Letter to New York by Roz Chast – Told through Chast’s singularly zany, laugh-out-loud, touching, and true cartoons, Going Into Town is part New York stories (the “overheard and overseen” of the island borough), part personal and practical guide to walking, talking, renting, and venting – an irresistible, one-of-a-kind love letter to the city.

“Roz Chast’s cartoons have appeared in New Yorker since 1978 and she is the author and illustrator of the bestselling Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, a finalist for the National Book Award.”

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel – This breakout book by Alison Bechdel is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel’s sweetly gothic drawings. It’s a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form.

Meet Alison’s father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family’s Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter’s complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned “fun home,” as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic – and redemptive.

“In 2013, a musical production of Fun Home premiered Off-Broadway where it ran for two years before going to Broadway. It was nominated for 12 Tony Awards, winning five, including Best Musical.”

An Age of License by Lucy Kinsley – Acclaimed cartoonist Lucy Knisley got an opportunity of a lifetime: a travel-expenses-paid trip to Europe/Scandinavia, thanks to a book tour. An Age of License is Knisley’s comics travel memoir recounting her charming (and romantic!) adventures. It’s punctuated by whimsical visual devices (such as a “new experiences” funnel); peppered with the cute cats she meets along the way; and, of course, features her hallmark―drawings and descriptions of food that will make your mouth water. But it’s not all kittens and raclette crepes: Knisley’s experiences are colored by anxieties, introspective self-inquiries, and quotidian revelations―about traveling alone in unfamiliar countries, and about her life and career―that many young adults will relate to.

“Ms. Kinsley lives in Chicago, where she makes comics, does freelance illustration, and teaches the occasional comics workshop. Check out her blog and web comic essay series on!”

Stitches by David Small – Believing that they were trying to do their best, David’s parents did just the reverse. Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag, was convinced that he could cure his young son’s respiratory problems with heavy doses of radiation, possibly causing David’s cancer. Elizabeth, David’s mother, tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

“David Small is a highly regarded children’s book illustrator and the recipient of the Caldecott Medal, the Christopher Medal, and the E. B. White Award. Small illustrated one of my favorite picture books, The Library by Sarah Stewart.”

Monstress by Marjorie Liu – Set in an alternate matriarchal 1900’s Asia, in a richly imagined world of art deco-inflected steam punk, MONSTRESS tells the story of a teenage girl who is struggling to survive the trauma of war, and who shares a mysterious psychic link with a monster of tremendous power, a connection that will transform them both and make them the target of both human and otherworldly powers.

“Marjorie Liu is an attorney and author of paranormal romance and urban fantasy novels. She also writes for Marvel Comics, including Dark Wolverine and X-23.”

The Magical Life of Long Tack Sam: An Illustrated Memoir by Ann Marie Fleming – Who was Long Tack Sam? He was born in 1885. He ran away from Shangdung Province to join the circus. He was an acrobat. A magician. A comic. An impresario. A restaurateur. A theater owner. A world traveler. An East-West ambassador. A mentor to Orson Welles. He was considered the greatest act in the history of vaudeville.
In this gorgeous graphic memoir, his great-granddaughter, the artist and filmmaker Ann Marie Fleming, resurrects his fascinating life for the rest of the world. It’s an exhilarating testament to a forgotten man. And every picture is true.

“If you flip the bottom right corner of this book, there is flipbook animation of an acrobat – that’s just one of the delights of this graphic memoir.”

March: Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell – March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis’ lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis’ personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement.

This first volume spans John Lewis’ youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall.

“John Robert Lewis is a prominent civil rights leader. the U.S. Representative for Georgia’s 5th congressional district, serving since 1987, and is the dean of the Georgia congressional delegation. March was illustrated by Nate Powell, who was born in Little Rock and raised in North Little Rock.”

This list is just a starting point, I didn’t even talk about Michael DeForge, the Saga series by Brian K. Vaughan, The Manga Guide to Physics, or Neil Gaiman. There is a graphic book for everyone’s taste and interests.

“People think dreams aren’t real just because they aren’t made of matter, of particles. Dreams are real. But they are made of viewpoints, of images, of memories and puns and lost hopes.”– Neil Gaiman, The Sandman