This is part of my final project for a class on Young Adult Literature that I just completed. Links are for wimps, look these up on your own!
Top 10 Graphic Novels for Adolescents
(and for us old folks, as well)
10) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan
This is the story of a pride of lions who escape from the Baghdad zoo after it is bombed by the American military. The lions encounter a number of other escaped animals as they try to get out of the city and recreate their society. The tale parallels the lives of many people living in Baghdad, dealing with the destruction of their cities and trying to make the best of the new society that began to spring up around them. Strong themes of responsibility to others (including members of other social groups, personified by different species of animals) versus the need for self preservation permeate this graphic novel.
Contains some violence and some minor adult language.
9) Hellboy: Seed of Destruction by Mike Mignola
Hellboy has been a recognizable superhero detective for over a decade. Especially after the release of the popular movie a few years ago, Mignola’s character has made his way into youth culture. This is the collected first few issues of the original Hellboy series. The character is a demon turned supernatural detective. He fights Nazis, witches, fairy tale monsters, and Rasputin himself. Relatively light on violence, the stories pull from a number of different resources, especially Irish folk tales and science/fiction from the early 1950s. The book contains many sympathetic characters, including some of its major villains and deals with Hellboy’s struggle to use the legacy of evil that he has inherited to serve and protect.
Contains references to the occult and some minor adult language.
8) Maus and Maus II by Art Spiegelman
These two graphic novels did wonders to get the genre recognized within literary circles. The two books tell the story of a man hearing the tale of his father’s experiences as a Jew during the Holocaust. All characters are portrayed as different animals depending on their nationality. Spiegelman does not shy away from brutal depictions of the attempted extermination of the Jews by the Nazis or the extreme (and sometimes troubling) lengths that the victims could go to in order to survive.
Contains some disturbing scenes of violence and some racist/anti-semitic language.
7) WE3 by Grant Morrison
This is a collection of a three issue mini-series from a few years ago. Three animals (a dog, a cat, and a rabbit) are outfitted with cybernetic exo-skeletons and advanced weapon systems by the U. S. military. They are trained as assassins by a doctor who lets them free when she is unable to reconcile the needs of the military with cruelty to other living things. The three animals make their way across the country, trying to escape their human captors. The military begins pursuing them to save an investment in money, but eventually realizes that they must also protect the innocent humans that the animals encounter. This story explores the moral grey area of animal testing and the dangers that weapons can be to innocent bystanders.
Contains numerous scenes of violence.
6) Blankets by Craig Thompson
Thompson tells a semi-autobiographical story of growing up in a conservative Christian community. Two middle-school aged boys learn to negotiate the desires of their parents with their own needs for self-expression and their budding interest in girls. We follow them from their hometown to a Christian Youth summer camp. Thompson deals with issues of family expectations, accepting the faith of others, and determining one’s own faith.
Contains some adult language and frank (though well-balanced) discussions of the validity of conservative religious upbringings.
5) Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Web comics are very quickly becoming a major fad within a number of age groups. This is a collection of the first series of publications by Jeff Kinney about a middle school boy making his oblivious way through life. The dialogue and stories are amazingly realistic. Kinney writes like my 10-year-old brother, and his character is completely clueless. The light humor is used to portray the awkward middle school years and children’s places in the family and the community. Students who enjoy this book can read weekly web-published material containing the same characters and stories.
Contains some comical mischief.
4) Batman: The Long Halloween by Jeph Loab and Tim Sale
Everyone knows Batman. Here we have a reprint of an early 1990s story arc that retells the origin of Two-Face, one of his better known villains. This is a much more direct detective story than the typical Batman fare. Loab and Sale spend much of the story exploring the various villains of Gotham City, often portraying them in a much more humanized light than in the past. We see Batman reach out to a few of them out of charity and a desire for companionship. We also see him kick some serious butt and drive around in his flashy car with his flashy weapons. The plot is very intricate for a typical superhero mag and actually expects the reader to pay attention to details and think.
Contains some violence.
3) Violent Cases by Neal Gaiman
This beautifully (and I mean BEAUTIFULLY!) illustrated graphic novel is set up as Gaiman explaining a strangely fractured memory from his early childhood. Through a serious of flashbacks, Gaiman pieces together memories of a doctor who strangely resembles Albert Einstein (and tells great stories about Al Capone), his father (always depicted from the shoulders down), and an amusing group of children (who occasionally pay some attention to the protagonist). The story delves in the unreliability of memory and the way that adults sometimes overly romanticizes their younger years as children roll their eyes at yet another story of “the good old days.”
Contains some mild adult language.
2) Zero Girl by Sam Keith
Playing around with the idea of the teenaged superhero, Keith tells a story about an outcast girl who suddenly realizes that she has some strange super powers when she is in contact with round objects. Using power derived from the proximity of abandoned tires and drink coasters, she battles the bullies at her school and nurses a secret crush on one of her teachers. The story eventually becomes a mystery to determine the source of her odd powers and the context of memory of blood on a circular tea doily. Keith’s story deals with the trials of growing up, the pain of unrequited (and immature) love, and the simultaneous desires to belong and to stand out.
Contains some violence and some adult language.
1) Bone: One Volume Edition by Jeff Smith
Bone is the story of three cartoon cousins who get run out of their hometown and find themselves in a Lord of the Rings inspired fantasy land filled with dragons, knights, and old women who race (as in see who can run faster) against cows. The quirky story has a huge cast of characters and a very unique art style that blends cartoon-y Sunday comic strips with more detailed graphic novel styles. This epic and imaginative story deals with friendship and responsibility, and the consequences that secrets can have on families. The story gradually blooms from the zany exploits of a group of cute, fuzzy animals and humorous characters to a pretty serious tale of adventure and children growing into their (initially) unwanted responsibilities.
Contains some scary scenes.