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The Best Graphic Novels You Don’t Know About

by  | July 26

In honor of Graphic Novels month, we wanted to share some amazing, incredible, and slightly slighted books that may not have gotten on your radar yet. Graphic novels sometimes get a bad reputation for being less than traditionally written stories, but over the past five to ten years, many publishing houses and readers are realizing the value of sequential art in telling a complex and engrossing story. Many enthusiasts knows about Persepolis and Maus, some of the forerunners of the genre, and those are amazing works in their own right, but this list is about the books that are a little more underground, either because they are pubbed by a small publishing house, they belong to a niche market, or their distribution and study are less commonplace.

Before we get to it, let’s hear it for independent publishers who go out of their way to invest in sequential and comic art! There has been a renaissance in the genre for comic anthologies. Independent artists will collaborate to collect sequential art, usually around a theme or political movement, and then use Kickstarter to generate funds for publication. Although I am an avid collector of comic anthologies, I’ve left my library of such titles off this list, but still want to include a few shout-outs to some of my favorite books in this category, giving voice to under-represented perspectives in comic arts: 

Besides the books listed below, there are obviously many, many more underrated comic books out there, but I chose these because of my attachment to them, the complex nature of both the subject matter and its artistic interpretation, and because these books are complete and total stories, not held within a series. I love a good comic, and these books are a great place to get started or to rekindle a new love for the genre. Now, on to the best graphic novels that you need to know about:

On A Sunbeam

On A Sunbeam

by Tillie Walden

This wildly queer, trans-inclusive space fantasy set in a mechanical, archaic, ruined Wonderland of stars, family, boarding schools, and mysterious time-fluxes is, without a doubt, an opus. On a Sunbeam is a love story set in space, but more than that, it’s a story about being human, being a friend, and finding family where you least expect it. This beautiful, touching, haunting piece was remarkably published in its entirety online before being bound in print.

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Persephone

Persephone

by Loic Locatelli-Kournwsky

Finally, a retelling of the Persephone myth that doesn’t involve a girl falling in love with an old man. (Sorry guys, any way you spin that story, it’s a no from me.) Instead, we follow a young Persephone, who gets an A in Botany and fails Physics, and her mother, the great Mage, Demeter the Fierce, who reside in a version of Eleusis (Elysium) that looks a lot like an antique version of modern Paris. They travel down to Hades to end ages-old feuds, to understand the people that live in a cursed land, and to embark on a journey to discover why the magic has been dying. This book’s art style is loose, magical, and lovely, and perfect for fans of filmmaker Miyazaki’s work.

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About Betty's Boob

About Betty's Boob

by Vero Cazot

Don’t let the funny name fool you. This is a graphic novel about a woman who loses a breast to cancer, and then her job in the aftermath, and then her partner after surgery. All of it comes crashing down on her, but...she stands back up. She reclaims her body, her mind, and her heart. This book’s imagery is an unflinching reflection of the normality and horror of cancer, what it does to your body and your life. This is also a graphic novel that is told almost entirely without dialogue, and what the writer and artist manage to convey with a limited palette of colors and few to no words is absolutely breathtaking.

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Eternal

Eternal

by Ryan K. Lindsay, Eric Zawadzki, Dee Cunniffe, Jim Campbell

This is a story that is sure to haunt you. The ending feels like a new beginning, and after you finish you only want to re-read it. It’s not nearly as mired in the politic of the modern day, and provides an intimate, deep look at life and loss. Set in the Viking era, in an indeterminate place, Eternal is the tale of a shieldmaiden who must protect her home after all the men have died. She and her warriors stand in the face of raiders and druids who would kill everything in their path to get the meager supplies the women have hoarded for winter. The art and story are amazing and surreal, and the portrait of an unapologetic warrior that is not tied to traditional notions of masculinity is unique and fantastic.

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Amazing Fantastic Incredible

Amazing Fantastic Incredible

by Stan Lee

It’s hard to put forward a list of graphic novels and not include something that Stan Lee had a part in. Amazing Fantastic Incredible is here not only because it is about Stan Lee, but because it’s written by the legend himself. Part industry tell-all, part personal memoir, this graphic novel follows Stan Lee from his humble beginnings in Washington Heights right up to his cameo appearance in the Marvel movies. It’s an abbreviated look at Lee’s work in the comics industry, but it’s a pretty amazing (fantastic, incredible) story of perseverance and passion too. If you’re a fan of any kind of comics, this book will have something to share with you.

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Victor LaValle's Destroyer

Victor LaValle's Destroyer

by Victor LaValle

This book is a horror/thriller from the mind of the great storyteller Victor LaValle. LaValle is well-known for taking stories rooted in our cultural consciousness and reworking them from a modern political point of view. (In 2016 he won the Shirley Jackson Award for Best Novella for The Ballad of Black Tom, which told the H. P. Lovecraft tale The Horror at Red Hook from the perspective of a black bystander.) Destroyer takes Frankenstein to the next, new, terrifying level. After her young black son is the victim of police violence, a brilliant doctor uses nanotechnology to bring him (terrifyingly) back to life, following in the footsteps of the research left behind by the eponymous Doctor Frankenstein. This is definitely not a book for the faint of heart, as it’s an unflinching look at the political landscape and the complexities everyone is capable of.

 

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Fun Home

Fun Home

by Alison Bechdel

A classic of the genre, although not as ubiquitous as Persepolis or Maus, Fun Home is often looked over in favor of the play inspired by the original. First published in the mid-2000s, the graphic novel quickly became a staple and stalwart reference of the queer revolution in graphic novels. This book has the distinction of being banned from both high school and collegiate libraries across the United States, a relatively remarkable feat. A poignant, unflinching look at a family drama, where Alison comes to terms with her sexuality under the wing of her own closeted father, Fun Home is an anthem to trauma, recovery, and the legacy of inter-generational relationships. If you want an intro to Alison Bechdel’s wit and queer insight, check out the comic strip she authored for twenty years, “Dykes to Watch Out For.”

 

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Mis(h)adra

Mis(h)adra

by Iasmin Omar Ata

Not for the faint of heart, this book follows a college student as he struggles with epilepsy, social obligations, schoolwork, hospital visits, and even suicidal ideation. This raw look at both mental illness and disabling seizures is a must-read, visualizing the fight against depression as a duality of self and a crisscrossing of knives in the dark. The title is a play on the Arabic word for “seizure,” misadra, and the slang phrase mish adra, which means “I cannot.” This struggle, between what happens and what Isaac wants, is explored in the book, and perfectly shows what happens when you don’t have the right words for the things that hurt you. Dramatic, unique, topical, Mis(h)adra is at the intersection of a new movement of graphic novels.

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