The Best Graphic Novels... According to Alan Kennedy

As a kid, I used to pour over Herge's "Tintin" series. Those books were like two books in one; I spent the same amount of time on the story as I did studying the drawings, and I marvelled at the special way they allowed me to travel all over the world. The graphic novel is a format which can present a story in a resonant and satisfying way under the hands of a skilled storyteller/artist.

These days, thanks to groundbreaking work by people like Art Spiegelman, Will Eisner, and Harvey Pekar, the format has been elevated and is recognized as a unique art form often targeted to adult readers. Many still focus on a superhero theme, and the worldwide popularity of manga and other Japanese styles has been influential. This list, however, focuses (with one exception) on the more personal/confessional style of graphic novel.

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth

by Francois Voltaire

Quite simply, this book is a masterpiece — not just in the graphic novel genre, but, in my opinion, the "book" genre. Extraordinarily detailed color drawings chronicle (non-chronologically) the Corrigan family living in the American Midwest from the 1880's to the 1980's. Some of the drawings are heartbreaking — how can a picture be both detailed and stark? Ware manages that. You will find yourself gazing for a long time at little pictures, marveling at what Ware is able to convey within the limitations of the graphic novel format. His depiction of family relationships is cringe-worthy and realistic, and he is especially good at conveying the passage of time.

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This book also appears on Time Magazine's Top 10 Graphic Novels

 
 
Blankets

Blankets

by Craig Thompson

582(!) pages and you won't put it down. A very personal, confessional tale about growing up in a fundamentalist Christian family and being conflicted about love, religion, and past regrets — drawn in an almost cinematic style, all black & white. I have never met anyone who read this book and was not taken with it.

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Black Hole

Black Hole

by Charles Burns

A satisfyingly strange story about a bizarre plague that befalls Seattle-area teens in the 1970's. It's filled with sex, drugs, and odd bodily disfigurements. His drawings are foreboding and white-against-black. Like all great graphic novels, the art is as beguiling as the story.

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It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken

by Seth

Almost every single drawing in this book could be blown up and hung on the wall as its own work of art. Seth has a very distinctive, nostalgia-heavy, old-fashioned black & white style which is very appealing. The story and drawings are inspired by the chilly desolation of urban and suburban Canada, and underscored by a love of cartooning.

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Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz

Stop Forgetting to Remember: The Autobiography of Walter Kurtz

by Peter Kuper

A great story about creativity and choices in life that just zooms along. Clearly autobiographical, the art is half black & white, half sepia tone. Kuper has a crude drawing style which incorporates photographs and homages to other artists and comics like R. Crumb, Archie... even Richie Rich.

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American Born Chinese

American Born Chinese

by Gene Luen Yang

On the surface the story seems like a humorous fantasy about Chinese-American identity, but by the end the reader realizes that this is a touching, poignant story, very well-told. It moves back-and-forth — with colorful, stylized drawings — between Chinese folklore and a modern-day tale. Not only is it about personal identity, but also stereotypes, teen life, and in a broader sense, the Asian-American experience. But it is so well-told (with a cool twist at the end) and well-drawn, that any reader will get something out of it.

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Watchmen

Watchmen

by Alan Moore, illustrated by Dave Gibbons

Kind of like "The Incredibles" without the humor but with trippy artwork. The ultimate "superhero" story, taking its inspiration from all that came before it in that genre. A truly imaginative narrative about the burdens of both power and nostalgia, with super-saturated color drawings and heavy themes.

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This book also appears on Time Magazine's Top 10 Graphic Novels

 
 
The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale

by Art Spiegelman

Maybe the most famous graphic novel of all, and deservedly so. A watershed, Pulitzer-prize winner about Jewish life under the Nazis, moving from Poland to Queens, and based on the author's own family. The Jews are mice, the Nazi's are cats, and the book is maybe the most engaging book ever written about the horrors of the Holocaust and its aftermath among the European Jewish diaspora.

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