My love for comics and graphic novels has definitely been given to me by my big brother who has always been a self-professed superhero and comic book geek and who’s encyclopaedic knowledge of anything Marvel, DC or graphic novels could rival Seth from The O.C.
From endless mornings from our childhood spent building the X-Mansion out of wooden bricks to imaginary games of superheroes, his amazing illustrations and drawings to Marvel movie marathons aplenty, his love for all things comics has certainly rubbed off on me over the years and since starting life as a bookseller my love for graphic novels has just grown. So here is a (longer than anticipated) list of my top graphic novels featuring diverse characters, storylines and authors. Because graphic novels really are a place where celebrating individuality and imagination is what it’s all about!
- Ms Marvel by G. Willow Wilson, Adrian Alphona and Jacob Wyatt
Kamala Khan: self-professed gamer and superhero geek is 16 years old, a first generation Muslim Pakistani-American who lives with her strict but loving family in New Jersey USA. Life as a teenager can be pretty hard at times especially when you feel like you don’t fit in but with her two closest friends Bruno Carrelli and Nakia Bahadir by her side, she manages to (on the whole) survive high-school life, but when Kamala is exposed to Terrigen Mist she is thrown into the world of superpowers. Having been obsessed with Carol Danvers a.k.a Captain Marvel since childhood, the prospect of developing superpowers sounds pretty cool in theory, yet Kamala soon realises that it comes with it’s own complications. Trying to understand her newly developed powers of polymorphing which includes her being able to change shape, size and the ability to heal takes a bit of getting used to, all the while hiding it from her family and friends, dealing with normal teenage stuff and trying to get her head around fighting supervillains means that life as a superhero isn’t quite as smooth running as it looks from the sidelines. However with her determination, kind heart and (at times clumsy) heroism, Ms Marvel brings us a fresh new element to the Marvel universe which is full of acceptance, diversity and bloomin’ good adventures as well as hitting on some important topics. With cameos from some well known characters that we all love and with multi-layered stories, Ms Marvel is by far one of my most favourite superheroes to date and I can’t wait to see where her TV adaption starring Iman Vellani as Kamala will take us!
Featured themes: BAME Characters|Diversity|Cross Cultures|Lgbt|Society
2. Runaways by Brian K. Vaughan, Adrian Alphona and Takeshi Miyazawa (2003-2005) and Rainbow Rowell, Kris Anka and Matthew Wilson (2018-current)
Runaways was my first proper graphic novel series that I got into thanks to my brother recommending it to me one grey Saturday when we spent hours meandering the shelves at Forbidden Planet in old London Town. Runaways follows the lives of 6 teenagers who discover one night their parents true identities as the secret criminal society better known as The Pride. Nico, Karolina, Gertrude, Molly, Alex and Chase form their own mismatched family on the run, determined to make amends for their parents actions and free themselves from the false lives that their parents have laid before them. But finding out their parent’s had a duel life wasn’t the only thing that the kids discovered that night – they also found out that some of them have hidden superpowers and abilities. No longer chained by their parents control, the teenagers start on their own adventures throughout the Marvel Universe and carve a path uniquely their own whilst trying to escape the shadow of their parents actions. However life on the road comes with it’s own trials and tribulations and with odd happenings it looks as though someone mightn’t be too well trusted…
Funny, dramatic and with awesome characters including a telepathic dinosaur named Old Lace (can you get any cooler than that?!) there’s really not much not to love about this series!
Featured themes: BAME Characters|Lgbt|Society|Family|Diversity|Adolescent Growing Pains
3. Lighter than my Shadow by Katie Green
Lighter than my Shadow is a graphic novel that I stumbled upon in a Greenwich bookshop about five years ago and from the very first page I was captured. The graphic novel is a memoir about the authors life as a child, teenager and young adult and deals with her struggles with anorexia, mental health, sexual abuse and general growing pains of adolescence. Although the topics throughout the book are serious ones the book itself isn’t depressing or explicit; all of the themes that are dealt with are done so with honesty, courage and kindness.
When I read this book I had been through many a year of climbing metaphorical mountains fighting my ocd each day, and although I’ve not experienced the things that the author has, her representation of her struggles with mental illnesses was something that I could really relate to; the isolation, confusion, fear, frustration, guilt, shame and tiredness faced everyday as well as the moments of triumphs, times of relapse and wobbly steps on the road of recovery gave me comfort and strength, and I can only imagine the helping hand that this book will give others who have gone through much more similar experiences to the author, as well as helping the people who are on the sidelines watching a loved one go through these horrible situations.
With brilliantly accessible storytelling, simple yet detailed black and white illustrations with a hint of colour differentiating each chapter, this graphic novel memoir of mental health, self-acceptance, recovery and pure courage is for me, one of the best graphic novels around, and so if I could recommend just a handful of books, this would definitely be up there with some of my top picks.
Featured themes: Mental Health|Eating Disorders|Sexual Abuse|Growing Pains|Relationships|Recovery
4. The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan, Pia Guercio and Jose Marzan Jr.
Now I think it’s safe to say that this year more than any other before has given us a good idea at what a worldwide apocalypse might feel like, so I totally get if you want something a bit more cheery and a little less end-of-the-world but it’s got to be said that Brian K. Vaughan’s creation The Last Man is a dystopian graphic novel series that is as entertaining as it is thought-provoking and is pure science fiction magic.
Set in modern day America this saga starts with a mass “gendercide” in which every human and mammal with a Y chromosome suddenly collapse and dies, all apart from one young man named Yorick and his pet monkey Ampersand for unknown reason. With the world thrown into chaos, mourning and confusion, Earth is left to be run by females alone which causes a ripple effect of revolution and change. Yet when Yorick is discovered on his travels to try to get to his girlfriend half the world away, rumours of this male is let loose and Yorick is a target every which way he looks, and not always for the reasons you may think. This fast-paced and thought-provoking gender themed tale is one of a kind which looks at society, democracy, feminism, patriarchy, politics and power and yet still manages to be funny and extremely entertaining. This series has gotten it’s hype for a reason.
Featured themes: Gender|Politics|Society|Feminism|BAME Characters
5. Pumpkin Heads by Rainbow Rowell, Faith Erin Hicks and Sarah Stern
Autumn. Halloween night. Pumpkin farm. Two best friends. A whole lot of s’mores. A timed mission. Rainbow Rowell – could we ask for more?
With cosiness, humour and charm, this autumnal graphic novel gives you all the feelings of the best bits of the season and will leave you longing for an afternoon at a pumpkin farm for sure! It kept me laughing throughout and I found myself completely wrapped up in these two best friends story. I also loved that Deja is bi as there aren’t that many books out there yet that focuses on characters like herself so I love Rainbow Rowell just a little bit more now! All in all, Pumpkin Heads is a great book and gifts every reader a little mini-break to the best time of year.
Featured themes: Lgbt|Stereotypes|Friendship}Relationships
6. Lumberjanes by Noelle Stevenson, Grace Ellis, Shannon Waters and Brooke Allen
Meet the residents of Roanoke Cabin at Miss Qiunzella Thiskwin Penniquiqul Thistle Crumpet’s Camp for Hardcore Lady-Types: April, Jo, Mal, Molly, Ripley and their camp councillor Jen. Join them on their many adventures and tasks to collect all of their Lumberjane badges. Hilarious, at times a little random but wholly loveable and full of lighthearted wonderfulness, this is my go-to comic series for when I need a bit of cheering up and a good dose of pure happy escapism! Encompassed in friendship, diversity and a love for nature and adventure (with a hint of the fantastical), this girl-power series is the perfect antidote to grey days. And for the hardcore fans of Lumberjanes check out the novels written by Mariko Tamaki and illustrator of the graphic novel series, Brooklyn Allen.
Featured themes: Lgbt|BAME Characters|Girl-Power|Friendship to the Max
7. Heartstopper by Alice Oseman
Having gained momentous popularity as a webcomic here in the UK, Alice Oseman’s Heartstopper has rightly found it’s place amongst the most popular current graphic novels, especially for the YA audience. Following the lives of our two teenage protagonists – Nick and Charlie, we see their friendship blossom into love. But with first loves comes all sorts of confusion, awkwardness and bumps along the way, and even more so when you’re trying to find your path in life and your sexual identity. But with humour, good friends and each other, Nick and Charlie are determined to work things out.
Heartstopper is a beautiful observation of the innocence and wonder that encompasses first love as well as giving many teens and young people a safe space to feel seen and to identify with. It’s not only a great comic but one that’s finally bought a lovely mainstream lgbt rom-com for all.
Featured themes: Lgbt|Diversity|Bullying
8. Scott Pilgrim by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Scott Pilgrim isn’t in need of much introduction but I had to include it on this list. I chain-read these comics a few years ago and loved every page. Funny and quirky, the story of Scott, Ramona, The Sex Bob-omb’s and the dreaded Seven Evil Exes is random, unique and a whole lot of awesome!
Featured themes: Lgbt|Relationships|Early Adulthood
9. Giant Days by John Allison, Lissa Treiman, Max Sarin and Whitney Cogar
In this Sheffield University based graphic novel series, we meet three new housemates who soon become firm friends whilst sharing their first year of uni life together. I never experienced uni life myself but this series which is hilarious and full of drama gave me a taster as to how I imagine UK uni life is like (with maybe a hint of poetic licence here and there). The three friends find themselves fighting freshers flu, dodging exes, balancing classes and jobs, endeavouring to make the most their freedom and trying to make sense of this new found responsibility that we call adulthood. For me it’s one of the best current series out there which will have you laughing at their clumsiness, misfortunes and triumphs as they walk with both trepidation and excitement into the unknown realm of university life.
Featured themes: Friendship|Lgbt|Relationships|Society|Feminism|UK Culture
10. Gotham Academy by Becky Cloonan, Brenden Fletcher and Karl Kerschl
Set in the prestigious school of Gotham Academy where only the brightest students are welcomed, we enter the DC universe with a difference lens. Having returned to school after the summer break from which she’s been recovering from amnesia after a mysterious incident, Olive Silverlock has a lot on her plate and she’s not in a good mood about it either. Not only is she trying to piece together how she now feels, but she’s got the job of mentoring the newest student to Gotham Academy – Maps Mizoguchi who turns out is her exes little sister. And Maps is no ordinary kid either; equipped with a keen sense of adventure, solving mysteries and just general excitement for life amongst the Academy walls, Olive faces one heck of a challenge when trying to work out not only what strange things are happening to her, but also to not let Maps go completely detective when it’s revealed that there are some ghostly happenings and secret society rituals going around campus, all on top of keeping her cool with her ex and the people she supposes she should class as friends.
Wonderfully illustrated and coloured, this series is part cosy, part spooky, 100% entertaining and is a great gateway for younger readers as well as a lot of fun for any Batman fan. Having been reviewed as “…a little bit Harry Potter, with a wee touch of manga-inspired storytelling…” and having “…an old ghost-story feel and kid friendly appeal…[Gotham Academy has] mysteries that run deep into Gotham’s lore and also Batmans own history.” it’s hard not to enjoy the escapism it provides and the extra backstories into one of the most loved superhero universes.
[Side note: If you enjoy this series, check out the collaboration Gotham Academy made with the Lumberjanes creators. Who doesn’t love a bit of world mixing that end in more adventures and gallivanting?!]
Featured themes: Mental Health|BAME Characters|Stigma|Family
11. Moonstruck by Grace Ellis, Shae Beagle, Kate Leth, Lauren McCubbin, Caitlin Quirk and Clayton Cowles
If you’re in need of some pure escapist, magical romance with a good helping of adventure then look no further! Co-created by one of the Lumberjanes creators – Grace Ellis, this cute and cosy series is set in a small college town called Blitherton where humans and fantasy creatures alike live side by side, including werewolf Julie who works as a barista with her best friend Chet. But when Julie goes on her first date with fellow werewolf and girlfriend-to-be Selena, events turn disastrously upside-down when a untrustworthy magician casts a evil spell on Chet.
With the wonderfully stylised illustrations by the awesome Shae Beagle, coupled with great atmosphere and world building alongside an array of awesome characters, Moonstruck makes for a delightful dose of comic book fun.
Featured themes: Lgbt|BAME Characters|Diversity
12. Blankets by Craig Thompson
Blankets is a graphic novel memoir of the authors first few chapters in life. Touching from moments in his childhood through to his early adulthood, Craig Thompson takes us on a honest and open account of his adolescence, family, relationship with religion and his first love. There are some pretty deep topics covered in this graphic novel and a lot of emotion too. His illustrations are captivating, his story eye-opening and thought provoking. This tome of a graphic novel is one to savour and really is a piece of art!
Featured themes: Religion|Disabilities|Sexual Abuse|Relationships|Culture|Family
13. Nimona by Noelle Stevenson
From the creator of Lumberjanes comes a comic wrapped in genius. This was one of my first graphic novels I bought as a bookseller and was my gateway into rediscovering my love for comics. Complete with trademark wit, adventure, quirkiness and diverse outlook, our shapeshifting protagonist of this story Nimona, alongside supervillain Lord Ballister Blackheart are on a mission to get vengeance and wreak some havoc on Sir Ambrosius Goldenloin and the Institution of Law enforcement and Heroics to show the world that he and his team may not be quite who they think they are! Stevenson’s ability to create this well rounded, humorous, entertaining and symbolic story is apparent by the first few pages and by the end of the book you’ll just be wanting to read more of her work!
Featured themes: Disability|Lgbt|Stereotypes|Diversity
14. El Deafo by Cece Bell
Following the authors experience of becoming deaf after contracting meningitis at the age of four, Cece Bell brings us a light, empathetic and simply told graphic novel that’s great for both kids and adults alike. Starting with Cece’s diagnosis and following her through her young life where friendships, school and pretty much everything gets jumbled up with the challenges of her new disability, the reader is taken on a story of determination, kindness, hard work, adaption and courage. Not only is it a great story in it’s own right but it also makes the reader walk in Cece’s shoes for a while and experience just a smidgen of what it must be like to have a hearing impairment or any other disability for that matter, in a world that is so geared up for the lucky majority who don’t have to face such difficulties daily. The best books make us consider life from another persons perspective, and this one does just that!
[If you’d like to find out more about the author and her books, visit her website where there are some awesome videos and extra goodies to discover! https://cecebell.wordpress.com]
Featured Themes: Disability|Bullying
15. Plutona by Jeff Lemire, Emi Lenox and Jordie Bellaire
What would you do if you and your four friends discovered the dead body of the worlds most famous superhero? Well that’s exactly what these five kids have to figure out in this pretty awesome comic. When I read Plutona a few years back it gave me feelings of an old 80’s comic with a hint of Stephen King and a little bit of Stranger Things. A really good and well illustrated mystery-come-adventure about five adolescence who are tested and pushed to their boundaries in this spin on a childhood idea of meeting your hero, it’s just that this time it’s not quite in the way that they expected…
Featured Themes: BAME Characters|Diversity|Adolescence
16. This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki
This One Summer written by cousins and artistic extraordinaires Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, is set over (you’ve guessed it) one summer, following the lives of two young girls on the brink of adolescence. Having spent most of their childhood summers together at Awago Beach, Rose and Windy are thick as thieves and enjoying their freedom together swimming, laughing and getting into mischief has always been the perfect way to spend their long sunny days; but it’s a funny old thing growing up, and the bridge between being a kid and being a teenager can be a confusing and darn awkward time full of questions which makes this summer a little bit different from all the rest so far. But just because things are changing, doesn’t mean they can’t still have fun along the way.
Featuring some important topics and realistic characters, this tale of two girls who are growing up is bought together with wonderful illustrations and a great colour palette. Most likely to make you long for lazy August days this coming-of-age story will definitely help many young girls who are working things out to feel a little bit more understood.
Featured themes: Lgbt|Diveristy|Female Adolescence|Family
17. Faith by Jody Houser, Francis Portela, Marguerite Sauvage and Andrew Dalhouse
Faith Herbert is the superhero we’ve been waiting for! At night she’s busy patrolling the night skies of L.A as Zephyr using her ‘psiot’ superpowers, whilst during the day she spends her hours incognito working as a journalist (which sounded a lot more fun in comparison to the reality of writing up cat video articles), but nonetheless she takes her responsibilities as a superhero and citizen with pride. But things start to get a little trickier when mundane crimes of villains and robbers turn into a potential extraterrestrial invasion. Thieves, villains and robbers – fine, but the thought of a aliens…well, that’s a whole different ball game.
With great artwork and a superhero who walks in her body with pride, Faith: Hollywood and Vine is the first instalment in this awesome superheroes adventures.
Featured themes: Body positivity|Diversity
18. Misfit City by Kirsten ‘Kiwi’ Smith, Kurt Lustgarten, Naomi Franquiz, Brittany Peer and Jim Campbell
Ok so if the following sentence doesn’t make you want to read this comic, I don’t know what will: ‘From the Writer of Legally Blonde and 10 Things I Hate About You…’. That’s right – a graphic novel by the writer of not just the amazing movie that is 10 Things I Hate About You but also the creator of the Ms Elle Woods has made a graphic novel, and I can honestly say it stands up to expectation (although it’s got a vibe that’s uniquely it’s own)!
Wilder, her friends and her dog named Pippin live in a small town where the only life that passes by is that of a steady stream of film buffs who visit the town for its claim to fame as the film set to a 1980s cult movie ‘The Gloomies’. Bored and with not much to do, our mismatch gaggle of best friends stumble upon a centuries-old pirate map made my someone called Black Mary. But surely this can’t be real…or can it?
Atmospheric, charismatic and full of fun I loved everything about this graphic novel and cannot wait to read more!
Featured themes: Diversity|BAME Characters|Lgbt|Female Friendship
19. Illegal by Eoin Colfer and Andrew Donkin
Written by bestselling children’s author of the Artemis Fowl series, Eoin Colfer tells the story of a young boy named Ebo. For months his siblings have started to disappear on a journey that is said to end in hope, yet Ebo is left to decide whether to take the hazardous and dangerous journey to safety where refuge could be found. Yet finding refuge is one of the hardest things to do when the cruelness of the world is so easily tasted at every turn; but with bundles of courage and hope can Ebo find his family and a place to start their new life together?
Timely, eye-opening, important and not without some good-natured humour, this graphic novel is one that I hope will one day be one found in every school and library.
Featured themes: BAME Characters|Refugee Crisis|Family|Equality
20. March Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell
Written by the Congressman himself, along with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, John Lewis has created this award-winning trilogy of graphic novels depicting his life as an activist and politician. From times where segregation was vastly spread in America up to more modern times, March isn’t just recommended and held in high regard by a myriad of politicians, sociologists and bookworms, but it’s also made the mark to be studied at school in the USA, which is quite an achievement indeed, especially as it’s format is graphic novel – I don’t think I could name another one being studied in schools if I tried! I myself was recommended it by a bookseller friend that I used to work with as it is her favourite graphic novel, so although I’ve yet to read it, I know that the recommendation for this last book on my list is worthy of the praise it gets and I endeavour to read it amongst the rest of my teetering tbr pile for this year!
Featured themes: Racism|Activism|Politics|Society|Civil Rights|American History
So it seems I’ve whittled on for way too long and in fear of completely boring you (if I haven’t already), I’ll leave this weeks blog here. I have however put a bonus list below of recommendations featuring a great array of diverse comics and graphic novels that I’ve mostly not gotten round to picking up yet but have heard great things about.
- Motor Crush by Brenden Fletcher, Cameron Stewart and Bobs Tarr
- White Bird by R.J. Palacio
- Young Avengers by Gillen, McKelvie, Norton and Wilson
- Prez by Russell, Caldwell, Morales and Lawson
- Awkward and Brave by Svetlana Chmakova
- Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Reeder, Montclare, Bustos and Failla
- The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl by North and Henderson
- Paper Girls by Vaughan, Chiangmai, Wilson and Fletcher
- Miles Morales by Brian Michael Bendis, Sara Pichelli and David Marquez
- Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
- Maus by Art Spiegelman
- Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation by Ari Folman
- They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott
- A Hole in the Heart by Henny Beaumont
- Mighty Jack by Ben Hatke
- Ironheart by Brian Michael Bendis, Mike Deodato, Eve L. Ewing and Kevin Libranda
Thank you for taking the time to read this weeks blog, I hope you’ve enjoyed it and that it’s given you some inspiration for a possible next read. If you’d like more on this topic, take a look at https://classroom.popcultureclassroom.org/blog/opening-doors-for-all-students-comics-featuring-characters-with-disabilities/ – I stumbled upon this website whilst I was researching this blog and they have some great recommendations of books including a lot that I’d never heard of before, so definitely check them out! In the mean time, I hope you’re all keeping well and as chipper as can be in these trying times. Take care and as ever – happy reading!
For more bookish recommendations and adventures from a bookseller you can find me on Instagram @viewsfromabookshop
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