A Course in Comics | Collection Development: Graphic Novels & Nonfiction

The explosion of artistic expression and the breadth of subject matter in the current comics scene are astounding, so libraries can reflect their patron mix, emphasize diverse experiences, and provide popular works alongside those ripe for discovery. These 27 titles are the tip of the graphic iceberg.


The explosion of artistic expression and the breadth of subject matter in the current comics scene are astounding. In fact, it is entirely possible to create a microcosm of your library within the graphic novel collection that reflects your patronage, emphasizes diverse experiences, and provides popular works alongside titles ripe for discovery. The balance will look different from library to library, but there are a few things to keep in mind when building an effective core collection.

Style & substance

Graphic novels creators come from many backgrounds, and this is reflected in the stories they tell and the art they create. Seek out titles that challenge expectations of the format and expand readers’ horizons. For example, Luke Pearson’s children’s series “Hilda” has an artistic impact on par with Brecht Evens’s high-concept Panther. Graphic memoirs can provide perspective on world events. Riad Sattouf’s “The Arab of the Future” trilogy tells the history of the author’s uneasy Syrian childhood. Many readers know manga well but not always its broad potential—Shigeru Mizuki’s Showa provides a detailed multivolume history of modern Japan. Consider the literal world of cartoonists as you craft your holdings. Politics, history, science, journalism, immigration, philosophy, and true crime are but a few subjects recounted in graphic format—if there’s a college course about it, there’s probably a comic about it, too.

Cultivating the collection

In the world of comics, where ongoing story lines develop over the course of a series of individual single issues, Marvel and DC are superhero stalwarts, while Vertigo, Image, Dark Horse, and Fanta­graphics trend toward envelope-pushing and experimentation. One-off graphic novels are largely the province of independent publishers such as Canada-based Drawn & Quarterly and the UK’s NoBrow. Imprints supported by major publishing houses, such as Macmillan’s First Second and Penguin Random House’s Pantheon, choose titles thoughtfully for wide appeal. Niche publishers such as Microcosm and self-published works may also fit well in the collection—personal voice holds a special appeal in graphic novels.

Combining comics classics with lesser-known works will also add richness. New entries often reflect on or expand upon themes in older works. Some examples include pairing Holocaust stories such as Art Spiegelman’s Maus with Jérémie Dres’s Polish pilgrimage We Won’t See Auschwitz, or coupling Linda Medley’s sweet epic Castle Waiting with Noelle Stevenson’s giddy fantasy Nimona.

Collect with an eye to various audiences, from prereaders to adults. Graphic novels are often separated into adult, YA, and children’s, with more mature (often sexual or violent) content in the realm of older readers. Often­times, challenging subjects may be approached more easily in graphic format, while children’s materials may have artistic appeal for the most sophisticated reader. Clear signage, accessible shelving, and cross-department recommendations will encourage readers to use the collection to its fullest.

Starred (redstar) titles are essential purchases for most libraries.

Emilia Packard, MLIS, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, has worked in a variety of libraries and archives. Her deep dive into graphic novels began when she read Craig Thompson’s Blankets, and she never looked back. An LJ reviewer since 2012 and a 2014 Reviewer of the Year, she resides in Austin, TX, where she reads and reviews countless comics while caring for her two young children

(Mostly) Nonfiction

Czerwiec, MK. Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371. Pennsylvania State Univ. (Graphic Medicine). Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780271078182. pap. $29.95.

With simple, even amateur panels and wise words, Czerwiec reveals a hospital at the heart of the AIDS crisis. Working as a nurse on a unit for AIDS patients, she and her colleagues helped patients die, celebrated life, and strove to combat the poorly understood disease. Cathartic and clinical, often simultaneously.

Goodwin, Michael (text) & Dan E. Burr (illus.). Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn’t Work), in Words and Pictures. Abrams. 2012. 304p. bibliog. index. ISBN 9780810988392. pap. $19.95.

Visual learning happens in charts, graphs, and time lines, and integrating quantitative visuals with cartoon-paced narrative can be a boon for both, if done with a bit of flair. Presenting a rich, entertaining history of economics from its philosophical beginnings to the 2009 housing crisis, this title shines a humorous, informative light on a complicated field of study. (LJ 11/15/12)

Guibert, Emmanuel & others. The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders. First Second. 2009. 288p. tr. from French by Alexis Siegel. ISBN 9781596433755. pap. $34.99.

This dense diary of photojournalist ­Didier Lefèvre’s 1986 trek through rural Afghanistan with the nonprofit Doctors Without Borders is an impressive example of comics journalism. Guibert’s incisive, studied illustrations document the war-torn region, revealing good intentions to help the underserved that turn, sharply, into a struggle for survival. (SLJ 7/09)

Modan, Rutu. The Property. Drawn & Quarterly. 2013. 232p. ISBN 9781770461154. $24.95.

Stories of turmoil in modern Israel meet their antecedents in this generational journey: a woman accompanies her grandmother to Warsaw, Poland, to reclaim property she abandoned when fleeing the Nazis. There, they are faced with the challenges of reclaiming the past.

Moore, Dan Méndez. Six Days in Cincinnati: A Graphic Account of the Riots That Shook the Nation a Decade Before Black Lives Matter. Microcosm. (Comix Journalism). Jun. 2017. 96p. ISBN 9781621068006. pap. $11.95.

This personal perspective on protests against police brutality in 2001 demands that we see how history repeats itself and how deep are the roots of systemic oppression. With a zine-like style featuring community voices, this reissue demonstrates comics’ potential for calling out injustice and sparking social change. (Xpress Reviews 4/14/17)

redstarSpiegelman, Art. The Complete Maus: A Survivor’s Tale. Pantheon. 1996. 296p. ISBN 9780679406419. $35.

Spiegelman’s seminal work recounts his father’s Holocaust experience, with cats representing Nazis and mice as Jews in block print–like illustrations. The animal stand-ins offer an illusory distance between the reader and the subject, creating a powerful style that has influenced cartoonists for decades. (SLJ 5/87)

Trotman, C. Spike (text) & Diana Nock (illus.). Poorcraft: The Funnybook Fundamentals of Living Well on Less. Iron Circus. May 2017. 168p. ISBN 9781945820014. pap. $10.

Trotman has created this deceptively light guide in Betty Boop style, with tips on everything from keeping a simple kitchen to living with roommates to affording an education on a miniscule budget. (Xpress Reviews 9/6/13)

(Mostly) Fiction

Abouet, Marguerite (text) & Clement Oubrerie (illus.). Aya: Life in Yop City. Drawn & Quarterly. 2012. 384p. ISBN 9781770460829. pap. $24.95.

Abouet depicts the day-to-day life of an Ivorian teenager in the 1970s—the romantic entanglements and rampant gossip familiar to teens the world over, richly imagined in Oubrerie’s detailed, colorful illustrations of a dusty yet vibrant city life. (LJ 5/15/13)

Camper, Cathy (text) & Raul the Third (illus.). Lowriders in Space. Bk. 1. Chronicle. 2014. 112p. ISBN 9781452128696. pap. $9.99; ebk. ISBN 9781452130507.

A wolf, a mosquito, and an octopus are gearing up to build the greatest low-rider car ever. They fix up a beater with rocket parts and blast off into space—what could possibly go wrong? High-energy heroes, free-flowing Mexican American slang, and tricolor ball-point pen sketches emit the vibe of an extremely creative classroom doodle that will take any reader for a spin. (SLJ 11/14)

Coates, Ta-Nehisi (text) & Brian Stelfreeze & Laura Martin (illus.). Black Panther: A Nation Under Our Feet. Bk. 1. Marvel. 2016. 144p. ISBN 9781302900533. pap. $16.99.

Coates brings his real-world perspective on political machinations and social unrest to bear on this recent revival of the Marvel character. Stelfreeze and Martin enhance the story with their vision of Wakanda, an imaginary African nation approaching turmoil, that blends elements of traditional aesthetic and natural beauty with ultramodern architecture and fantastic technology. (LJ 11/15/16)

redstarEisner, Will. A Contract with God: And Other Tenement Stories. Norton. Mar. 2017. 224p. ISBN 9780393609189. $25.95.

Eisner’s classic, regarded widely as the first graphic novel, collects four stories of tenement life, struggle, and despair in a culturally Yiddish mode—a snapshot of a bygone New York City. His visuals are loosely plotted rather than paneled, with streaming emotions and dramatic perspectives. As intriguing for the conventions it avoids as for the inspiration it provided later artists. (LJ 1/06)

redstarFraction, Matt (text) & Christian Ward (illus.). ODY-C: Cycle One. Image. 2016. 400p. ISBN 9781632159274. $49.99.

Bursting with psychedelic color, this re­imagining of Homer’s Odyssey is set in outer space, with mighty women playing parts traditionally assigned to men. Told in verse, sailing through worlds of unimaginable beauty and unforgettable horror, this lyrical series reinvigorates and reworks the old stories in all their bright madness. (Vol. 1, LJ 9/15/15)

Gaiman, Neil (text) & Sam Kieth & others (illus.). The Sandman. Vol. 1: Preludes and Nocturnes; New Edition. DC. 2010. 240p. ISBN 9781401225759. pap. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401236557.

Gaiman’s prolific series begins with this eight-issue collection starring Morpheus, his sister Death, and an eerie and unpredictable supporting cast. With different issues illustrated by a variety of artists, the work explores the contours of story while weaving its own dark fantasy. (LJ 11/1/03)

Loeb, Jeph (text) & Tim Sale (illus.). Superman for All Seasons: Deluxe Edition. DC. 2014. 224p. ISBN 9781401250782. $29.99.

This iteration of the Superman story captures its wholesome origins with beautiful, retro-style illustrations. Stories touching on Clark Kent’s alien roots, rural upbringing, and youthful encounters with his famous nemeses make this a nostalgic primer on America’s superhero, while offering a new perspective for those well acquainted with the Man of Steel. (Xpress Reviews 1/30/15)

McGuire, Richard. Here. Pantheon. 2014. 304p. ISBN 9780375406508. $35.

Using the intentionally static eye of a graphic designer, McGuire creates an almost wordless house history that mostly focuses on mundane moments, small dramas, and quiet passings of those who made “Here” their home, switching eras from page to page.

Miller, Frank (text) & David Mazzucchelli (illus.). Batman: Year One; Deluxe Edition. DC. 2007. 138p. ISBN 9781401207526. pap. $14.99; ebk. ISBN 9781401235888.

An essential piece in the build-up of the Batman character, this collection combines Miller’s tight noir storytelling with Mazzucchelli’s delightfully nostalgic style for a dark and compelling read. A great introduction to the gloom and glamour of the Dark Knight. (SLJ 5/07)

redstarMizuki, Shigeru. The Birth of Kitaro. Drawn & Quarterly. 2016. 200p. ISBN 9781770462281. pap. $12.95.

This Kitaro compilation offers great background on the monster manga of later decades and also recalls the history of ­yokai, monsters and ghosts of Japanese legend. The origins of Kitaro, born from his mother’s grave and carrying his father’s eyeball on his shoulder, are hilariously and dubiously explored. A light introduction to manga for new readers, Kitaro also holds great potential for fans delving deeper into manga history.

Takano, Ichigo. Orange: The Complete Collection 1. Seven Seas. 2016. 384p. ISBN 9781626923027. pap. $19.99.

A great example of shojo, girls romance manga, with a slight sf twist, this story of teenage friendships and letters from the future features broad emotional range and beautiful imagery. Takano’s handle on the sweetness and drama of teen life is reflected in classic, cute, and emotive teen-dream artwork.

Tamaki, Mariko (text) & Jillian Tamaki (illus.). This One Summer. First Second. 2014. 320p. ISBN 9781626720947. $21.99.

Veins of adolescent sexual awakening, middle-aged grief, and the perils of seasonal friendship flow together and apart here. Deep-blue brushstroke illustrations evoke the complicated emotions of adolescence, when self-interest crashes hard into an expanding worldview. The lush words combined with beautiful images creates something more powerful than either one alone. (SLJ 12/14)

Thompson, Jill. Wonder Woman: The True Amazon. DC. Oct. 2016. 128p. ISBN 9781401249014. $22.99.

Princess Diana’s journey from spoiled child to justice-seeking leader is told at a lyrical pace, and Thompson’s deftness at melding story, image, and cultural touchstones captures the role of comic book characters as the stuff of modern myth. (Xpress Reviews 8/19/16)

redstarVaron, Sara. Robot Dreams. Square Fish. 2016. 224p. ISBN 9781250073501. pap. $9.99.

A wordless story of the improbable friendship between a dog and a robot and their struggle to move on after a day at the beach separates them. Varon relates big stories with simple images—her colors and characters are cupcake-cute, and the story is ultimately uplifting, but the emotional range of love and loss will hook early readers as well as literary-minded adults. (SLJ 9/07)


Bechdel, Alison. Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic. Houghton Harcourt. 2007. 232p. ISBN 9780618871711. pap. $15.99; ebk. ISBN 9780547347004. Fun Home is a family history, Bechdel’s own coming-out story, and a bevy of philosophical treatises and book reviews, all connected by the author’s grief for a bitter, brilliant, closeted father. Brutally precise drawings add weight to already heavy pages. (LJ 7/06) starred review starBell, Cece. El Deafo. Abrams. 2014. 248p. ISBN 9781419712173. pap. $10.95; ebk ISBN 9781613126219. Using a bright-eyed perspective and a bunny as her stand-in, Bell muses on childhood hearing loss and the magical powers she gained from it (like eavesdropping on teachers with her hearing aid), as well as its myriad complications, such as lip-reading TV and fraught friendships. (SLJ 12/14) Hart, Tom. Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir. St. Martin’s. 2016. 272p. ISBN 9781250049940. $19.99; ebk. ISBN 9781250110787. Hart’s memoir delves unsparingly into his life after the sudden death of his young daughter. Grief is messy (here it looks like a mother eating a raw hunk of beef), and Hart’s visual style is messy as well. Reaching far beyond his own experience, Hart has created a chaotic playbook for the grieving process. (Xpress Reviews 10/2/15) starred review starLewis, John & Andrew Aydin (text) & Nate Powell (illus.). March (Trilogy Slipcase Set). Top Shelf: IDW. 2016. 560p. ISBN 9781603093958. pap. $49.99. The March trilogy chronicles Congressman Lewis’s experience fighting for voting rights and against segregation while navigating competing agendas during the civil rights movement. ­Powell’s shadowy, portentous art makes this story unforgettable. (LJ 7/13; Xpress Reviews 1/23/15; LJ 11/15/16) starred review starSatrapi, Marjane. The Complete Persepolis. Pantheon. 2007. 341p. ISBN 9780375714832. pap. $25.95. Set in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution, this classic work explores the imposition of restrictive Islamic law as it affected the author’s coming of age. Striking at issues of national loyalty, political ideology, and family upheaval, Satrapi’s lush lines and flowing storytelling give this memoir the quality of personal mythology. (­Persepolis, LJ 5/1/03) Sattouf, Riad. The Arab of the Future. Vol. 1: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978–1984; A Graphic Memoir. Metropolitan: Holt. 2015. 160p. ISBN 9781627793445. pap. $26. In this first volume of a trilogy, ­Sattouf recalls a childhood spent in his father’s native Syria, with interludes in his mother’s French countryside. Marked as “other” by bushy blonde hair and lousy language skills, Sattouf sees the uncertain footing and outsized ambitions of a developing nation through the curious eyes of a child. (Vol. 1, LJ 9/15/15; Vol. 2, Xpress ­Reviews 7/22/16)


McCloud, Scott. Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. Morrow Paperbacks. 1994. 224p. ISBN 9780060976255. pap. $24.99.

Widely regarded as the definitive guide to the nuts and bolts of constructing comics, McCloud’s guide tells by showing, through the graphic medium itself, the concepts discussed. A useful and enlightening body of knowledge from which both readers and potential cartoonists can draw.

We Told You So: Comics as Art. Fantagraphics. 2016. 652p. ed. by Tom Spurgeon with Michael Dean. photos. bibliog. ISBN 9781606999332. $49.99.

In this new retrospective, Fantagraphics celebrates 40 impressive years of influencing the landscape of graphic novel readership. Shaped as an oral history with lots of color illustrations and personal reminiscences, it recalls the ups and downs of the publisher that birthed Jaime and Gilbert Hernandez’s Love and Rockets as well as Daniel Clowes’s Eightball, landmarks in the evolution of comics as an artistic force. (LJ 2/1/17)

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