Worth 1,000 Words | Graphic Novel Preview

LJ’s annual look into the art, ideas, and subjects of the graphic novel format spotlights several trends to note: web comics are bringing new readers and new voices into the field; nonfiction dominates and will continue to do so; and, within fiction genres, horror is predominant, and nostalgia for classic characters and concepts is on the rise.

Humans have sought to express themselves through the juxtaposition of text and sequential imagery since the invention of writing. According to NPD Bookscan, graphic novel sales increased by 65 percent between 2020–2021, accounting for the largest increase in adult fiction overall. This growth in readership isn’t anticipated to slow either, as new formats and creators enter the literary scene.

LJ’s annual look into the art, ideas, and subjects of this wide-ranging format spotlights several trends to note: web comics are bringing new readers and new voices into the field; nonfiction dominates and will continue to do so; and, within fiction genres, horror is predominant, and nostalgia for classic characters and concepts is on the rise.


Interest in web comics has grown in recent years. According to Hanna Lafferty, trade and marketing manager for IDW Publishing, “Web comics are a phenomenal space for creators to play with genre and style, and can be more accessible than print, especially for those who are a part of marginalized identities.” Valiant Entertainment Senior Sales Manager John Petrie comments on how fans who come to graphic novels through web comics are more likely to explore titles from independent publishers and underrepresented voices, “I’m so excited that webcomics are bringing new fans into comic stores, bookstores, and libraries. They’re going out on their own to discover…books, characters, writers, and artists that speak specifically to them.”

Lafferty agrees that creators from underrepresented groups will play an important role in the genre’s future. “Sci-fi/fantasy stories with LGBTQIA elements will definitely continue to grow,” she says, “as well as their realistic fiction counterparts, with intersectional identities coming to the forefront in 2022.”


Nonfiction graphic novels have been among the bestselling and most highly regarded releases of the past several years; a trend likely to continue, given the many outstanding titles set for release later this year.

Author and illustrator Noah Van Sciver’s Joseph Smith and the Mormons (Abrams ComicArts, Jul.) is a nuanced, carefully researched portrait of the controversial founder of the Church of Latter-Day Saints. Cartoonist Jess Ruliffson illustrates interviews with veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan in the eye-opening, deeply compassionate Invisible Wounds: Interviews with American Vets (Fantagraphics, Aug.).

An idealistic outsider determined to create lasting change clashes with entrenched power structures in New Yorker cartoonist Sofia Warren’s account of her year embedded with Democratic Socialist senator Julia Salazar and her staff, Radical: My Year with a Socialist Senator (Top Shelf Productions, Jun.). Creator James Spooner’s coming-of-age memoir The High Desert: Black. Punk. Nowhere. (HMH: Mariner, May) recalls his search for a sense of community as a Black punk living in California’s barren Apple Valley in the late 1980s. Another memoir, Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (Drawn and Quarterly, Sept.) finds Hark! A Vagrant creator Kate Beaton encountering sexism, classism, and the human cost of corporate greed while working in Canada’s Oil Sands to pay her student loans. Julie Doucet returns to the world of comics with her memoir Time Zone (Drawn and Quarterly, Apr.).


Many creators are finding fresh ways to convey deeply personal experiences and fully flesh out the internal lives of their characters. Cartoonist Jordan Crane exhibits masterful visual storytelling ability in Keeping Two (Fantagraphics, Apr.), a tour-de-force that moves across space, time, and through layers of reality to evoke the spiraling thoughts of a man who believes his partner may have vanished while running an errand. Jeff Lemire’s ambitious and inventive Mazebook (Dark Horse, May) delves into the mind of a building inspector who comes to believe his recently deceased daughter may be trapped in an intricate maze hidden within his hometown. In Dog Biscuits (Fantagraphics, May), Alex Graham follows a trio seeking peace of mind amid eruptions of police brutality, protests, and COVID lockdown during the summer of 2020.

Author Andi Watson and illustrator Simon Gane’s deeply romantic Paris (Image Comics, May) centers on the bond between a penniless painting student and a frustrated aristocrat. The lives of four Black women living in the Bronx are explored with humor and empathy in Wash Day Diaries (Chronicle, Jun.), by author Jamila Rowser and artist Robyn Smith. Finally, in August, Nick Drnaso follows the success of the Booker-nominated Sabrina with Acting Class (Drawn and Quarterly), a tense drama about a group of improv students who fall under the spell of their oddly charismatic teacher.


Fantastically imagined worlds and cosmic concepts abound in graphic novels slated for release over the coming months.

In 1942, Chicago Defender cartoonist Jay Jackson transformed a long-running gag strip about a bumbling fool into a cosmic odyssey featuring a courageous hero and his crew of teenage sidekicks who travel across time and space doing battle against Nazis, slave owners, segregationists, and others opposed to racial equality. Bungleton Green and the Mystic Commandos (New York Review Comics, May) collects this landmark series for the first time.

Jim Woodring’s gorgeously illustrated One Beautiful Spring Day (Fantagraphics, May) finds its long-suffering everyman character, Frank, wandering through a world at once whimsical and profoundly disturbing. Conor Stechshculte’s Ultrasound (Fantagraphics, May) combines mind control experiments and political intrigue; a feature film adaptation is due to be released on Hulu in June. Gender and identity are at the forefront of author Jadzia Axelrod and artist Jess Taylor’s Galaxy: The Prettiest Star (DC Comics, May), a YA crossover in which an alien princess exiled on Earth poses as a popular teenage boy. In September, writer Kami Garcia and illustrator Isaac Goodheart reveal an untold tale of John Constantine’s youth in the all-ages adventure Constantine: Distorted Illusions (DC Comics).

Brian Herbert and Kevin J. Anderson with illustrators Raúl Allén and Patricia Martin will soon release the second in a planned three-volume adaptation of Frank Herbert’s Dune. Dune: The Graphic Novel, Book 2: Muad’Dib (Abrams ComicArts, Jul.) combines action and spirituality as Paul Atreides’s quest for revenge against the tyrant who murdered his father brings him closer to accepting his destiny as a cosmic messiah. Also touching on cosmic entities, Eldo Yoshimizu’s Hen Kai Pan (Titan Comics, Apr.) explores themes of environmental conservation and Cosmotheism.

Writer Jeff Lemire and illustrators Andrea Sorrentino and Dave Stewart are due to publish a pair of intriguing titles. Primordial (Image Comics, May) fuses trippy science fiction and Cold War thriller elements to reveal the strange fates of the test animals sent into orbit during the late-1950s space race between the United States and the USSR. And in June, a geologist investigating a remote lighthouse discovers what appears to be a bottomless pit in Bone Orchard: The Passageway (Image Comics), the first in an ongoing series of self-contained volumes exploring “The Bone Orchard Mythos.”

Also forthcoming from Image Comics: A thief named Hope Redhood navigates a world teeming with vampires, retro rocket ships, demigods, mobsters, and more in the genre mash-up epic adventure Echolands, Vol. 1 (Jun.), from the award-winning team of writer W. Haden Blackman and co-author and illustrator J.H. Williams III. Writer Rick Remender and illustrator Jerome Opeña combine swashbuckling action and moral philosophy in Seven to Eternity (Image Comics, Aug.), as a disgraced, dying knight is forced to choose between fighting against the powerful King of Whispers, or allying with the tyrant to save his own life and restore his family’s legacy. A girl named Aella is caught between a group of religious fanatics and a legendary pirate queen after discovering she’s the reincarnation of an evil serpent that once nearly destroyed the world in Sea Serpent’s Heir, Book One (Image Comics, Oct.), from writer Mairghread Scott and artist Pablo Tunica.


Another genre to look out for is horror. Rawn Gandy, owner of Velocity Comics in Richmond, VA, reports a surge of interest in horror titles since 2020. He says series such as Joe Hill’s “Locke & Key” (IDW), Robert Kirkman and Tony Moore’s “The Walking Dead” (Image Comics), and Mike Mignola’s “Hellboy” (Dark Horse), all of which have been adapted to television or film, are of consistent interest to fans, but that the excitement over Chip Zdarsky and Ramon Perez’s Stillwater (2021, Image Comics), a series about a town where no one dies, is “unlike anything I’ve ever seen.” According to Skybound Entertainment Senior Editor Alex Antone, “Modern audiences crave more than shock or violence in modern horror storytelling—they’re looking for a deeper emotional anchor and those personal stakes are at the heart of every truly great story…they acknowledge our modern-day fears and remind us that the fight for tomorrow may take many different forms but is ultimately always winnable.”

“Modern-day fears” and “the fight for tomorrow” are at the center of Rodney Barnes’s Nita Hawes’ Nightmare Blog, Vol. 1: The Fire Next Time (Image Comics, May), in which a woman whose brother is killed in an act of random gun violence devotes herself to investigating a rise in supernatural activity around Baltimore.

There may be no other creator—in any medium—capable of penning more viscerally compelling and emotionally resonant work than the prolific mangaka Junji Ito. Says Gandy, “A new book by Junji Ito tends to sell out within a few hours of hitting the shelves.” His latest collection, The Liminal Zone (VIZ, Jul. tr. from Japanese by Jocelyn Allen), features four new horror stories. Also perfect for fans of manga, author Tsugumi Ohba and artist Takeshi Obata revisit the world of their beloved horror series with the short story collection, Death Note Short Stories (VIZ Media, May. tr. from Japanese by Stephen Paul).

Readers with an affinity for Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead can look forward to two new titles. Continuing a plotline from the popular video game adaptation, Tille Walden’s Clementine Book One (Image Comics, Jun.) follows a group of traumatized, alienated young adults from diverse backgrounds who must find common ground and work together to transform an abandoned ski lodge into a haven against the undead. Also set in “The Walking Dead” universe is Rick Grimes 2000 (Image Comics, Jun.) featuring the original series’ cast battling a race of technologically superior alien invaders, in a gonzo alternate reality tale from creator Robert Kirkman, with illustrations by Ryan Ottley, Cliff Rathburn, and Dave McCaig.

Netflix junkies can look forward to author Joe Hill and illustrator Gabriel Rodriguez’s return to the world of their hit graphic novel series this April with Locke & Key: The Golden Age (IDW). This prequel features several stories set in the first half of the 20th century and finds the early residents of the Keyhouse visiting the trenches of World War I, navigating the fiery pits of hell, and crossing over with DC Comics’ “Sandman” universe.

Arriving this summer is Razorblades (Image Comics, Jul.), a deluxe hardcover collection of the first year’s worth of content created by Steve Foxe and James Tynion IV for the popular online anthology of the same name. In Blackwood Library Edition (Dark Horse, Oct.) by author Evan Dorken and illustrators Andy and Veronica Fish, a group of students at a school for occult studies overrun with ghosts, curses, and mutant insects are tasked with solving a magical murder.


Nostalgia for classic characters and concepts has been a driving factor for readers over the past year, and the trend seems primed to continue through the second half of 2022. Antone reports that beloved franchises have proven a draw for new fans and younger readers as well, especially when reconsidered to include modern perspectives on diversity and inclusivity or when produced by members of historically marginalized groups. “Graphic novels that come from more diverse sets of voices provide a modern spin on beloved franchises without losing the core audience. These graphic novels will likely be shared with younger readers as a means of creating connections between generations.”

Lafferty explains, “What makes fans nostalgic…isn’t just a return to their childhood favorites but being able to share these stories with new readers and seeing what they love about these characters carried into stories for modern audiences.” As an example, she points to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Last Ronin (IDW, Jun.) from writers Kevin Eastman, Peter Laird, and Tom Waltz, with art by Ben Bishop and Esau and Isaac Escorza. “Kevin Eastman is bringing back some of the grit that gave Mirage Studios an edge in the ‘80s,” Lafferty says, “but this dystopian universe still carries the themes of family and friendship that resonate with so many readers. It’s a great way to show how these nostalgic characters can grow with their fanbase.”

When his father disappears on a mission to a faraway planet, a teenage Jon Kent must assume the mantle of Superman. Writer Tom Taylor and artist John Timm’s Superman, Son of Kal-El, Vol. 1: The Truth (DC Comics, May), balances exciting action and tender romance, as the nascent hero and his boyfriend Jay team up to overthrow the fascist dictator of a small island nation.

One of the most beloved characters of the mid-1990s returns in search of justice after law enforcement officials massacre a group of peaceful protestors in writer Vita Ayala and artist Nikolas Draper-Ivey’s Static: Season One (DC Comics, Jun.). Cowriters Colin Kelly and Jackson Lanzing join forces with artist Robbi Rodriguez to revive another classic 1990s title in The Harbinger Book One (Valiant Entertainment, May), in which an immensely powerful telepathic teenager finds he must overcome the anger and resentment he feels toward the world before he can become its savior.


Manga fans have a lot to look forward to in the coming year. A socially awkward student befriends a free spirit who is determined to coax him out of his shell in cartoonist Nene Yukimori’s high school–set romantic comedy, Kubo Won’t Let Me Be Invisible, Vol. 1 (VIZ Media, May. tr. from Japanese by Amanda Haley). Adopting a stray cat throws a twentysomething woman’s carefully constructed homelife into disarray in Wataru Nadatani’s Cat + Gamer (Dark Horse Manga, May. tr. from Japanese by Zack Davisson). Yu-Gi-Oh! creator Kazuki Takahashi brings Spider-Man and Iron Man to Japan and pits them against an evil gaming magnate in Marvel’s Secret Reverse (VIZ Media, Jun. tr. from Japanese by Caleb Cook). Readers looking for coming-of-age tales about discovering one’s sexuality can look forward to Our Colors by Gengoroh Tagame (Pantheon, May. tr. from Japanese by Anne Ishii)

Patrons with an interest in French literature should keep an eye out for several titles. A frustrated filmmaker rediscovers his voice and reconnects with his fellow man after taking a job driving a taxi in Yellow Cab (IDW, May. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin), created in collaboration between Benoît Cohen and Christophe Chabouté. A 12-year-old boy and a mysterious stranger team up to achieve victory at a legendary martial arts tournament in France’s smash hit magical action adventure Lastman Book One (Image Comics, Nov. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin) from creators Balak, Michaël Sanlaville, and Bastien Vivès. Anne Simon’s Boris the Potato Child (Fantagraphics, Jun. tr. from French by Jenna Allen) is a Swiftian satire about a round-headed boy and his mother, a deposed queen, set in a richly imagined fantasy world.

A collection of Spanish writers, Diana Lopez Varela, et al., and artists share their stories of navigating a patriarchal society in the anthology Voices That Count (IDW, Jun. tr. by Jourdan Pereira). In The Treasure of the Black Swan (Fantagraphics, May. tr. from Spanish by Andrea Rosenberg), author Guillermo Corral and illustrator Paco Roca reveal the legal and political battles that emerge after an American treasure hunting company discovers a shipwreck containing a vast trove of artifacts vital to Spanish history.


Author and illustrator Emma Grove details her struggle to come to terms with her identity and obtain gender-affirming care in a memoir about her experience as a trans woman, The Third Person (Drawn and Quarterly, May). Drawn and Quarterly Senior Editor Tracy Hurren describes this memoir as “transformative and revelatory…the debut work we never saw coming and could not be more thrilled to be publishing.” Another debut that explores gender identity is Rhea Ewing’s Fine: A Comic About Gender (Liveright, Apr.) in which they compile several interviews from folks across the nation regarding how they identify. For more personal narratives, readers can look to Sabba Khan’s debut What Is Home, Mum? (Street Noise, Apr.), which discusses immigration, gender, race, and class.

Arriving in June is Talia Dutton’s M Is for Monster (Abrams ComicArts, see Q&A with Dutton), in which a scientist discovers that bringing her sister back from the dead isn’t as difficult as allowing a loved one to follow their own path.

No matter what fandoms or experiences readers identify with, there’s a lot to look forward to in this year’s upcoming graphic novels. Once again, the medium proves to be as varied and complex as its readers.

These titles are representative of the trends of 2022 and illustrate the range of works forthcoming in the next six months. Look for reviews to follow for detailed evaluations.

Tom Batten has written for the New Yorker, the Guardian, and McSweeney’s Internet Tendency. He lives in Virginia, where he teaches creative writing at the College of William & Mary

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