The recent graphic novels every book lover should read 11 months ago

The recent graphic novels every book lover should read

Here's what you need to be reading

Comic books are amazing. The combination of words and images allows for almost limitless possibilities, letting writers tell any type of story - from superhero arcs to political satire, from non-fiction to supernatural horrors - with some doing many of these things at the same time.

We’re hopefully past the point now of comics having to prove they can be serious literature. There are lots of “Best Graphic Novels for Beginners” lists online, but they mostly list the usual suspects: Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, Sandman, maybe some Daniel Clowes or Maus if they’re feeling highbrow. Those are all great and you should definitely read them, but here’s a list of great comics from the last five years that aren't the immediate go-tos.

The Vision

Writer: Tom King
Artist: Gabriel Hernández
No of volumes: 2

The Avenger’s red android has never been the most interesting character, but Tom King’s radical reinvention is one of the best things Marvel has published this century. In it, The Vision whips up a synthetic wife and two synthetic children, and attempts to live out the American dream in the Washington suburbs. They are doomed from the word go, as the androids fail to capture what it means to be human yet will go to any means necessary to keep up the facade. It's also wrapped in beautiful Norman Rockwell-pastiche covers by Mike Del Mundo.

Bitch Planet


Writer: Kelly Sue DeConnick
Artist: Valentine De Landro
No of volumes: 2 so far

Imagine a kick-ass feminist reinvention of those old women-in-prison movies, only set in space, and with a little bit of Orange Is The New Black thrown in there as well. Kelly Sue DeConnick’s tale of a dystopian future where non-compliant women are sent to a hellish off-world prison has already built up a passionate cult following, as well as giving the very male world of comics a much-needed kick up the arse.

Sex Criminals

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artist: Chip Zdarsky
No of volumes: 5 so far

Remember Bernard’s Watch, that show about the kid who could stop time? Suzie and Jon are a young couple who discover that they have that same power - only times only stops when they, ur, orgasm. And, they use that sex-power to rob banks. It’s as wild and crazy as you’d expect, but it also hits you with a powerfully frank depiction of sexual dissatisfaction and mental health. Truly astounding stuff.

Nighthawk: Hate Makes Hate

Writer: David F Walker
Artist: Ramon Villalobos
No of volumes: 1


David F Walker and Ramon Villalobos took a knock-off Batman and turned it into a brutal depiction of racism and justice in 21st century America. Whereas most superhero comics take place in a unrecognisable fantasy world, Nighthawk stalks his prey against the backdrop of police corruption and gentrification in modern day Chicago. It is vital and important in a way cape comics rarely are. Villalobos also draws the best trainers in all of comic books.

March

Writers: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Artist: Nate Powell
No of volumes: 3

By this point, nobody should have to prove that comics can do everything written literature is capable of – but March once again demonstrates the exceptional power of the medium. A memoir of civil rights leader and US Congressman John Lewis, with clarity and personality it beautifully details the story of the civil rights movement. It is essential that new generations are taught stories like these – especially in an age where a hero like Lewis can be attacked by the President of the USA on social media.

The Wicked and The Divine

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
No of volumes: 6 so far

The perfect comic book for the age of social media superfandom. The Wicked and The Divine is about a group of gods that are reincarnated in 2014 as pop stars - including riffs on Kanye West, Daft Punk and Florence and the Machine - and their influence on the culture. Kieron Gillen has a gift for capturing the very particular teenage enthusiasm that surrounds pop music, and Jamie McKelvie draws the most stylish and well-dressed humans ever printed in a comic.


Tetris: The Games People Play

Writer/Artist: Box Brown
No of volumes: 1

Cartoonist Box Brown made a name for himself crafting beautiful comic book biographies of cult figures, like Andre The Giant and Andy Kaufman. His most fascinating book, however, is the story of the video game Tetris, and how it escaped Soviet Russia to become a worldwide phenomenon. The legal wrangling between various American and Japanese companies trying to get hold of the rights is a great corporate thriller in and of itself, but Brown goes all the way back to the dawn of man, attempting to explain why humans play games at all. It’s fascinating stuff.

Sweet Tooth

Writer/Artist: Jeff Lemire
No of volumes: 6

An incredibly reductive take on Sweet Tooth would be to call it a mix of Mad Max and Peter Rabbit. That wouldn’t be totally inaccurate though. In a post-apocalyptic world where children are born as human-animal hybrids, deer-antlered Sweet Tooth ventures off into a violent world after his father dies. Plot-wise, it’s not the most original series, but what it so affecting is Lemire’s wonky, organic-looking art, and the strange melancholic, childlike effect it creates.


Snotgirl

Writer: Bryan Lee O'Malley
Artist: Leslie Hung
No of volumes: 2 so far

Bryan Lee O’Malley shot to fame writing and drawing Scott Pilgrim. His long-awaited follow-up debuted in 2017 and is a much weirder beast. Snotgirl is a vapid fashion blogger and Insta star, whose chaotic personal life collides with a Lynchian murder mystery that may or may not be actually happening, all of this brought to life by Leslie Hung’s dayglow art. It’s a hard book to describe, but you’d be hard-pressed to find another comic with its finger more on the pulse of mid-to-late 2010s pop culture.

Saga

Writer: Bryan K Vaughn
Artist: Fiona Staples
No of volumes: 9 so far

When Brian K Vaughn created Saga, he said he “wanted to do something that was way too expensive to be TV and too dirty and grown-up to be a four-quadrant blockbuster.” And it is truly the sort of thing that could only work in comics – a galaxy-spanning lovers-on-the-run tale, with sex, violence, and genuine emotion. The real jewel in its crown, though, is Fiona Staples’ wonderful character design that offers up wild and wonderful aliens, monarchs with TV screens for heads, and best of all, The Lying Cat.

Hip Hop Family Tree


Writer/Artist: Ed Piskor
No of volumes: 4

The history of hip-hop is a sprawling, complicated mythology, not unlike superhero comics. Ed Piskor chronicles the golden age of rap in these beautiful, oversized volumes that display a real love for the music, with lettering and faded colouring that mimics comics from the early 80s. It’s been so successful, that last year Marvel got him to do the same for the X-Men continuity with the equally great X-Men: Grand Design.

Rocket

Writer: Al Ewing
Artist: Adam Gorham
No of volumes: 1

Since the success of the movies, there have been a lot of new Guardians of the Galaxy comics and most of them have been pretty good. But I wanted to give a shout out to Rocket, the most recent Rocket Racoon solo series. Writer Al Ewing pens a hilarious intergalactic heist story that throws out twists every several pages, but also captures the sense of melancholy that makes this talking racoon with guns such a fascinating and rich character.

The Fade Out

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
No of volumes: 3


Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips are the master duo of crime comics, producing hardboiled tales of two-fisted tough guys and dangerous dames in titles like Criminal, Fatale, Incognito and Sleeper. Maybe the best place to start with their work though is The Fade Out, set in post-war Hollywood amongst the paranoia of the Communist witch hunts. Perfects for fans of True Detective, LA Confidential and classic movies, it’s a heady, dark and exhilarating ride.

The Fix

Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Steve Leiber
No of volumes: 2 so far

Sub-Tarantino knockabout crime comedies, made by wannabe-Guy Ritchies, are one of the most tiresome things to see, whatever the medium – so it is incredibly refreshing to find one that is both genuinely funny and actually jaw-dropping at points. It’s about two crooked LA cops who are in debt to a mob boss, and the schemes that they concoct to get out of it. What really sells it though is artist Steve Lieber’s perfect comic timing. It takes real skill to sell a joke in comic books, and Lieber is a one of the best in the business at body language and facial expressions.