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Ah, comics — misfit, hybrid,  metal music of literature…

While comics often get a bad rap, the genre is full of beautiful artwork, storytelling, and diversity. Comics have a rich and interesting history, and — like all great art — often challenge social and political conventions. 

While the exact definition of “graphic novel” is up for debate, there’s no shortage of these wondrous gems in each and every genre, from superhero to horror to nonfiction. So, if you’re looking for something to read this summer, or you like stories and art, or you just want to try something new, I highly recommend these graphic novels as a starting point. 

Lumberjanes

Let’s start with a bit of fun. If you’re looking for something wholesome, something to remind you of your own youthful adventures, then Lumberjanes is for you. Set at a summer camp, the story follows a group of girls who witness a strange supernatural transformation and (naturally) set about solving mysteries. 


Perfect for kids or adults, it was created by women and features an almost all-women cast. It’s a bit reminiscent of The Bailey School Kids, All Grown Up!, and Percy Jackson & The Olympians. Witty, charming, and critical of toxic relationships, the world of Lumberjanes is a great place to spend your summer!

Watchmen

Say what you will about the superhero genre, but Watchmen is in a league of its own. Created by Brits Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, Watchmen imagines a world where superheroes are real…though most don’t have any superpowers. The story is set in America in 1985 and deals with social issues, political unrest, nuclear war and morality. 

Both the artwork and storytelling are astounding, and each issue (or chapter if you have the work as a graphic novel) has supplementary materials at the end to enhance the world building. The story spans twelve issues/chapters and takes a bit of a time (especially when you get lost in the panels), but it is well worth the investment.

Persepolis

An autobiographical masterpiece, Persepolis is the story of Marjane Satrapi’s youth growing up during the Islamic Revolution in Iran. It is a poignant and, at times, alarming account of womanhood in a country experiencing political and social unrest. 

While this novel can be upsetting, it is an important commentary on education, institutionalism and family. The artwork boasts some powerful imagery, which is probably why Satrapi had no problem translating the novel into an animated film — a worthwhile watch. 

Locke & Key

You may have seen a show of the same name on your Netflix menu, but if you’re into horror you have to check out Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s epic series, Locke & Key. Centered around the Locke family and their brilliant home, Keyhouse, Locke & Key is full of magic, demons, and the tribulations of growing up. The illustrations are fantastically whimsical, but don’t be fooled — the series is labeled as “psychological horror” for a reason.

Death: The High Cost of Living

If you like fantasy, you’ve probably heard of Neil Gaiman. His series The Sandman is critically acclaimed and arguably one of the greatest graphic novel series ever created. While Dream, the main character of The Sandman, is pretty cool — okay, really cool — his sister, Death, is awesome. Death: The High Cost of Living centers around Gaiman’s take on the grim reaper and her once-in-a-century day with the living. The story can be read on its own, and it’s a thoughtful exploration of unlikely friendships and the value of life.

I hope you find something that resonates with you on this somewhat eclectic list of graphic novels. And if you find yourself wondering more about the art of comics and how they’re made, I highly recommend Scott McCloud’s Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art. It’s a bit like a textbook but it’s written as a comic book, and it’ll give you a deeper understanding of comics and their respective artistic choices. 

Happy reading everyone!

JJ Mokrzewski is currently pursuing a BFA in Screenwriting at York University. She moonlights as a piano teacher and writes fantasy/horror stories in between. Most of her free time is divided equally between investigating new books/films/series and rewatching episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. She is passionate about sustainability, mental health, abolishing the stigma around genre fiction, the Oxford comma, and pet videos. She strongly believes Ulysses is a brilliant book, and one day hopes to figure out why.
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