Any list of great graphic novels includes Alan Moore’s classic Watchmen. There’s a reason this is the only graphic novel to appear on on Time’s list of the 100 greatest English-language novels. It’s a gritty, dazzling story that spans decades. It’s as much about the post-Vietnam American psyche as it is about superheroes, and I strongly recommend it–even if you think you don’t like comic books.
Neil Gaiman’s graphic novels are gorgeous and haunting. Sometimes the stories are sad, or terrifying, or even funny–just like our dreams. The main character is Dream, one of the seven Endless (the others are Destiny, Death, Destruction, Delirium, Desire, and Despair). His sister Death is one of my favorite characters in literature; the standalone volumes “Death: The High Cost of Living” and “Death: It’s The Time of Your Life” are also worth a read. Gaiman recently announced the revival of the long-dormant series.
The trend for procedural-style fairy tales on TV (Grimm, Once Upon a Time) owes a lot to Bill Willingham’s Fables. In fact, the shows basically ripped him off. Characters from classic fairy tales are exiled to New York by a sinister threat in their homeland. Their circumstances force strange alliances, but there are also underlying patterns–archetypes, really–that the characters can’t escape. This series is still running, and I confess that I haven’t kept up with it recently.
This long-running webcomic, which is also collected in print volumes as well as two prose novels, is a delightful steampunk romp. The heroine, Agatha Heterodyne, is the unwilling heir to an powerful clan of mad scientists, and the the comic follows her adventures as she slowly explores what it means to have the “spark” of genius. Best part: you can read it online for free, here: http://www.girlgeniusonline.com/
It’s rare to stumble across a new idea, but John Layman’s graphic novel about a cop who can pick up psychic impressions from his food. This makes eating a hamburger difficult, but it’s useful in his line of work. Chew is kind of gross, honestly, but it’s also funny, compelling, and refreshingly different. If you like your procedurals with a heavy dose of weirdness, you’ll enjoy this ongoing series.
Gory comics are not to everyone’s taste. Linda Medley’s Castle Waiting is a charming series of linked fairy tales that play off conventions with gentle humor and beautiful art. Even though it often gets shelved in the Juvenile section (mostly because it lacks offensive content), the tales often have a subversive or feminist bent that make them suitable for grownups and well as children.
This ongoing webcomic from UK artist Tom Siddell is beautifully drawn, full of strange and sometimes funny events, realistic drama and friendship, robots, and a cast of mythical creatures. I never miss an update. http://www.gunnerkrigg.com
This lovely book follows the unlikely love story between an Egyptian mummy and the daughter of an Egyptologist. Set in Victorian London, this odd little tale is strange, but sweet.
I just started reading The Unwritten, and I can’t get my hands on new issues fast enough. Imagine a world where Harry Potter’s fame is eclipsed by another boy wizard. Tommy Taylor is beloved by the entire world, but not Tom Taylor, the adult son of the author who was the inspiration for his father’s famous character. This series is mind-bogglingly metafictional–kind of like if Jasper Fforde and Borges got together and read the entire Harry Potter series while on mescalin. It weaves together famous stories and passages from the (sadly) made-up Tommy Taylor books into an adventure in which stories might save the world…or end it.
I never know if I’m going to laugh or cry when I check out Karl Kerschl’s The Abominable Charles Christopher. It’s like a grownup, magical-realist version of Calvin & Hobbes. Charles Christopher is a yeti–neither man nor beast–who finds himself somehow responsible for preventing the destruction of the forest where he lives. That description really doesn’t do the strip justice; there are so many genuine moments of loss as well as humor. http://www.abominable.cc/