5 Graphic Novels for Beginners

Neil Gaiman's The Sandman

For avid bookworms it can be easy to fall into a reading rut, sticking with the same author or genre for stretches at a time. No longer, friends, no longer. I beseech you to shrug off that dusty shroud of predictability and pry open the doors of something unexpected: graphic novels.

If ever the thought crossed your mind that graphic novels were strictly the realm of superheroes, Manga, and plots as uncomplicated as a “Family Circus” strip (not that there’s anything wrong with that), banish the notion from your mind. There’s a lot to love in all those illustrated panels, and some complex stories to boot. Here are a few suggestions to ease you into the pace, style, and possibilities of storytelling with text and images, before you just dive right in to Watchmen.

The Walking Dead

Yes, yes, this is almost so obvious it doesn’t bear repeating, so let’s knock it out of the way first. Judging solely by the TV ratings, every last one of you spends your Sundays watching Rick Grimes and his merry band of postapocalyptic whiners ritually disembowel, disgorge, and dissect hordes of Walkers. The boon for readers of the comic are the variations between book and screen; if you detested the Grimes gang’s summer vacation on Hershel’s farm of Eden, Kirkman’s got you covered. Of course, some things stay the same: No one is safe, and Carl probably isn’t going to stay in the house.

The Sandman

Sometimes the easiest way to try something new is to do it with an old friend by your side. Who better to fill that role than everyone’s favorite master of macabre myth, Neil Gaiman? The Sandman series, centering on Morpheus, Lord of Dreams, essentially made the DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint, which has built its bread and butter on stories that step out of the superhero vein. Gaiman’s story of the dream king mixes mythology, fairy tales, and legends (allusions, allusions as far as the eye can see!) in the masterful way he has in any format, except this time he has the help of some truly, well, graphic imagery. (And if you start plowing through the stories now, you’ll be all caught up in time for the release of the new prequel series, The Sandman: Overture, in October.)

Marvel 1602

So you think you’re ready for some superheroes? Good, let’s transition with the help of our friend Gaiman again, as he runs over to Marvel to send their characters on a surprising new track. As could be deduced from the title, the age of heroes has come a bit early—400 years early. It’s the time of Queen Elizabeth I, and something’s afoot in jolly old England. Thankfully, there’s a whole host of familiar characters to save the day, even for those not well-versed in comic lore—including Nick Fury, the X-Men, Thor, and Daredevil just to name a few. It’s alt-history heroics, and the beautiful illustrations make suspending belief easy.


And now for something completely different. Maus, at once genre-bending and utterly involving, is all the proof necessary of graphic novels’ capacity for complex, challenging stories. It’s the Holocaust told through mice instead of men. Really, all there is to be said is that Maus is one of the most moving depictions of the period this side of Night. (In a similar, slightly, slightly more lighthearted vein is Persepolis, Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution.)


Once you’ve acclimated to the world of graphic novels and comics, Frank Miller is a name you’re going to come across time and time again. (Special shout-out to Batman: Year One.) Here, he presents SPARTA before we knew that, indeed, THIS IS SPARTA. Zach Snyder, director of the 2007 film adaptation, has nothing on Lynn Varley’s intense illustrations of the Battle of Thermopylae. A good general has a grasp of strategy, logistics, and battlefield command. And Miller’s a pretty good general.

  • Kyle Garret

    1. The Walking Dead — Yeah, okay, I guess.
    2. Sandman — That seems fair to me.
    3. 1602 — No. It’s all versions of characters people know, so give them the actual characters. I’ve had luck with the first volume of Ultimate Spider-man and/or the first Starman trade.
    4. Maus — Yes, absolutely, should probably be #1
    5. 300 — No. Not for nothing, but I can’t see a non-comics fan taking to Miller’s art.

  • Elle Everhart

    From Hell is an amazing graphic novel, despite the fact that I was pretty thoroughly disturbed by a lot of what I saw.

  • jamessavik

    Might I suggest “V for Vendetta” by Alan Moore.

    The original is much more powerful than the movie.

  • rhubarb_fortress


  • Matthew D’Agostino

    For those not looking for capes, fantasy, or Holocaust stories (nothing wrong with any of them) — I really suggest Craig Thompson’s “Blankets”. It’s an autobiographical coming-of-age story about a boy and his first love, as well as his struggles with his faith. Lots of comedy, lots of fun, but also very poignant. The artwork is stellar. I can’t recommend it enough for someone that doesn’t think they’d be interested in graphic novels.

  • Leah617

    I’d suggest League of Extraordinary Gentleman for book lovers who avoid graphic novels.

    I also take umbridge with the notion that book lovers would not enjoy manga. Are some of them silly, childish, or vapid? Of course. Just like with graphic novels, books, television etc. Fullmetal Alchemist, Death Note, Berserk, xxxHolic are all appealing in their own strange ways.

    • samantha657

      what Patricia said I am amazed that a stay at home mom can earn $8987 in a few weeks on the internet. did you read this link w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

  • Stephen Bitsoli

    I’d also recommend Paul Chadwick’s “Concrete,” Warren Ellis’ “Planetary,” Neil Gaiman’s “Death: The High Cost of Living” and (if you can find it; it’s out of print) Kyle Baker’s “Why I Hate Saturn.”

  • K. C.

    Why the slam on manga? Seriously, the complexity of the narratives that one comes across as a good manga can stand side by side with a lot of great graphic novels (I suggest looking at the late Keiko Tobe’s “With the Light” for starters). I don’t know; it just bothers me how quick people are to dismiss a huge swath of material, and I’m not sure why there’s the slam on comic strips either. There is a better way to write this (especially since you put down superheros and then told people to read a superhero book), because this wasn’t it.
    Also, I’m not sure that most of these titles would appeal to anyone who doesn’t read comics. The Walking Dead only appeals if you watched the show or like the genre, Sandman is good but that’s a lot to digest for an introductory work, the Marvel title doesn’t appeal to people who don’t like Marvel (I don’t care who wrote it or how good the artwork is), Maus (and Persepolis) are good go-to titles but you could also include the aforementioned Blankets as well as David Small’s Stitches and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (which is a good one to get literary people into graphic novels), and 300 is a good one, but it’s still a bit much to ask a new reader to get into.

  • therese757

    as Andrea said I’m amazed that some one can profit $6640 in 4 weeks on the computer. have you read this page w­w­w.K­E­P­2.c­o­m

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