The 101 Best Graphic Novels

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This concise guide to the best of what is out there and available now is updated considerably with half of the listings all new and a significant representation of the best in manga. Because there is so much being published in this exploding field, this guide shows readers what is worth concentrating on and owning.

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This concise guide to the best of what is out there and available now is updated considerably with half of the listings all new and a significant representation of the best in manga. Because there is so much being published in this exploding field, this guide shows readers what is worth concentrating on and owning.

Read More Show Less

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
While comics (books and strips) have been around for more than a century, graphic novels have only appeared in serious numbers in the last two decades. Since then, with publication of titles like Art Spiegelman's Maus and Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan, graphic novels have gained a growing regard as a literary medium. But for noncomics readers, navigating the field can be a challenge. Weiner, a librarian, former teacher and longtime comics reader, provides just the kind of information needed. Besides defining the graphic novel (a collection of comic strips, a collected comics periodical story arc or a comics story written to be published as a full-length book), Weiner offers capsule reviews of the works he has chosen and gives each a code indicating its reading level (children, all ages, adult). Weiner's guide is potentially useful, but some of his choices can be confusing; readers seeking the "best" graphic novels in print may be in for a disappointment. Does Star Trek: The Modala Imperative really qualify as an important graphic novel? Meanwhile, Joe Sacco's Palestine and Safe Area Gorazde, two critically acclaimed works of comics nonfiction journalism, are nowhere on Weiner's list. Thankfully, not all his choices are suspect, but Weiner seems more interested in reflecting the range of graphic novels rather than listing the best book-length comics available in print. (Oct.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
This annotated list of graphic novels includes an introduction designed to encourage readers to use these books in classrooms. Weiner's credentials for judging graphic novels extend to his own childhood when he was a reader of comic books and early graphic novels. He describes a variety of graphic novels, including biographies, retellings of stories from Nancy Drew to Kafka's stories, and general fiction; there is something here for everyone. Also described is a large collection of traditional comic book stories, particularly superheroes, as well as Japanese comics, called manga. In the latest edition of Horn Book Magazine, Robin Brenner recommends testing the waters of graphic novels by reading one in each genre: "one superhero title, non-superhero title (whatever genre floats your boat), one nonfiction title and one Japanese manga. This type of survey will provide a sense of how graphic storytelling works" (p.240). This advice dovetails the list of books presented by Weiner. If you are looking for an introduction to the graphic novel, you have found the place to start. 2005, Nantier Beall Minoustchine, and Ages 14 up.
—Wendy M. Smith-D'Arezzo
VOYA - Kristin Fletcher-Spear
Weiner helped forge the path for future librarians who carry graphic novels in their libraries. This third edition of "best graphic novels" has a few differences from the previous two versions. Weiner only includes graphic novels-no comic strip collections or picture books. Here he also includes series graphic novels such as superheroes and manga. Each of the 101 entries includes an age range (children, younger teen, older teen, and adult), an image of the book jacket, and a brief synopsis. Peppered throughout the text is sample panel art from highlighted graphic novels. More than half of the selections are new from his previous editions. By naming graphic novels "best," Weiner admits to his own opinion and biases. He takes into consideration quality but not popularity. He emphases the splice of life and more serious titles, but also includes superheroes like Ultimate Spider-man and manga like Trigun. Perhaps the biggest negative is the title indexing, which does not correlate with the correct pages. The additional further reading selection is for those interested in continuing their graphic novel and comic book reference reading and not for librarians seeking help in their professional roles. Overall this book is an adequate annotated list of good graphic novels, but if using it for collection development, librarians will need to take into consideration the titles' popularity and appeal for their audience.
Library Journal
This is a revised second edition of a guide first published in 2001, which was itself an update of Weiner's 100 Graphic Novels for Public Libraries (1996). Along with the foreword by Neil Gaiman, it retains from the earlier editions many classics such as A Contract with God and Bone. But over half of the listings here are new, including highly acclaimed recent works like Blankets and Epileptic and also a dozen added manga, including Lone Wolf & Cub and Barefoot Gen. Other entries range from superheroes (Ultimate Spider-Man) to nonfiction (The Cartoon History of the Universe). For each book, Weiner provides a black-and-white illustration of the cover, a suggested age rating, and a brief review. The focus is on books currently available (though The Greatest Team-Up Stories Ever Told seems to have gone out of print). For this edition, Weiner has left out newspaper strip collections (except for, oddly, Classic Star Wars) and expanded his listing of recommended books about comics. This is an improvement over previous editions; no two readers would agree on the contents, but this is a recommended collection development tool for libraries and a nice guide for the general public as well. Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal
There are several notable differences between this book and the 2001 edition. Some of the criticisms of the earlier volume have been addressed, so now comic-strip collections and picture books are no longer included, leaving only "true" graphic novels. The young adult category has been subdivided into ages 12-15 and 16-19, which will be enormously helpful to selectors. The "best" of the title is, of course, enormously subjective, but the greats you'd expect to find (Frank Miller, Alan Moore, Will Eisner, Neil Gaiman) are here along with many newer authors. More than half of the recommended titles are new to this edition, and there is also a sizable representation of ever-popular manga subgenre. The black-and-white images include covers as well as interior art from several volumes. This much-improved edition is a useful tool for librarians and graphic-novel fans alike.-Andrea Lipinski, New York Public Library Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781561632855
  • Publisher: N B M Publishing Company
  • Publication date: 1/28/2003
  • Format: Library Binding
  • Edition description: Graphic Novel
  • Pages: 96
  • Product dimensions: 6.66 (w) x 8.90 (h) x 0.63 (d)

Meet the Author

Stephen Weiner is the director of a library in Massachusetts and renowned pioneering expert in the field of graphic novels for two decades, as well as the author of The Rise of the Graphic Novel.

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Read an Excerpt


By Stephen Weiner


Copyright © 2001 Stephen Weiner
All right reserved.

ISBN: 1561632848

Chapter One

A Very Short History of Comics and Graphic Novels

Comics historians might argue that the first comics were cave paintings depicting battles and tribal rituals, but American comics began in 1895, with the publication of the first newspaper strip, The Yellow Kid by R.F. Outcault. The comic strip form caught the attention of the reading public and, as a result, the comic strip became very popular in the early part of this century. Sunday and daily comic strips continue to be featured in almost every newspaper in the United States.

Comic books didn't become popular until the 1930s, and were initially reprints of newspaper strips. However, with the growing popularity of pulp fiction, publishers were looking for new ways to compete in the market. Soon, original stories started appearing in comic book periodicals that previously only reprinted strips. For many people who observe the field peripherally, the 1930s remain the defining moment of comic book history: many of the superheroes who remain popular today were created in the years just prior to World War II.

As a genre, comic books mirrored popular culture. Comic books in the early 1940s had a distinctly patriotic flavor-indeed, many were straight-out Allied propaganda. Those in the 1950shad a more conservative tone-it was in this decade that the romance and Western comics flourished. Coexisting with those, however, was a radical strain-the EC horror, crime, and science fiction comics. The 1950s were also the period when the comic book field came under attack as deleterious to the morals of American youth. Dr. Frederic Wertham's book, The Seduction of the Innocent, blamed juvenile delinquency on the effect of comic books. Worried, comic book publishers, created the Comics Code Authority (CCA), which created guidelines for acceptable and unacceptable content. EC dropped its radical comics rather than adopt the CCA's rules, and turned Mad magazine into a newsstand periodical not bound by the new regulations. Romances and Westerns flourished.

Superhero comics returned in the late 1950s and flourished in the 1960s. As America had become a more introspective society, the new superheroes, embodied by Spider-Man, were imbued with phobias and challenges. The 1960s also witnessed the emergence of underground comix, which expressed discontent with middle-American values. Superhero and other mainstream comic books were sold in drugstores and newsstands; underground comix couldn't be sold there because they were not approved by the CCA. Instead, they were sold where their intended audience shopped: head shops. This was the first time anyone in the comics field attempted to niche market; previously, comic book publishers had attempted to sell to the largest audience possible, but the underground comix' success proved that one could make a profit by appealing directly to readers with a similar political ideal or artistic aesthetic as the comics' creators.

In the early 1970s, the comic book convention was initiated, allowing comic book dealers direct access to collectors. The comic book industry was beginning to turn inside. At conventions, rare and prized comic books were sold at collector's prices. Soon, the comic book specialty shop was pioneered: a place where underground comix and mainstream comics found common ground, perhaps because both strains of popular culture existed outside the mainstream. As a concept, the comic book specialty shop thrived in part because the forum allowed publishers direct contact with their readership. As a result, many publishers experimented with different kinds of books, directed at different segments of the comic book store patronage.

Other factors were important as well. Comic book creators in the United States were utilizing cartooning methods developed by Japanese and European creators, bringing a new sophistication into American comic books. Underground comix moved closer to the mainstream and used accepted comic book characters to examine attitudes and beliefs previously left unexplored by more conventional comic book creators.

In the 1980s, superheroes became societal outcasts, burdened with complex personalities and problems. These were stories not meant for ten-year-olds, but ten-year-olds who had matured but still liked reading comics. Artwork became more expressive and storylines increasingly demanding. Comic books featuring heroes that weren't so super grew more intricate and literary than they had been previously. Comic book readers had to grow more literate to comprehend the involved storylines. Ironically, comics became more literate at the same time that national reading scores began to decline.

The graphic novel grew out of experimentation in the comic book field in the late 1970s and early 1980s, and attempted to create a sophisticated story, told in comic book format, in one full-length book. The form became popular with readers who tired of visiting their favorite (or any!) comic book shop only to find that the next issue of the storyline they were interested in was unavailable. By the end of the 1980s, several publishers ceased producing serials, and concentrated their efforts solely on graphic novels. It also proved a handy format for collecting self-contained stories that ran over several issues.

Now, over a century after The Yellow Kid, the graphic novel comes in many forms: the strip collection that started it all is still going strong, as are reprints of other serialized stories, with original works still being published ranging from the historical to the biographical, and from high adventure to low comedy.

And who knows what this new century might bring?

The 101 Best Graphic Novels

Narrowing the tremendous field of choices to 101 was difficult enough-to rank them within that would be impossible. Therefore the following list is in the indiscrimate form of alphabetical by creator(s). Each entry is also given an indicator as to reading level: C for all ages; Y for all ages above 12; A: adults, too complex for children. Note well that these choices were made based on what is currently in print and available!

Allred, Michael. Madman: The Oddity Odyssey. Acacia Press, 1999, $14.95, ISBN 087816314X, BLDBLD

Madman is a charmingly goofy hero in the tradition of the 1960s Batman television series rather than the brutally realistic Batman movies of the 1980s and 1990s. This first book of his adventures finds Madman at the clutches of his arch enemy, Mr. Monstadt, fighting for the secret journals of Dr. Boiffard!

Aragones, Sergio & Mark Evanier. Groo & Rufferto. Dark Horse, 2000, $9.95, ISBN 1569714479, BLDBLD

This spoof of the barbarian comic popularized by Marvel's Conan comics of the 1970s features the helpless, hapless, and hopeless barbarian Groo. Aragones honed his craft as an artist at MAD magazine, and his skill is consummate and his product hilarious. Other titles include Groo: The Most Intelligent Man in the World, The Groo Bazaar, The Groo Houndbook, The Groo Inferno, and The Life of Groo.

Bagge, Peter. Hey Buddy! Volume 1 of the Complete Buddy Bradley Stories from Hate. Fantagraphics Books, 1995, $12.95, ISBN 1560971134, A

Hate is Peter Bagge's ode to those who live on the edge, whose world consists of comic book shops, used record and book stores, and whose idea of horror is holding a job requiring some responsibility. Hey Buddy! is an engaging look at peripheral people who exist primarily for the next issue, next CD, or next book sale. One can sense the influence of Robert Crumb in these black-and-white illustrations.

Baker, Kyle. Why I Hate Saturn. DC Comics, 1998 (reprint of 1990 edition), $17.95, ISBN 0930289722, Y

Annie and Ricky are fringe players, who eke out a living as columnists for Daddy-O, a magazine appealing to the the hip and disenfranchised. When Annie's crazy sister suddenly reappears, Annie is forced to make a commitment to someone other than herself. In doing so, she willingly puts herself in danger and confronts the U.S. military. Why I Hate Saturn is saturated with irreverance and tongue-in-cheek humor.

Bechdel, Alison. Dykes to Watch Out For. Firebrand Books, 1995, $8.95, ISBN 0932379176, A

This early novella of lesbian friends and lovers Clarice, Toni, Lois, and Mo are funny, insightful, and heartbreaking. The universality of the characters and the situations makes this book of interest to anyone intrigued by romantic trauma and career dilemmas. Other titles include Dykes to Watch Out For: The Sequel; Hot Throbbing Dykes to Watch Out For; More Dykes to Watch Out For, New Improved! Dykes to Watch Out For, Post-Dykes to Watch Out For; Spawn of Dykes to Watch Out For, and Split-Level Dykes to Watch Out For.

Bendis, Brian Michael. Fortune and Glory. Oni Press, 2000, $14.95, ISBN 1929998066, Y

This book is a "journal" in comics form of successful comic book writer Bendis's experiences while trying to break into the world of Hollywood screen writing. A good choice for non-comic book readers, and a biting look at the movie industry.

Brabner, Joyce, Harvey Pekar & Frank Stack. Our Cancer Year. Four Walls, Eight Windows, 1994, $17.95, ISBN 1568580118, A

This account of Pekar's battle with cancer as told by him and his coauthor/wife Brabner is illustrated with compassion by Frank Stack. The result is a gut-wrenching reading experience.

Briggs, Raymond. Ethel & Ernest. Jonathan Cape, 1998, $21.00, ISBN 0224046624, Y.

Briggs is possibly the premier cartoonist publishing exclusively with major publishing houses, and any new work of his deserves a very careful reading. Here, we are presented with a story for adults, the cartoon version of Briggs' parents lives. What comes across is a social history of Britain from the years prior to the Second World War to the death of both Briggs' parents in 1971, as his parents lives and his own are caught within larger political events.

Briggs, Raymond. The Snowman. Random House, 1995 (reprint of 1978 edition), $3.99, ISBN 0679872736, BLDBLD

This magical adventure of a boy and his snowman teaches children about various stages of life. Told wordlessly, readers follow nameless characters on a journey through life to death.

Brown, Chester. I Never Liked You. Drawn & Quarterly, 1994, $12.95, ISBN 0969670168, A

Brown's biting commentary on adolescent insecurity and search for love is moving and true to life. The book design is particularly effective in conveying teen isolation and yearning. Clearly, this is one of best graphic novels articulating a realistic coming of age. For readers who read (and re-read) J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye.

Burns, Charles. Big Baby. Fantagraphics Books, 1999, $24.95, ISBN 1560973617, A

Tony's overactive imagination is stimulated by television and comic books, but somehow his imaginary world clarifies the real world as the two intersect in each of these 4 stories. Exquisitely rendered in black and white, these stories both parody and articulate the repressive culture of 1950's America. Also of interest: EL BORBAH(Fantagraphics).

Busiek, Kurt & Brent Anderson. Kurt Busiek's Astro City: Life in the Big City. DC Comics, 2000 (reprint of 1996 edition), $19.95, ISBN 156389551X, Y

This tribute to golden age superhero lore is a charmer. Busiek plays both raconteur and historian in this collection of volumes from the serial, as he aptly tells a variety of tales about the heroes of Astro City, from the Samaritan, who quests for a normal life but is prevented from it by world-saving and crime fighting, to a lowly thug who accidentally discovers Jack-in-the-Box's secret identity, a revelation that does not bring him the good fortune he expects. Anderson's illustrations are slow and musing, providing a good vehicle for these stories. Other titles include Family Album and Confessions.


Excerpted from the 101 BEST GRAPHIC NOVELS by Stephen Weiner Copyright © 2001 by Stephen Weiner
Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

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Table of Contents

Author's Preface 9
A Very Short History of Comics and Graphic Novels 11
The 101 Best Graphic Novels 17
Novels Featuring Comic Book Characters 59
Further Reading About and Related to Comics 67
Index 75
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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 3, 2003

    Informative wonder

    I had no idea that such a plethora a good reading material out there. A always thought were comics were just a bunch of brawny superheroes running around in tights.I was wrong.

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