Mind Meld: Our Favorite Graphic Novels

Graphic novels tell stories differently than novels. Images accompanying, or sometimes standing in place of, text can bolster the reader’s imagination and pack a powerful punch. The idiom states, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” and a graphic novel uses the power of both words and imagery to create an entirely different reading experience.

Q: What are your favorite graphic novels and why? What about graphic novels as a genre appeals to you as a reader?

Galen Dara
Galen Dara has created art for Uncanny Magazine, Fantasy Flight Games, Lightspeed Magazine Fireside Fiction Magazine, and Strange Horizons. She won the 2016 World Fantasy Award and the Spectrum 24 Silver Award in the Editorial Category and has been nominated for the Hugo, the Chesley, and the Locus Award. www.galendara.com @galendara on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter.

I love the brain science behind comics. The way the mind fills in the blanks between panels, the way an artist can layout a two page spread with almost no words at all yet the narrative is clear and compelling. I feel like it activates my brain differently than when just reading words on a page and I love the experience. As an artist I’ve tried my hand at it a few times only to discover that there’s huge difference between creating a stand-alone illustration and being able to tell a story with a succession of panels and pages. I have huge admiration for those who do it so deftly. Some of my favorite graphic novels are are Blankets by Craig Thompson, This One Summer by Mariko Tamako, Jillian Tamaki (Illustrator), and Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Seanan McGuire
Seanan McGuire is an American author and avid reader, especially of the X-Men, which she hopes to write one day (Marvel, call me). Her works include Every Heart a Doorway, Magic for Nothing, and Into the Drowning Deep (as Mira Grant). Find her at www.seananmcguire.com, or on Twitter as @seananmcguire.

I adore graphic novels, as the twenty-plus boxes labeled “Seanan’s graphic novels” that we had to carry around during the last move will testify. There’s something beautiful about the construction of a good visual story, about holding an entire finished arc in your hands. There are stories that only hang together, in some ways, when they’re visual but static, letting the reader swallow every line and letter, letting them linger over the details. That’s important.

In a way, this is a really interesting question because my answer changes so often. You could ask me my favorite novel at any point between the age of twelve and the present day and get the same reply, but graphic novel? That’s a pickle. A pickle that changes every couple of years, as the kind of stories being told in this format change. And still I’m going to cheat, because the field of graphic novels is so vast that one is never enough.

The Wicked + the Divine is a story about gods. It’s a story about monsters. It’s a story about consumption, both as the consumer and the consumed. It’s brilliant. It’s beautiful. It’s heartbreaking. It’s a tale that benefits hugely from the freeze-frame effect inherent in the medium: the horrible becomes glorious, the glorious is made horrible, and every detail counts. In the first volume, The Faust Act, everything comes together and comes apart at the same time, and it’s breathtaking.

Finder is a story about people. It’s a story about moments. It’s a story about the long road between here and home, no matter where here is, no matter where home is. it’s huge and intricate and multilayered and momentous, and no two arcs are the same, although they all connect. The first volume is Sin-Eater, and is collected in the first Finder omnibus, printed through Dark Horse Comics. I honestly cannot recommend this work highly enough.

Mercedes M. Yardley
The author of the short story collection Beautiful Sorrows, the “serial killers in love” novella Apocalyptic Montessa and Nuclear Lulu: A Tale of Atomic Love, the BONE ANGEL trilogy, Pretty Little Dead Girls: A Novel of Murder and Whimsy, and the Bram Stoker Award winner Little Dead Red. Specializing in the dark and beautiful you can follow Mercedes M. Yardley at www.abrokenlaptop.com and @mercedesmy on Twitter.

My favorite graphic novel is The Last Unicorn, adapted from Peter S. Beagle’s novel of the same name. It has some of the most beautiful art I have ever seen combined with a lyrical, surprisingly dark story. I can’t stop drinking it in because it’s like water on parched roots. It’s true to the novel but manages to simplify it into a cleaner form, as graphic novels often do. The art can only be described as whimsical and lush. They took a favorite book of mine and created something new and stunning with it. How often does that really happen? Not often enough.

Should you read it? You should read it.

I love graphic novels as a medium because they’re art as well as story. They’re written differently to accommodate the art, and I love that the characters are visually portrayed there for you to see. Reading always came naturally to me, but my brother struggled with it. Graphic novels were a great way to interest him in reading without it being an intimidating solid block of words that seemed impossible to overcome. I’ve used them to entice several hesitant readers who want to immerse themselves in different worlds but find reading itself to be difficult. The use of graphics to accompany the words really makes the project sparkle, turning reading into a more comfortable experience for those who are initially shy about it.

Not to mention that there is something both sexy and comforting about being an adult and looking at a picture book. It’s the best of all worlds.

Wendy N. Wagner
Wendy N. Wagner’s third novel, An Oath of Dogs, is due out July 2017 from Angry Robot Books. She’s sold over three dozen short stories, written tie-in fiction for the Pathfinder role-playing game, and serves as the managing/associate editor of Lightspeed and Nightmare magazines. You can keep up with her at winniewoohoo.com.

Humans have a visceral response to darkness. We’re diurnal creatures, lacking the tapetum lucidum that so many other animals have evolved, and our sense of vision is badly handicapped once the sun goes down. That’s one of the reasons Afterlife with Archie, Volume 1, is my favorite graphic novel: It makes fantastic use of shadows and black ink. In fact, the comic is designed so that there is no white space on the page, not in the seams of the panels, not in the edges of the paper—except for the speech bubbles. (The clever design continues in that voice-overs are indicated in colorful, squared-off speech bubbles, instead of round white ones.) The palette of intense darkness punctuated by high contrast secondary colors sets this series as the diametric opposite of the original Archie. It’s a Riverdale of despair and pain and apocalypse, and the majority of that flavor comes from the color scheme.

Other design elements—panels sized and angled for maximum pacing and effect, sound effects coded by typeface (I love the scraggly cursive lettering used for zombie vocalizations)—make this graphic novel exceptionally readable and visually arresting. I came late to reading comics, and I sometimes struggle to follow complicated scenes where dialogue bounces between panels or the panel layout makes the timing confusing, but that never happens here. The partnership between artist Francesco Francavilla and letterer Jack Morelli makes reading the page a nearly cinematic experience.

I’ve seen plenty of horror movies that skate by on the strength of their visuals, and it would be easy for Afterlife to do the same. But the graphic novel is built on the firm foundation of Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s tight script. While the famous trio of Archie, Veronica, and Betty get plenty of time in the spotlight, Aguirre-Sacasa is a master of creating small, affecting moments with more minor characters. With so many scenes of deeply human behavior, Afterlife with Archie is more than just a glossy horror adventure. It’s worth reading and re-reading … but maybe with all the lights on.

Lucy A. Snyder
Lucy A. Snyder is a five-time Bram Stoker Award-winning author whose writing has appeared in publications such as Asimov’s Science Fiction, Apex Magazine, Nightmare Magazine, Pseudopod, Strange Horizons, and Best Horror of the Year. She lives in Columbus, Ohio and is faculty in Seton Hill University’s MFA program in Writing Popular Fiction. You can learn more about her at www.lucysnyder.com and you can follow her on Twitter at @LucyASnyder.

I’m a fan of all kinds of sequential art … trying to choose my favorite graphic novel is a little like trying to choose my favorite ice cream flavor. That said, one graphic novel series I’ve enjoyed is Joe Hill’s Locke & Key.

The first collected volume of the series, Welcome to Lovecraft, focuses on siblings Bode, Tyler, and Kinsey Locke relocating from California to the Keyhouse on the fictional island of Lovecraft, Massachusetts after Tyler’s classmate Sam Lesser murders their father. (Tyler hears the gunshot, fights Sam and beats him unconscious.)

There’s a lot of really interesting stuff going on in Welcome to Lovecraft. One of the many things that struck me is the portrayal of 17-year-old Sam Lesser. He’s presented as a frustrated prodigy: the son of a violent, alcoholic father and a drug-addicted mother, he’s emotionally stunted from all the physical and psychological abuse he’s suffered at the hands of parents and bullies alike, but nonetheless he is highly intelligent and artistic. He’s delinquent enough to have been sent to see the school counselor (Tyler’s father) on a regular basis, but hasn’t done anything terrible … until the demon Dodge decides he’s useful. Then, in keeping with the key theme, the demon unlocks the evil inside Sam.

Most all of the above is portrayed through Hill’s text. Artist Gabriel Rodriguez’s visual portrayal of the boy adds a dimension that references classic horror. Before he murders Mr. Locke and loses his fight with Tyler, Sam is drawn as plain and sad-looking. He looks unremarkable and a bit stupid, and wears baggy, unstylish clothes that hang unflatteringly on his skinny frame. He doesn’t look like a potential criminal mastermind; he looks pathetic. His features are all just slightly disproportioned: his eyes too bulging, his mouth too wide, his brow too low. The way in which he’s drawn reminded me of Robert Louis Stevenson’s description of Mr. Hyde: “he gave an impression of deformity without any nameable malformation.”

After Tyler bashes Sam’s face in with a brick, his visage (as one would expect) is rather changed. But instead of a radical deformation from crushed bones or puckered scars, Sam is drawn as having a face that looks stitched together, even months after the wounds would have healed and the stitches removed. He looks like Frankenstein’s monster: he’s a fiend who was deliberately and carefully created by Dodge. The demon raised him from the endless social death of an impoverished, bullied kid and gave him a new, terrible life. And, like Frankenstein’s creation, Sam decides that the best way to deal with the people who fear and despise him is to slaughter them.

M. R. Carey
M.R. Carey has been making up stories for most of his life. His novel The Girl With All the Gifts was a USA Today bestseller and is now a major motion picture, made from his BAFTA-nominated screenplay. Under the name Mike Carey, he has written for both DC and Marvel, including critically acclaimed runs on X-Men and Fantastic Four, Marvel’s flagship superhero titles. His creator-owned books regularly appear on The New York Times bestseller list. He also has several previous novels, two radio plays, and a number of TV and movie screenplays to his credit.

One of my favorite graphic novels is Tony Millionaire’s Uncle Gabby. It’s an existential horror story told in the style of a children’s book about animated toys. Millionaire is an exquisitely skilled draughtsman, so every page here is beautiful. And every page is stranger than the last, until finally you reach a heartbreaking climax that makes you look around you at the real world as if you’re waking up out of a weird dream, not sure any more what’s real and what isn’t. I think one of the things graphic fiction does brilliantly is to create worlds that are even less beholden to the laws of physics and causality than movies—worlds where anything can happen. I suspect that most of us have a deep-seated desire to live in a world like that.

Harry Connolly
Harry Connolly is the author of the noir urban fantasy series, Twenty Palaces, and also the light-hearted pacifist urban fantasy, A Key, an Egg, an Unfortunate Remark. He lives in Seattle with his beloved wife, beloved son, and beloved library system.

I’ve never been what you’d call an early adopter, and that was especially true in my teenage years. I read mostly Marvel, a little DC, and actively avoided anything outside the big two. It all looked sorta sketchy, I didn’t trust the art, and most of it had nothing to do with superheroes. I really like(d) superheroes.

Then, in the spring or summer of ’84, I went to the monthly mini-con where I bought my comics, and a local indie creator was sitting there at a table, signing his stuff. It was Matt Wagner, and four issues of Mage: The Hero Discovered had come out. Back then, people (meaning me) were still being idiots about collecting comics and the art looked okay, so I bought what was available, got them signed, and brought them home.

When I reached the end of that fourth issue, it was like coming up for air. And I was pissed, because I wanted more. Without the burden of company continuity, M:THD had a real sense of mystery to it. It also introduced me to a kind of urban fantasy that I would not see again until The Dresden Files.

Plus, the fight scenes were clean and fast, without the ridiculous dialog balloons the big two relied on.

After that, I started trying all sorts of comics: Whisper, Beautiful Stories for Ugly Children, Nexus, Grimjack… Some were great. Others not so much. But Mage:THD was the gateway comic that nudged me out of my rut.

Thank you, Matt Wagner. I look forward to the third and final part of the Mage trilogy.

Andrea Johnson
Andrea Johnson blogs about science fiction and fantasy books at Little Red Reviewer (littleredreviewer.wordpress.com), and blogs non-bookish things at Girl Stuff (thegirlstuffblog.wordpress.com). Most certainly not a hipster, she reads obscure science fiction novels, cosplays characters you’ve never heard of, and drinks whiskies with names she can’t pronounce. Come say Hi on twitter, where she’s @redhead5318.

Something I love about graphic novels is that I can control the pacing of the story. If I’m enjoying a particular scene or character interaction, I can spend as much time on that page as I want, paying close attention to all of the details. If a scene is boring, I can just flip to the next page. Does a reader reading a novel have this power? Of course they do. But it feels different in a graphic novel or manga because there is a huge portion of the story experience that isn’t words you are reading, but images or facial expressions you are interpreting, and I always get a kick out non-verbal communication. I’m always surprised when I watch the anime version of a manga I’ve enjoyed, because that’s not how it was paced in my mind!

One of my favorite manga series that I have enjoyed recently is Bride’s Story by Kaoru Mori. A historical narrative following women in different villages and cities across the silk road in the 19th century, this series has the most gorgeous artwork I’ve ever seen. I have a very long list of things I love about this series, including the characterization, story telling style, pacing, and artwork. Mori is an absolute genius at showing not telling, there are entire scenes where characters aren’t speaking, but you know exactly what is going on (reminds me a little of the first few episodes of Samurai Jack, which were nearly dialog free). The author’s commitment to getting the historical details right are just incredible – she researched everything from embroidery patterns, to architecture, to food and public markets, to societal expectations. I’m sure much of what happens in this series is a highly romanticized view, but it makes me want to read other silk road narratives.

And to continue my pattern of cosplaying characters no one has ever heard of, I’d love to cosplay Amir from A Bride’s Story!

What graphic novels do you love?

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