Best graphic novels of 2008
Granted, “best of” lists are always subjective, and considering the number of new books released every year, I never expect to see many graphic novels on the various lists that show up this time of year. Compared to the number of picture books, prose novels, and non-fiction titles available to be considered, it can be tough for graphic novels to get equal attention. But I have to admit, I was somewhat taken aback to find the only graphic novel appearing on School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008 list is P. Craig Russell’s adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s novel Coraline.
Now don’t get me wrong. Coraline is a really good book. But having only one graphic novel on a list like this made me wonder. Suppose the choice were up to me, but I could only choose one graphic novel to be included on the Best Books 2008 list. Would Coraline be the book I’d choose to include? I’d have to say no. I mean, I liked it. I even gave it a really good review. But I don’t think it makes my top ten, let alone takes the top spot.
I decided to throw the question out to the rest of the Good Comics for Kids team to see what their picks would be. First, we set some ground rules. We could choose two books, one for younger readers, ages 0-12, and one for older readers, ages 12-18. We figured this was fair, since age ranges were noted for each of the books listed on the School Library Journal’s Best Books 2008 list, and, as Kate pointed out, we couldn’t think of a single graphic novel that came out this year that really works for all age groups. In addition, since SLJ put out a Holiday Gift Guide, we’ve also included titles we think kids would enjoy receiving this holiday season. Because as you know from the discussion going on over at the Heavy Medal blog, the “best books” aren’t always the books kids want to read.
Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991, by Scott McCloud (HarperCollins)
Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon & Dean Hale, Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury)
My absolute favorite was not released for children or teens per say. I was taken by Zot!: The Complete Black and White Collection: 1987-1991. It’s been a few months since I read it, but I can still picture myself in my recliner reading the book. I was so engrossed with the characters and their stories that I thought about them even when I had to take a break from reading to cook supper. And when I finished reading, my thoughts were still on Jenny and her friends. So, what grabbed me with this title was the characterization, the stories, and of course the artwork. I was equally as engrossed in the panels, and what was happening visually as I was with the text.
My genuine children’s pick is Rapunzel’s Revenge. Hale’s version of Rapunzel is fun and sassy. I laughed and cheered her on. The artwork is dynamic, fun, and jumps off the page.
Real, vol 1, by Takehiko Inoue (VIZ)
Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon & Dean Hale, Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury)
My older readers title would have to be Real vol. 1, by Takehiko Inoue. It definitely fits what Esther said about the characters sticking with me. For younger readers, I’ll have to also pick Rapunzel. It was a very well-written and illustrated book and a fine adaptation of the classic tale.
Hatter M, by Frank Beddor & Liz Cavalier, Ben Templesmith (Automatic Pictures)
Johnny Boo, by James Kochalka (Top Shelf)
Hmm…for gift picks, I think I’d choose Hatter M for teens who like fantasy and adventure, and Johnny Boo for early readers.
Sand Chronicles, by Hinako Ashihara (VIZ)
Korgi, vol 2, by Christian Slade (Top Shelf)
Hm…just one? Well, for older age groups, I’m gonna have to go with Sand Chronicles. If you’re looking for a tense nigh-melodramatic romance with just a touch of suspense for your teen(s), pick this up. It pulls everything off fantastically.
For the younger age group…I say pick up Korgi Vol. 2. It’s really fantastic all-ages stuff, with lush art and great wordless storytelling.
Song of the Hanging Sky, by Toriko Gin (Go!Comi)
Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty, by Matthew Loux (Oni Press)
For younger readers (under 10), my top pick would be Matthew Loux’s Salt Water Taffy: The Legend of Old Salty (Oni Press). The story follows a tried-and-true formula, but Loux keeps this charming mystery fresh with bold artwork and smart dialogue. Anyone who’s spent time in Maine or on Cape Cod will immediately recognize the scrubby pine trees, rocky shores, and old wooden buildings that are a fundamental part of the New England landscape; you can practically smell the salt air and the hear the seagulls as you turn the page. Best of all, Loux’s story manages to engage the reader on several levels: as an adventure, as a coming-of-age story, and as a comedy. And c’mon… who doesn’t love a talking lobster?
For tweens and teens, my top pick would be Toriko Gin’s Song of the Hanging Sky (Go! Comi). This beautifully illustrated series chronicles the relationship between a war-weary soldier and a winged boy. The boy belongs to a unique tribe of bird-men who have been hunted nearly to the brink of extinction, and now struggle to conceal their existence from the modern world. Though there are obvious parallels between Hanging Sky and the long, tortured history of US/Indian relations, the book is more than just an allegory for conflict between imperialists and native peoples; it’s a lovely meditation on friendship, on growing up, and on forging an identity, both as an individual and a member of a group. If this isn’t YALSA bait, I don’t know what is!
There’s a Wolf at the Door, by Zoe B. Alley, R.W. Alley (Roaring Brook Press)
Dramacon: The Ultimate Edition, by Svetlana Chmakova (Tokyopop)
Gift books: For the under-twelve set, I’d enthusiastically recommend There’s a Wolf at the Door. This whimsical book offers fresh takes on five well-known fairy tales. The twist: the bad guy is the same in every story, and he’s a wolf with a passion for Saville Row fashion. Its oversized pages, witty dialogue, and charming watercolor illustrations make Wolf a perfect book for parents and kids to share. Best of all, it stands up to multiple readings–a godsend for parents whose kids develop obsessive attachments to books.
For teens, I’d recommend Svetlana Chmakova’s Dramacon: Ultimate Edition (Tokyopop), an appealing soap opera about a group of otaku who attend the same anime convention every year. The Ultimate Edition collects all three volumes of this popular series into a single, hardcover edition with some nice extras: an interview with the creator, a bonus story, and early character sketches. As an added plus, The Ultimate Edition is priced at $19.99, nearly $10 less than it would cost to buy the three volumes individually.
Stinky, by Eleanor Davis (TOON Books)
For my under 12 pick, I’ve decided to go with Stinky, by Eleanor Davis (TOON Books). With Stinky, Davis has done something very few authors have managed to do within the easy reader category: using a limited, controlled vocabulary, she has created a story children will actually want to read. The story follows a comfortable formula, but has enough gentle humor and detailed artwork to keep readers interested and entertained from beginning to end. As in the best of the Crosby Bonsall easy readers, the world Davis has created in Stinky is completely fleshed out and believable, right down to Stinky’s own monster swamp, but having a map of the neighborhood added to the back endpapers is a welcome bonus. Kids will have a blast plotting where all the action takes place.
Into the Volcano, by Don Wood (Scholastic)
Although Stinky is my best of pick for the under 12 set, my gift pick is Into the Volcano, by Don Wood (Scholastic). An exciting mix of adventure, intrigue, and a smattering of science makes this a great read for boys, girls, reluctant readers, non-fiction buffs, romance lovers, navel-gazers, and just about anyone else who can read.
I’m still deliberating on which book to choose for my older reader pick. Hmm.
World of Quest, by Jason Kruse (Yen Press)
Well, now that I’ve had more time to think and read, I’d suggest The World of Quest. I just put it out at work and it’s gone out every day. (It’s short enough to be returned the next day…) The bright vivid colors just make this one something to snap up. And when they ask for a Volume 2, I know I’m in good shape.
Satchel Paige: Striking Out Jim Crow, by James Sturm, Rich Tommaso (Hyperion)
As far as gift books go, I can’t do the number 1 very well, unless it pertains to me 🙂 You know, Esther’s #1. Rah. Rah. Rah. 🙂
So, for my nieces I’d still buy Rapunzel. For my nephew I’d by The World of Quest. For the thoughtful child… I’d buy Satchel Paige.
Yokaiden, by Nina Matsumoto (Del Rey)
Hereville, by Barry Deutsch (webcomic)
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’ll pick the webcomic Hereville as my under-10 selection. It’s definitely geared toward the older end of that demographic, but it really reminds me of the sort of book I enjoyed when I was 9 or 10—an imaginative story featuring a strong-minded girl in an interesting culture that was foreign to me. The art and writing are top-notch, and Abrams will be bringing out a print edition in 2010 or so.
For the teen reader, I really like vol. 1 of Yokaiden, by Nina Matsumoto. I’m not a big fan of folklore, but Nina Matsumoto does such a nice job of bringing yokai to life. The story is a tad contrived, but she handles it with a light touch, really lively art, and plenty of humor.
Skim, by Mariko Tamaki, Jillian Tamaki (Groundwood Books)
Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon & Dean Hale, Nathan Hale (Bloomsbury)
One great graphic novel for the year! This one is hard. I’m not as well read for the youngest age ranges, although I do confess to loving Jellaby, and Stinky was my favorite of the TOON books.
For kids in general, though, I have to go with what other folks have already said: Rapunzel’s Revenge by Shannon Hale. This is exactly the kind of story I devoured as a kid and tween. Rapunzel is the fantasy heroine I always wanted to be: the knight, the wizard, the hero. I never wanted to be the princess, so this particular tale totally works for me. I think the world could do with more heroine’s like Rapunzel as she’s shown here (which is why, someday, when I have oodles of money, I am going to start a fantasy novel heroine camp where young ladies can come and learn everything they need to know to be a fantasy heroine: hand to hand combat, archery, swordplay, how to search a room without anyone knowing, etiquette, disguises, witty small talk, detective-like powers of observation…it would be awesome, I tell you!) I also think Rapunzel’s Revenge is a fantastic gift.
For teens, this is a tougher call, as I’ve read a million graphic novels for teens this year. And, it kind of depends on what priorities you’re using. 🙂 If we’re going for Literature with a capital L, but which still definitely appeals to teens a title that really knocked my socks off, is Skim by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki. I just thought it captured the point of view of a teen so well, and the art was gorgeous and evocative.
Invincible, by Robert Kirkman, Bill Crabtree, Ryan Ottley (Image)
Lest everyone think I’m too much of a girl (which, at times, I totally am, but nonetheless), another title I think is far too often overlooked but is, IMHO, one of the best superhero series for teens running: Invincible that there are four oversized-but-not-too-oversized hardcover editions collecting the entire run of the series. I’m always impressed by how much the quality never flags. The dialog is often hilarious and always true to life, and I find Mark’s journey as a superhero far more believable and engaging than many of the either overwrought or too "gee-whiz" teen superhero series. It’s the small moments that make it work, like, as in the latest volume, when Mark catches his college roommate dressed up, striking poses, in his superhero costume. If your roommate was a superhero, you know you’d be tempted.
by Robert Kirkman. This would be my pick for a gift for teens, especially now
Life Sucks, by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria, Warren Pleece (First Second)
Amulet, by Kazu Kibiushi (Scholastic)
For my young readers pick, I’m going to say Amulet by Kazu Kibiushi. It’s a great mix of classic fantasy combined with elements of manga and Saturday morning cartoons. And it has a walking robot castle — very cool imagery and a great start that should really become a classic for kids.
For my teen readers pick, I’m going to have to go with Life Sucks by Jessica Abel, Gabe Soria and Warren Pleece. With all the attention that vampire fiction is getting again these days with a certain YA series, this graphic novel provides yet another side of vampirism. Think slacker protagonist plucked right out of a Richard Linklater movie combined with the sexy irreverence of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Bone: Crown of Horns, by Jeff Smith (Scholastic)
And for my gift purchase — nothing says holiday gift giving than Bone #1-8 to get kids and fans geared up with the release of the 9th and final book in the series, Crown of Horns. Bone still remains in my eyes the best children’s graphic novel series published.
Pitch Black, By Youme Landowne, Anthony Horton (Cinco Puntos Press)
It took me a while but I’ve finally come up with my teen picks. Like Robin, I’ve read my weight in teen graphic novels this year, so it was hard for me to choose just one. I was tempted to choose both Skim and Life Sucks, as they are both fantastic books for teens and are both on my personal top ten list for 2009. But the book that has stayed with me the longest and the one I have wanted to talk about the most is Pitch Black, by Youme Landowne (Cinco Puntos Press). When an artist and a homeless man meet by chance in a subway station, their conversation leads to him introducing her to his life in the abandoned tunnels under the streets of New York City. Powerful, moving, spare, and true, this book is short enough to impact the reader without resorting to melodrama or attempting to evangelize.
Naruto, by Masashi Kishimoto (VIZ)
I had to gather courage before I could bring myself to deliver my teen gift pick. I’m a librarian; I’m supposed to be all about fine literature and reading only “the good stuff.” But millions of teens can’t be wrong, and gazillions of copies wouldn’t have sold like hotcakes if Naruto weren’t any good. Yes, it’s manga (manga can be great), and yes its been licensed and merchandized up the wazoo (if it matters, the book came first). But here’s the thing: Naruto is a really, really fun story to read. It has complex characters, a well plotted story, great adventure, epic battles of good versus evil, and the funny scenes are actually funny. A new story arc begins in volume 28, so readers new to the series have a jumping on point, and gift-givers have the opportunity to give books in this series without having to commit to buying the entire run. And teens who do want to read the series from the beginning have an easy way to access the books. They can go to the library.
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About Eva Volin
Eva Volin is the Supervising Children's Librarian for the Alameda Free Library in California. She has written about graphic novels for such publications as Booklist, Library Journal, ICv2, Graphic Novel Reporter, and Children & Libraries. She has served on several awards committees including the Will Eisner Comic Industry Awards, the Michael L. Printz Award, and the Isotope Award for Excellence in Mini-Comics. She served on YALSA's Great Graphic Novels for Teens committee for three years and is currently serving on ALSC's Notable Books for Children committee.
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