This past decade has seen an onslaught of incredible comics release onto store shelves and digital devices everywhere. Some of us prefer floppy comics, while others enjoy reading trade paperbacks and digesting stories all at once. The graphic novel is more of the latter, except read as its own concise novel by an illustrator or team of collaborators.
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Within the last 10 years, graphic novels have seen a boom in sales and popularity. Publishers like Fantagraphics, Koyama Press, Drawn & Quarterly, Top Shelf Comics and First Second have led the wave in engaging storytelling and longer-reads in comics. We’ve rounded up 15 of the greatest graphic novels that have been released since 2007. Take a look down below to see some of the most essential graphic novels any avid comic reader should check out.
15. Fante Bukowski (2015)
Noah Van Sciver, brother of DC Comics artist Ethan Van Sciver, started his cartooning in 2006 with a solo comic anthology called “Blammo.” Since then, Noah has been enjoying a successful career as an independent artist, breaking through in 2015 with two Fantagraphics-published graphic novels, “Saint Cole” and “Fante Bukowski.” The latter is one of the artist’s best pieces of work, delivered in the style of a graphic novella that spans roughly 80 pages and pokes fun at the trope of terrible writers who yearn for fortune and fame.
“Fante Bukowski” takes its inspiration from two American writers who high school kids and Urban Outfitter patrons absolutely adore: John Fante and Charles Bukowski. Noah Van Sciver cleverly combines the lore of both authors and parodies them as a single character, crafting a delusional alcoholic who believes his talents are worth his daily struggle. Fante Bukowski is actually a talentless hack, but he’ll do anything to prove peers otherwise. Unfortunately, the present day isn’t really the best time for a great American novelist to blow up on extreme pessimism alone.
14. Ant Colony (2014)
Michael Deforge is, delightfully, a total weirdo, and nothing showcases that more than his brilliant 2014 debut graphic novel, “Ant Colony.” Blending psychedelic coloring with peculiar humor, “Ant Colony” tells the tale of black ants at war with nearby red ants. War is uncomfortable, and every ant in this book — in addition to Deforge’s bizarre artwork — will show you just that. Through existential dialogue and depictions of police and government corruption, Michael Deforge forces his audience to question not only themselves, but the nature of the gorgeous “Ant Colony” the reader will flip through with glee.
Deforge creates his own universes through brash images of heavy inks and vivid colors. Dark oddities run amok in his stories, often laced with apathy and love. “Ant Colony” might serve as Deforge’s perfect introduction to newcomers and alternative comic fans. This story doesn’t beg for you to read it twice, but if you’re attempting to decipher Deforge’s strange lands, multiple readings are an absolutely must.
13. The Underwater Welder (2012)
Before DC Comics grabbed hold of Jeff Lemire, the illustrator was notorious for releasing graphic novels on small publishers, most notably among whom was Top Shelf. In 2012, the author saw his graphic novel “The Underwater Welder” release, topping multiple “best of” lists for the year and drawing comparisons to classic episodes of “The Twilight Zone.” The novel tells the tale of an offshore oil rig worker named Jack Joseph, who is soon to become a father. After one day of diving into the sea, Jack stumbles across a strange alternate reality that puts him in contact with the ghost of his father.
Lemire does a solid job of creating a ghostly environment for his characters to stumble through, with a narrative that is equally as haunting. His art style is sketchy — stiff, even — but it works with such a ghostly effect on the reader. It’s arresting and spiritual comic work for the soul, thematically pairing alternate dimensions with the “normalcy” of new fatherhood.
12. Boxers & Saints (2013)
Written by Gene Luen Yang, “Boxers” and “Saints” are two companion graphic novels released by First Second Books back in 2013. Both books tie directly into each other, telling opposing sides of the same story with its overall narrative representing the two major differences with China as a nation. “Saints” follows the story of “Four-Girl” and her adoption of the Catholic religion as she hopes to one day become the next Joan of Arc. “Boxers” tells the story of “Little Bao” and his journey toward becoming a leader of the Boxer Rebellion.
Yang wrote “Boxers” and “Saints” with good and evil in mind, certainly, but specifically with the intent of showing why and how we could possibly be sympathetic toward otherwise perceived acts of terrorism. The stories are historical fiction, offering a scope into Chinese history and scratching the surface of the violent anti-foreign and anti-Christian Boxer Rebellion. They’re interesting tales that intertwine with each other, providing educational insight into Chines history and culture.
11. Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm (2007)
If you know the name MF Grimm, then you know just how legendary and influential the underground rapper is. If you don’t, this graphic novel created by MF Grimm and artist Ronald Wimberly will serve as a proper introduction to his often elusive character. “Sentences: The Life of MF Grimm” chronicles the rapper’s childhood years into his adult life, showing the heady highs and the terrible lows of Grimm’s journey through life, both personally and professionally.
MF Grimm, friend of underground rap legend MF DOOM, begins his graphic novel with his appearance on the television show “Sesame Street.” That’s not a fable. Grimm once starred on “Sesame Street,” eventually going down a shaky road to emerge as one of rap’s most promising emcees, sharing the stage with such legendary rappers as Tupac and collaborating with Kool G Rap. “Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm” is an unforgiving look into Grimm’s own life, showing readers how he started toying with gang warfare and eventually became paralyzed due to gang violence, missing his cue to become a huge emcee. This is a gripping graphic novel for hip hop heads and DC Vertigo fans everywhere.
10. Habibi (2011)
The award-winning “Blankets” writer Craig Thompson wrote “Habibi” with the intention of humanizing Islam for himself. The author had been known for exploring his own Christian beliefs with “Blankets,” but with “Habibi” Thompson wanted to celebrate the beauty of the Arabic and Islamic cultures. He does just that, exploring the cultures with insane depth and extraordinary artwork to match. It follows the inter-tangled, cross-time lives of Dodola and Zam, whose relationship is much more complex than simply being romantic, but far too deep to not call love. As they migrate through this modern fairy tale, “Habibi” becomes a gorgeous — if complicated — love story between people and place.
The book itself is gorgeous, packaged as a thick hardcover with pages upon pages of unique work that puts “Blankets” to shame. Every chapter features its own unique art style, bound by insanely detailed border and line work. Thompson received criticism for his appropriation and even caricature of the cultures from which he borrowed (most of them Middle Eastern in nature), while being seen as “soft” on providing a full commentary. Still, as a very personal exploration into Islam — in particular, the more esoteric and mystical sufism — and as part of a grander postmodern study and treatise of the human condition, it doesn’t get better than “Habibi.”
9. Marble Season (2012)
Gilbert Hernandez is a cartoonist who is best known for his game-changing, alternative, magic realist comics series, “Love and Rockets.” In 2013, the author decided to stray from his normal routine and released a semi-autobiographical graphic novel called “Marble Season.” Published by Fantagraphics, the graphic novel is an all-ages story that playfully addresses the choices and evolution a child faces as they grow older. It’s smart, funny, amusing and actually pretty deep.
The children in “Marble Season” are shown engaging in such activities as a game of marbles (hence the name) or organizing treasure hunts together. They’re also shown coming to terms with maturity, in a subtle fashion that Hernandez writes without much force. “Marble Season” is a comic-of-age story reminiscent of old “Peanuts” comic strips from M. Schulz, but tied together with nostalgia folks from the ’60s onward, with a timeless factor that even children of today could relate to and enjoy.
8. Patience (2016)
Daniel Clowes has always been a creator who has bent genres in comics. With this 2016 graphic novel “Patience,” Clowes stepped up his weirdness with an insane psychedelic science-fiction love story. Unpredictable, anti-trope, oddball and suspenseful, “Patience” is almost indescribable. It’s dark and strange. It’s weird and it’s sad. It’s breath taking and uncomfortable. Mostly, it’s an undeniable “Clowesian” book — it isn’t for everyone, but it is definitely for those wanting characters who stand as oddities, punctuated by colors that literally pop out at readers.
The story revolves around two very damaged people: Patience and Jack. There’s time travel, murder, surprises and a baby. There’s also an immense amount of beauty put into this book by Clowes’ incredible knack for color and illustration. The entire book, from its spine through to its covers and pages, is a magnificent piece of art that should absolutely be read by Clowes’ fans, or any reader simply looking for spectacular and truly unique.
7. Seconds (2014)
When the “Scott Pilgrim” series came to an end, many fans were yearning for more by the essential millennial comic author, Bryan Lee O’Malley. He delivered with a graphic novel called “Seconds,” published by Ballantine Books. The book reads like a weird MTV-esque version of “The Twilight Zone.” It revolves around a girl named Katie who gains the ability to change her past mistakes by writing them down in a notebook, eating a magic mushroom and going to sleep.
It sounds strange, sure, but it reads much like a feel-good indie drama. Each character plays a roll in “Seconds” that feels relatable in some way, creating a fast and fluent way of storytelling only Bryan Lee O’Malley has perfected. “Seconds” is hilarious, wondrous and imaginative, tying fantasy to everyday dialogue from hip young kids who just want to fall in love. It’s a pop piece of comics for this generation.
6. Andre the Giant: Life and Legend (2014)
Box Brown discovered success after realizing he had a knack for writing and illustrating biographical graphic novels. In 2014, Brown saw the release of a biographical tale of pro wrestling star Andre the Giant with “Andre the Giant: Life and Legend.” The book garnered the attention of mainstream media outlets and eventually saw itself on the New York Times Bestseller list. It served as Box Brown’s breakthrough comic; deservedly so.
Through research and interviews, Box Brown created an authoritative summary of Andre the Giant’s childhood, pro wrestling career and personal life. It’s a substantial piece of comics work that gives readers a concise but deep view into the wrestling/actor’s personal life. The book features panelled interviews and anecdotal stories from folks who worked with Andre, such as Hulk Hogan, Billy Crystal, Robin Wright and Mandy Patinkin. Fans of comic books and pro wrestling alike will enjoy this page-turning graphic novel that humanizes Andre the Giant and portrays his jolly exterior, along with everything he suffered throughout his life.
5. Relish: My Life In the Kitchen (2013)
A unique graphic novel by Lucy Knisley, “Relish: My Life in the Kitchen” is a culinary memoir that’s both informative and entertaining. Knisley recounts her fondest memories of foods and the life lessons learned while eating them. Lucy shows off recipes and talks about food in such a way only a foodie-turned-chef would speak. She’s not cartooning food from the perspective of a fan, she’s talking about food with such passion and immense understanding, it’s not just a consumer product, it’s a way of life.
Some of the foods and recipes mentioned in “Relish: My Life in the Kitchen” are family dishes, while some are simply ones she created. They all look insanely appetizing, even if they’re just pictures in a book. There are clear instructions for the food she describes cooking, and while the illustrations are often cute, they are also (somewhat surprisingly) actually pretty practical to an aspiring chef. The comic panels found in between each recipe relate food on a scale of humanity, and even spirituality. This is a delightful read that might just inspire readers to become food connoisseurs in their own right.
4. Battling Boy (2013)
In 2013, First Second published a graphic novel by Paul Pope that begged for attention, in many ways much like its protagonist. “Battling Boy” is an adventurous tale revolving around a 13-year-old demi-god who must prove his worth as a hero to his godly world and his even godlier father. He must do this by leaving his floating-city to fight off monsters on an earth(esque)-city called Arcopolis. These monsters range from typical critters to car-munching baddies, and the Boy must use his super-powered shirts (each of which gives him the ability of whatever animal appears on it — from the T-Rex to the Gryphon) to battle them all.
“Battling Boy” seems like a nod to old school Jack Kirby comics. It looks and reads like a fun children’s comic book, yet it strikes action and comedy down hard enough for adults to find both hysterical and, in the context of both child-and-parenthood, meaningful. It’s a clever book that isn’t trying to do anything new, but rather recreate an immense energy and world found within epic cartooning and the ages-old adventure story. It’s weird, it’s hilarious, it’s downright enjoyable. If anything were to point at Paul Pope‘s understated genius, “Battling Boy” would certainly make the case.
3. Hip Hop Family Tree (2013)
Ed Piskor began his career off on the right path, aiding legendary Harvey Pekar with his graphic novel “Macedonia.” After releasing a few independent comics of his own, Piskor decided to go for the granddaddy project of them all: “Hip Hop Family Tree.” The Eisner award-winning graphic novel series serializes the birth of hip hop from the ’70s onward, with each volume (currently at four) of “Hip Hop Family Tree” focusing on specific years.
Ed Piskor created the definitive sequential art guide to hip hop. There is no doubt that Piskor spent countless months researching every particular detail of the art form, searching every nook and cranny for interesting tidbits and watching old school interviews to get each rapper’s mannerisms down perfect. There is an absurd amount of detail put into “Hip Hop Family Tree” that allows the stories told within to breathe with this incredible organic vibrancy. From Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five to the Beastie Boys, there’s nothing Ed Piskor forgets to reveal; it’s all there in this series of graphic novels, and it’s all amazing.
2. March (2013)
In collaboration with Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell, in “March,” Congressman John Lewis recounts the powerful story of the U.S. Civil Rights Movement. The first volume was published in 2013, with its third and final volume published in 2016. In each of these tightly-woven graphic novels, Congressman John Lewis shares his stories as a freedom fighter, from receiving beatings from state troopers to sit-ins in school.
There are absolutely gripping stories within the “March” series, presented by Nate Powells’ terrific illustration work and Andrew Aydin’s co-writing. The tension shown within these books is nothing short of intense, presenting the absolute courage Congressman Lewis showed during some of the most oppressive times in the history of the United States. There are major points during the Civil Rights movement that can easily be absorbed from readers young and old, including John Lewis’ meeting with Martin Luther King and the multiple boycotts in which he participated. This is a must-read tale of peaceful protest and the violence that attempted to barrage the Civil Rights Movement.
1. Asterios Polyp (2009)
David Mazzucchelli is perhaps best known for his work on “Daredevil: Born Again” and “Batman: Year One.” Aside from superhero work, Mazzucchelli is responsible for one of the coolest graphic novels ever created with his book, “Asterios Polyp.” The graphic novel tells the story of an intelligent professor and architect named Asterios Polyp and his journey away from his home after his apartment burns down in a fire.
“Asterios Polyp” fully takes hold of the graphic novel medium in every way it can. From its oddly shaped dust jacket to its dreamy, subconscious landscapes, Mazzucchelli recounts Polyp’s love life, childhood, insecurities and personality flaws in a series of flashbacks. Asterios Polyp is character many readers will be able to relate to, or at least feel sympathetic toward, as his intelligence and arrogance get the best of him during conversation with other characters. However, it’s that same sense of mightiness that makes Asterios Polyp such an interesting protagonist — he must know he’s a flawed human, but it’s unclear if he actually cares more than the reader.
What are some of your favorite graphic novels throughout the last decade? Let us know in the comments!
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