It's a geek's world, and we're all living in it. Even so, comics aren't always easy to share with kids. Tons of them aren't written for children and would test even the most permissive parent's resolve. Reading most comics out loud presents plenty of challenges, but books with clear storytelling can be a treasure—and treasures are better shared than hoarded.
While everyone knows Jeff Smith's Bone—if this is news, go read it, with or without kids—there are amazing, funny, adventurously geeky comics written for kids that parents can love too. While written with kids in mind, these books have geeky hooks. They delve into fantasy, superheroes, and science in ways that appeal to geeks of all ages and genders. The gateways to geekery are manifold, but comics are still one of the best introductions to the awesome nerd lifestyle we know and love.
10 Dear Justice League
Michael Northrup's Dear Justice League is a fun book that's all about hilariously humanizing DC's greatest heroes. A bit like a collection of childrens' letters to the president, or to God, the twist is that this is a comic. The reader gets to see what the heroes are doing (and often, should be doing) when they get a text or fan letter from a young person who either wants to be more like their heroes or just wants to reassurance that they are doing okay
Gustavo Duarte's artwork is kinetic and expressive, and seeing superheroes doing nonheroic things like walking dogs or watering their lawn is comedy gold. Plus, they get the characters just right. Arrogance, kindness, cluelessness, and heroism are all wrapped together in very human packages. A great pick for kids who love Supers, ages 5+.
Even since the series premiered on Netflix, the Hilda books haven't gotten enough credit or recognition. They're funny, they've got a credibly brave, intelligent heroine, and Luke Pearson's giant-sized artwork is beyond gorgeous.
This is a great series that borders on "dark fantasy." Hilda, her mom, and her friends live in a casually magical world. They're used to the trolls that live beyond their city's walls and to the semi-helpful spirits that live in their homes. Most of the adults in Hilda's world are used to avoiding the magic that surrounds them, blinding them to wonders and dangers alike. That said, Hilda's mom is great. As she should, when her honest daughter tells her about an emergency, she immediately believes her.
It's a complete world, too, something that Miyazaki might make collaborating with Hergé. Perfect for 8-12 year olds.
8 The Amulet
Kazu Kibuishi's Amulet fantasy series is almost as prominent as Jeff Smith's Bone. It's a series that truly deserves its accolades, though. It's a familiar story of a "chosen child" on a mission with her brother to save their mother and a magical world. The execution, characters, and pacing all make this story special, though, as is the lush, manga-inspired artwork.
In spite of a population of cute, quirky characters, the emotions in this series ring frighteningly true. It's a long series that helps young readers forge that connection with characters that nerdy audiences know so well. It's not as funny or carefree a some of the other books on this list, but it provides a comics experience that few will forget. Ages 8-12.
7 Tiny Titans
This graphic novel series is all about what the Titans and other teen DC heroes would be like as children. As students at Sidekick Elementary, they find themselves facing foes like Principle Slade Wilson and a treehouse-stealing version of Brainiac. The jokes are fast, but the characters feel just right as opposed to the sugar-rush insane versions of them in Teen Titans Go.
The artwork is simple and accessible, stylized to feel like kid's drawings and taking advantage of the visual shorthand superhero costumes represent. It's less adventure than it is silliness, but it's smart silliness with a lot of action. Go Tiny Titans! Ages 5+.
Products of another school of geekery, both the Muppet Show and the Muppet Graphic Novels series are delights. The former, written and drawn by Eisner and Harvey winning indy comics star Roger Langridge (Fred the Clown), feels like legit episodes that Jim Henson would make. The massive cast is faithfully depicted in new stories with just the right amount of character incompetence for older fans to feel at home.
The other graphic novels are created by different teams, and so have different qualities, but are nonetheless strong and fun. Stories like Muppet Robin Hood and Muppet Sherlock Holmes capture the feel of Muppet motion pictures, no mean feat. Both series are joke-rich, but also tend to be text-heavy, making them better for slightly older kids. Ages 8-12.
5 The Olympians
The Olympians series by George O'Connor represents Greek mythology comics done right. With each volume dedicated to a particular god, these are faithful interpretations of the original superhero stories. With nuanced, complex heroes who save the world one day and seek petty revenge the next, these myths reached a storytelling complexity thousands of years ago that superhero comics are only now reaching.
O'Connor skillfully manages to tell these stories without bowdlerizing them while still keeping them kid-friendly, and that's hard to do when Zeus is your hero. Good for the younger set, but great for kids 8-12.
4 The Little Vampire
Joann Sfar is justly famous in European comics circles. He's created adult graphic novels like The Rabbi's Cat and children's books like Sardine in Space. The Little Vampire series, though, is a masterpiece for horror geeks. Closely related to Sfar's Vampire Loves GN, this series focuses on the friendship between Little Vampire and a husky Jewish boy named Michael.
Their friendship is a source of strength, and LV's monster friends and parents are always kind to Michael, but there's a flip side. Having monsters protect to you from bullies leads to masticated bullies and botched resurrection spells. There's some cartoon gore and a dark sense of humor that smaller kids might not like, but this gloriously messy series of giant-sized volumes is a fantastic read. Ages 8-12.
3 Avatar: The Last Airbender
Fans of Aang, Katara, and Zuko, behold your beautiful bride! Gene Yang's series of Avatar graphic novels, The Promise, The Search, and The Rift, are the perfect follow up to the popular animated series. While Legend of Korra has its merits, this is where the action is.
Picking up after Aang's defeat of Firelord Ozai, these stories deliver picture-perfect action, capturing the characters in a direct continuation of their adventures. These are justified stories, questions of Zuko's fitness for the Firelord's throne, and motifs of his mother's fate looming large. Beautifully drawn and written, this is a rare perfect sequel. Ages 8-12.
Before even Sky High, the super kids of Public School 238 were delivering a wonderfully deconstructed version of superheroic action. Aaron Williams delivers this funny-serious series with a lot of hilarity, but with meta-prodigy children facing real problems.
It's a bit like a junior version of Astro City; incipient mad genius Zordon wants to rule the school and then the world, Junior Superman Captain Clarinet just wants his parents to stick to together, and powerless non-prodigy Moonshadow can't understand why the other kids see him as a leader. Additionally, their supervillains are sometimes genuinely scary, and their stories focus believably on the real events in an unreal world. Ages 8-12.
1 Ordinary People Change the World (Meltzer)
Brad Meltzer is well known in the comics world for runs on Green Arrow and Justice League, including the infamous Identity Crisis. Less famous (to geeks) is his series of inspirational kids biography comics.
Ordinary People Change the World is based on the idea that everyone can be a hero. Delving into the inner lives and childhoods of people from Jim Henson to Jane Goodall, these stories of normal lives with extraordinary impacts are unforgettable. Christopher Eliopoulos' Calvin and Hobbes inspired artwork is a perfect match for these lives driven by imagination and courage. Ages 5+.