Recommended By: Tony Vicory

Let’s just get this out of the way: graphic novels are comic books. Illustrated stories. Anyone who tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something. Probably comic books. The term “graphic novel” is basically a euphemism, used by the publishing industry (rather cynically) to combat the medium’s undeserved reputation as somehow puerile or unsophisticated. (Anyone who pronounces Target “tar-zhay” will understand this.) Sure, some comic books are in fact novels — that is, long-form narratives — so they certainly deserve the moniker; however, most are not, broadly ranging from periodical anthologies to works of creative nonfiction. But hey, “graphic novels” is the buzzword du jour and if it gets more comics into readers’ hands, then why not? Graphic novels, it is!

Some of you may be rolling your eyes right now. That’s okay. Eyes need exercise, too. But the truth is, graphic novels can be serious literature, even if images, not words, drive the stories. Therein, of course, lies the source of most critics’ concern, as if the presence of pictures automatically dumbs down the material. (Insert defenses here: Caldecott Medal winners, illuminated medieval manuscripts, Figure 1A in every physics textbook ever, etc.) If anything, actually, graphic novels add to literacy, requiring two distinct forms of it: verbal and visual. The images, which are arranged sequentially in juxtaposed frames called “panels,” must be interpreted, i.e. read, the same as any text on the page — and that text itself is often pictorial, with dialogue in bubbles, narration in blocks, and sound effects, well, bouncing around like rogue onomatopoeia. BOING! It should come as no surprise then that graphic novels serve as teaching tools in many schools’ curricula, win Pulitzer Prizes, inspire blockbuster films, and grace TIME magazine’s “List of 100 Best Novels.” Not bad for supposed “kid’s stuff.” (Side note: If a picture is indeed worth a thousand words, most graphic novels make War and Peace look like a pamphlet. Just saying.)

So, which graphic novels should you read? Great question! Like all books, the answer depends chiefly on your age and interests, but rest assured: you won’t lack for options. Graphic novels truly offer something for everyone. While the medium may be synonymous with the superheroes of DC and Marvel Comics, the selection doesn’t stop there. Think of a genre, and you will undoubtedly find it represented: action, comedy, horror, mystery, romance, science-fiction, even poetry! International works are showcased as well, from humorous Franco-Belgian adventures to dramatic Japanese manga. And what of nonfiction, you ask? Another great question! The scope is equally wide — we’re talking autobiography to travelogue — and boasts award-winning works by authors like Art Spiegelman and John Lewis. Impressive, no? As you can see, with a smorgasbord like that, it’s a safe bet that your next favorite book could be a comic book. Sorry! Graphic novel. But the point still stands.

Go ahead and check one out today. You can read it at Tar-Zhay.