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Fabulous Graphic Novels For People Who Hate Superheroes

Hate superheroes? As Deborah Biancotti says, they probably hate you too. Meanwhile, as requested by Sean the Blogonaut, here are some of my recs for fantastic graphic novels that don’t include capes, masks, or anyone saying “Holy Rusting Metal, Batman!” (Yes I did rewatch Batman Forever recently, thank you for asking)

These are the ones that occur to me right now. There are of course many, many other superhero-free graphic novels out there, and the best thing about a list like this is not only that I will remember a bunch more as soon as I hit “publish” but also, I hope, that many of you will think of your own super-obvious examples and will share them in the comments. So then I get to find out about new things to read too, hooray!

<strong>Fun Home, written & drawn by Alison Bechdel
Always top of my recommendation list, this is an extraordinary memoir which demonstrates the power and scope of the graphic novel as an art form. This is the sad, rich story of a young woman who barely gets a chance to come to terms with her own lesbian identity before her family is confronted by the revelation that her father is gay, and has been keeping it from his family for many years. Bechdel chronicles her relationship with her father in minute, almost painful detail, with her childhood home (the house he was determined to renovate to perfection) standing as a powerful symbol at the heart of the story. The only flaw in this exceptional book was the almost-invisibility of Bechdel’s mother, but she has since rectified that with a sequel dealing with that equally important relationship in her life, which will be released in a few months.

Friends with Boys, written and illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks
Just released this month, the whole graphic novel has been released as a serial webcomic, so you can check it out before buying. I love the art style of this one, which is the story of an earnest, shy teenage girl trying to deal with going to public school after a childhood of home schooling, the loss of her runaway mother, the friendship of her beloved older brothers slipping away from her, and the ghost that haunts the local graveyard. I love it to bits, and plan to get hold of it in hard copy for rereading purposes, and to pass on to my daughters. It has great things to say about individuality and friendship and bullying and family… and if nothing else, the high school performance of a zombie musical has to be seen to be believed.

Rapunzel’s Revenge & Calamity Jack, written by Shannon & Dean Hale and art by Nathan Hale
More YA titles, this series takes the common trope of reimagined fairytales, and smashes them with a gorgeous Wild West with Occasional Steampunk landscape. Vivid art, and two compelling protagonists. Might possibly be bending the rules of this list because Rapunzel is pretty much depicted here as a superhero.

The Forgotten, by Tony Lee and Pia Guerra
My favourite Doctor Who graphic novel, this story captures the personalities of the Tenth Doctor and Martha excellently, but tells a story of Moffat-like (even Gaiman-like, with one particular plot twist) complexity. The best part is the structure, which requires the Doctor to delve back into memories of all his former selves, and specific eras of his adventures. I love the special touch with the stories set in the 60’s, which are drawn in black and white! One for the devoted fans to relish.

Logicomix, written by Apostolos Doxiadis and Christos Papadimitriou, art by Alecos Papadatos
I’ll admit I haven’t read this one, but it’s one that my honey will enthusiastically recommend to anyone with an interested in the sciences or, more importantly, the history of mathematics. Narrated by Bertrand Russell, it moves between the late 19th century and the present day, and introduces the reader to many of the great thinkers of history. It’s a mighty tome and a bestselling book, which comes with colossal geek cred.

Questionable Content Vols 1 & 2, written & drawn by Jeph Jacques
Another webcomic that I love, this has been going for many years, but the first 500+ strips are published in hard copy across these two books – it’s basically an indie music geek soap opera, featuring a guy, his sociopathic pet robot, and the many fierce and spectacular women in his life, many of whom work in the cafe Coffee of Doom. The second volume is particularly strong, covering the material where the writer-artist really came into his own, and found his voice, with some hard-hitting revelations about one of the central characters, plus the usual dollop of banter and bad customer service. It also contains the moment when Jacques had to decide whether his comic really was just a will-they-won’t-they romance or… something else. Thankfully, he embraced the unknown and the story has gone from strength to strength. Sadly they seem to only be putting out one print volume of the collected strips per year. I’d buy more.

Sorcerers and Secretaries, written and drawn by Amy Kim Ganter
An American manga told across two volumes, and published by Tokyopop. It tells the story of Nicole, a student and secretary who goes from unrewarding task from unrewarding task, only really happy when writing down the stories in her head. The boy who wants to catch her attention is determined to help her with getting published, once he figures out it’s the only thing she cares about. It’s utterly fluffy, but has very nice art, and while I wasn’t 100% behind the romance, I very much enjoyed the focus on the creative process and the inner thoughts of a fantasy writer.

Hark, A Vagrant, written & drawn by Kate Beaton
Yes, another compilation from a webcomic. If you haven’t previously experienced the bizarre and wondrous world of historical mash ups, literary satire and general stylish pop culture snark that comes out of Kate Beaton’s brain, then rush NOW to the Hark, a Vagrant site to catch up. Or, you know, buy her book! I bought several this Christmas as gifts, including one for me. Definitely the book to get the history/classic literature reader in your life, who thinks comics are silly. They have no idea how silly (and awesome) comics can TRULY be until they have seen this!

Rapunzel’s Revenge, by Shannon Hale & Nathan Hale


I requested this one – a graphic novel written by YA author Shannon Hale – for my birthday. I’m a big fan of stories which take fairy tales and worldbuild so that the often-illogical details of the original story suddenly make sense. Robin McKinley is the mistress of this genre, covering nearly all the most famous stories, but Gail Carson Levine’s Ella Enchanted and Margo Lanagan’s Tender Morsels (veeeery different books, don’t get them mixed up) are some good examples. Also, Juliet Marillier’s Daughter of the Forest and Wildwood Dancing, Jim C Hines’ The Stepsister Scheme, the movie Shrek…

And then there’s Castle Waiting, a glorious mashup of fairy tales made mundane, all in elegant pencils… ah, Castle Waiting, how much I covet a copy of thee…

But I digress. Hale & Hale’s Rapunzel’s Revenge is exactly in that tradition, creating a fantasy land of Wild West imagery and other Americana to present a very believable, logical version of Rapunzel. Only far more awesome.

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