AS FILMS SUCH AS Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and Captain America: Civil Warand television series including AMC’s The Walking Dead and Netflix’s Jessica Jones continue to dominate the pop culture landscape, there has never been a better time to be a fan of comic books and graphic novels. Readers are discovering the medium in droves; in fact, according to Kuo-Yu Liang, VP of sales and marketing at Diamond Book Distributors, the largest dedicated distributor of comics and graphic novels in the United States, publishers’ sales to libraries rose 17.2 percent in 2015.
Most exciting, these new readers are finding that graphic novels are not so much a genre as a format, one whose narrative capabilities are nearly limitless. The trend is toward diversity, both in content and in the creators producing fresh works. Many forthcoming titles are targeted at or authored by women; memoir and graphic journalism are booming. Tried-and-true story lines such as the flashy exploits of superheroes and explorations of sf, horror, and fantasy continue to dominate, as does the desire for licensed material presenting original adventures of characters from outside media such as Star Trek or the continuing escapades of those pesky little Minions from the Despicable Me films. But even in those spaces, the types of stories being told are beginning to diversify. For example, Tom King and Gabriel Hernandez Walta’s Vision.Vol. 1: Little Worse Than a Man (Marvel, Jul.) might feature the classic and beloved superheroic android member of the Avengers, but it forgoes the typical derring-do in favor of focusing on a very peculiar and ultimately tragic tale of suburban family dynamics. A title such as this might never have been published a decade ago, but as graphic novel readership becomes more eclectic, greater possibilities open up.
Women writers and artists have historically been underrepresented in graphic novels, but that seems poised to change based on the number of high-profile titles set for release in the coming year, ranging from humor to journalism to memoir and beyond. Among the most highly anticipated is Lynda Barry’s The Greatest of Marlys (Drawn & Quarterly, Aug.), a collection concentrating on one of best-selling Barry’s most beloved characters, eight-year-old Marlys. Through Marlys, Barry delves into the highs and lows of childhood and adolescence, capturing in unflinching detail the amusement and the horror of coming of age.
Lisa Hanawalt, perhaps best known as the designer behind the distinctive look of the animated Netflix series BoJack Horseman, moves fluidly between wit and pathos in Hot Dog Taste Test(Drawn & Quarterly, Jun.). While Hanawalt explores (and explodes) foodie culture in this new book, she also investigates relationships, identity issues, and more, all delivered in beautiful watercolors and an original and immensely funny voice.
From 1993 to 2008, musician, actress, and feminist icon Dame Darcy released 17 issues ofMeat Cake, detailing the strange, sometimes funny, sometimes terrifying exploits of characters such as Effluvia the Mermaid and Igpay the Pig-Latin pig. Now, Fantagraphics Books has collected the entire series, as well as some previously unreleased material, into The Meat Cake Bible (Jun.), which makes it clear that Darcy has always been ahead of her time.
Fantagraphics also recently published The Complete Wimmen’s Comix (LJ 5/15/16), edited by Trina Robbins et al., gathering the entire 20-year run of the first comics anthology series created by women and featuring artists such as Carol Tyler, Mary Fleener, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Dori Seda, and Phoebe Gloeckner, this two-volume work serves as both an important document in the history of the American counterculture and a testament to the often-overlooked contributions of female writers and artists.
Koyama Press has just released a pioneering feminist work in the memoir What Is Obscenity? The Story of a Good for Nothing Artist and Her Pussy (May) by Japanese artist Rokudenashiko, who was jailed in 2014 for producing sculptures that allegedly violated Japanese obscenity laws. Slightly less provocative but no less interesting an exploration of one artist’s quest for self-expression is Lucy Knisley’s memoir Something New: Tales from a Makeshift Bride (First Second, May), which details Knisley’s ventures in putting her own stamp on every facet of her wedding, from sewing her own dress to building the very barn in which the ceremony was held.
Other memoirs of note include Flying Couch: Art, Memory, and the Search for Home (Catapult, Oct.), which spans three generations of women in author Amy Kurzweil’s family and ranges from World War II to the present, and Rebecca Roher’s Bird in a Cage (Conundrum, May), documenting Roher’s grandmother’s experience with early-onset dementia following a traumatic brain injury.
JOURNALISM AND NONFICTION
Presenting works of nonfiction or journalism in the graphic form is nothing new, but as more readers are turned on to the medium, the myriad subjects covered have become wonderfully varied. For instance, Threadbare: Clothes, Sex & Trafficking (Microcosm, May;LJ 5/15/16), written by Anne Elizabeth Moore with illustrations by the Ladydrawers as part of Microcosm’s “Comics Journalism” series, investigates connections between the garment trade and international human trafficking, using the opportunities offered by the graphic novel format to lay out plainly the complexities of these issues.
Many more authors are delivering memoir in the graphic novel format, and among the most eagerly awaited titles of this season isMarch, Bk. 3. (IDW, Aug.), concluding the multivolume memoir of congressman and civil rights legend John Lewis. Penned by Lewis and Andrew Aydin, with art by Nate Powell, this title chronicles the Freedom Vote of 1963 and the Mississippi Freedom Summer of 1964 as a 25-year-old Lewis and his fellow activists continued the fight for equality.
Riad Sattouf’s The Arab of the Future. Vol. 2:A Childhood in the Middle East, 1984–1985(Holt, Sept.), the sequel to A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978–1984 (LJ 9/15/15), continues the author’s experiences moving among France, Libya, and Syria as a child. The second book finds the Sattoufs settled in Syria and struggling against obstacles both local and political. Also exploring the Middle East, specifically the legacy of the Iraq War, is Sarah Glidden’s Rolling Blackouts (Drawn & Quarterly, Oct.), in which the author describes her travels as a journalist in Turkey, Iraq, and Syria.
Sabrina Jones’s Our Lady of Birth Control: A Cartoonist’s Encounter with Margaret Sanger(Soft Skull, Jul.) blends a biography of the pioneering activist and sex educator with Jones’s own coming of age during the sexual revolution to create a work that manages to be both informative and incredibly personal.
The graphic format makes for a fantastic, user-friendly educational tool, and two 2015 titles written by Steve Haines and illustrated by Sophie Standing, from publisher Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers, take advantage of this. Pain Is Really Strange tackles pain and pain management, and Trauma Is Really Strangeconsiders the physiological and psychological effects of trauma. [For more on what is being termed graphic medicine, see the “Graphic Medicine” sidebar.]
Meg-John Barker and illustrator Julia Scheele take an academic look at the history and evolution of queer thought in Queer: A Graphic History (Icon Bks., Nov.), and Ten Speed’s July release, Cook Korean! A Comic Book with Recipes (LJ 6/15/16), from author Robin Ha, teaches readers how to prepare 60 different traditional Korean dishes.
History buffs interested in a thoroughly researched and completely accessible story of early China will be drawn to Jing Liu’sFoundations of Chinese Civilization: The Yellow Emperor to the Han Dynasty (2697 BCE–220 CE) (Stone Bridge, May; LJ5/15/16), which includes discussions of philosophies such as Confucianism and Daoism and recounts the ancient trade route the Silk Road.
Those relishing a history of graphic novels and how the industry has evolved will love We Told You So: Comics as Art (Fantagraphics, Jul.) by Tom Spurgeon, a look back at Fantagraphics’ 40 years of championing the art form and fighting for mainstream acceptance. Some of the most vital and admired cartoonists working today started at Fantagraphics, and this is the account of how the company transformed the world, told in exhaustive detail.
Graphic novels in translation continue to be massively popular, especially those originally published in Japanese, and no Japanese creator has had more of an impact than Osamu Tezuka, the subject of Stone Bridge Press’s The Osamu Tezuka Story: A Life in Manga and Anime (Jul.) by Toshio Ban in conjunction with Tezuka Productions. While he’s not quite a household name in the United States, Tezuka is a prominent cartoonist, and Ban, a former assistant of Tezuka’s, had the access necessary to make this enlightening and inspiring read essential.
While the late Shigeru Mizuki is not the legend that Tezuka is, he is an important figure in his own right, and fans should be excited about Drawn & Quarterly’s The Birth of Kitaro (May), the first of six volumes that will bring the Kitaro character to the United States for the first time.
Titles from more contemporary Japanese creators are due for release stateside as well, including Moto Hagio’s Otherworld Barbara (Fantagraphics, Aug.), which follows a detective with the strange ability to enter the dreams of criminals and is an award-winning favorite in Japan. Jirô Taniguchi’s Guardians of the Louvre (NBM, May) introduces a visionary and hallucinogenic work about a feverish Japanese designer abroad in France who gets lost in the halls of the famous museum, where it turns out nothing is as it seems.
Of course, Japan is far from the only country outside of the United States producing noteworthy graphic novels. French creators have been responsible for many compelling books of the last several decades, including Manchette’s Fatale (Titan Comics), an adaptation of Jean-Patrick Manchette’s classic crime novel Fatale, re-created in the graphic format by Max Cabanes. It may well join the ranks of the all-time greats. Taut, violent, and psychologically astute, it is one that fans of noir won’t want to miss.
French artist and writer Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky is behind Pocahontas: Princess of the New World (Pegasus, Sept.), a gorgeous and vividly illustrated historical romance about the titular Native American legend.
As international comics and graphic novels are finding their audience here, the formats are gaining ground globally as well. Library ebook distributor ODILO, headquartered in Madrid, Spain, with offices in several U.S. cities, is currently absorbing thousands of graphic novels as part of its partnership with Gardners and Diamond Book Distributors. Matías Almada, chief operating officer for Spain and Latin America, remarks that “once our library customers invest in traditional ebooks, graphic novels seem to be the next major area of interest. However, while the interest is evident, the purchasing of graphic novels is just beginning here in Spain.”
Licensed properties, or titles featuring characters better known through media outside of graphic novels, continue to be popular among readers who simply can’t get enough of those favored icons. Star Trek has existed in graphic novel form for almost as long as it has on TV and in the movie theater, and publisher IDW has two engrossing summer releases: Star Trek: Manifest Destiny (Jun.), written by Mike Johnson and Ryan Parrott and illustrated by Angel Hernandez, and Star Trek: Starfleet Academy (Jul.), also composed by Johnson and Parrott, with art by Derek Charm. Manifest Destiny celebrates the 50th anniversary of Star Trek with an all-new journey featuring Captain Kirk and the classic crew, while Academy flashes back to that same group’s days as students.
Just in time for the summer blockbuster movie season, Titan Comics will publish Independence Day: Dark Fathom (Jun.) from writer Victor Gischler and artist Steve Scott, detailing a top-secret investigation by the U.S. military that might just result in the destruction of life as we know it.
And let’s not forget about the kids! For younger readers, there’s Sarah Kuhn and Alitha Martinez’s Barbie #1: You Can Be Anything (Papercutz, Sept.), which chronicles Barbie’s ascendency through the fashion world, and Kung Fu Panda. Vol. 1: Ready, Set, Po! (Titan, Jul.), written by Simon Furman with art by Lee Robinson.
Award-winning journalist and author Ta-Nehisi Coates (Between the World and Me) and illustrator Brian Stelfreeze put a socially conscious spin on a classic character in Marvel’s Black Panther. Vol. 1: A Nation Under Our Feet (Sept.), which combines political intrigue, strong female characters, and heroic action. Marvel is also giving female characters a spotlight in series such as July’s Ms. Marvel. Vol. 5: Super Famous by G. Willow Wilson, Takeshi Miyazawa, and Adrian Alphona, starring a young Muslim woman from New Jersey.
For fans of fantasy, there’s Dungeon: Twilight Complete Set, Vols. 1–4, by Lewis Trondheim and others (NBM, Dec.). Dungeon is an incredible saga set in a world partially plunged into darkness after it stops spinning, guaranteeing big thrills as well as belly laughs.
British cartoonist Tom Gauld’s upcoming Mooncop (Drawn & Quarterly, Sept.) promises to feature the author’s signature deadpan humor in a tale that takes place on a lunar colony with a dwindling population. Gauld is well known for his bibliophile comic strips in publications such as the Guardian, making this one of the year’s hottest debuts.
Readers seeking a more harrowing tale should be interested in legendary writer Garth Ennis’sJohnny Red: Collection 1 (Titan, Oct.), illustrated by Keith Burns. Johnny “Red” Redburn is a storied fighter ace, but can he prevail over the Nazis while being hunted by the Soviet secret police? And for enthusiasts of war comics looking for something a little more contemporary there’s Tom King and Mitch Gerads’s The Sheriff of Babylon. Vol. 1: Bang. Bang. Bang. (DC Entertainment, Jul.), set in Baghdad in 2003 and featuring a diverse group of characters forced to work together to solve a murder.
Image’s upcoming releases promise something for pretty much every graphic novel fan, starting in October with writer Brian Wood and artists Dave McCraig and Garry Brown’s Black Road. Vol. 1. Set in 1000 CE, this historical thriller features Vikings struggling to adapt to the Christian conversion of pagan lands and focuses on a murder investigation that threatens to change the balance of power in Europe. [See the Q&A below with Image publisher Eric Stephenson.]
In October comes Peter Milligan and Leandro Fernandez’s The Discipline. Vol. 1, the story of a Manhattan housewife whose sexual awakening puts her in the middle of a war between two strange and powerful ancient races.
Horror fans will find much to savor in writer and illustrator Rich Tommaso’s She Wolf (Oct.), a surreal tale about a teenage girl’s struggle to shake a transformative curse. Two more October titles for readers of all ages are the anthology She Changed Comics, the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund’s (CBLDF) celebration of female creators, and Joe Kelly and Ilya’s Kid Savage, which tells of an orphan boy bent on protecting a stranded family of intergalactic adventurers.
Fans of sf will enjoy Leila del Duca and Kit Seaton’s Afar, set for an Image release in November and combining astral projection, cyborgs, and space travel into an unforgettable romp.
Also due in November is a hotly anticipated collaboration between two of the most popular creators working in comics today: A.D.: After Death is written by Scott Snyder (best known as the scribe behind the most recent Batman series) and artist Jeff Lemire (The Extraordinary X-Men). The original graphic novel takes place in a future where a cure for death leads one man on a fascinating journey and combines classic comic book storytelling with prose and beautiful illustrations.
According to Baker & Taylor’s (B&T) Martin Warzala, director, collection management and technical development, publishers are producing more titles to meet users’ needs. Warzala notes that in 2014, the number of graphic novels added to B&T’s Title Source 360 database increased by 11 percent, with 2015 seeing a jump to 26 percent.
Michael Manon of hoopla digital told LJ that since launching the company’s comics line in May 2015—along with programs that enhance readers’ viewing experience, such as Action View technology—the format has experienced tremendous expansion. In the past six months, says Manon, 84 percent of the graphic novels collection, which represents over 6,000 titles, has been discovered and borrowed, while the number of comics patrons has increased an average of 11 percent month over month.
OverDrive’s Hadie Bartholomew tells a similar story: “Comic and graphic novel circulation growth in libraries is up 92.1 percent thus far in 2016 compared to the same time frame over 2015.” Bartholomew attributes this growth to OverDrive’s response to higher readership: the company increased the availability of titles and helps libraries target adults, teens, and kids by providing curated lists in their own respective ereading area. Bartholomew notes that romance, thriller/suspense, literature, and mystery are the genres most in demand through OverDrive in the graphic novel format, while juvenile titles are growing rapidly, more than 30 percent year over year.
And while there are still pockets of readers who cling to the stigma that graphic novels hold nothing but cheap thrills for a juvenile or unsophisticated audience, more and more people are embracing the limitless possibilities of the format, making the potential for innovation and growth in this field wildly exciting. It’s not hard to imagine that soon there will be graphic works to fit every taste, on every topic, and that they will eventually be shelved alongside those holding a thematic similarity rather than confined to their own section of the library, making this truly part of the big picture.