The first use of the term “Graphic Novel” was seen in 1964 when it was coined by the writer Richard Kyle in his essay, “The Future of Comics”. But the first widely accepted graphic novel was a 1978 book, A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories by Will Eisner as he tried to bring a more sophisticated and adult twist to the comic format in the United States, which then in turn inspired the likes of Frank Miller and his incredible, The Dark Knight Returns in 1986 and Art Spiegelman’s Pulitzer Award-winning story, Maus in 1980. I could go on and mention the likes of Alan Moore with his Watchmen series or V for Vendetta. The point I’m trying to make is that graphic novels have been around for a long time; they were born from comics and used as tools to tell more hard-hitting and darker tales.
A well-meaning grandad and the gift of visual narrative
I was introduced to graphic novels at a young age. Growing up with dyslexia and, later on in life, finding out that I also had other neurodivergent disabilities like dyscalculia and dyspraxia meant that reading and trying to focus for me was a chore. It was something I struggled with for a long time in school and I still do. But I still wanted to experience all these amazing and wonderful worlds, I just couldn’t get past the word barrier. So, I found myself enjoying the books that had images like comic books and graphic novels, so that even if I couldn’t understand the stories then at least I could still gain some enjoyment out of them. My first deep dive into this world was with a graphic novel called, Judge Dredd: The Complete Case Files 01 by Jon Wagner (2005).
My Grandad had bought it from a car boot sale for me as he thought that I would like it, little did he know that it was grim, dark, and gritty and not a book a child of seven should be reading. But it’s the thought that counts and it was a collection of black and white comic strips following Judge Dredd as he dishes out sweet justice, no matter the cost. Honestly, it was rockstar I loved it, the art was incredibly well done and just brought the story to life, even if I didn’t know the full story as I didn’t read all the words, the art was still powerful enough that I could understand and translate the events of the story in my head.
Accessibility to graphic novels
One of the biggest things that I love about graphic novels, and comic books in general, is how accessible they are. For children like my younger self who struggle reading and focusing on a book, having a visual format to help follow the story, not just reading it but also seeing it on the page, helps best to bring those that struggle into the narrative. It was the guiding force for me to improve my reading so that I could embrace these stories and characters in other ways I didn’t know were possible, thanks to the power of language and the written word.
This is why I feel graphic novels and comic books have stood the test of time. Why the characters and worlds are so beloved by fans. It’s their accessibility, no matter who you are in age, gender, or person. You can jump straight into these stories and feel immersed in the art. Don’t just read that a character is happy or sad but actually see their pain and turmoil on the page. You can best relate to something that you can see, especially when it’s a character or event that means a lot to you.
I am very passionate about this format for how it’s helped me, how it helps others, while telling incredible stories. To share my love of the medium with you, I have chosen the 5 best graphic novels I’ve had the pleasure to experience. I aim to show you why graphic novels are so important to us, the fans.
My 5 best graphic novels, and a short review of each!
1. Watchmen by Alan Moore (1986)
This Hugo Award-winning graphic novel chronicles the fall from grace of a group of super-heroes plagued by all-too-human failings. Along the way, the concept of the super-hero is dissected as the heroes are stalked by an unknown assassin. One of the most influential graphic novels of all time and a perennial best-seller. Watchmen has been studied on college campuses across the nation and is considered a gateway title, leading readers to other graphic novels such as V for Vendetta, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns and The Sandman series.
It is clear to me why this is one of the most influential graphic novels of all time and why Alan Moore is held so high above the rest. It was what he was able to do here with the superhero genre. He took a group of superheroes – barring one, “Doctor Manhattan” who I will get back to shortly – he stripped them of godly powers that all heroes up until this point were seen as having and made them human, which in turn made them vulnerable. In doing so, he created a world in which, “if heroes existed and fought crime, what would be the effects?” not just on the world and people around them but also on the mental and physical effects, of fame, drugs, sex, and war.
Alan Moore was able to show a new side to heroes, the grim and gritty true reality of the trauma of what it means to be a hero. But Moore also manages to make you question, “what does it mean to be human?” He takes one man and changes him into a God, “Doctor Manhattan”, and shows you how the world treats him. One side loves and worships him, and the other blames him for all the wrong things in the world. Moore makes you question human nature and how we prop up heroes in the media, but as soon as we decide we are done with them, they are left to fall, to be forever forgotten on the wayside. This graphic novel is powerful and understandably studied in-depth at colleges and universities around the world. It’s a case study in life, and on what human nature really means in the modern world.
2. Immortal Hulk Vol 1 by Al Ewing (2018)
Horror has a name. You’d never notice the man. He doesn’t like to be noticed. He’s quiet. Calm. If someone were to shoot him in the head… all he’d do is die. Until night falls and someone else gets up again. The man’s name is Banner. The horror is the Immortal Hulk. And trouble has a way of following them both. As Bruce Banner struggles to control the undying monster within, he finds himself hunted by his old friends and allies.
It has been stated that this story is akin to something you’d find if Stephen King was to write a graphic novel. The story follows Bruce after the events of all storylines (Planet Hulk, World War Hulk, and The Fall of the Hulks). I highly recommend you check it out if, like me, you’re a huge Hulk fan. The events of those stories have left a huge effect on Bruce and his relationship with the Hulk, to the point where Bruce has become a loner, he’s shut himself off as he sees himself as nothing more than a monster. This story is split over a few issues, but they all deal with the dark side of life, some of which might be triggering for many: mental health struggles and suicide feature heavily as we find a Bruce who just wants to die but the big guy won’t let him go.
This is a horror story, one with human horror and the struggles we go through when we are alone, and the true horror of being the Hulk. The art helps tell this story by showing you truly visceral scenes of the Hulk not holding back, It instilled pure terror in me when the Hulk grins at the victim that I worry the Hulk is going to come through the page and strangle me as he does in the 2003 Hulk movie with Eric Bana. The story will have you both terrified of the Hulk and caring and feeling empathy for Bruce and his struggles with his curse, which he calls the Hulk.
3. I Hate Fairyland Vol 1: Madly Ever After by Skottie Young (2016)
An Adventure Time/Alice in Wonderland-style epic that smashes its cute little face against grown-up, Tank Girl/Deadpool-esque violent madness. Follow Gert, a forty-year-old woman stuck in a six-year old’s body who has been trapped in the magical world of Fairyland for nearly thirty years. Join her and her giant battle-axe on a delightfully blood-soaked journey to see who will survive the girl who HATES FAIRYLAND.
If that synopsis above didn’t tell you just how crazy and insane this story is then I don’t know what will. Because it pulled me for sure. The cover alone was enough to pique my interest to delve deep into this wonderland of bizarre. You follow the story of Gert as she is pulled into the Fairyland world to complete a quest, save the Kingdom, and go home. It’s a story you have heard a million times, but the twist here is that Gert is a terrible hero, and can’t seem to complete the quest. So much so it’s taken her years. She’s now a 40-year-old woman in a child’s body and has gone out of her mind. Here’s where the adult part comes in; she drinks, she butchers, and murders her way through her quest.
Expect lots of blood, lots of guts, but instead of F-Bombs, she drops Fluff bombs and Shizzle holes. She might be an adult, but she is still in a fairy-tale world, so some things are not allowed, which piddles her off even more. This then leaves the story open for readers of all ages to a story with a twist, blood, and guts, but with a PG rating stamp of approval on the language. This is just an insane story that is for everyone, and I will bet that you have never read a fairytale like it.
4. Rick and Morty Vol 1 by Zac Gorman (2015)
The hit comic book series based on Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s hilarious [adult swim] animated show Rick & Morty is now available in its first collection! Join the excitement as depraved genius Rick Sanchez embarks on insane adventures with his awkward grandson Morty across the universe and across time. Caught in the crossfire are his teenage granddaughter Summer, his veterinary surgeon daughter Beth, and his hapless son-in-law Jerry.
The best way I can start to begin to explain why you should read this graphic novel collection is simply, “Do you like the show?” if the answer is YES then you are going to like this collection. That’s why I started reading them. During the long wait for the next season of the show, I would read these comics to see what other crazy adventures Rick and Morty get up to that we don’t get to see in the show. I see them as mini-adventures, the art is exactly like the show and the writing is spot on so that Rick feels like Rick. When you read his dialogue, you can hear his voice in your head, and it does feel like that is something Rick would say or do.
This is only volume 1, so there are many to collect and read, as well as spin-off collections that focus on “Mr. Poopybutthole” or even a “Dungeons and Dragons” collection. The number of adventures Rick and Morty go on is endless. So, if you’re a fan of the show these are definitely ones to jump on.
5. Doctor Who: The Ninth Doctor Vol 1: Weapons of Past Destruction by George Mann (2015)
The Ninth Doctor is BACK with a brand-new miniseries: WEAPONS OF PAST DESTRUCTION! Leaving World War II behind, The Ninth Doctor, Rose and Captain Jack discover that Time Lord technology, lost in the wake of the Time War, is being sold on the intergalactic black market! Now the threat of a NEW temporal war brews on the horizon, with the Doctor and his friends caught between the twin threats of the Unon and the Lect – two species with intertwined histories who are jostling to replace the Time Lords on the universal stage. Can the Doctor stop history repeating itself?
Now I could write you an essay on why the 9th Doctor is not only my favourite Doctor of the modern series but also why he deserves way more love and appreciation than he gets. But I won’t put you through that as you came here for a short review. In this story, the 9th Doctor, Rose, and Captain Jack find themselves in the middle of another potential time war. They must find a way to stop it by showing both sides that the mantle of “Time Lord” is taken and owned already by one man, and that he is not looking to share it with anyone else – no matter how hard they try or how nicely they ask him.
This is the 9th Doctor, “Christopher Eccleston” as you know him from the show on top form. The Doctor seeks redemption for what he did in the time war and is trying to bring peace back into the universe, and inside himself. So, when he finds out that another time war is on the cusp of happening again and it involves time lord weaponry, he puts his foot down and the whole galaxy stops. Now the doctor is angry, you don’t want to get in his way. If you’re a lover of Doctor Who or good science fiction then this is for you, go give the 9th Doctor some love, and then maybe after rewatch his first season to feel that 2005 nostalgia again.
I hope to have conveyed that Graphic Novels are for everyone. They tell stories that are grim and dark, gritty and human, like Watchmen with his take on what it means to be a hero. They tell stories of struggle in life when you are dealing with mental illness like in Immortal Hulk. There are also stories that are not so serious and show you what it means to be silly and to have fun and to learn to say FLUFF YOU to the world. For those moments you have I hate Fairyland and Rick and Morty. Finally, no matter how you feel in life, you always have the Doctor to show you how to be kind you others and yourself. There are huge universes out there and one day you’ll get the chance to reach them all as long as you keep your imagination full of stars.
I chose these 5 best graphic novels to show the variety of how a story can be told in this form. I’ve found that they are a lot deeper than they are given credit for and that they helped me when I was younger with my learning disabilities. They can also help many other people that struggle in life and just need that escape from the world. The visual format and brilliant art are perfect to get lost in the stories when are struggling in the world and with themselves.
No matter the format in which a story is presented, how it affects the reader and makes them feel safe or comfortable to keep coming back is what matters. The ability to share with a friend who they feel could do with experiencing the story, that’s the power of language. They make you feel, and if you ask me, isn’t that why we love to read in the first place? For the experience of feeling art in your heart and in your mind.
– Luke, aka @the_gingerbook_worm
Check out our fantastic collection of graphic novels and comics. Have you got a favourite graphic novel or a comic that you want to share? Let us know in the comments below.