Comic books can have a bit of a bad reputation among book-people. Often looked at as childish, they’re perceived as a cheap form of literature, or that they are little more than stories of superheroes and damsels in distress. Because of this misconception, it can be tough trying to get your friends to explore the world of comics. Sure, there are comics for kids, a ton of superheroes (a lot of whom are totally rad), and some aren’t exactly high literary art, but just like there is a vast and diverse world of books, there is too the same of comics and graphic novels.
Still, it can be tough to convince a non-comic reader of all the exciting stories awaiting them in the comics world. So instead of constantly talking their ear off about how awesome comic books are and how they should totally give ’em a shot, maybe the way in is to recommend a book that breaks out from the oft-toted stereotypes. The comics you choose have to exhibit the depth and literary merit that can be found in comic books and graphic novels in order to reel them in. So I’ve compiled a few “gateway comics” to help your non-comic reading friends give these books a fighting chance.
Anya’s Ghost by Vera Brosgol
Anya is a teenage girl dealing with all of those horrible issues that come with adolescence and teenagehood: being self-conscious, having poor body image, discovering self-worth, and struggling to fit in. Of course that of all pales in comparison to when she fell down into a well and discovered a long-dead ghost who is all-in on being besties with Anya. The story is funny, sarcastic, and very real (except for the ghost bestie part—or maybe not, I don’t know your life). It’s a great recommendation for fans of YA books, and people who like a read that is quirky and unique.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Maus is a graphic novel depicting Spiegelman’s father’s experiences as a Jewish man living in Europe during the Holocaust. The twist being that all of the characters are drawn as animals: Jewish characters are drawn as mouses, Germans as cats, and Americans as dogs. It’s a powerful metaphor, and Spiegelman draws the reader into the events of the Holocaust in a way no straightforward narrative could. It’s in no way a “fun” read, but it offers the reader a new perspective into the horrors of the Holocaust and the strength of survivors that works like Anne Frank’s diary, Eli Weisel’s Night, and various Holocaust documentaries simply cannot depict. Maus is a perfect read for history buffs, fans of memoir, and anyone interested in learning more about the Holocaust.
A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle and Hope Larson
This is a good one to recommend to your non-comic reading friends because this graphic novel is based on L’Engle’s famous novel of the same name. Chances are high your friend read the book at one point or another in their life. If you haven’t read this one, it’s a classic work of children’s fantasy, and is sort of similar vein of C.S. Lewis’ Lion, Witch, and the Wardrobe (minus the mystical wardrobe and excess of Turkish delight). Larson’s gorgeous illustrations bring L’Engle’s classic work to life in an amazing way, and can show off a graphic novel’s ability to tell a rich story that is highly supported—and even made stronger—with illustrations. If your friend is a fan of A Wrinkle in Time, fantasy novels, or children’s books in general, this would be a great recommendation.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Whenever I’m trying to get my non-comic friends into comics, I always recommend this book. A personal narrative of Satrapi’s life, the book manages to be a graphic novel with a strong narrative, engaging characters, and it focuses on events that were not too far in the past. Satrapi tells her story of growing up in Iran in the midst of the Islamic Revolution, going to school in Europe, and finding her identity in the midst of it all. Satrapi’s memoir is heartfelt and captivating, and her illustrations serve to support her story in a way mere words never could. It’s an emotional, powerful book, and a must-read for fans of memoir, history, and anyone who wants to learn more about Iran and women in Islamic countries. They made this into an animated feature film, but just like with a traditional novel—the book is better.
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
I love this graphic novel. It’s weird, it’s quirky, but it’s got a lot of heart. Chances are, you’ve seen or seen screen shots of the film starring a young Scarlett Johansson. While the movie great and a ton of fun, the narrative does deviate from the graphic novel. However, since the film has such a cult following, recommending the book that film was based on can be a great gateway book for comic book reading. If you’ve never heard of Ghost World, it’s the story of two teen girls—Enid and and Becky—growing up in the 90s. They deal with all that comes with growing up, becoming adults, and how you deal with growing apart and drifting away from your high school bestie. The book is quirky, funny, and the characters are so marvelously sarcastic. This is a great read for fans of indie movies, the “April Ludgate” of your life, or anyone who appreciates stuff like Reality Bites and other classic 90s works.
What are some other good comic/graphic novel recs for non-comic readers? Let me know in the comments!