I love to read, but by the time the tot’s in bed after all that playing, and then cleaning up, dinner to cook, bath time, catch up with my wife, answer emails, etc. etc. I’m exhausted. My attention span shot, I only make it through a few pages of a novel before drifting to sleep. And nonfiction? Might as well try reading a textbook. I go right out.
What can a book lover like me do? I’ve devised two solutions: short stories (more on that later), and graphic novels.
Once the realm of teenagers, the comic book has come of age these days. Graphic novels illustrated stories that unfold with the depth and complexity of a traditional novel tackle superheros, but also parent-child relationships, family secrets, political situations, you name it. In the hands of a master, the pages of a graphic novel are organized and illustrated with intention, flair, and true beauty. Being less word heavy than novels, and often divided into easy-to-digest chapters, graphic novels provide all the entertainment, emotion, and intellectual stimulation of reading a book, but they go down a little easier, I think.
Interested in giving one a try? Here are 10 graphic novels that will appeal to parents in particular.
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1. Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware 2 of 11Over Thanksgiving weekend, Jimmy Corrigan, an awkward and sad guy in his mid-thirties, meets his father for the first time he walked out on him and his mother when he was a kid. Jimmy's story is broken by flashbacks to when his father was abandoned by his father, and memories of Jimmy's childhood his real, sad childhood, as well as an imaginary childhood in which Jimmy was a kid genius.
Ware tells his story in brilliantly laid-out pages, like the one seen here, with many panels of varying size tiled so that they draw your eye forward, and into the narrative. When seen outside, the landscape looms above tiny Jimmy, fitting for such a depressing, lonely character. And yet what a beautiful tale. Not a story you'll soon forget.
Image via Heroes Online
Purchase Jimmy Corrigan for $13.57 on Amazon
The Maus Series, by Art Spiegelman 3 of 11The first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize, Maus tells the story of Art Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Holocaust survivor. His father's flashbacks unfold with animals playing the roles instead of people: the Jews are mice and the Germans cats, for example. Though the animals are a fiction, the story's events are based on the actual life of Spiegelman's parents.
In addition to talking about the horrors of the Holocaust, Spiegelman and his father also discuss Spiegelman's childhood, and his mother's suicide at the age of 20, after which Spiegleman's father destroyed her written account of her time in Auschwitz. This is very much, as the subtitle claims, "A Survivor's Tale," telling not just about what happened, but about how a person deals with it. Fitting such a tale, the illustrations are dark and heavy the pages seem to bleed ink. Truly a masterpiece.
Image via Wikimedia Commons
Purchase Maus Volume 1 for $8.96 on Amazon
3. Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel 4 of 11Bechdel's autobiographical story unfolds like a crumpled straw hit with water you think it's done, but it keeps expanding, revealing new intricacies. Her father threw himself in front of a car, she believes on purpose. Why she thinks he did this becomes increasingly clear, and more complex, as the story unfolds. At heart she discusses the importance of accepting your own identity. Bechdel shares her experiences of coming out as a lesbian in college, and how that admission affects her relationship with her father, whose biggest secret is that he's gay.
If you love to read, then you'll love this graphic novel, as Bechdel incorporates long passages from books of all kind, including her father's letters, interspersed among pictures that communicate a variety of emotions with just a few pen strokes. Fun Home makes for a good bridge between books and comics, and it's story of coming terms with identity, and the identity of your parents, heartrending and hard to resist.
Image via The Opinionated Me
Purchase Fun Home for $10.17 on Amazon
4. Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi 5 of 11A country-wide political tale unfolds in microcosm, as Marjane Satrapi tells of life in Iran, and the struggle for religious, gender, and social equality fought by her and her parents. The pictures are as simple as the tale complicated if you don't know much Iranian history, you'll learn a thing or two here, which is, in part, Satrapi's goal. She wants outsiders to know that her country isn't composed solely of extremists. As Iranian society rocks with political waves, Satrapi is ever defiant, trying to do what she thinks is right no matter what the social rule, until that rule becomes so intense, the family's freedoms shrink.
Persepolis will have you thinking deeply about what you would do as a parent in a similar situation fight against what you think is wrong? Or go with the flow for your children's sake? A thought-provoking book.
Image via ...Or Does It Explode?
Purchase Persepolis for $7.83 on Amazon
5. Coraline the Graphic Novel, By Neil Gaiman, Illustrated by P. Craig Russell 6 of 11Looking to get an older child in on the comics action? Try reading Coraline: The Graphic Novel together, which your child may be familiar with already it's adapted from the book by Neil Gaiman, also the inspiration for the animated film. The title character thinks she wants more attentive parents until she enters a mysterious door in her apartment that leads to the lair of the Other Mother, a creature with black button eyes who fawns over Coraline to no end. Of course, no one with black button eyes can be good, and the Other Mother turns out to have nefarious motives.
This tale tackles such fundamental human urges the wish for better parents who spoil us with lavish gifts that kids and adults alike will be enthralled. Beware, though. The grisly pictures in this one may cause nightmares, so you may want to keep it for yourself.
Image via The Regina Public Library
Purchase Coraline: The Graphic Novel for $9.99 on Amazon
6. Blankets, by Craig Thomspon 7 of 11Blankets is an autobiographical coming of age story, about a boy raised as a Baptist who finds it hard to fit in with his peers. The main character, Craig, falls in a love with a like-minded girl at Bible Camp, but as with many young relationships, things eventually fall apart. The two find themselves living too distant, and their situations are just too different to make things work, though Craig finds this difficult to accept.
With questions of identity twisted around a heart-breaking first love story, Blankets is a touching tale told in pictures so artfully arranged and rendered that they resemble wood-cuts. If you ever doubted comics can tell grownup stories of depth and sensitivity, look no further.
Image via Good Reads
Purchase Blankets for $16.64 on Amazon
7. The Invention of Hugo Cabret, by Brian Selznick 8 of 11While this isn't technically a graphic novel but a novel with illustrations, large passages of The Invention of Hugo Cabret unfold in comic form, and eventually, the pictures take over the text. Even the author said that it's not quite novel, graphic novel, or picture book, but a little bit of them all. As such, this is another story that might serve as a gateway to graphic novels, and make for a fun read-aloud with an older child.
The story takes place in Paris in the past and focuses on Hugo, an orphan, living in the subway and attempting to fix an automaton, a 19th century style robot. Until, that is, he meets the tinkerer and filmmaker Georges Melies, poor and forgotten, living in a Metro station making toys, and adventure ensues. It's a setting and story both dreamlike and familiar. Fitting, then, that the illustrations have both a smudgy mystery and draftsman's exactitude. Good fun, especially if you bring a kid along for the read. (This book inspired the Martin Scorsese film Hugo.)
Image via The New York Times
Purchase The Invention of Hugo Cabret for $14.03 on Amazon
8. Economix: How Our Economy Works (And Doesn’t Work) by Michael Goodwin, Illustrated by Dan E. Burr 9 of 11Not interested in fiction or memoir? There are nonfiction graphic novels too! Confused about the stimulus plan, or how free markets work, or what the Occupy movement was all about? Look no further than Economix. Goodwin explains it all, and the illustrations are like the spoonful of sugar that makes the economic theory go down smooth. Informative and fun.
Image via Economix Comix
Purchase Economix: How and Why Our Economy Works (and Doesn't Work) in Words and Pictures for $14.03 on Amazon
9. Batman: Son of the Demon, by Mike Barr and Jerry Bigham 10 of 11I couldn't resist I love a good Batman comic. And this one is especially pertinent for parents, as Batman faces the prospect of becoming a father for the first time with none other than enemy Ra's al Ghul's daughter, Talia. She and Batman have a turbulent romantic history together, but in this book, they finally get married. Not long after, she's pregnant, which is when Batman stops feeling so Batman-y.
You know: why go out risking your neck every night to save the citizens of Gotham when you might be killed before your child is born? Why not stay home, rent a movie, order in dinner? Or, since your wife is the daughter of a terrorist, why not hover over her every minute, trying to protect her from would-be assassins? Interesting stuff for our hero to tackle, illustrated in a sketchy, realistic manner. I'll admit this one might not appeal unless your a Batman fan, or really liked The Dark Knight Rises.
Image via Um Vortice...
Purchase Batman: Son of the Demon for $18.99 on Amazon
10. The Watchmen, by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons 11 of 11If you dug any of the previous titles, and/or if you liked superhero comics back in the day, then this one is for you. Not for the faint of heart, the costumed crime-fighters of The Watchmen have super-egos, super-ambitions, and super-abilities, but they are far from heroes. In fact, they're not even legally allowed to go around in costume after Congress outlawed them as vigilantes who did more societal harm than good.
One story in particular will be of interest to parents, in which the Silk Spectre, a beautiful woman who uses her crime-fighting to become a celebrity, pushes her daughter into inheriting her mantle, a move that causes her daughter to resent her. That's only one storyline, though, and Moore tells many here each hero gets his own chapter, as they try to understand why someone is going around assassinating the costumed heroes, and the USA is coming to the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. This is a tale as complex as Dickens, but drawn with the urgency of an action film.
Image via Sabotage Times
Purchase The Watchmen for $11.10 on Amazon