If you think comic books are just for superheroes, think again. There are many awesome deep thinking, powerful stories being spun in this wonderful creative art form – and it's an underrated medium for investigative journalism too.
Whether you’re looking for something to stimulate your own mind, or a gift for that visually orientated intellectual in your life, check out this hot list of Creative Boom’s picks of the top comic books for the more erudite palate, where ingenuous illustrations showcase clever narratives that take on the big issues of modern life.
Superheroes are cool and all, but that’s more guilty pleasure stuff: chewing gum for the mind. Graphic novels have well and truly come of age. Yes, that’s right comic books – now with added brain food!
The subject matter is so wide ranging: from war in the Congo to the inner workings of the House of Dior, via incontinent grandparents and Hollywood noir, there is something for everyone to enjoy and be inspired by.
1. The Sculptor by Scott McCloud
A sculptor does a deal with Death, so that he can sculpt anything he can imagine with his bare hands…now he’s got only 200 days to live, he gets creative block and falls in love. Drama!
2. Eventually Everything Connects by Loris Lora
Designers, singers, directors, illustrators, celebrities, and their fashionable friends are beautifully rendered into a graphic novel that shows how the key creative thinkers in California in the 1950s/60s interlinked and influenced each other. (For example, we see Walt Disney studying the art of Mary Blair, or Saul Bass presenting his iconic poster for the film “Vertigo” for the approval of Alfred Hitchcock). VERY interesting, as it results in a crystal clear roadmap of the California modernist movement.
3. Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger
Girl In Dior pays homage to high fashion’s greatest designer, by marrying the story of a fictional model’s life into the historical beginnings of the Dior house of fashion.
4. Fante Bukowski by Noah Van Sciver
Hilarious satire of an aspirational writer living in a cheap hotel while searching for a big idea that’ll produce the next Great American Novel. Only problem is he’s a hopeless alcoholic with bugger all talent for writing.
5. It's a Good Life, If You Don't Weaken by Seth
A quest to uncover the life and work of Kalo, a forgotten New Yorker cartoonist from the 1940s, provides the narrative thrust for this thoughtful study into longing, anxiety and the lessons of nostalgia.
6. 101 Artists To Listen To Before You Die by Ricardo Cavolo
The story of music told through 101 essential artists; from Bach to Radiohead, to Amy Winehouse, Nirvana and Daft Punk. 100 uniquely colourful illustrations and handwritten text, lists, notes and personal anecdotes.
Not strictly a graphic novel I suppose but it was in the graphic novel section, and it looked fun so there you are.
7. Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor
Hip hop nerd Piskor takes us on a journey of the beginnings of hip hop, with an ace graphic novel that vividly captures the real life personalities of DJ Kool Herc, Grandmaster Flash and RUN-DMC.
8. Also available, Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor Volume 2
9. The Wicked + The Divine by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Gods are the ultimate pop stars and pop stars are the ultimate gods in this smart look at the realities of fame, told from the inside out, following 12 gods incarnate as humans set out on the road to pop superstardom.
10. Also available, The Wicked + The Divine – Volume 2: Fandemonium
11. And The Wicked + The Divine – Volume 3: Commercial Suicide
Life / family / emotional
12. Epileptic by David B.
A 1970s France full of New Age healers and quack doctors proves the backdrop for a moving story about a family’s struggle with epilepsy.
13. Wilson Hardcover by Daniel Clowes
The story of a funny, opinionated middle-aged misanthrope who is desperately alone - so he decides to track down his ex-wife and try and rekindle things…
14. Just So Happens by Fumio Obata
Yumiko is a Japanese girl making a life in London when her father dies in a sudden accident. She goes home to reintegrate into the Japanese culture where she now feels an outsider. A thought provoking story about grief, family expectations and an amazing window into Japanese culture.
15. First Year Healthy by Michael Deforge
A young woman recently released from hospital embarks upon a relationship with a Turkish immigrant, who may or may not be a criminal, but he’s definitely quite odd from the outset.
16. Displacement: A Travelogue by Lucy Knisley
Autobiographical of Ms Knisley taking her 90+ year old grandparents on holiday, on a weeklong cruise.
17. Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash
True story of a 15 year old girl who’s not yet kissed a boy, falling in love with one of the staff at Summer Camp - an older, wiser young woman called Erin. Whose heart will get broken first?
18. 'The Cowboy Wally Show by Kyle Baker
Cult classic deadpan mockumentray about the wild life of a gonzo talk show host.
19. A Contract With God by Will Eisner
Following a host of Jewish characters trying to negotiate life in a Bronx tower block in the 40s and 50s. Full of joy and tragedy, this is the book that kicked off the art form of the graphic novel.
20. Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks
The comic books’ comic book: Dick Burger is a world famous millionaire cartoonist/ most powerful man in the comic industry. Of course there’s a dark and terrible secret, set to be unearthed during the writing of Burger’s biography…
21. Persepolis Paperback by Marjane Satrapi
Raw, honest and incredibly illuminating, this is a portrait of daily life in Iran and the contradictions between home and public life.
Political / Historical
22. The Complete MAUS
The Pulitzer prize-winning Holocaust survivor story. According to the Wall Street journal, it’s the ‘most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust' - and the New Yorker called it: “'The first masterpiece in comic book history.”
23. Southern Bastards by Jason Aaron / Jason Latour
Not a story from the Deep South, but the true story of the Deep South, told through the eyes of one man getting to grips with the evil of his predecessors.
24. Part Two also available
25. 750 Years in Paris by Vincent Mahe
Historically accurate tale taking us from the 13th century to the present day, focussing on a single building’s unique viewpoint on 3/4 of millennia in Paris.
26. Child Soldier: When Boys and Girls Are Used in War by Michel Chikwanine, Jessica Dee Humphreys and Claudia Davila
A five year old Congolese boy is snatched off a football pitch and pressganged into serving for a bloodthirsty rebel militia. Against all odds, he manages to escape and finds his way back to his family - but not without consequences.
27. The Age of Selfishness: Ayn Rand, Morality, and the Financial Crisis by Darryl Cunningham
New York Times bestseller using Russian-born philosopher Ayn Rand’s biography to illuminate the policies and attitudes that led to the global financial crisis of 2008 - and how her philosophy of objectivism affect today’s politics and policies.
28. March: Book One Paperback by Nate Powell, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin
First part of the trilogy following Congressman John Lewis, an American icon as one of the key figures of the civil rights movement.
29. Part Two also available
30. Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle
A family move to Jerusalem: mom works for Doctors Without Borders, leaving dad to look after the kids at home. Fascinating insights into a cultural road map of contemporary Jerusalem, using the classic stranger-in-a-strange-land point of view.
NB: Picking up an immaculate second hand copy of this at the church fate was the catalyst for this list.
31. Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea by Guy Delisle
32. Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle
33. Cerebus by Dave Sim
Bold philosophical graphic saga that lurches from Conan the Barbarian parody to deep thinking criticisms of government and sexual politics.
34. The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert
This graphic novel/photo-journal is a record of one reporter's dangerous journey through Afghanistan with Doctors Without Borders, in 1986 during the war with the Soviet Union.
35. Mike's Place: A True Story of Love, Blues, and Terror in Tel Aviv by Jack Baxter and Joshua Faudem
A live music pub by the beach in Tel Aviv is a haven from politics or religion for an international cast of patrons - until it’s the target of a deadly suicide bombing.
36. The Fade Out Volume 1 (Fade Out Tp) Paperback – by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
For fans of film noir and Golden Age Hollywood stories - here’s an epic noir set in the world of noir itself, the back lots and bars of Hollywood at the end of its Golden Era.
37. Master Keaton, Vol. 1 by Naoki Urasawa
Master Keaton is an archaeology boffin, ex-SAS private detective extraordinaire. When a life insurance policy worth £1,000,000 takes him to the Greek Islands, he has to mix with bloodthirsty thieves and assassins as he searches for the truth.
38. David Boring Paperback by Daniel Clowes
David Boring is a 19-year-old security guard whose obsessive nature powers this tale of vengeance, humiliation and murder.
39. Incidents in the Night by David B.
Paranoid conspiracy thriller played out in the overflowing and dusty shelves of Paris' book shops. Mountains of books become archaeological dig sites as the author excavates layers of myth, fact and fiction in search of that elusive thread that links them all.
40. Volume Two also available
41. Ant Colony by Michael Deforge
Surreal offbeat novel full of bizarre sex and death in a dark world full of false prophets, unjust wars and corrupt police officers.
42. Black Hole Charles Burns
A strange sexually-transmitted plague is rampant in Seattle in the 1970s. The plague has multifarious, dynamic symptoms - then the murders start. Dark and hypnotically beautiful amid all the horrors.
Other / Misc / Unpigeonholable
43. Corto Maltese: Under the Sign of Capricorn (Corto Maltese Gn)
The adventures of a nomadic sailor set during the first 30 years of the 20th century, in exotic locations like Venice, the steppes of Manchuria, the Caribbean islands, the Danakil deserts, the Amazon forests, and the waves of the Pacific.
Frank Miller calls Pratt "one of the true masters of comic art." - high praise indeed.
44. An Entity Observes All Things by Box Brown
1980s obsessed collection of science fiction stories loaded with colourful, bizarre surrealism from New York Times bestselling graphic author Box Brown, with everything from social media cults to lizard aliens.
45. The House that Groaned by Karrie Fransman
Delightfully weird tale of the “retoucher who cannot touch, a grandmother who literally blends into the background and a twenty-something bloke who's sexually attracted to diseased women.”
46. Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot
1,300 hundred years ago Sunderland was the epicentre of the global intelligentsia. Or was it? You’ll have to check out this epic meditation on myth, history and storytelling to find out.
47. Wytches Scott Snyder
Stephen King inspired dark and brutal horror with an old fashioned threat made newly terrifying. In fact MTV called it: "The most terrifying comic you've ever read."
48. Steve Jobs: Insanely Great by Jessie Hartland
Fast-paced and entertaining biography in graphic format.
49. The Golden Compass: The Graphic Novel, Volume 1 (His Dark Materials)
Philip Pullman Stéphane Melchior-Durand and Clément Oubrerie
Explores religion and power as the heroine, Lyra goes hunting for kidnapped children during an ‘experimental education’ secondment from University.
Please note, this article is written with Amazon Affiliates