How much do I L O V E graphic novels? A whole bunch. In fact, I made 30% of my reading goal this year to include graphic novels. So when I learned of Gwen C. Katz's upcoming novel, Among the Red Stars, and saw it's gorgeous illustrations, I knew I had to have it. SOON. Well, October. Since we are all waiting, we invited Gwen to join us for a guest post and tell us about her three favorite graphic novels. Check them out below and be sure to preorder Among the Red Stars and add it to your TBR!
My Top Three Favorite Graphic Novels
Graphic novels share quite a bit in common with my genre, YA, and I like them for a lot of the same reasons. A relatively young art form, they're often written off as "kid stuff" and not taken seriously by critics. And yet they're one of the most exciting literary landscapes, where we see some of the most innovative storytelling and the best new voices.
I'm never quite comfortable ranking things, so instead of ordering my three favorite graphic novels, I'll present my favorite entry from each of three genres: Science fiction, contemporary, and historical. (Yes, that leaves out vast swaths of the comics landscape, including the all-important superhero genre, but this being my list, I'm taking full advantage of my ability to set arbitrary rules for it.)
Science Fiction: Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
Brian K. Vaughan is, hands down, my favorite comic writer, and I could easily fill an entire best-of list with his work alone. Runaways not only has the slam-dunk premise of a group of teenagers who discovers their parents are supervillains, it also creates some of the most authentically drawn teen characters in comics. And his oft-overlooked Mystique run, a James Bond-esque thriller where Mystique works for Professor Xavier taking on missions too morally ambiguous for the X-men, is a great exploration of one of Marvel's most complex and ambiguous characters.
But Saga is without a doubt his magnum opus. While the basic conceit—two soldiers from opposite sides of a war fall in love and go on the run—has been done a million times, the cover of the first volume, depicting a woman breastfeeding a baby, immediately establishes that you're in for something different. Instead of going the usual route of showing the characters meeting and falling in love, when the story begins they're already married and have a newborn daughter. The subsequent story is both an intergalactic adventure and a surprisingly deep meditation on family.
Vaughan is one of the few creators who seems to really grasp the full scope of possibilities that soft science fiction offers. This galaxy really feels limitless, filled with ghosts, dragons, spider people, robots with televisions for heads, wooden rocket ships, and pretty much anything else you could dream up, all brought to life by Fiona Staples' vivid, colorful artwork. But despite its massive cast and even more massive universe, the series never loses focus. It's five volumes in now, and I can't wait to see where it goes next.
Contemporary: The Tale of One Bad Rat by Bryan Talbot
The best stories feel like they're speaking to you individually, and for that reason I'm glad that I stumbled onto The Tale of One Bad Rat on my own rather than having it recommended it to me. Talbot follows a sexually abused teenager on an intimately personal journey through homelessness, suicidal ideation, and redemption, told through the framing device of a fictional Beatrix Potter story.
Talbot doesn't shy away from the dark subject matter and his protagonist, Helen, encounters many of the dangers homeless youth face in real life, but what really sticks with you is the human kindness of the people who are willing to meet Helen where she is. Helen herself has an innocence and strength that make her easy to root for. Talbot does a beautiful job of showing the humanity of one of our most vulnerable and overlooked populations.
Historical: Incognegro by Mat Johnson and Warren Pleece
Talk about a premise that sells itself: In the early 1930s, a light-skinned black reporter from Harlem disguises himself as a white man in order to investigate lynchings in the South. Inspired by the real-life civil rights activist Walter White (no, not that one) as well as writer Mat Johnson's personal experiences, it shines a spotlight on one of the most shameful periods of American history while also exploring the nature of race and identity.
And oh boy, is it ever smart. Historical fiction faces a challenge in communicating modern themes and ideas without making its characters sound like time travelers. Johnson pulls it off flawlessly. No one in the story needs to say "race is a social construct." The plot and the characters' actions demonstrate it in a compelling way.
Tonally, Incognegro flawlessly walks the line between giving the topic the weight it deserves and spinning a compelling page-turner of a story. And without spoilers, the villain gets what is surely the most karmic comeuppance ever put on paper.
Website | Twitter | Facebook | Goodreads
AMONG THE STARS
by Gwen C. Katz
Published: October 3rd 2017
AMONG THE STARS
by Gwen C. Katz
Published: October 3rd 2017
World War Two has shattered Valka’s homeland of Russia, and Valka is determined to help the effort. She knows her skills as a pilot rival the best of the men, so when an all-female aviation group forms, Valka is the first to sign up.
Flying has always meant freedom and exhilaration for Valka, but dropping bombs on German soldiers from a fragile canvas biplane is no joyride. The war is taking its toll on everyone, including the boy Valka grew up with, who is fighting for his life on the front lines.
As the war intensifies and those around her fall, Valka must decide how much she is willing to risk to defend the skies she once called home.
Inspired by the true story of the airwomen the Nazis called Night Witches, Gwen C. Katz weaves a tale of strength and sacrifice, learning to fight for yourself, and the perils of a world at war.