Skip to content
Making Comics cover

Summer Learning Track: The New Comics Canon

There are as many styles and narratives in graphic novels as in prose literature, which can make choosing comics a chore. What if you want to experiment with graphic novels as part of your Summer Learning Track? Is this series going to go on for twenty volumes? Is that graphic novel nothing like its cover? What should I read if I liked the movie version?

When comics experts recommend titles, they like to pull from 1986, a landmark year for graphic novels including Watchmen, Maus, and The Dark Knight Returns. However, that was almost 30 years ago, and plenty of quality works have come out since then that also hold up to scrutiny. What follows is a list of ten non-superheroic graphic novels and series that have been published since the year 2000, which I proclaim to be part of The New Comics Canon. Of these comics, Scott Pilgrim, Death Note, Watchmen, and The Dark Knight Returns also have movie adaptations.

If you would like to add some comics to your summer reading list, feel free to get started by using this sample Learning Track, or develop your own.

  • Persepolis (2000-2003) - Childhood and adulthood during and after Iran's Islamic Revolution
  • I Kill Giants (2008) - Imaginative and tender examination of the grieving process
  • The Arrival (2006) - Wordless exploration of the immigrant experience in a land both fantastic and familiar
  • Making Comics (2006) - Scott McCloud demonstrates the methods of comics and graphic novel creators in his fully illustrated style
  • Essex County (three-book series) (2008-2009) - Different eras in a small town weave together across the stories of its residents, creating connections across the gulf of time
  • Blankets (2003) - Childhood trauma dealt with and partially healed through adolescence and hard-won maturity
  • Fun Home (2006) - Alison Bechdel looks back on her family, especially her late father, who kept a number of secrets from his wife and kids
  • Scott Pilgrim (six-book series) (2004-2010) - Scott's crush on Amazon delivery girl Ramona Flowers has one small hitch - her seven evil ex-boyfriends
  • March: Volume One (2013) - The first in a planned biographical trilogy examining the life of civil rights leader and U.S. Congressman John Lewis
  • Death Note (twelve-book series) (2003-2006) - High school prodigy Light Yagami discovers a notebook that will cause the death of anyone whose name is written in it. How he chooses to use it sparks an international investigation to find the cause of a series of seemingly inexplicable deaths.
  • Richland Library locations will host the following comics events in June:

  • Comic Books: From The Ground Up, Richland Library Northeast, June 7, 3:00 - 4:30
  • Graphicionado Gathering, Richland Library Southeast, June 21, 3:00 - 4:30
  • Press Play Teen Cinema Series, Thor: The Dark World, Richland Library Main, June 26, 3:00 - 5:00

  • Blankets by Craig Thompson
    Amazon Says: At 592 pages, Blankets may well be the single largest graphic novel ever published without being serialized first. Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Bla more...
    Amazon Says: At 592 pages, Blankets may well be the single largest graphic novel ever published without being serialized first. Wrapped in the landscape of a blustery Wisconsin winter, Blankets explores the sibling rivalry of two brothers growing up in the isolated country, and the budding romance of two coming-of-age lovers. A tale of security and discovery, of playfulness and tragedy, of a fall from grace and the origins of faith. A profound and utterly beautiful work from Craig Thompson. The New Printing corrects 3 small typos, widening the spine graphics, but otherwise is identical to the first printing. less...
    Amazon

    The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
    Amazon Says: Here, in one volume: Marjane Satrapi's best-selling, internationally acclaimed memoir-in-comic-strips. Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming more...
    Amazon Says: Here, in one volume: Marjane Satrapi's best-selling, internationally acclaimed memoir-in-comic-strips. Persepolis is the story of Satrapi's unforgettable childhood and coming of age within a large and loving family in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution; of the contradictions between private life and public life in a country plagued by political upheaval; of her high school years in Vienna facing the trials of adolescence far from her family; of her homecoming--both sweet and terrible; and, finally, of her self-imposed exile from her beloved homeland. It is the chronicle of a girlhood and adolescence at once outrageous and familiar, a young life entwined with the history of her country yet filled with the universal trials and joys of growing up. Edgy, searingly observant, and candid, often heartbreaking but threaded throughout with raw humor and hard-earned wisdom--Persepolis is a stunning work from one of the most highly regarded, singularly talented graphic artists at work today. less...
    Amazon

    I Kill Giants by Joe Kelly
    Amazon Says: Barbara Thorson, a girl battling monsters both real and imagined, kicks butt, takes names, and faces her greatest fear in this bittersweet, coming-of-age story called "Best In more...
    Amazon Says: Barbara Thorson, a girl battling monsters both real and imagined, kicks butt, takes names, and faces her greatest fear in this bittersweet, coming-of-age story called "Best Indy Book of 2008" by IGN. Collects I Kill Giants #1-7. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: Scott McCloud tore down the wall between high and low culture in 1993 with Understanding Comics, a massive comic book about comics, linking the medium to such diverse fields a more...
    Amazon Says: Scott McCloud tore down the wall between high and low culture in 1993 with Understanding Comics, a massive comic book about comics, linking the medium to such diverse fields as media theory, movie criticism, and web design. In Reinventing Comics, McCloud took this to the next level, charting twelve different revolutions in how comics are generated, read, and perceived today. Now, in Making Comics, McCloud focuses his analysis on the art form itself, exploring the creation of comics, from the broadest principles to the sharpest details (like how to accentuate a character's facial muscles in order to form the emotion of disgust rather than the emotion of surprise.) And he does all of it in his inimitable voice and through his cartoon stand–in narrator, mixing dry humor and legitimate instruction. McCloud shows his reader how to master the human condition through word and image in a brilliantly minimalistic way. Comic book devotees as well as the most uninitiated will marvel at this journey into a once–underappreciated art form. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: Xeric-Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Lemire (Lost Dogs) illustrates the tale of Lester, an orphaned 10-year-old who goes to live on his Uncle's farm. Their relationship grows i more...
    Amazon Says: Xeric-Award-winning cartoonist Jeff Lemire (Lost Dogs) illustrates the tale of Lester, an orphaned 10-year-old who goes to live on his Uncle's farm. Their relationship grows increasingly strained and Lester befriends the town's gas station owner, and damaged former hockey star Jimmy Lebeuf. The two escape into a private fantasy world of super-heroes, alien invaders and good old-fashioned pond Hockey. Tales from the Farm is the first volume in a trilogy of graphic novels set in a fictionalized version of Lemire's hometown of Essex County, Ontario. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: The second volume in a trilogy of graphic novels set in a fictionalized version of Lemire's hometown of Essex County, Ontario, Ghost Story follows the lives and relationship o more...
    Amazon Says: The second volume in a trilogy of graphic novels set in a fictionalized version of Lemire's hometown of Essex County, Ontario, Ghost Story follows the lives and relationship of brothers Lou and Vince Lebeuf over the course of nearly seven decades. In this volume, eldest brother Lou, now a deaf and lonely man, lives out his final days on his farm full of guilt and regret for the decisions he made that tore his family apart. From their childhood on the farm, to Toronto in the 1950's (where they both played professional hockey), Lou is left to revisit his life, his decisions and his regrets. A silent observer, haunted by his own memories. less...
    Amazon

    The Country Nurse by Jeff Lemire
    Amazon Says: The Country Nurse is the final volume in the critically acclaimed Essex County trilogy of graphic novels set in a fictionalized version of Lemire's hometown in Ontario, Canada more...
    Amazon Says: The Country Nurse is the final volume in the critically acclaimed Essex County trilogy of graphic novels set in a fictionalized version of Lemire's hometown in Ontario, Canada. The Country Nurse follows a day in the life of Anne Quenneville, this peculiar farming community's traveling nurse. As Anne checks in on her favorite patients, we finally discover how all three volumes stitch together a portrait of how loss and regret push and pull at the fabric of family in small town life. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: A fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist, marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books. This breakout book by Al more...
    Amazon Says: A fresh and brilliantly told memoir from a cult favorite comic artist, marked by gothic twists, a family funeral home, sexual angst, and great books. This breakout book by Alison Bechdel is a darkly funny family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Bechdel's sweetly gothic drawings. Like Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, it's a story exhilaratingly suited to graphic memoir form. Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heartbreaking and fiercely funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home," as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescense, the denouement is swift, graphic -- and redemptive. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: Scott Pilgrim's life is totally sweet. He's 23 years old, he's in a rockband, he's ""between jobs,"" and he's dating a cute high school girl. Nothingcould possibly go wrong, u more...
    Amazon Says: Scott Pilgrim's life is totally sweet. He's 23 years old, he's in a rockband, he's ""between jobs,"" and he's dating a cute high school girl. Nothingcould possibly go wrong, unless a seriously mind-blowing, dangerouslyfashionable, rollerblading delivery girl named Ramona Flowers starts cruisingthrough his dreams and sailing by him at parties. Will Scott's awesome life getturned upside-down? Will he have to face Ramona's seven evil ex-boyfriends inbattle? The short answer is yes. The long answer is Scott Pilgrim, Volume 1:Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life. less...
    Amazon

    March: Book One by John Lewis
    Amazon Says: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama more...
    Amazon Says: Congressman John Lewis (GA-5) is an American icon, one of the key figures of the civil rights movement. His commitment to justice and nonviolence has taken him from an Alabama sharecropper's farm to the halls of Congress, from a segregated schoolroom to the 1963 March on Washington, and from receiving beatings from state troopers to receiving the Medal of Freedom from the first African-American president. Now, to share his remarkable story with new generations, Lewis presents March, a graphic novel trilogy, in collaboration with co-writer Andrew Aydin and New York Times best-selling artist Nate Powell (winner of the Eisner Award and LA Times Book Prize finalist for Swallow Me Whole). March is a vivid first-hand account of John Lewis' lifelong struggle for civil and human rights, meditating in the modern age on the distance traveled since the days of Jim Crow and segregation. Rooted in Lewis' personal story, it also reflects on the highs and lows of the broader civil rights movement. Book One spans John Lewis' youth in rural Alabama, his life-changing meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., the birth of the Nashville Student Movement, and their battle to tear down segregation through nonviolent lunch counter sit-ins, building to a stunning climax on the steps of City Hall. Many years ago, John Lewis and other student activists drew inspiration from the 1958 comic book "Martin Luther King and the Montgomery Story." Now, his own comics bring those days to life for a new audience, testifying to a movement whose echoes will be heard for generations. less...
    Amazon

    Death Note, Vol. 1 by Tsugumi Ohba
    Amazon Says: Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects - and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigam more...
    Amazon Says: Light Yagami is an ace student with great prospects - and he's bored out of his mind. But all that changes when he finds the Death Note, a notebook dropped by a rogue Shinigami death god. Any human whose name is written in the notebook dies, and now Light has vowed to use the power of the Death Note to rid the world of evil. But when criminals begin dropping dead, the authorities send the legendary detective L to track down the killer. With L hot on his heels, will Light lose sight of his noble goal...or his life? Light tests the boundaries of the Death Note's powers as L and the police begin to close in. Luckily Light's father is the head of the Japanese National Police Agency and leaves vital information about the case lying around the house. With access to his father's files, Light can keep one step ahead of the authorities. But who is the strange man following him, and how can Light guard against enemies whose names he doesn't know? less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father's story and history itself. more...
    Amazon Says: A story of a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe and his son, a cartoonist who tries to come to terms with his father's story and history itself. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: ***WINNER OF THE 1992 PULIZTER PRIZE*** Acclaimed as a quiet triumph and a brutally moving work of art, the first volume of Art Spiegelman's Mausintroduced readers to more...
    Amazon Says: ***WINNER OF THE 1992 PULIZTER PRIZE*** Acclaimed as a quiet triumph and a brutally moving work of art, the first volume of Art Spiegelman's Mausintroduced readers to Vladek Spieglman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler's Europe, and his son, a cartoonist trying to come to terms with his father, his father's terrifying story, and History itself. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), succeeds perfectly in shocking us out of any lingering sense of familiarity with the events described, approaching, as it does, the unspeakable through the diminutive. This second volume, subtitled And Here My Troubles Began, moves us from the barracks of Auschwitz to the bungalows of the Catskills. Genuinely tragic and comic by turns, it attains a complexity of theme and a precision of thought new to comics and rare in any medium. Mausties together two powerful stories: Vladek's harrowing take of survival against all odds, delineating the paradox of family life in the death camps, and the author's account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. At every level this is the ultimate survivor's tale—and that too of the children who somehow survive even the survivors. less...
    Amazon

    Watchmen by Alan Moore
    Amazon Says: A New York Times Best Seller! 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 more...
    Amazon Says: A New York Times Best Seller! 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 bestseller, 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. less...
    Amazon

    Amazon Says: A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! It is ten years after an aging Batman has retired and Gotham City has sunk deeper into decadence and lawlessness. Now as his city needs him mos more...
    Amazon Says: A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER! It is ten years after an aging Batman has retired and Gotham City has sunk deeper into decadence and lawlessness. Now as his city needs him most, the Dark Knight returns in a blaze of glory. Joined by Carrie Kelly, a teenage female Robin, Batman takes to the streets to end the threat of the mutant gangs that have overrun the city. And after facing off against his two greatest enemies, the Joker and Two-Face for the final time, Batman finds himself in mortal combat with his former ally, Superman, in a battle that only one of them will survive. This collection is hailed as a comics masterpiece and was responsible for the launch of the Batman movies. This volume collects Batman: The Dark Knight Returns #1-4. less...
    Amazon
    Print

    Comment about this page...