Tag Archives: Graphic Novels

Tales of Displacement

When I’m craving a good read, the graphic novel is my go-to genre. When done right, the unique illustration and storytelling style of an author can pull you into a narrative before you know it. Here are some noteworthy recent (and in one case, upcoming) titles that may draw you in, too (pun intended).

Hostage is from French-Canadian illustrator Guy Delisle, an adept and efficient storyteller who previously recounted his experiences in lands such as Burma and North Korea. In Hostage, Delisle tells the tale of Christophe André, who was kidnapped while working for Doctors Without Borders near Chechnya in 1997. Delisle’s panels, primarily done in tones of grey, offer a look into the psyche of a man held against his will for 111 days.

In Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches From Turkey, Syria, and Iraq, cartoonist Sarah Glidden tells the stories of individuals she meets in the Middle East while bearing witness to the ethical questions the journalist friends she is traveling with face. How far do you go to get the answers you want? At what point does someone else’s story become yours?

Poppies of Iraq, by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim, offers a series of memories about childhood and family in Iraq. Born to a French mother and Iraqi father in the 1950s, Findakly grew up in an environment of political upheaval that began in 1958 when the monarchy was overthrown in a coup. With Iraq in tumult throughout the 1960s, Findakly’s family moved to France in the 1970s. The vignettes in Poppies intersperse sweet and sometimes humorous childhood memories with a look into how life was never the same under Saddam Hussein’s regime.

* Publication date September 5, 2017; ARC obtained from Drawn & Quarterly

The beautiful debut graphic novel by Thi Bui, The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir, is a moving and highly personal tale of the immigrant experience. The birth of Bui’s child in a California hospital is the catalyst for her look back not only at her refugee journey from Vietnam, via Malaysia, to the United States, but also how her family reached that point of desperation with the rise of communism in the mid-1970s. Painted with washes of red, Bui reminds us that our history follows us wherever we go.

Acclaimed Canadian cartoonist Jeff Lemire is back following Secret Path with Roughneck. This gritty, fictional story centers on former professional hockey player Derek Ouelette, down and out in his hometown after instigating a violent incident on the ice. Ouelette’s life is once again upended when he is reunited with his sister, who is seeking escape from her abusive boyfriend. Together, the siblings face their shared past and try to find a better way.

Liz Tham is a librarian at the Port Moody Public Library.

Graphic Novels with Matthew Murray

SLAIS student Matthew Murray explains Adult Graphic Novels at our 2013 RA in a Half Day on Oct. 30th at Vancouver Public Library:

Adult Graphic Novels Resources:


American Awards:
Eisner Awards
• Most extensive awards
• Many different categories
Harvey Awards
• Voted on by comic book industry professionals
Ignatz Awards
• Generally focus on “indie” comics and creators
• Small press creators or creator-owned projects published by larger publishers

Canadian Awards:
Doug Wright Awards
• Awarded to “alternative” comics and creators
• Best Book Award
• Best Emerging Talent
Joe Shuster Awards
• More “mainstream” comics (ie. superhero)
• Awards for best writer, artist, cartoonist, etc.


Dark Horse
• The third through fifth biggest comic book publishers in America (after Marvel and DC)
• Major sources of genre (science fiction, etc.) graphic novels
• Publish many media adaptations
• Dark Horse also publish manga

Drawn & Quarterly
• Canadian literary/artistic publisher
• Publish manga/international work
• “Alternative” comics publisher
Oni Press
• Small, well-respected popular fiction publisher
• Publish many adaptations of existing books and movies
• DC’s “mature readers” imprint
Viz Media
• Leading manga publisher

Best Seller Lists
• Website where users (not librarians) can buy access to comics
• Lists what’s currently selling well digitally
Diamond Comics
• The biggest comic book and graphic novel distributor in North America
• They release monthly lists on their website of the top selling graphic novels, manga, and comic books
• Reports sales to comic book shops
www.diamondcomics.com (click on Industry Statistics in the sidebar).
The New York Times
• Features weekly lists
• Reports sales through bookstores and websites
• Paperback: www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/paperback-graphic-books/list.html
• Hardback: www.nytimes.com/best-sellers-books/2010-07-11/hardcover-graphic-books/list.html
Reviews, News, and Info
Comics Alliance
Comics Beat
The Comics Journal
Diamond Bookshelf
Graphic Novel Reporter
Publishers Weekly

• Features free digital previews and sample issues
Net Galley
• Offers digital galley proofs of upcoming grapic novels
Developed and Presented by Matthew Murray


Using comics as Readers Advisory

After reading a blog post about recommending prose fiction to young adult readers who were only interested in graphic novels I remembered a discussion about using comics to provide information that I’d had at a conference. Suddenly I realized that comics can be a great way to do readers advisory!

Unshelved is a well known webcomic that’s set in a public library. Every Friday they post a book club with reviews of assorted books and comics, and one of the reviews is always in comic form. They cross the spectrum from Anne of Green Gables to Illustration School to Plato’s Republic! Most of them are by Gene Ambaum and Bill Barnes (Unshelved’s creators), but there are also guest reviews from time time time. What’s awesome is that the creators have given permission for libraries to print out and post these book reviews! I bet some of them would look great as posters. (Just make sure you leave their credits on the images.)


Faith Erin Hicks (creator of Friends with Boys and Zombies Calling) drew some really neat review comics for Tor’s website last year. Hicks did comics about the manga Full Metal Alchemist, Madeleine’ L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, and the movie Prometheus. They’re pretty great, and while there are a couple of other movie reviews on the site,  I wish Hicks had done more about books. (Though she did do this pretty rad Hunger Games fan comic).


John Bonner has also been doing comic book reviews on Tor’s website, but he posts more of them on his own blog. He reviewed Wild by Cheryl Strayed, REAMDE by Neal Stephenson, and perhaps most interestingly the audio book version of George R. R. Martin’s A Game of Thrones, plus lots more! He mostly reviews science fiction and fantasy books, but there are comics about other genres too.


Political cartoonist Ted Rall has also done a number of reviews in comic book form. He’s reviewed Brooke Gladstone’s The Influencing Machine, Anna Badkhen The World is a Carpet, and the Occupied Wall Street Journal. He hasn’t done many of these, but the Badkhen review came out last month, so hopefully more will be on the way!


Comic books as reviews are clearly not that developed as a form, but it’s interesting to see how people combine words and images to review something that exists only as words. It gives an extra dimension to the reviews as you’re able to see how the author saw the characters and locations in the book. If you have patrons who like drawing you could even ask them to draw comics about books that they like!

Do you know about any reviews as comic books that I missed? Let me know in the comments!

Free Comic Book Day, the Eisners, and More: Revitalizing Interest in Your Adult Graphics Collection

fcbd2011Comic book, comic-strip novel, illustrated novel, graphic memoir…a graphic novel by any other name is indeed as satisfying. The fact is, those who are currently enjoying books from your graphics collection already know how amazing the stories and illustrations are – the challenge is attracting readers new to the format.

Five or six years ago graphic collections were the darlings of the public library: they were new, hot, and edgy. Fiction collections wanted to be them and nonfiction wanted to be like them…well, maybe not, but as the “newness” of graphic books has faded, we now have to market them like we do with all of our other collections (and mentioning that reading something in comic format helps to retain knowledge can’t hurt, right?).

An excellent way to promote both literacy and your library’s graphic novel collection is to participate in some way in Free Comic Book Day. Free Comic Book Day takes place the first Saturday of May each year and has been growing since its inception in 2002. The idea has gained momentum over the years and now many libraries use the opportunity to spread the word about comics, graphic novels, and reading. Greater Victoria Public Library has participated in some capacity for the past three years. Highlights of past events have included giving away donated comics, prizes for comics-related costumes, and a demonstration from a local comics artist. As this year’s FCBD will be over by the time you read this, you’ll have a whole year to think of novel ways to celebrate it next year at your library.

The Eisner Awards (and the Kirby Awards before them) have highlighted the best in comics for almost 30 years. As with many awards, the Eisners have evolved over the years and now acknowledge excellence in the comic industry with awards for many kinds of contributions including categories like Best Digital Comic, Best Coloring, Best Single Issue, etc. As with awards in fiction and nonfiction, libraries should pay close attention to these industry awards and ensure we are promoting the inclusion of award-winning items in our collections through displays, lists and collection management.

Finally, if you’re looking for somewhere to start reading graphics yourself or for some superlative titles to highlight in library, here is a brief list of some stand-out graphics titles from the past year or so:

Are You My Mother? A comic drama by Alison Bechdel, 2012
This was one of my two favourite graphics published last year. Bechdel’s name may ring bells if you read her last work, Fun Home, which was focused on her father. This publication is about her relationship with her mother and it is honest and heart-wrenching.

Building Stories by Chris Ware, 2012
Chris Ware’s masterpiece appeared on dozens of Best of 2012 lists last year and for good reason. This collection of pamphlets, sheets, booklets, etc. has drawn admirers not just for its non-standard physical format but for Ware’s insight into humanity. If your library system is unsure about trying to circulate this item (it comes in a board game-style box), you could always purchase a copy for display within the library – talk about bringing attention to your graphics collection!

Delphine by Richard Sala, 2012
Perfect for fans of horror with gorgeous illustrations, this is a grown-up Snow White adaptation from the perspective of the prince.

The Graphic Canon (volumes 1 & 2) edited by Russ Kick, 2012
With Volume 3 of this gorgeous anthology coming out in June, now is the perfect time to check out the first two volumes which include adaptations of classics like Beowulf, Moby-Dick and Huckleberry Finn.

Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City by Guy Delisle, 2012
This is my other favourite from 2012. It is a fascinating account of the year Delisle spent with his wife, an administrator for Doctors Without Borders, and two children in Jerusalem.

Saga (volume 1) by Brian K. Vaughan, 2012
The first in a new series by Brian K. Vaughan of Ex Machina and Y the Last Man fame; 2013 Eisner Award Nominee for Best Continuing Series. Plus bonus points for featuring a character breastfeeding on the cover (not every day you see *that* in a comic).

Sailor Twain by Mark Siegel, 2012
An original fantasy set one hundred years ago relates the story of a Hudson River captain who rescues a mermaid and all the things, good and bad, that follow.

Looking for more reviews or industry information?

Publisher’s Weekly Comics Page


Graphic Novel Reporter


NPR Books: Comics & Graphic Novels


The Graphic Novel as a Vehicle for Immigrant & Refugee Stories

Image courtesy of State Library of New South Wales

Image courtesy of State Library of New South Wales

A Museum of Vancouver event titled Uncovering Gold: Chinese histories through graphic novels, video games, and data visualization raised the question for me of where the graphic novel format fits within the context of immigrant and refugee stories. Held this past January, the event in part featured a conversation with author David H.T. Wong about his graphic novel Escape to Gold Mountain.

A story about Chinese immigration to Canada and the United States spanning over a century, as I learned more about it I became curious about the graphic novel as a vehicle for telling immigrants’ and refugees’ stories. Largely situated in the realm of oral storytelling, their stories lend themselves heavily to visual accompaniments – be they photographs or realia in the form of clothes, letters, and the like.

Beyond this tendency for accompaniment by visual representation, Duncan Jepson makes a very interesting observation in his explanation of storytelling as occurs more generally in the context of storytelling across the Asian subcontinent. In “Why Asia is Obsessed with Graphic Novels and Comics”, Jepson points to an inherent tradition of illustration and other forms of visual representation such as puppetry.

Saying that there has been a long-standing custom of reliance “primarily on the power of oral storytelling to communicate wisdom and ideas”, he goes on to say that aids such as puppetry “were used for centuries in villages and towns up and down the continent, from Indonesia to Mongolia, India to Japan”. He further comments that “the use of striking images and graphic representation to accompany oral accounts was part and parcel of everyday Asian life”.

Image courtesy of Musee McCord Museum (through Flickr: The Commons)

Image courtesy of Musee McCord Museum (through Flickr: The Commons)

In more contemporary times, we have the likes of Wong’s novel and Shaun Tan’s The Arrival (the latter entirely illustrated) conveying the enormous potential of the “illustrated text” to relate experiences of leaving one home to make another home in another land.

So where are the other such stories told in this format? More graphic novels from newcomers from other lands, across time, making Canada their new home?

Looking into this subject, I’ve realized that I’ve essentially come across a new project for myself. While there are many written for Young Adult audiences, those published for Adult Collections seem a “slice” of what’s out there. While I have found one other novel –  a story of Irish immigration to the United States, in Derek McCulloch’s Gone to Amerikay – as of yet, I have not found other graphic novels about immigrant and refugee experiences to Canada, or to other parts of the Commonwealth, Europe, or the United States.

I am convinced that they are out there. If any of you know of titles and authors, please share with us.

For the moment, I leave with you with an intriguing partnership between Asia and Europe. Called Lingua Comica,  it “promotes the discovery and the building of new  relationships between Asians and Europeans in the Comics and Graphic Novels field”. While outside of the Canadian realm, it looks exciting and could lead to some discoveries on a more global stage.

Regardless it be relatively new literary territory as far as this particular thematic strand in the graphic novel format or not, for those interested in exploring or indeed in writing and illustration itself, exciting discoveries are likely to be made!