5 Great Graphic Novels That Aren't 'Watchmen'

5 Great Graphic Novels That Aren't 'Watchmen'

By Libby Coleman

Credit Lee's Comics in San Mateo, CA
SourceSean Culligan/OZY


Because sometimes seeing is better than just reading.

By Libby Coleman

The OZY Summer Reading Series: Each week we share a specially themed book list, chosen by OZY staff.

First, by graphic novels we don’t mean Fifty Shades of Grey. What we do mean: “adult picture books” — a kind of comic book for all ages, but with sophisticated visual language, complex plotting and layered characters. In other words, something you should not be embarrassed to read. Because sometimes words just can’t tell the full story: A speech bubble is more evocative than a transcribed conversation, a character more vibrant when seen than imagined. Picture Watchmen (not Zack Snyder’s three-hour-long disaster of a movie, but the actual text). Whether you’re a graphic fiction aficionado or new to the genre, here are five to check out.

Asterios Polyp

Author Dave Mazzucchelli took years to create this magnum opus. Famous for his Batman comics, Mazzucchelli took a leap and put together an enormously ambitious graphic novel about an architect already down on his luck who loses his house and all but three possessions to a fire — all on Page 1. Mazzucchelli takes his time on the details, illustrating individualized speech lettering for each character and choosing different color palettes for different scenes. With a host of literary, historical, philosophical and cultural references, the text is both substance and eye-candy.

The Killing Joke

By the same author as Watchmen (Alan Moore), The Killing Joke is a graphic novel about Batman and the Joker. Moore has the reader simultaneously hating and empathizing with Batman’s most complex and fleshed out villain, who it turns out had one very bad day and snapped — transforming from a happy family man to an evil lunatic. The cartoonishly dark, maniacal artwork by British comics artist Brian Bolland, which has struck fear into the hearts of teenagers for years, elevates the plot by creating a menacing visual mood.


Graphic novels: Because sometimes words aren’t enough.

Source Sean Culligan/OZY

Chicken With Plums

Iranian author Marjane Satrapi is perhaps best known for Persepolis, but Chicken With Plums, translated from French into English, is also wonderful, panel after panel. Where Persepolis centered around Satrapi’s own experiences growing up, this story follows Satrapi’s musically talented great-uncle whose instrument is broken by his angry wife. Distraught, he takes to bed and dies eight days later. In Satrapi’s unique visual style — clean and often childlike — the story plays with time, jumping backward into her great-uncle’s own past.  

Fun Home

Cartoonist Alison Bechdel is literally a genius — a 2014 MacArthur “Genius” fellow who also invented the eponymous Bechdel test. Fun Home is her true story about growing up lesbian with a father who was also gay but not out. With extremely detailed images, Bechdel captures memories in amber, often making the sad moments funny and the funny moments heartfelt. Recently adapted for the theater, Fun Home swept the 2015 Tony Awards, winning Best Musical and a host of other accolades. 

Maus I

This is the first of two graphic novels by Art Spiegelman about his Jewish father’s experiences in Europe during the Holocaust. Spiegelman uses information from interviews with his father in 1978 to portray the years between 1930 and 1945 when he was put into a ghetto and then a concentration camp. The characters in the book are animals — mice (representing Jews), cats (representing Nazis) and pigs (representing non-Jewish Poles) — allowing Spiegelman to depict the rampant dehumanization of the period, while still maintaining its seriousness. This grim, historical tale impressed critics, and became the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize (1992).