Y’all, I have linear feet of graphic novels in our library room downstairs, full of fantastic writing and kick-ass art, and many with diverse casts and strong female characters. And I love to make recommendations. So, you want some comics about magic and magical happenings? Of course you do! So here are my absolute favorites.
So first we have Phonogram: The Singles Club, written by Kieron Gillen, art and lettering by Jamie McKelvie with help from Julia Scheele, and colors by Matthew Wilson. The Singles Club is the second Phonogram book, but don’t let that stop you if you haven’t read the first. The first book is one long story and it’s pretty good. This second book is related but you don’t need any backstory more than the blurb on the back cover: “urban fantasy, where every song is a spell and every gig a chance for magical misadventure.”
That’s right: in this world, music is magic. One night at a club, seven short stories that all interconnect. Relationships, ends of relationships, magic and pain and love and loss. McKelvie can tell more of story in two panels than some comic books artists can tell in a whole book, and Gillen’s characters are amazing. You need to read this. Really.
Next we have Cairo written by G. Willow Wilson, with art by M.K. Perker and letters by Travis Lanham. G. Willow Wilson is, of course, the gal who’s writing the new Ms. Marvel, hurray!
Cairo was published back in 2007 and it’s set in modern Egypt, as you may have guessed from the book’s title, with all its political tensions and rich history. Combine a drug smuggler, an Israeli soldier, an American wannabe journalist, a teenager with some bad ideas, and a real jinn, and you have a very interesting story full of people trying to figure out right from wrong, and their relationships with each other, while saving the world.
Even if the art doesn’t grab you right away, stick with it. I did, and I fell in love with these people.
Next, I can’t say enough about the Okko series, written and illustrated by Hub, with colors by Hub and Stephan Pecayo, and translated from French by Edward Gauvin. Four books out so far: Volume 1: The Cycle of Water, Volume 2: The Cycle of Earth, Volume 3: The Cycle of Air, Volume 4: The Cycle of Fire. What can I say about Okko? It’s hard to know where to start. Mysterious characters. Danger at every turn. Creepy villains. Fight scenes aplenty. Meticulously detailed art. (In fact, if you don’t have reading glasses already, you might want to get some. Why wasn’t this printed larger?!)
Hub is the pen name for Humbert Chaubel, a Frenchman who based his fantasy world on medieval Japan, with some technological differences. Specifically, combat exoskeletons. Also, magic, demons, gods, and monsters.
The books follow the adventures of Okko, a ronin who travels with several companions throughout the uneasy war-torn landscape. Calling them “adventures” seems too light-hearted, though, as the challenges the characters face are quite harrowing. I was blown away by the first volume and I’m impressed by how each subsequent book is its own story as well as being part of the whole.
Now I want to re-read the whole thing again. Maybe this weekend?
Hexed written by Michael Alan Nelson, with art by Emma Rios, colors by Chris Peter, and letters by Marshall Dillon. I weep for the cover of this book. I weep again that they felt compelled to repeat the cover art as chapter breaks. If you can ignore that, you should, because there are two strong, wonderful female characters inside that have nothing to do with this art. (Occupational hazard of being a comics fan, the covers don’t always match the interior.)
Luci Jenifer Inacio Das Neves, Lucifer for short, is a reformed thief. Val Brisendine is a gallery owner who also deals with magical artifacts, Lucifer’s sometimes boss, and the closest thing to family that Lucifer has. When Lucifer’s past catches up to her and threatens Val’s life, there’s no easy way out.
This book made me fall in love with Emma Rios as an artist. Her people are not pretty or fake. Her people are real and interesting and flawed and distinctive. (Does Lucifer end up in her underwear once? Yes. But it’s not sexy time. And it doesn’t look like that cover.) I love recommending Hexed because I have never read anything else like it.
The surreal August Moon by Diana Thung is next.
I didn’t know what to make of this as first. The story is fairly slow, and some of the characters seem borderline annoying, and why do some of the people look like monkeys?! I am so glad I stuck with it, though, because it all unfolds exactly like it should. It rewards your patience with a mysterious, almost otherworldly conflict between a town’s magical traditions and the minions of a greedy, destructive corporation. Resistance, we learn, must come from the heart.
I love the look of shock on the little girl’s face in this page:
Influenced by Miyazaki films but definitely its own thing. You can read the first 78 pages of August Moon online as a web comic.
Oh how I love Foiled, written by Jane Yolen, art by Mike Cavallaro, with chapter heading illustrations by Chris Spencer. This was in my older kids and YA comics post, but I had to repeat it again here. My kid isn’t even old enough to enjoy it yet but I’ve read it multiple times!
Aliera, a teenage girl with color blindness who doesn’t really fit in at school, ends up with a secondhand foil for her competitive fencing… and a whole lot more than that. Fairies? Trolls? Supposedly cute boys who are really anything but? Yep!
Aliera’s relationship with her cousin and best friend Caroline adds a sweet note. Cavallaro’s art is gorgeous, particularly as Aliera starts to see in color for the first time. There’s a sequel, Foiled Again!, which we also enjoyed.
Next up is Plume by K. Lynn Smith, though this one comes with a caveat.
I apparently like this book a LOT, since I supported this on Kickstarter and also managed to pre-order it from my local comic shop. A backup copy never hurts, right? Vesper Grey’s adventurer/archaeologist father gives her a magical necklace that comes with an amazing surprise: a magical guardian spirit named Corrick. Her father trusts Corrick to protect her, which he does… but there’s a price. It’s a revenge story set in the Wild West, but with ancient magical artifacts.
This page doesn’t have much story, but it cracks me up how much Smith conveys about these character’s relationship in just four panels:
The sour note: The classic adventurer/archaeologist trope basically amounts to white guys (or sometimes gals) traveling around the world stealing stuff from other cultures. So I wish Smith had found a different setup for the dad in this story. Le sigh. Nothing is perfect, but at some point folks need to get the memo on this topic.
You can read Plume as a webcomic to try it out. It’s funny and touching by turns and I’m looking forward to seeing what happens next.
Up next is another Kickstarter! We supported Volume 1 and Volume 2 of Misfortune High by Jules Rivera on Kickstarter, and we have enjoyed them tremendously.
Will Bicksford, an upper-crust wizarding student at one of the best schools, is expelled for cheating. So his father sends him to Fortuna High 189, a public school on the “wrong” side of town. His first act at his new school is ticking off powerful student Johnny Cuervo, first by dropping something on his head and then by assuming Johnny doesn’t speak English. A few of Bicksford’s fellow students intervene to save him from a pummeling, but not before he ends up with the nickname “Biscuit” and a pack of enemies. Hijinks ensue.
You can read a sample of the first book on Rivera’s site if this has piqued your interest.
(One word of warning if you buy it in print, Rivera does love making things shiny! Do not take these books out in bright sunlight or their covers may blind someone.)
Seconds by Bryan Lee O’Malley, with art assistance from Jason Fischer, letters by Dustin Harbin, and colors by Nathan Fairbairn. O’Malley is famous for Scott Pilgrim (see my comics about growing up post), and truth be told I was expecting something pretty similar. But Seconds is its own thing, so good on him for that.
Katie is a chef whose second restaurant should be opening soon… but then things start to get bumpy. So when she’s offered the chance to make one choice differently, she goes for it. But things start to get strange.
There’s a lot of funny in this book, but also a lot of strange magic, and a lot of emotion. Life is hard, people! And Katie doesn’t always make the best choices. She’s impulsive and has a temper, and she’s a little self-centered. But she’s not a bad person, and I was rooting for her the whole time through the twists and turns and “what if” changes the magic brings about.
Smoke and Mirrors by Mike Costa and Jon Armstrong, illustrated by Ryan Browne, with color assistance by Aaron Daly and letters by Robbie Robbins.
Ethan’s growing up in a world powered by magic. It makes lights, cars, washing machines, and computers work. He’s pretty gifted with it himself, but what he’s really interested in is the guy in Tobin Square who’s doing some *other* kind of magic that Ethan doesn’t understand. Yet.
This is an interesting book combining “real” magic and stage magic, as well as friendship and fighting evil. I wish this would have been an ongoing series, because I really wanted to know what happened next for these characters! But it does have an ending, so I’m trying to count my blessings.
You can read a preview of Smoke and Mirrors at USA Today
My long wait for this next one was rewarded a thousand times over: Umbral by Antony Johnston, co-created and illustrated by Christopher Mitten, with additional art by painters John Rauch and Jordan Boyd, and Thomas Mauer.
Rascal is a girl thief in the city of Strakhelm, where horrible monsters called Umbral murder the royal family and assume their identities… then start working their way through other powerful citizens. (There’s a LOT of blood!) Rascal got into the middle of it by stealing the Oculus gem from the palace while the Umbral were starting their spree, and now they’re after her!
I am sooooo happy that Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten are back together again! They’re the creative team that launched Wasteland, one of my favorite post-apocalyptic comics. And seeing Mitten’s art colored by such amazing painters has been like a dream.
Also, Rascal’s hair is FANTASTIC.
Courtney Crumrin by Ted Naifeh. (I am mystified why I can’t find a larger image of this book cover, by the way. This is the color hardcover editions we’re buying as they come out, after having read the first few in black and white from the library.)
Young Courtney ends up living with her uncle, a wizard, after her daffy parents finally run out of the ability to pretend they have lots of money. Turns out Courtney has some magical gifts of her own… and her uncle may be a much needed emotional connection for Courtney, or just another heartbreak.
These books are dark. Very, very dark. Including murder, painful losses, social isolation, and at least one quasi-suicide attempt by a child. Why do I love these books? Because Courtney is a very strong female character. Not strong like kicking butt with a laser gun or some karate. Strong as in she has a fully developed unique personality and a desire for justice. She takes the initiative when there’s a problem, though sometimes that doesn’t turn out as the right thing to do. She’s growing up. Trying to learn how to live in a world where allies are few and dangers are many, and she has power that she doesn’t yet know how to manage.
Even creepier, and I loved that about it: Coffin Hill by Caitlin Kittredge, illustrated and co-created by Inaki Miranda. Additional art by Stephen Sadowski and Mark Farmer, colors by Eva de la Cruz, and letters by Travis Lanham.
Coffin Hill is very, very dark. It involves a family of witches, where the teenage daughter went into the woods with her friends ten years ago. Not everyone came back. Eve Coffin, the daughter, grew up to be a cop, though that’s gotten rocky. Now she’s back in her hometown because kids are disappearing again.
This is Kittredge’s first comic writing gig, and there are a couple of weak points in the story, but the rest of it and the strong art make up for that in spades. I can’t wait to see what happens next for Eve.
And finally Tales of Mr. Rhee by Dirk Manning, illustrated by Joshua Ross and colored by Austin McKinley and Sean Burres. Letters by Jim Reddington.
This book has a special place in my heart because you just do not see an African-American guy cast as a wizard-for-hire / paranormal investigator very often. Now granted, he does his fair share of beating on people, but he’s not a stereotypical thug. As a kid he experimented with the occult and accidentally raised a nasty demon, so he apprenticed to a wizard to learn how to survive.
I’m not sure the book quite lives up to my enthusiasm for it but I’m really looking forward to seeing it grow and evolve. And to finding out how Mr. Rhee is going to get out of where they left him. You can see more from the book on the Kickstarter page they used to fund the hardcover edition of Tales of Mr. Rhee. It may not be your cup of tea, and if not that’s fine, but it’s so unique that I enjoy telling people about it.
So, what do you think? Read them already? Anything look good? Any suggestions for what I should read next? Let me know! And if you’re on Pinterest, I’d be so glad if you pinned this post to help others find it.