I’ve written about plenty of comics so far, from action-packed spy thrillers to memoirs about growing up. In this post I wanted to highlight some of the most distinctive, genre-nonconforming books I’ve read. From football to fashion, from insect scientists to Jewish folktales, I love all of these unique books.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley.
I’m a picky eater vegetarian who doesn’t like to cook, and yet I LOVED this book by an omnivorous chef’s daughter foodie. It transcends dietary preferences! It’s the story of Knisley growing up with food, and how it’s interwoven into her relationships, work, and life – intermixed with illustrated recipes for some of the dishes she describes.
Knisley is a wonderful cartoonist, and a thoughtful storyteller. Her encounter with a Richard Sera sculpture while working as catering staff at a museum party has particularly stuck with me, as an intersection in her life between food and art. If you’re at all interested in food, storytelling, autobiography, or books about families, please do check this one out.
Down. Set. Fight! by Chad Bowers and Chris Sims, illustrated by Scott Kowalchuk and lettered by Josh Krach.
Yes, the cover of this book is a guy punching a football mascot. But hear me out! I read it because C-Man told me to, and I’m so glad I did. “Fearless” Chuck Fairlane was a superstar football player until a brawl he started with a football mascot (and his refusal to shift the blame) ended his career.
Now he’s a high school sports coach with a good life… until football mascots start attacking him, and the cops want to know why. From the setup for the book, I expected a fun romp and nothing more. What I got was a much deeper book about growing up with a parent who doesn’t have your best interests at heart and what it takes to move past that legacy. Also, a book with two people of color for main characters: Fearless is biracial African-American, and the female cop working the case is a woman of color.
Last of the Sandwalkers by Jay Hosler.
Some people have multiple talents. For example, I load a dishwasher really well AND I’m great at tickling seven year olds. Jay Hosler, though, is far more talented. He’s a college biology professor and a gifted cartoonist and a fabulous storyteller. Combine all of that and you get Last of the Sandwalkers, an adventure mixed with political conspiracy populated by bugs. Bugs that live in New Coleopolis, a beetle city with a theocratic government and institutions of higher learning. Beyond New Coleopolis is a wasteland… or at least, so they’ve been taught. Lucy, a scientist in New Coleopolis, isn’t so sure. Overcoming the skepticism of her colleagues, she mounts an expedition to explore the world beyond the city. She soon discovers that both the world and the loyalties of her teammates aren’t always what she’s been led to believe.
I didn’t know I could care about bugs so much. The personalities, backstories, and relationships of this group of explorers captivated me. Hosler draws them with distinct facial expressions and body language. (My guess is that is took 7,000 years to draw this incredibly detailed book.) Lucy and her friends are fighting for reason over superstition and greed, fueled by a passionate curiosity about the world. They’re a great team. I’m looking forward to reading more of Hosler’s work!
The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins.
“It’s beautiful,” I thought to myself when I finished it. Said C-Man when he was halfway through it: “It’s like a Shel Silverstein book gone totally mad, and I’ve never read anything even remotely like it.” The title of the book would have you believe that the gigantic beard is evil, but is it really? Dave, on whose face it suddenly grows one day, sure thinks so. It costs him his job and his freedom on the island of Here, where everything is neat and orderly. The beard is not neat or orderly. The beard is against everything that Here stands for. The back cover calls this book a parable, and that’s clearly true, but it’s an understated, beautiful one.
The back cover calls this book a parable, and that’s clearly true, but it’s an understated, beautiful one. I think this would make a great book club discussion, because there is so much going on with Dave, his community, and the much bigger themes at play.
Weapons of Mass Diplomacy by Abel Lanzac (a pen name for Antonin Bauday), with illustrations by Christophe Blain. Translated by Edward Gauvin.
If you’re looking for a serious, dry, fact-based investigation of how the U.S. ended up invading Iraq… this is not the book for you. If you’re interested in a (somewhat) fictionalized account of what it’s like to work in international politics when something like that is going down, though, this is perfect. Lanzac was a French government employee working during the run-up to that invasion. In this graphic novel, he’s represented by Arthur Vlaminck, a young speechwriter hired into the French Foreign Minister’s office. His boss, Alexandre Taillard de Vorms, is indescribably bizarre. However, his boss may also be the best chance the world has for peace.
As a former government employee, activist, and politics junkie, I was fascinated by the depiction of how extremely flawed human beings can play such pivotal roles on the side of justice. Even if they don’t win, and even if their personal philosophies at times seem baffling or worse. C-Man isn’t as interested in politics as I am (and he prefers a larger font!) but the ludicrous behavior of the Ministry’s staff, the humor, and the handfuls of geek references grabbed him. Try this book, and you’ll never look at highlighters again without flinching.
Girl in Dior by Annie Goetzinger. Translated by Joe Johnson. Lettering by Ortho.
Girl in Dior is a quasi-historical account of the inner workings of Christian Dior’s fashion house starting with his first Paris show in 1947. Clara, a young journalist and fashion enthusiast, is there for the historic event. Her journalism career doesn’t last much longer, but from its ashes she begins her new career as a fashion model for the house of Dior.
This book is a blend of fact and fiction because Clara’s not a real person. However, the rest of the cast is real, and Clara’s story gives the reader a way into the events of Dior’s rise to stardom. The illustrations are lovely! I’m not a fashionista, but the detailed depictions of these dresses look like they come from a fantasy land. This is a fascinating read for anyone interested in women’s history, fashion, design, or even business. It’s not a set of topics I would have normally been drawn to, but I really enjoyed it.
I couldn’t find a decent-size image of the cover, but that’s okay. The art is not why I pulled it off the shelf. The art’s a little strange, actually. But don’t let it put you off, because this is one of the funniest books I’ve read in a good long while.
Whatever your faith, Rabbi Harvey is one of those teachers that we can all benefit from. The wacky antics of his neighbors (and rivals) are no match for his smarts. There are moments where my husband and I literally laughed out loud, and there are moments that you need a minute to process because there’s so much depth – in so few words! It’s a remarkable book with a lot of heart. We bought the whole series after checking the first volume out from the library, and it’s one of my favorite re-reads. There are three books in the series. The second is less wacky than the first, and the third is a nice balance between the two.
And that’s my list of highly recommended graphic novels right now! If you have any suggestions, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing on social media or with friends! I’d love to help more readers find these books.