10 Offbeat and Quirky Graphic Novels

Here’s a little roundup of the most quirky, offbeat, and one of a kind graphic novels I’ve read and loved. (Disclosure: Amazon links are affiliate links.)

I originally posted my graphic novel rec lists in 2012-15, but they’re being refreshed and expanded in 2023-24 as I re-read most of the books to make sure I’m still enthusiastic about recommending them. However, please let me know via my contact form if you find something yikes in a book I recommend.

Death Wins a Goldfish by Brian Rea (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Death never takes a day off. Until he gets a letter from the HR department insisting he use up his accrued vacation time, that is. In this humorous and heartfelt book from beloved illustrator Brian Rea, readers take a peek at Death’s journal entries as he documents his mandatory sabbatical in the world of the living. From sky diving to online dating, Death is determined to try it all! Death Wins a Goldfish is an important reminder to the overstressed, overworked, and overwhelmed that everyone — even Death — deserves a break once in a while.”

Quirky, fun, not too deep or complex, but it left me feeling good. A good gentle reminder to check your work-life balance, and some highly entertaining moments.

City Monster by Reza Farazmand (Amazon / Goodreads)

One of those graphic novels the phrase “deceptively simple” was made for. It’s about a monster who moves to the city, gets an apartment, and then… kinda gets stuck on what to do next? The apartment comes with a ghost, though, and after the monster starts hanging out with a vampire, they eventually end up helping the ghost investigate who he used to be before his death.

However, to me that plot summary gives the events greater importance than they have in the book, which to me is more about a feeling. What it feels like to be purposeless, or unmoored, but then to connect with others. It felt cozy and small stakes in a good way, and I really enjoyed it.

[UPDATE: I have now also read Farazmand’s collection Comics For A Strange World, and I loved it.]

Louise Brooks: Detective by Rick Geary (Amazon / Goodreads)

This is such a strange little book. Louise Brooks was a film actress in the 1920s. In 1940, she moved back home to live with her parents in Wichita, Kansas. In this graphic novel, Geary creates a fictionalized account of her time in Wichita, including Louise getting involved in a murder mystery. The murder itself happens fairly late in the book, because Geary spends a luxurious amount of time building Louise’s world and character first. And, it turns out, giving the reader information that will be useful later! Overall the book feels like a crisp modern movie set in the 1940s, recreating the period in detail without feeling dated. Geary’s black and white cartooning is precise and clear. It’s a short, fun read, especially for those fond of the “parlor scene” where detectives reveal whodunit and how they figured it out.

The series The Adventures of Rabbi Harvey by Steve Sheinkin (Amazon / Goodreads)

Whatever your faith or lack thereof, 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 wisdom, adapted from the teachings of Jewish rabbis of the past.

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. The second book is less wacky than the first, the third is a balance between the two, and we enjoy them all.

Johnny Hiro: Half Asian, All Hero by Fred Chao (Amazon / Goodreads)

The adventures of Johnny Hiro, everyman busboy who’s just trying to pay the rent and enjoy some time with his girlfriend Mayumi. If only giant rampaging monsters, enraged chefs, and various other calamities didn’t keep getting in his way. It’s an absurd book sometimes, seriously funny, sometimes melancholy, mixed with these still moments of reflection and clarity that just about made me shiver. If you’re down with slice of life mixed with weird NYC, celebrity encounters (David Byrne what?), car chases, and a nice guy at the middle of it all just trying to live life, this is for you.

I also enjoyed the sequel, Johnny Hiro: The Skills To Pay The Bills, and it brings Johnny to a good place to end the duology.

The Yakuza’s Bias by Teki Yatsuda (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Ken Kanashiro is one of the top lieutenants in the feared yakuza outfit the Washio Clan. He lives his life by the code of the Japanese underworld, where nothing is more important than loyalty, and ties between soldiers and their aniki are sacred bonds. Ken’s never had time for hobbies… until the boss’s only daughter Megumi drags him to a K-pop concert, and he sees the glittering, charismatic Jun for the first time. Smitten like a new recruit on his first job, Ken plunges into fandom with the solemnity and passion only a true man who walks the way of the yakuza could muster.”

The Gigantic Beard That Was Evil by Stephen Collins (Amazon / Goodreads)

“It’s beautiful,” I thought to myself when I finished it. C-Man said, 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 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.

Strange Planet by Nathan W. Pyle (Amazon / Goodreads)

I really don’t know how to describe this, and the publisher’s blurb seems kinda intended for people who are already familiar with it. Basically, it’s aliens living the same life we do, except describing it in concrete terms that are completely accurate in a way that’s really funny. It’s delightful in small doses, so spread out your reading of this volume across a few days.

“Strange Planet is an adorable and profound universe in pink, blue, green, and purple, based on the phenomenally popular Instagram of the same name! Strange Planet covers a full life cycle of the planet’s inhabitants […]

With dozens of never-before-seen illustrations in addition to old favorites, this book offers a sweet and hilarious look at a distant world not all that unlike our own.”

[Update: The follow-up volume, Stranger Planet, was also very enjoyable.]

The series Yokai Cats by Pandania, translated by Minna Lin, lettered by Carl Vanstiphout (Amazon / Goodreads)

“Think cats are mischievous pranksters? Wait till you meet the yokai cats! One has a neck that can stretch to steal food off the counter, another looks like a wall big enough to block a road, but is still warm and fluffy. And that’s just the start! Get ready to be surprised and delighted by the daily life of these supernatural felines and their humans.”

We’ve read the first two books now, and while different people will have different favorites among the cats’ vignettes, I’m very much looking forward to the third volume.

Smoove City by Kenny Keil (Amazon / Goodreads)

I don’t know if anyone who didn’t experience the 90s will get as much of a kick out of this as I did, but I had a wonderful time both times I read it.

“In a 90s kind of world, 4 young friends try to navigate a New Jack Swinging landscape of shopping malls, demo tapes, and shady record execs. Will Ronnie, Mikey, Vinnie and Ray achieve boy band stardom with their friendships intact – or will they learn all that glitters ain’t double platinum?”

And that’s the list!