Books for Clever Girls: Graphic Novels & Comics for Teens/Young Women
Starter Books for Future Comic Aficionados
My husband is a comic book illustrator and over the years he has slowly introduced me to his world. Out of respect for the true die-hards, I'm not going to call myself a comic book fan, but I would call myself a fan of well made art, good storytelling, and comedy.
As such, with the help of my husband, I've found a number of illustrators, writers, comic book series, and graphic novels that I truly enjoy. While I have not read every book listed here (yet), based on reviews, critical reception, generalized buzz, and my husband's two cents, I think I've picked out a fantastic collection of comics for teens and young women. These books serve as the perfect introduction to the world of comics.
Do you read comic books?
What's a Graphic Novel?
The word "graphic" in "graphic novel" refers to pictures on a page, as opposed to explicit or suggestive content. Graphic novels are simply stand-alone stories, whereas comic book series are released over a longer span of time. It's like comparing a single movie to an ongoing television show. For those unfamiliar with modern comics, it's important to note that not all comics are about superheroes. There are a TON of graphic novels that do not follow this archetype at all.
Starter Graphic Novels - Suitable for Younger Girls
Take a flying leap out of the YA book box with graphic novels. The following 4 coming-of-age graphic novels have received wild praise and glowing reviews. They provide the perfect place for a clever girl to jump into the comic book world.
Included in this section: "Smile" by Raina Telgemeier, "Friends With Boys" by Faith Erin Hicks, "Anyas Ghost" by Vera Brosgol, and "Persepolis" by Marjane Satrapi.
"Smile" is arguably the best graphic novel aimed at the younger set to come out in recent memory. Author Raina Telgemeier tells her autobiographical coming-of-age story of her 6th grade self dealing with the trials and tribulations of life, friends, boys, and dental misadventures. Even though it's labeled as being for 8-13 year olds, my husband thinks I'd really enjoy this book.
The two graphic novels below are told from the perspective of girls in families that we do not see much of in American pop culture (as protagonists anyway). The protagonist of Anya's Ghost is a member of a Russian immigrant family in the US, while the protagonist of Persepholis is an Iranian in Tehran.
Anya's Ghost features the stunningly simple illustrations of Vera Brosgol, paired with her equally haunting story, makes for an engaging coming-of-age story that many teens can relate to. "Anya's Ghost" is best for 12 - 17 year olds, but it's a good read for adults as well (I loved it!).
You might have heard of "Persepolis" as it was made into a movie in 2007. Marjane Satrapi's "comic memoir" is a much praised graphic novel about a young woman's experiences in and out of Tehran during the Revolution of 1979. Considering the gravity of the subject matter, Persepolis does have some more mature themes. It is suitable for high school aged kids and up.
Graphic Novels for Women - For Mature, Older Teens and 20 Something Gals
The following two graphic novels are considered among the best out there today. The do contain more mature themes, however, and are not suitable for children.
Included in this section: "Blankets" by Craig Thompson & "Black Hole" by Charles Burns
Although only a decade old, Craig Thompson's "Blankets" has become a classic in the genre. It is a testament to the beauty of the graphic novel art form. Put quite simply, "Blankets" tells the author's own story, from adolescence through adulthood in a way that grabs the reader and doesn't let go.
Indeed a strange and unique tale, "Black Hole" tells the story of a ficticious STD outbreak amongst teens in the 1970s suburbs of Seattle. As a twist, this "Bug" manifests as anything from a simple rash, to a tiny mouth popping up on the body, to complete grotesque disfigurement. Very strange indeed, but also ripe with characters that keep you fully engaged and emotionally connected. Black Hole is a must read.
What's a Trade Paperback?
When you picture a comic book, you likely imagine a small, thin and flimsy magazine. Trade paperbacks are simply collections of these comic books in a sturdier form that resembles a normal paperback book. When a comic book series is currently running, new books will come out every month or so. After a story arc is completed, a trade paperback is typically released, collecting the separate issues. If a comic book series is a TV show, then a trade paperback would be a single season of that show.
Good Starter Comic Book Series for Girls
If you're thinking of introducing a child to the world of comics, the following three series provide a good place to start.
Included in this section: "Bone" by Jeff Smith, "Adventure Time" by Ryan North, and "Beasts of Burden" by Jill Thompson
Bone is a much beloved comic book series that has won multiple awards over it's impressive 13 year run. "Bone" shadows the adventures of 3 cousins in a fantasy world akin to the world of J.R.R. Tolkien. This collection includes all 1,344 pages of the series and is suitable of kids aged 9 and up.
The Adventure Time comic book series is based on the equally loved-across-all-age-groups TV show of the same name. It's hilarious, and weird, and incredibly well written and illustrated. This series is current, meaning they will continue to come out with new ones after you get through the first 3 trade paperbacks. Adventure Time is suitable for kids and adults aged 4 and up.
The next comic here features some unique art for comics and some more mature themes. I think it's a fun read for adults too:
The Beasts of Burden is about a group of dogs (and a cat) that solve mysteries. It's basically a doggy horror series. Despite the amiable look of this book's all animal cast, Beasts of Burden is a series that is best for older teens. It's the equivalent of a PG-13 movie - there are some darker elements, but it's nothing a more mature kid couldn't handle. Jill Thompson's illustrations are fantastic, and watercolor is something that is rarely seen in the comic book world.
Starter Comic Book Series for Women
The following 3 series are intended for adults. I've read all three and heartily recommend them for new readers.
Included in this section: Fables, Y: The Last Man, Sandman
Fables explores a world where creatures and characters from our beloved fables and fairy tales existed in a real, modern world. It's a must read for those who enjoy fantasy fiction.
What would happen if all the men in the world suddenly died, except for one? Y: The Last Man answers this very question. This series is fantastic - it was the first series I read from start to finish.
Neil Gaiman is a well known author in the greater world of fiction; he wrote Coraline, Stardust, and American Gods (which is going to be made into a Starz TV Series). Gaiman is a genius writer with a knack for creating wonderous, complex worlds. If you're a writer yourself (or aspire to be one), Neil Gaiman is a great comic creator to start with.
Neil Gaiman's "Sandman" series is an undeniable classic. I recommend it wholeheartedly for anyone who wants to dip their toe in the comic book water; it's a must read for fantasy and/or science fiction lovers. It's also a darnn good story, regardless of genre. I finished the original run awhile back, but it's such a rich read that I'm almost certainly going to read it again.
The Absolute Sandman volumes is the Sandman collection that Neil Gaiman himself recommends.* They are hardcover, oversized, come with a bunch of extras, and span 3 volumes (pictured is Volume 1).
After Absolute Sandman, Gaiman recommends the Slipcase Set (a set of all 10 trade paperbacks) or the Sandman "Omnibus" volumes (an "Omnibus" is essential a big fat collection of trade paperbacks). Sandman comes in two Omnibus volumes: Volume 1 and 2.
*He explained this on his Tumblr (http:
What's a Webcomic?
Think of webcomics as the modern day version of the "funny pages" in the sunday morning newspaper, except much, much better. Web comics either come in the form of a creator's own website, or a website that includes a collection of several comic creators' webcomics. Webcomics sometimes have a larger story arc and/or recurring characters, but they're also released as stand-alone pieces. Just about any genre, subject, and style can be found, but the majority of webcomics are comedic in nature.
We live an an amazing age where art and comedy can come together in an incredibly accessible (and incredibly free!) way. Each of the following illustrators has a web comic and/or tumblr page where they post new strips, ridiculous stand-alone pieces, doodles, and whatnot, but their published books tend to offer up a little something more. They're fun coffee table books and make great gifts (I gave Lisa Hanawalt's book to my BFF and she was delighted).
Included in this section: "Hark! A Vagrant" by Kate Beaton, "My Dirty Dumb Eyes" by Lisa Hanawalt, and "The Great Outdoor Fight" by Chris Onstad
Kate Beaton was the first illustrator that I truly loved. My husband has brought me along to many comic conventions, big and small, and I had an opportunity to meet Ms. Beaton about 5 years ago. Of course I got scared and ran away like a little wiener.
Hark! A Vagrant is a collection of Kate Beaton's most delightful comics from her hugely popular webcomic series, which focuses primarily on literary and historical figures in hilarious situations. Her illustrations are simple, but effective. Her comics are smart, witty, and endlessly entertaining. Think of them as comic strips, for adults. If I was to give Kate Beaton a rating, I'd say she's PG-13.
Lisa Hanawalt is funny, crude, and slightly off in a weirdly charming way. Her illustrations in "My Dirty Dumb Eyes" vary from one page stand alone pieces, to illustrated editorials and movie reviews, to more traditional comic stories. Well... they aren't exactly traditional. If farts and crude humor make you laugh till you pee, then Lisa Hanawalt might just be your cup of tea. Keep in mind, she can get very vulgar and explicit - she's not for dainty flower readers. That said, she's probably my favorite person on Twitter right now.
I like to promote my fellow ladies, but as you may have guessed, there are some awesome web comics created by men (gasp!). Achewood is one of them:
Another wildly popular webcomic series turned wildy popular comic collection is Achewood: The Great Outdoor Fight. My husband and his buddies are obsessed with Achewood, and Chris Onstad (the creator) is wildly funny. It's not your typical "girl book" because it's not a "girl book"... besides, what does "girl book" mean anyway? It's either good or it's not, and this one is good.
For Budding Comics Creators
My husband helped me pick out the two books that are must haves for anyone interested in making comics, whether it be on the writing side, the illustration side, or both.
Included in this section: "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art" by Scott McCloud and the "Will Eisner Instructional Books" series
For many, this is considered the definitive guide to comic books, and to the rest, it's at least a fantastic starting point. "Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art" explains the medium in a way that has never been done before, and gives budding comic creators a funny and insightful overview of the world of comics, the art of storytelling, and art and society in general. It has been wildly praised by folks from all industries in and outside the comic book world.
Will Eisner is the grand daddy of comics. You might recognize his name from "The Eisner Awards," aka the Oscars of the comic book world. They have the awards ceremony every year at Comic Con in San Diego.
This book is one of a three part series that form a solid foundation for comic creators. "Comics and Sequential Art" focuses on the visual aspect of comics; the other two books, "Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative" and "Expressive Anatomy for Comics and Narrative" focus on the art of the story and telling a story with the physical form, respectively. The three together make a fantastic gift.
© 2013 Shay Marie