Looking for graphic adult content... wait, let me rephrase that
April 14, 2010 9:02 AM   Subscribe

What are your top five items for an adult graphic novel collection in a public library? Our system is looking at the possibility of creating a new section for adult graphic novels (right now we have the majority of them in YA, and the remainder interfiled through non-fic), and I was asked my opinion on new titles that we could buy to fill out the ranks.

I've read the previous ask threads about this here (pulpy actiony graphic novels), here (adult dramatic graphic novels), and here (graphic novels for "matrure readers". Great suggestions, all-around!

I thought I'd post a new thread since my question is more specific.

If you went into a public library wanting to read a graphic novel for an adult audience, what would be the top five items you'd be looking for? I'm going to hold off mentioning what titles we currently have, since I think that part of this would be to move our existing collection around, in addition to buying new materials.

Also: to any experience librarians reading this, what's your system's method for adult graphic novels? Interfiled or its own section, and how is that working for you?
posted by codacorolla to Writing & Language (53 answers total) 51 users marked this as a favorite
Fun House.
Iraq Project (by Greg Cook--not out yet but should be really interesting)
posted by tacoma1 at 9:12 AM on April 14, 2010



Cerebus: High Society.

From Hell.

Something of Joe Sacco's, preferably Palestine but also possibly Safe Area GoraĹžde.
posted by infinitywaltz at 9:12 AM on April 14, 2010

My favorite recent book is David Mazzucchelli's Asterios Polyp.
posted by smitt at 9:15 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dark Knight Returns
The Sandman

are remaining automatic popular answers in addition to those mentioned above (watchmen, from hell, and maus)

I'd consider Alan Moore's run on Swamp thing, truly excellent reading material, influential, and slightly off the radar (enough not to be the automatic response.)
posted by oblio_one at 9:16 AM on April 14, 2010

Fun Home, by Alison Bechdel
posted by sallybrown at 9:16 AM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Things that haven't been mentioned:

League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
Hope & Glory by Bendis
Box Office Poison (oh heck, anything by him -- beautiful stuff)
Masterpiece Comics
Anything by Adrian Tomine
Anything by Dan Clowes
posted by Gucky at 9:17 AM on April 14, 2010

Masterpiece Comics
Tamora Pierce

That would be my five!
posted by Erasmouse at 9:24 AM on April 14, 2010

Whoa, weird brain fart.. that last should be Tamara Drew!
posted by Erasmouse at 9:26 AM on April 14, 2010

sandman series
Jimmy Corrigan: the smartest kid on earth (Chris Ware)
from hell
Fun Home
posted by acanthous at 9:26 AM on April 14, 2010

Blankets by Craig Thompson, Asterios Polyp by Mazzucchelli . The Bendis book is Fortune and Glory. Essex County by Jeff Lemire. The Quitter and The Alcoholic by Dean Haspiel (with Harvey Pekar and Jonathan Ames, respectively).
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 9:29 AM on April 14, 2010

Best answer: +nthing Maus, Fun House, Asterious Polyp

The five I would add to that:
Black Hole by Burns
Jimmy Corrigan by Ware
The Contract With God Trilogy by Eisner
Understanding Comics by McCloud
The Complete Persepolis by Satrapi

Of course, speaking as an adult library user of comics, what I really want to read is all the Big Summer Crossover Event comics from Marvel and DC, mainly because I don't want to pay for them and am curious. I also enjoy reading the Essentials and Visionaries collections off the Marvel line and their DC counterparts. I want to be able to read the Big Name Stories too: Simonson's run on Thor, Ennis on Punisher, Claremont's X-Men, and so on.

I'd also like some books that help put comics in context, like Men of Tomorrow or The Ten Cent Plague. These are really good supplements to comics and really help broaden their enjoyment.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:31 AM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

From Hell, Watchmen, Maus, Akira, Bone
posted by CharlesV42 at 9:38 AM on April 14, 2010

My favorite series is Y: The Last Man. Also nthing Sandman.
posted by shaun uh at 9:40 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Persepolis and Maus.
posted by zizzle at 9:40 AM on April 14, 2010

Let me throw out Darwyn Cooke's adaptation of The Hunter. As for the other four, there have been some good suggestions already.
posted by dortmunder at 9:44 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nthing Watchmen, Maus, and Persepolis
posted by chatongriffes at 9:57 AM on April 14, 2010

Pyongyang and Burma Chronicles by Guy Delisle. Darryl Cunningham has a book coming out shortly called Psychiatric Tales. Also, I don't know if The Adventures of Tintin count as graphic novels per se, but I've seen them left out of library collections, possibly because they're a bit less sophisticated in some ways than full adult narratives yet the political content and outdated racial portrayals make them not quite appropriate for unrestricted access by children.

Danny Fingeroth has done a lot of Marvel comics and recently wrote The Rough Guide to Graphic Novels. His top ten graphic novels are apparently
  1. Maus by Art Spiegelman
  2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
  3. The Quitter by Harvey Pekar and Dean Haspiel
  4. A Contract with God by Will Eisner
  5. It's a Good Life, if You Don't Weaken by Seth
  6. Stop Forgetting to Remember by Peter Kuper
  7. Kings in Disguise by James Vance and Dan Burr
  8. Brooklyn Dreams by J.M. DeMatteis and Glenn Barr
  9. Alice in Sunderland by Bryan Talbot
  10. Why I Hate Saturn by Kyle Baker

posted by hat at 9:57 AM on April 14, 2010

posted by KneeDeep at 9:58 AM on April 14, 2010

i agree with whats said so far I'd add
anything by Lynda Barry
anything by Yoshihiro Tatsumi
anything by Los Bros. Hernandez (love & rockets etc.)
Osamu Tezuka's Buddha series
posted by ljesse at 10:04 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

American Born Chinese by by Gene Luen Yang
Ex Machina by Brian K Vaughan
Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Will Eisner, full stop.
posted by bettafish at 10:05 AM on April 14, 2010

Best answer: As someone who publishes graphic novels, these are the ones I'd like potential new readers to see first:

The Contract With God Trilogy by Will Eisner. Eisner is the father of the American Graphic Novel (not necessarily the first, but the most important of the first). Every American graphic novel that came after is influenced by A Contract With God whether they like it or not.

Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud. It's about comics; it is comics. Required reading.

An excellent work of comics nonfiction. There are many, many books that could be put in this slot. Maus, of course, or Fun Home or Persepolis or Epileptic or Blankets or Stitches; any of these could go here. But all of those are (at least to some extent) memoir, and while comics is a very powerful form for memoir, I'd be inclined to include something here that is more journalism or biography: some of Joe Sacco's work, or Houdini: The Handcuff King by Jason Lutes and Nick Bertozzi, or, indeed, Logicomix (which my company publishes). My argument for including works like this is that memoir comics are easy to find, but nonfiction comics (while becoming more common) aren't what people new to comics tend to expect from the medium. Comics can provide a uniquely powerful view of real events, and I'd want to expose new comics readers to that.

A landmark graphic novel from the superhero tradition. Whether it's Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns, or the less well known Unstable Molecules or Secret Identity, I think it's important to show readers that superhero comics can be every bit as complex and literary as other kinds of fiction. (If I could squeeze in a sixth book, I'd also shelve Michael Chabon's novel The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay here.

Bone by Jeff Smith. It's probably not one of the five best graphic novels. But it's close: it's very good, and it's fun, and it's an epic. It was published over thirteen years, but you'd hardly know it: Smith's style and story were clearly fully formed from the beginning. The story is a classic hero's quest, and will keep your readers engrossed all the way from page 1 to page 1300.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:07 AM on April 14, 2010 [3 favorites]

Response by poster: Terrific answers so far, and it's giving me an idea of what's sort of 'canon'. Are there any scholarly works I could look to so that I can have some sort of printed evidence about what's classic and newer essential works?
posted by codacorolla at 10:14 AM on April 14, 2010

The Rabbi's Cat. It's definitely in my top five.
posted by wondershrew with a helping of potato salad at 10:14 AM on April 14, 2010

Another vote for Fun Home.
posted by Beardman at 10:15 AM on April 14, 2010

The Sandman!

I don't much care for graphic novels and I love Sandman. Brilliant series.
posted by Xany at 10:20 AM on April 14, 2010

Warning: the complete paperback edition of Jimmy Corrigan (which absolutely should be one of your top picks - I teach it in my senior college class) does not hold up well under stress; the spine cracks very quickly and the book flops open heavily in such a way that it could fall apart pretty quickly. It may have something to do with the nonstandard size. I don't know if there's a hardback, but it would be worth trying to find one and lay out the extra for it.
posted by media_itoku at 10:22 AM on April 14, 2010

Berlin by Jason Lutes.
posted by lilnemo at 10:25 AM on April 14, 2010



Dark Knight Returns


From Hell
posted by FatherDagon at 10:29 AM on April 14, 2010

Here are several books you might read:

Masters of American Comics by John Carlin. Note the word "American" in the title—this necessarily excludes British and other comics creators, so it's not the full picture.
The Great Comic Book Heroes by Jules Feiffer. The great creators of the Golden Age of superhero comics, by a man who's a comics giant in his own right.
Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean by Douglas Wolk. Does what it says on the tin. A nice companion to The Great Comic Book Heroes since this one covers relatively little of the superhero side of things.
Comics, Comix & Graphic Novels: A History Of Comic Art by Roger Sabin is valuable for its British perspective in addition to being generally very good.
posted by ocherdraco at 10:29 AM on April 14, 2010





posted by CrystalDave at 10:39 AM on April 14, 2010

An Anthology of Graphic Fiction, Cartoons, and True Stories, Ivan Brunetti, Editor
posted by Alvy Ampersand at 10:39 AM on April 14, 2010

In addition to High Society, Cerebus Church and State I+II (Dave Sim)
League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (Alan Moore)
Sandman (Neil Gaiman)
Girl Genius (Phil Foglio) -- some may consider this more Young Adult, but what's the point of being an adult if you can't enjoy lighthearted material, too?
posted by fings at 11:05 AM on April 14, 2010

Best answer: As a grad student employee, I used to be in charge of buying for my state university's graphic novel collection. I will be repeating people's choices above, but my list is based on what got checked out the most (also, I stopped working there in 2006, so newer books won't be on my list)

1. Sandman - this is the perfect gateway comic for people who are not into superheroes.
2. Black Hole - about a teenage plague that is a metaphor for AIDS & sexual activity
3. Watchmen or V for Vendetta - the thinking man's superhero comics
4. Maus - the comic that made comics literary
5. Bone - I would recommend the 9-volume color edition, even though it's designed for younger audiences; the black & white one-volume collection will not hold up to multiple uses. This is a great story with multigenerational appeal. Smith was one of the first comics to self-publish and become really successful. It is hands down the best kids' series out there, and definitely in the top ten best of all time.
5a. Understanding Comics - a sort-of-scholarly deconstruction of the medium and how it tells us a story. Interesting for people who want to learn about comics as a genre, and interesting to kids who want to make their own comics.

My goal in expanding our collection was to include women and minority comic creators to provide a wide spectrum of experiences and voices. So, the people mentioning Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, Los Bros Hernandez, and Kyle Baker (among many others) are definitely on the right track. You'll have to judge what to fit in based on your readers.

In my small branch library on campus, we had a small section dedicated to the graphic novels. It was set right next to the checkout desk, where all our other books were in stacks in another section of the building. This made it obvious to students who didn't usually come to our library where the graphic novels were. I think if it's a collection you want to highlight and encourage, especially if it's new, setting it apart would be a good idea. Graphic novels also lend themselves to display really well, even in library bindings. You can prop them open to display the images.

Have fun with this! Feel free to MeMail me if you have any questions.
posted by Fui Non Sum at 11:11 AM on April 14, 2010 [1 favorite]

None of mine are anything that haven't been suggested before, but I figured I'd add in another top-five data point:

1) Sandman
2) Watchmen
3) Bone
4) Contract with God
5) Understanding Comics
posted by kataclysm at 11:28 AM on April 14, 2010

The Sandman
Black Hole
posted by Windigo at 12:07 PM on April 14, 2010

These are not in order. :)

1) Transmetropolitan
2) Sandman
3) Watchmen
4) League of Extraordinary Gentlemen
5) Alias

I have to admit that I am stunned that Alias hasn't been mentioned before now. Yes, it's Marvel. Yes, it exists in the same continuity that Captain America and Hulk do. But it is *fantastic*. It deals with the dark side of being a 'cape' in a way that isn't over the top or silly or teenage angst-y, and I was mesmerized by it.
posted by Concolora at 12:18 PM on April 14, 2010

Response by poster: Terrific contributions so far. I'm not sure how we're going to handle the super-hero books. It's the sort of thing that our young adult readers check out on a regular basis, and I'm not sure that we can justify buying copies for both collections, but it's always good to hear about what series people are reading (as it's not something I tend to read myself).

So far the Eisner books seem to be pretty essential, as well as stuff that we already have in collection (Maus, Stitches, Persepolis, Watchmen etc.)

Keep suggesting stuff!
posted by codacorolla at 12:35 PM on April 14, 2010

Jimmy Corrigan: Chris Ware sometimes seems to be in a genre of his own, but occasionally you get the feeling that he's more enraptured in the technical aspect of what he's doing than in the story or characters. That's very much not the case here.

Promethea: My first instinct for the Alan Moore choice was to nominate Watchmen or V for Vendetta, both of which I love dearly, but this series is deeper in a lot of ways than just about anything else that Moore has done; it's his shot at creating his own Kirbyesque universe-encompassing series, and even the didactic parts explaining the Tree of Life are pretty entertaining.

Fun Home: Even as a Dykes To Watch Out For reader of long standing, I wasn't expecting something like this to come from Alison Bechdel. It's a pretty amazing case of artistic reinvention.

Daredevil: Born Again: I haven't had a lot of use for anything that Frank Miller has done for quite some time now; this, as well as Batman: Year One (also with artist David Mazzuchelli, whose art has changed a lot since then) is about the last thing of Miller's that I've really enjoyed. Matt Murdock gets a new origin as his life is taken brutally apart and he slowly reassembles it.

Maus: Interesting to compare and contrast this with Fun Home, as both of them are biographical/autobiographical stories of the artists learning about, and coming to grips with, their fathers.
posted by Halloween Jack at 12:37 PM on April 14, 2010

Response by poster: Oh... one question, how vital do you think that mid-nineties indie comics are, like Hate? I haven't seen to many people mention them, or seen them on many lists, but I really do like Buddy and his stupid, insane adventures.
posted by codacorolla at 12:41 PM on April 14, 2010

Kazu Kibuishi is an artist who edits a recurring anthology of short comics called Flight, just to add another possibility. They have very appealing covers and include work by younger artists.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2010

I would say they aren't essential but it's worth having something representative of that (very, very broad) category.
posted by ocherdraco at 1:02 PM on April 14, 2010

If you needed something written or needed professional thoughts on the matter, someone at the Center for Cartoon Studies may be able to provide some scholarly assistance of sorts in that area.
posted by zizzle at 1:21 PM on April 14, 2010

Maus is not debatable, in my opinion and apparently in this thread's opinion. Persepolis, too, so I won't include those in my list.

Y: The Last Man is both recent and epic.

Concrete by Paul Chadwick is one of my favorites. I've almost always seen it in collections. I don't even know how many of these stories he's done, but he is deeply concerned with the continuity of his characters' inner lives.

I liked most of the recent Punisher MAX series. Very, very adult. So much so that I was sort of surprised that my library carried it.

Any of Jim Woodring's Frank books.

Jimbo's Inferno, Gary Panter's retelling of Dante. I would (and do) argue that Panter is the single most important artist to understand in relation to comics as high art in the sense of communicating the unknowable rather than only (not a pejorative!) storytelling or drawing.

Oh wait, one more. We3. Morrison, with extreme economy, builds an amazingly cohesive world. But that's Grant Morrison for you.
posted by cmoj at 1:35 PM on April 14, 2010

Definitely seconding these:

Fun Home
Pyongyang and Burma Chronicles

and adding these:

Louis Riel by Chester Brown
Ghost World by Daniel Clowes
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 5:28 PM on April 14, 2010

There's a Graphic Novel course offered on my campus this semester; maybe their reading list would help solidify some of your choices.
posted by donnagirl at 8:36 PM on April 14, 2010

Everything by Harvey Pekar.
George Sprott, by Seth
Gene Yang's American Born Chinese and Prime Baby
posted by brujita at 10:45 PM on April 14, 2010

Agree with Logicomix and Tamara Drewe - especially as Tamara is being made into a film for release next year.
posted by freya_lamb at 3:45 AM on April 15, 2010

The Filth, Kill Your Boyfriend, We3, Arkham Asylum

A few years back Drawn and Quarterly released Yoshihiro Tatsumi's works in hardbound, intro'ed by Adrian Tomine (speaking of!)

Sam Kieth's The Maxx

Cerebus despite Sim being, um, less than palatable as an individual

Alias, Preacher, Transmetropolitan, From Hell

Not novels, but I don't see how you can have a "grown up comics" section without the canonical Krazy Kat and Understanding Comics

Julie Doucet, Roberta Gregory, Debbie Drechsler, Phoebe Gloeckner, Renee French, Craig Thompson, Jeffrey Brown, James Kochalka, Chris Ware, Lynda Barry, Alison Bechdel, Bryan Lee O'Malley, the Hernandez Brothers (Love and Rockets etc.), Alex Robinson, Jessica Abel, the Flight comps for a glance into the potential future/next generation of comics...

Drawn and Quarterly and Fantagraphics routinely put out my favorite easier-to-find stuff, FWIW.
posted by ifjuly at 11:00 AM on April 15, 2010

Rutu Modan's Exit Wounds.
posted by brujita at 11:30 PM on April 15, 2010 [1 favorite]

Crooked Timber just mentioned Swallow Me Whole, which sounds like a sort of highfalutin adult ghost story.
posted by ifjuly at 11:09 AM on April 16, 2010

Posy Simmond's Gemma Bovery and Tamara Drewe.
posted by brujita at 10:29 PM on April 16, 2010

There was a lively discussion on introductory comics, based around a blog post from mightygodking.

Full disclosure: I'm currently his webmaster.
posted by Pronoiac at 1:29 PM on April 17, 2010

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