Graphic novels for the mature reader
November 21, 2005 12:24 PM   Subscribe

Can mefites recommend mature graphic novelists? (And by mature I do not mean pr0nographic.)

Comics aren't just for kids anymore, or so I've heard. But it is still largely the realm of younger adults, or at least my own bookshelf doesn't have anything written by anyone over 40.

I gave my mother Jar of Fools, and she commented along the lines of "it does cover the concerns of young people." And I got to thinking about the supposedly high-fallutin comics I do have, and it seemed to consist of a lot of people having teenage angst, daddy issues, mommy issues, fear of the opposite sex, etc.

So who are the genuinely mature comic artists I should be reading when I need a break from that sort of thing?
posted by RobotHero to Media & Arts (33 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
You could check out the Maus and Persepolis series.
posted by Pollomacho at 12:27 PM on November 21, 2005

Seth's work (Clyde Fans, It's a Good Life if You Don't Weaken) cover some older characters and their concerns, though he does still address issues of younger people as well. I'd say Will Eisner, but many people who don't reguarly read comics find his stuff too cartoony (both the art and the narrative).
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 12:30 PM on November 21, 2005

Harvey Pekar?
posted by dial-tone at 12:36 PM on November 21, 2005

How about Joann Sfar's "The Rabbi's Cat"?

Or Chester Brown's "Louis Riel"?
posted by 88robots at 12:37 PM on November 21, 2005

Halo and Sprocket? The original odd couple: an angel and a robot. Occassionally like a sitcom it tries too hard and sometimes is a bit daft, but it's philosophical and kind, and conversationally it goes through conventions and logic.
posted by holloway at 12:41 PM on November 21, 2005

i have auster's new york trilogy as a graphic novel (maybe just one third?). it's not bad. pesonally, i'm not that keen on the idea (it was a present), but it did make me read the real book again, and it's a good candidate for "mature".
posted by andrew cooke at 12:43 PM on November 21, 2005

Joe Sacco springs to mind.
posted by nadawi at 12:53 PM on November 21, 2005

You might try some of Neil Gaiman's work. I'm aware of Sandman and 1602, and I'm pretty sure he's involved in more.
posted by Trinkers at 12:54 PM on November 21, 2005

A good part of the European and Japanese comic book production is meant for an adult audience. There are too many names to quote. Of the older generation: Jacques Tardi, Enki Bilal, Jiro Taniguchi, Hugo Pratt, Milo Manara, Alberto Breccia, Carlos Sampayo (the latter both Argentinians), François Boucq (particularly when he works with the US writer Jerome Charyn), François Schuiten/Benoît Peteers etc. The new generation would include Marjane Satrapi, Joann Sfar (both cited above), Christophe Blain, Nicolas de Crécy, David B., Emmanuel Guibert...
posted by elgilito at 12:58 PM on November 21, 2005

Fantagraphics has a great collection of the best from the newest artists as well as older favorites. Art Bomb is also a great source. The Hernandez brothers works is probably a good start and Joe Sacco's non-fiction comics are pretty amazing.
posted by JJ86 at 1:17 PM on November 21, 2005

Shanower's Age of Bronze is a rather unflinching retelling of the Trojan War myths.

Tezkua's Buddha.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 1:18 PM on November 21, 2005

You might try some of Neil Gaiman's work. I'm aware of Sandman and 1602, and I'm pretty sure he's involved in more.

To me, Neil Gaiman (whom I like) is the epitome of the type of writer RobotHero is looking to avoid. Sandman in particular is a magnet for teens at their angstiest.
posted by Hildago at 1:23 PM on November 21, 2005

Check out They have a large collection of reviews by genre of the kinds of books that might interest you.
posted by gaelenh at 1:26 PM on November 21, 2005

Just about anything by Wil Eisner. I'd say to start with A Contract With God.

I also second the recommendation for Tezuka's Buddha.
posted by ursus_comiter at 1:29 PM on November 21, 2005

I'll second Maus (artist Art Spiegelman). It's a phenomenal personal insight into the Holocaust, and drawn with such vivid imagery and powerful symbolism that you can't help but become part of the story.

He's also got a few other pretty intense graphic novels.

Here's the obligatory Wikipedia entry on him.
posted by symphonik at 1:31 PM on November 21, 2005

Ware's Jimmy Corrigan: The Smartest Kid on Earth, is very specifically about middle-aged adult angst.

You might want to take a look at McSweeney's Issue 13. It offers a nice, if less-than-comprehensive, survey.
posted by mr_roboto at 1:32 PM on November 21, 2005

Will Eisner produced quite a few graphic novels dealing with adult issues and stories. I recommend A Contract With God and Invisible People, but it's all good.

I'll second Pollomacho's suggestion of Maus, as well. For something just as challenging, try In the Shadow of No Towers.

Some of Gaiman's work might suit your taste, particularly Violent Cases, Signal to Noise, and Mr. Punch. These also have the benefit of art by his longtime collaborator Dave McKean.

On preview: I'm glad I am not the only one who remembers Will Eisner. But on Gaiman I'll respectfully disagree with Hidalgo. While he is on the mark as to the Sandman/Death work (though I enjoy it), Neil's non-mainstream work is much more mature, and worth a read. I give Signal to Noise a particularly high recommendation.
posted by mkhall at 1:38 PM on November 21, 2005

I'll third Joe Sacco.

I had a list of suggestions but then I realized that your criteria are harder to meet than I thought. A lot of the best graphic novels--those with engrossing, complicated plots and rich character development-- have teens and younger folks as central characters. And the adults aren't necessarily the most mature -- take Chris Ware's Jimmy Corrigan for example. (Did someone say daddy issues and fear of the opposite sex?)

How about Ben Katchor? Daniel Clowes' David Boring series?
posted by hydrophonic at 1:45 PM on November 21, 2005

Daniel Clowes?

I think this depends on your definition of "mature." Plot-wise? Average age of the characters? Drawing style (I don't think Clowes would fit on that one)?

You mention the age of the author, but this confused me a bit:

people having teenage angst, daddy issues, mommy issues, fear of the opposite sex, etc.

Other than the "teenage" part, the rest of the list doesn't necessarily strike me as being particularly age-specific.
posted by SassHat at 1:47 PM on November 21, 2005

I agree with a lot of what's already been posted here (especially the Sacco recommendations). This past week (in connection with a pair of big museum shows on comics art that are opening in LA) there has been some very good news/critical coverage: try the calendar section of the LA Times from Thursday of last week (11/17) or the main story in the current LA Weekly. Both have detailed coverage and lists of spot-on recommendations. Have fun! (I also like Dori Seda and Julie Doucet, to add to the names that have been mentioned upthread).
posted by sophieblue at 2:14 PM on November 21, 2005

Can someone here talk about why they like Seth? Especially the Clyde Fans series. I can understand why The Comics Journal folks would like him (reader identification!), but his comics always seem fatuous and boring to me.
posted by kensanway at 2:31 PM on November 21, 2005

Second Ban Katchor; nth Joe Sacco.
posted by matildaben at 2:38 PM on November 21, 2005

A friend of my loves Sock Monkey. He's a graphic novelist himself.
posted by gesamtkunstwerk at 3:10 PM on November 21, 2005

Alan Moore. V for Vendetta, Watchmen [but only if you can deal with superhero-themed stuff], From Hell, and pretty much everything else that I've read by him. Miller's Sin City. Neil Gaiman's Sandman is a classic, and reading it [to me] feels more like reading literature than reading a comic book - although some of the art is beautiful. I'd disagree with Hidalgo. While it may attract angsty goth teens, that doesn't mean that there's nothing in it for adults. [It's not about younger people, teenage angst, parent issues, etc, it follows a very classic tragical arc, and if you enjoy very literate references to history, literature, ancient myths, etc. {as in American Gods}, they're there.] Some of his less well-known projects are also worth checking out. Harvey Pekar's stuff is not aimed at kids, of course. Joe Sacco (the Fixer, Safe Area Gorazde) and Chris Ware (Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth) also have adult-focused work. I personally enjoy stuff by Warren Ellis, Grant Morrison, and Garth Ennis, and their stuff isn't really aimed at young adults either, but depending on what kind of stuff fits into your definition of 'mature' [and your sense of humor], you might not like them. Clowes is another artist who might fit, depending entirely on what you mean by 'mature.' I wouldn't say that any of the books or artists I've mentioned are for adults specifically, but they're certainly not written with a young teenage audience in mind, and they're stories that anyone can enjoy.

I do think you should avoid judging artists on their age, though - young authors are perfectly capable of writing works that aren't aimed at teenagers or people in their twenties, and the same's true of comic authors and artists. Also, independant non-superhero comics have only been relatively widespread for the past two decades or so. It's a young scene. Most of the old comics artists do superhero stuff for Marvel or DC.
posted by ubersturm at 3:28 PM on November 21, 2005

I just finished Chester Brown's Louis Riel, an historical biography in comic book form, and can highly recommend that. Jar of Fools author Jason Lute's Berlin trilogy would be a good one to try as well. Paul Hornschemeier's Mother Come Home has a child as protagonist, but deals with very adult themes of loss, grief, and trust. The more recent issues of Love and Rockets, and the later volumes of the original run, deal with characters who have grown and matured out of their young, adventurous years in subtle ways.

I hesitate to recommend Chris Ware in this context (although I think he's an incredible craftsman and thoughtful writer) because his work, while it is often concerned with aging and loss (Jimmy Corrigan, Quimby the Mouse), it is also usually burdened by an incredibly dark and cynical point of view that can feel somewhat adolescent and angsty at times.

Andi Watson's new series Little Star (almost completed in monthly form, should be collected in a few months, i hope) is a beautifully understated meditation on parenthood, and his other books Slow News Day and Breakfast After Noon both deal with couples attempting to balance family life, career, and individual freedom.

and skallas, i would strongly disagree with that assertion. much of the output of the medium is undeniablty juvenile, but that's only because of the circumstances of it's development, not because of anything innate to the medium.
posted by cathodeheart at 4:05 PM on November 21, 2005

Oh! And I almost forgot one of my new favorite artists, Kevin Huizenga. He's currently publishing Or Else with Drawn & Quarterly, has an upcoming series entitled Ganges from Fantagraphics, and has worked on several other projects, including work in Kramer's Ergot 5 and Drawn & Quarterly Showcase. His work is all over the map, from formal experimentation, to philosophical examination, to adaptations of folk tales. Lots of semi-autobiographical, slice-of-life stuff too. His piece is Kramer's Ergot deals with a culture clash between an atheist and religious friends, with long detours examining the christian philosophy of hell. Very thoughful and engrossing work.
posted by cathodeheart at 4:10 PM on November 21, 2005

Free, online, and by one of our own (jpburns): Detached
posted by kimota at 5:17 PM on November 21, 2005

Can someone here talk about why they like Seth? Especially the Clyde Fans series.

The slow pace and his commitment to visual story telling (especially in the second part of book one) really sucked me in. So many "mature" comics (Persepolis jumps to mind) seem to treat the graphic part of graphic novel as an afterthought: Seth really unites the text and the art, rather than treating the art as mere illustration for the text. I also identified with the younger brother a lot, so the story really spoke to me.
posted by PinkStainlessTail at 5:55 PM on November 21, 2005

Terry Moore's "Strangers In Paradise..." Now 12 years old, approaching its end in 2007. Highly developed characters, not kidstuff.
posted by lhauser at 9:02 PM on November 21, 2005

I have to agree with what ubersturm says about Gaiman and Sandman in particular. It's a wonderful work when read as a whole, and in some ways tells a larger story than anything else I've ever read, but also very tragic, melancholy and ultimately, human in scope. A beautiful but fantastic tragedy. That's how I'd describe it.

If you can find Epicurus the Sage I'd recommend that. It's out of print though, I think. It's quite silly but deals with some interesting philosophical issues.
posted by geekhorde at 10:09 PM on November 21, 2005

Great question. I have been needing just this sort of a recommendation list.

I liked Jimmy Corrigan quite a bit - I didn't find it "angsty" personally. It's likely we have differing ideas of exactly what that means, I guess. It's one of those books that when I finished it and closed the cover, I just sort of went "Wow. That was impressive." Ymmv.

My boyfriend introduced me to a comic he reads called Finder which I'd say qualifies as adult-oriented as well.
posted by beth at 11:45 PM on November 21, 2005

This is a book that always seems to be inexplicably overlooked while (in my mind) lightweight fluff artists grab the spotlight (I'm looking at you, Kolchaka!).

Box Office Poison has fairly cartoony-looking art, and the story takes a little while to get into, but it does end up being about fairly mature, well-thought-out characters in realistic relationships. (Disclaimer: it's been a year or so since I read it, but I was impressed.)

Hicksville also fits into the category of "inexplicably overlooked," but I don't know if it passes the maturity test or not. It's sort of a meta-comic.

The City of Glass book is one of the best novel-to-comic adaptations I've read. "Love and Rockets X" is outstanding, and I'll put in the n+1th recommendation for Joe Sacco.
posted by whir at 2:33 AM on November 22, 2005

Nobody mentioned Cages by Dave McKean, Gaiman's longtime collaborator, so I will. Because it's awesome.
Also look for long-form works by Paul Pope (including Heavy Liquid, though that's a bit sci-fi goof), the book collections (I assume that trades are OK, not just "graphic novels" of singular form) of Concrete and of Red Rocket 7 by Mike Alread. And do you have the Love and Rockets yet? Oh, and in case you've wandered through this thread illiterate, yet have learned to read suddenly upon this comment: Joe Sacco.
Also decent: Theives World, though that's a bit fantasy, and Tintin. Tintin is marginally aimed at kids, but the work is so fucking great...
Oh, and there's Mobius too. His series for Citroen is fucking fantastic, and I recommend it highly. If you did mean that other mature, take a look at Manara. Even his "mature" stuff is generally about 3/4ths decent story, with 1/4 naked chicks well-rendered.
posted by klangklangston at 12:23 PM on November 22, 2005

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