Guest Post! Author Rex Ogle on the Magic of Graphic Novels

Have you noticed our graphic novel section growing? It’s true—the more we read this genre, the more we love it. If you haven’t picked one up in a while, now’s a great time to dive in. Don’t just take it from us, though. Author and friend of the shop Rex Ogle (Free Lunch) says we’re living in a golden age for graphic novels, and he would know—he used to edit comics for Marvel, DC, and Scholastic, among others.

Here, Rex shares his perspective on the genre, as well as some of his top graphic novel picks for middle grade and young adult readers.

Graphic novels are awesome!  Everyone seems to love them right now—which makes me insanely happy, considering this wasn’t always the case. I grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, when “comic books” were not considered literature by many. Teachers, librarians, and my parents all agreed that comics were a waste of time. They argued, “It’s not a book!” To which I countered, “It has pages, it has words, it has a story, heck, it’s even in the title—comic BOOK!  It’s a book!!”  

I didn’t do a very good job of expressing myself then. But I can do better now.  

Graphic novels are the perfect narrative intersection of art and words. Rather than relying on a single person (the writer), there’s a whole team (writer, penciler, inker, colorist, letterer). Some might even argue that sequential storytelling (a fancy way of saying “telling stories through pictures”) is one of the oldest forms of the written word. Just look at any Egyptian hieroglyphic—the pyramids are full of comics!

For me, graphic novels are the best of two worlds: story and images. Comics allow me to enter new worlds already illustrated with people, landscapes, and visual details my brain might have never thought of. The linework, the coloring, even the style of lettering can shift my mood before I read a single word bubble.  

Don’t get me wrong, I love and adore my prose!—but there’s something simply magical about a graphic novel. It’s half prose, and half art masterpiece. Plus, I can sit down and read most graphic novels in a couple hours, which makes me feel accomplished. ☺ 

But perhaps best of all, graphic novels are a great gateway for reluctant readers. With many kids, including my nephew, a thick book or one with too many words is instantly intimidating. But with a comic or a graphic novel, he doesn’t panic—even if it takes 300 issues to tell the whole story. 

We are currently in a golden age of graphic novels. Like TV shows and movies, these modern comics come in a variety of genres, lengths, and readerships. If you want non-fiction history, check out John Lewis’s March. If you feel like a fast-paced action adventure fantasy, open Kazu Kibuishi’s Amulet. Feeling like a classic?  Check out Mariah Marsden & Brenna Thummler’s Anne of Green Gables. Or maybe you want to spend the next few hours with a quiet (but heart-stirring) slice-of-life story, in which case you should pick up Mariko & Jillian Tamaki’s This One Summer. Basically, whatever you’re in the mood for, there’s a graphic novel for you... 

Not sure where to start? How about some recommendations?  

Middle Grade

This Was Our Pact by Ryan Andrews

I hadn’t heard anything about this book, but was drawn to the cover in a bookstore. And it did not disappoint. This story of magical realism follows two boys (who don’t exactly get along) as they go on a journey in order to stay true to their word. Perfect for fans of Studio Ghibli films.      

Order your copy on our website.

Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson

So much fun will be had with this Newberry Honor Award-Winner and NY Times Bestseller. This is a contemporary story about a girl finding herself and new friends in the midst of roller-skating derbies. 

Order your copy on our website. 

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson

This webcomic turned into an award-winning graphic novel about a magical shapeshifter who wants to be a villain. A fantastic pick for lovers of fantasy, and young LGBTQ readers. Trivia bonus: Noelle is also the creator of Lumberjanes. Between that and Nimona, she garnered so much attention, it earned her the position of showrunner for Netflix’s reboot of She-Ra.  

Order your copy on our website.

Calvin & Hobbes by Bill Watterson

Okay, whether you buy the complete collection or a single book, you are in for a treat. The comic strip ran in newspapers from 1985-95, but having recently re-read, I happily call out that it holds up for any young reader and is riddled with humor and fun.  

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Meg, Jo, Beth, & Amy by Rey Terciero; illustrated by Bre Indigo

Admittedly, I wrote this, so I kinda had to include it. This modern-day retelling of Louisa May Alcott’s classic Little Women features a diverse and blended family with a father away in the military. 

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Young Adult

March by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin; illustrated by Nate Powell

This graphic novel trilogy won the National Book Award, and with good reason. This is the true story of Senator John Lewis, and his incredible insider story of the American Civil Rights movement.  

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On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Tillie is well-known for her graphic novel Spinning, about ice-skating, but On a Sunbeam takes her story sensibilities among the stars with a slice-of-life story about a young woman trying to understand her own struggles with love while rebuilding forgotten castles in the vast reaches of space. It’s elegant and beautiful and gentle in all the right ways.  

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I Kill Giants by Joe Casey; art by Ken Niimura

This image comic was made into a movie, which is fine, but nowhere as good as the graphic novel, in which our young heroine battles bullies at school, a difficult family problem, and monsters no one else can see.  

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Bloom by Kevin Panetta; illustrated by Savanna Ganucheau

If you love The Great British Baking Show, or stories about a budding romance between a lost teenager and the handsome baker who works for his parents, then this is your story. The art is as sweet and fluffy as a perfect birthday cake. 

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Speak: The Graphic Novel by Laurie Halse Anderson; illustrated by Emily Carroll

Laurie’s life-changing novel is now available as a graphic novel, and it’s every bit as harrowing and difficult and beautiful as its predecessor.  

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Cheshire Crossing by Andy Weir; illustrated by Sarah Andersen

Ever heard of Oz, or Wonderland, or Neverland? Good. Then you’ll enjoy this gathering of teenagers Dorothy, Alice, and Wendy when they are brought to a boarding school to learn to cope with their past supernatural experiences and harness abilities they didn’t know they had. (And yes, this is the same Andy Weir who wrote NY Times bestseller The Martian.)

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