Okay! I’ve been looking forward to this particular list for a while. But first, a quick note on what we’re calling these things. Not too long ago the very funny Glen Weldon wrote a piece for an NPR blog about whether or not we should be calling these books “comics” or “graphic novels”. Weldon is firmly in the comic camp, and he makes a strong case. He is not, however, a librarian, and so he can be forgiven for not knowing his history on this one. The term “graphic novel” was embraced early on by librarians to distinguish the better bound GNs from the flimsy, circulate-them-once-and-they’re-done comics that abounded. These days GNs and trades are almost more common than floppies, and so there’s been a call to call comics comics again. I was tempted to just call all of this that woefully technical term “sequential art” and be done with it . . . but how would that be different from picture books, eh whot? No, we’re splitting the difference today. Whether you’re a graphic novel enthusiast or a comic book reader, I think you’ll find something for everybody on this list of some of the best from 2016 for kids:
2016 Great Graphic Novels & Comics for Kids
Anna & Froga: Out and About by Anouk Ricard
Is so French! I was very much taken with this odd little book, the second in the Anna & Froga series to come to America. There’s an adult quality to the feel of the book, but it doesn’t have that misanthropic undercurrent you sometimes get in imports. Instead, it’s really rather sweet. And I was particularly taken with the tale about the vampire next door.
Ape and Armadillo Take Over the World by James Sturm
Hooray! First off, kudos to Sturm for coming up with what may well be my favorite original animal pairing of the year. Apes and armadillos! Magic! If you’re looking for a good friendship tale, this entry into the TOON Books oeuvre will hit the spot. With a minimal number of words, you get two fully-fleshed out characters in an adventure ideal for readers who are on the cusp of reading full chapter books.
Bera the One-Headed Troll by Eric Orchard
I didn’t know what to expect when I picked this book up and I was left never quite knowing where the plot was going as I read it. And I CERTAINLY didn’t expect the ending either! It’s just your average hero’s quest, except the hero in question is a pumpkin gardener who keeps searching for bigger, better heroes to do the job for her. I loved the pacing, and you get used to the art pretty quickly. Loved the heroine too. Bera doesn’t adhere to your stereotypical feminine tropes. She’s just a one-headed troll with a job to do. Go, Bera!
The Birth of Kataro by Shigeru Mizuki
Oops! Here it comes again for a third pass! After popping up on my International Imports and Oddest Books of the Year lists already, you’d think I’d be tired of old Kitaro by now. And you would be WRONG! Just to sum up once more, you have ancient Japanese legends mixed with a manga art style resulting in a crazy mash-up of an unlikely hero surviving a host of creepy crawly monsters. Better read the author’s note before you begin.
Compass South by Hope Larson, ill. Rebecca Monk
Hope Larson! Big time fan over here. When people ask for Raina Telgemeier readalikes I always point them to Chiggers though I’ve a particular fondness for Mercury as well. This latest book was drawn by someone else entirely, but you definitely can tell that Larson’s behind the ideas. And what’s not to love? One-eyed women with shell-encrusted eyepatches. Danger on the high seas. Two pairs of twins. Danger, near death, disease, maps, the whole kerschmozzle! If you’re looking for adventure, this is the start to a promising series. Extra points if you’ve discovered Hope’s new Goldie Vance comic series as well.
The Heartless Troll by Oyvind Torseter
Kitaro isn’t the only GN here that’s appearing on multiple lists. Torseter did a fine and dandy job with his epic quest book. The fact that it is physically larger than your average comic shouldn’t put you off. It sort of has a Bone-like quality to it too, with its simply drawn hero and elaborately detailed villain. Jeff Smith, I suspect, would be a fan.
Hippopotamister by John Patrick Green
A book so popular in my family it made it onto my Christmas card this year. Truth. My five-year-old loves it. My two-year-old loves it, and why not? This is what people talk about when they talk about tight plotting in books for younger readers. And talk about a hero’s quest! Hippopotamister might as well be singing a Disney-esque “I want” song at the story’s start. He enters the world, succeeds, fails, and then uses his knowledge to better the place where he got his start. Plus the red panda is funny.
Kid Beowulf by Alexis Fajardo
Speaking of quests, the remarkable thing about Fajardo’s first book in the “Kid Beowulf” series is just how sprawling, epic, and ambitious it is. There are graphic novel readers out there that need and crave comics with huge backstories, countless characters, as well as a bit of real history. This is the book you hand them. And then the next. And the next. And the next . . .
King of Kazoo by Norm Feuti
I was talking this book up to a group of women the other day and found that for all its simplicity, it’s surprisingly difficult to encapsulate why exactly I love this book as much as I do. Obviously there’s the Carl Barks influence (right down to the Gyro Gearloose-esque inventor), so that’s a plus. But I really latched onto the sense of humor, which is not easy to pull off. Of all the books on this list I think I might deem it the funniest. Let’s hope there are more in the pipeline.
Lowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper, ill. Raul the Third
Here’s a trend I noticed in 2016: I kept encountering sequels or companion books where I liked the newer creations much more than their predecessors. Case in point, the latest Lowriders title. I was sadly lukewarm when Lowriders in Space came out. I wanted to adore it (I mean, Raul the Third illustrates his books with Bic pens, people!) but the storyline didn’t cut it for it. Fast forward to 2016 and Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. Now THAT is more like it! Integrating ancient Aztec gods alongside legends of the chupacabra and La Llorona (amongst others), with a little Mexican wrestling thrown in for spice, this book is delicious. Loved the plot, the adventure, the characters, and the fact that I never saw where it was going. Camper and Raul are clearly hitting their stride.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, color by Jordie Bellaire
I came very close to not reading this book this year. I mean, I absolutely adore Faith Erin Hicks (Friends With Boys is a particular favorite and close to my heart) but it was marketed as YA and I didn’t want to truck with books outside my age range. It was only when the book appeared on New York Public Library’s 100 Children’s Books list for 2016 that I came to understand that it’s not really YA but straight up middle grade. Once I got my hands on a copy I devoured it in one sitting. Wowza! If you’ve a kid that loves Avatar the Last Airbender, just tell them that the book is basically set in Ba Sing Se and they’ll know exactly what you mean. This is Character Development: The Book, in a good way. Haven’t read it yet? You lucky duck. You’re in for a treat.
Pinocchio: The Origin Story by Alessandro Sanna
Again with the pretty pretty. Again with the imported book that has already appeared on two other lists. I care not. If I could make Sanna a household name, you know that I’d do so.
Snow White: A Graphic Novel by Matt Phelan
The most cinematic of the books on this list this year. It’s also, quite possibly, Matt Phelan’s best to date. And if you haven’t seen it, check out the holiday image he created for the Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast blog. Apropos since this is such a Christmasy book.
Varmints by Andy Hirsch
Anyone else notice that three of today’s comics’ covers feature a boy and a girl running hell-for-leather together (it’s harder to notice on Compass South, but it’s there)? Just something I noticed.
Now you might think that after reading Candy Fleming’s remarkable bio of Buffalo Bill Cody I’d be ruined for the Old West forever. Not so! Andy Hirsch takes us back to a time of shysters, mules, and villains with two siblings you just gotta root for. I did admittedly have a hard time finishing the book, if only because my darn kids kept trying to take it off me. Sorry, kiddos. This is mommy’s comic book. Mommy’s!
Interested in the other lists of the month? Here’s the schedule so that you can keep checking back:
December 1 – Board Books
December 2 – Board Book Adaptations
December 3 – Nursery Rhymes
December 4 – Picture Book Readalouds
December 5 – Rhyming Picture Books
December 6 – Alphabet Books
December 7 – Funny Picture Books
December 8 – Calde-Nots
December 9 – Picture Book Reprints
December 10 – Math Picture Books
December 11 – Bilingual Books
December 12 – International Imports
December 13 – Books with a Message
December 14 – Fabulous Photography
December 15 – Fairy Tales / Folktales
December 16 – Oddest Books of the Year
December 17 – Older Picture Books
December 18 – Easy Books
December 19 – Early Chapter Books
December 20 – Graphic Novels
December 21 – Poetry
December 22 – Fictionalized Nonfiction
December 23 – American History
December 24 – Science & Nature Books
December 25 – Transcendent Holiday Titles
December 26 – Unique Biographies
December 27 – Nonfiction Picture Books
December 28 – Nonfiction Chapter Books
December 29 – Novel Reprints
December 30 – Novels
December 31 – Picture Books