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Inside Good Comics For Kids

The Best Comics for Kids 2010

Katherine Dacey

Once again, we’ve assembled a crack team of experts to compile a list of this year’s best new comics for kids and teens. We tried to strike a balance between comics with literary merit — the “good for you” books that adults sometimes appreciate more than kids — and comics that have obvious kid appeal. Our list is broken into three categories: Young Readers, Tweens, and Teens. Many of these books — Doug TenNapel’s Ghostopolis, for example — will work well for more than one age group; our categorization of each book is intended more as guidance about content and reading level than a firm recommendation for a particular age-group. Librarians wishing to purchase these books will find the ISBN numbers for every volume at the end of the list.

I’d like to thank Robin Brenner, Esther Keller, Scott Robins, Eva Volin, and Snow Wildsmith for their contributions to this list; their expertise and first-hand experience working with young readers are evident in all their recommendations. Please feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments; we welcome feedback on our list.

BEST NEW COMICS FOR YOUNG READERS

CHI’S SWEET HOME
By Konami Kanata • Vertical, Inc. • 4 volumes, ongoing

book chi01 The Best Comics for Kids 2010The story couldn’t be simpler: a stray kitten finds a new home with a kind family. In Konami Konata’s capable hands, however, Chi’s Sweet Home isn’t just cute animal antics; it’s a warm and moving depiction of the relationship between Chi and the Yamadas. Much of the series’ humor comes from the deft way in which Kanata shifts between the human and the feline point of view, whether Chi is visiting the vet, getting her first bath, or exploring her back yard. The series’ clean, uncluttered artwork and warm color palette make it easy to follow the storyline, even for grade schoolers who are just beginning to read on their own. –Katherine Dacey

DRAGON PUNCHER
By James Kochalka • Top Shelf • 1 volume, ongoing

Young readers may be familiar with James Kochalka’s oddball humor from his work on the Johnny Boo series, but they haven’t seen anything quite like Dragon Puncher, a unique blend of cartooning, photography, and collage. Dragon Puncher features a three-way battle between a cat in a robot suit (played by Kochalka’s own cat), his furry, spoon-wielding sidekick, and a large, drooling monster. What Kochalka does better than almost anyone is evoke the special kind of narrative logic behind kids’ storytelling and play; young readers will appreciate the freewheeling, improvisatory quality of this delightfully silly story. –Katherine Dacey

SCRATCH 9
Written by Rob M. Worley, Illustrated by Jason T. Kruse • APE Entertainment • 4 issues

Scratch is an ordinary house cat whose life is transformed by a chance encounter with a mad scientist. When Scratch escapes the scientist’s clutches, he discovers that he has an astonishing new power: he can summon any of his previous or future lives and fight side-by-side with them, a handy skill when you were a saber-toothed tiger, a ninja, and a minor Egyptian deity in your previous lives! Energetic, Looney Tunes artwork, brisk pacing, and a pun-filled script make Scratch 9 a great read for young sci-fi fans and pet owners alike, while a sprinkling of smart science jokes will tickle adult funny bones. –Katherine Dacey

THE UNSINKABLE WALKER BEAN
by Aaron Renier • First Second • 1 volume, ongoing

Walker Bean is not your ordinary sailor. He’s a bit tubby, wears glasses, shrinks back more than leaps into a fight, and would rather be inventing wondrous mechanical gadgets than climbing the rigging. Faced with mythical lobster witches, cannon fire, unexpected allies, and a good many pirates, however, Walker uses his smarts, empathy, and determination to win the day. Renier’s gorgeous artwork vividly evokes the part-period, part-fantastical landscape, and he balances high seas adventure with poignant character notes. The title finishes with enough unanswered questions to pique interest for the continuing series but doesn’t leave readers hanging, making for an immensely satisfying first volume. –Robin Brenner

ZIG AND WIKKI IN SOMETHING ATE MY HOMEWORK
Written by Nadja Spiegelman, Illustrated by Trade Loeffler • TOON Books

zigwikki 300x300 The Best Comics for Kids 2010Zig and Wikki, both aliens, travel to earth to find a new class pet for their homework assignment. Faced with unknown creatures like raccoons, bugs, and frogs, they combine learning with adventure. I would have forgotten about this title, except that my (just) eight-year-old nephew came over this weekend and wanted to read the book again. It’s been well over half a year since he’s been at my house, and I was amazed at what an impression this title made on him.  –Esther Keller

ZOEY ZETA AND THE SISTERS OF POWER, BOOK ONE: FAMILY SECRETS
Written by Robert Simon, Illustrated by Tomomi Sarafov • Zeta Comics • 1 volume, ongoing

Three sisters discover that they have superpowers and they use their gifts… to have a great time. At least until Dr. Impossible comes to town and decides to take over Century City and, worst of all, to CANCEL SUMMER. Simon’s goal of writing science fiction for girls is nicely realized in his self-published title. The girls are realistic, the plot is funny, and the art is strong. A terrific–and much needed–addition to superhero comics. –Snow Wildsmith

BEST NEW COMICS FOR TWEENS

AMAZING GREEK MYTHS OF WONDERS AND BLUNDERS
By Michael Townsend • Dial

Townsend’s retelling of several Greek myths includes plenty of silliness, stupidity, and laughs. He includes tales both familiar–Arachne–and not so familiar–Pyramus and Thisbe. His full color art leaps off the page and the eye-catching title and cover make this an easy sell to readers. The just-this-side of potty humor is sure to appeal to fans of series like Captain Underpants. –Snow Wildsmith

CALAMITY JACK
Written by Shannon & Dean Hale, Illustrated by Nathan Hale • Bloomsbury

CalamityJack 251x300 The Best Comics for Kids 2010In this sequel/companion book to Rapunzel’s Revenge, the focus moves to our favorite scoundrel Jack and his thieving beginnings. After trying to steal a goose that lays golden eggs from a giant, Jack must leave his hometown to keep his mother safe. Jack then teams up with Rapunzel, returning to his hometown to face human-sized ants, mischievous pixies, and the giant family that Jack wronged in the first place. While Rapunzel’s Revenge was a great book, the Hales have really polished their graphic novel skills here with a tighter story, excellent artwork, and more accomplished storytelling. This Western/steampunk/fairy tale combo is packed full of adventure, is loads of fun, and has broad appeal for all readers. –Scott Robins

GHOSTOPOLIS
Written and Illustrated by Doug TenNapel • Scholastic GRAPHIX

Ghostopolis gives us a glimpse into an afterlife populated by sassy ghosts, ghouls, grim overlords, and now, one young boy named Garth who really shouldn’t be there. Doug TenNapel has been toiling away for  years creating stories that blend science fiction, fantasy, humor, faith, and heart. First and foremost, his books are frequently laugh-out-loud funny — his facility with expressions and comic timing ensure at least a number of chuckles, if not many guffaws. Second and no less important, his tales always include a significant tugging on the heartstrings, touching on family, loyalty, and the nature of faith, and he succeeds in being touching rather than maudlin. Musings on death can, of course, be a downer, but TenNapel deftly defuses the melancholy with self-deprecating humor and integrates questions into a swiftly progressing action plot.  It’s wonderful to see his work in a full-color hardcover edition that displays his talents, making it a splendid gift. –Robin Brenner

MISSILE MOUSE, BOOK ONE: THE STAR CRUSHER
By Jake Parker • Scholastic GRAPHIX • 1 volume, ongoing

Part Han Solo, part James T. Kirk, Missile Mouse is a secret agent for the Galactic Space Agency who seems to have a talent for trouble. But when the Rogue Imperium of Planets builds a doomsday machine, only Missile Mouse can prevent the destruction of the whole universe. Parker’s titular mouse is the kind of hero that people love to root for. The full-color artwork is child-friendly without ever being cartoonish or babyish. This is a great choice for readers who long for old-school sci-fi action. –Snow Wildsmith

OLYMPIANS
By George O’Connor • First Second • 2 volumes, ongoing

zeus 225x300 The Best Comics for Kids 2010Using the visual language of superhero comics, George O’Connor re-tells some of Greek mythology’s most famous stories, from Zeus’ battle with his father, Kronos, to Athena’s contest with the mortal weaver (and future spider) Arachne. O’Connor never shies away from the darker aspects of these stories, but the violence isn’t gratuitous or graphic; if anything, these moments help underscore just how brutal and capricious the gods could be when someone aroused their jealousy. Thoughtful discussion questions and bibliographies supplement each volume in the series, making it a great choice for classroom use. Teachers will find additional exercises and resources online at http://olympiansrule.com/. –Katherine Dacey

SMILE
By Raina Telgemeier • Scholastic GRAPHIX

Raina Telgemeier uses her childhood ordeal with the orthodontist — she lost her front teeth in a freak accident — as a jumping-off point for exploring the unbearable lightness of being a tween. Frenemies, first crushes, and shifting social alliances all play a role in advancing the storyline, as do Telgemeier’s frequent trips to the dentist’s office. Anyone who’s endured similar procedures will immediately identify with Smile’s protagonist, as Telgemeier makes us feel the character’s exquisite sense of embarrassment over her missing teeth and metal hardware, but the humor and frankness with which she depicts middle school life will resonate with a wide range of readers. –Katherine Dacey

TOWER OF TREASURE
By Scott Chantler • Kids Can Press • Three Thieves series, Book One

I’ve always been a sucker for any story starring a smart, determined girl, and Tower of Treasure begins the Three Thieves fantasy series with a burst of energy. The story follows the teenaged Dessa, circus acrobat and sometime con-woman, as she is convinced by her overly ambitious friends to rob the Queen’s treasury. As any fan of heist stories can predict, things don’t quite go according to plan. Enemies may yet turn out to be friends and secrets undoubtedly will come back to haunt our heroes. Chantler shows wonderful visual and verbal flair for pacing and humor, and readers who enjoy adventure but aren’t ready for stakes too grim will dive right in to this charming swash-buckler. –Robin Brenner

TWIN SPICA
By Kou Yaginuma • Vertical, Inc. • 4 volumes, ongoing

One of the best space operas I’ve read in a long time, I’ve taken to calling this series “Ender’s Game for middle schoolers.” But don’t let my description keep you from talking this series up with teens and adults! This moving drama crosses over beautifully to all three age groups and will speak to each differently. And encourage boys to look past the girlish cover — this uplifting, hopeful story will appeal to guys, too.  –Eva Volin

YUMMY: THE LAST DAYS OF A SOUTHSIDE SHORTY
Written by G. Neri, Illustrated by Randy duBurke • Lee and Low Books

Based on a true, ripped-from-the-headlines story, Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty is an attempt to make sense of how a little boy (and eleven-year-olds are still little boys) could end up as a gangland hitman. Using the fictional Roger to tell Yummy’s story allows the author to examine Yummy’s reasons for joining a gang as well as the triggers that set off the particular round of neighborhood violence that resulted in Yummy’s death. It’s a powerful, if sometimes heavy-handed, look at a life most kids will never live, but still need to know exists.  –Eva Volin

BEST NEW COMICS FOR TEENS

ANNE FRANK: THE ANNE FRANK HOUSE AUTHORIZED GRAPHIC BIOGRAPHY
By Sid Jacobson and Ernie Colon • Random House

Some might say that the Anne Frank story is old and possibly uninteresting, but this new format, rich with historical detail and lovely illustrations, makes the Anne Frank story fresh for a new generation of readers. Jacobson and Colon don’t gloss over the history, but don’t make it overly frightening for younger teen readers. They show us how Anne Frank captivated the hearts and mind of readers all over the world, yet weave in enough background information to help those who aren’t yet familiar with the story of the Holocaust. At a time where Holocaust survivors are harder and harder to find, it’s refreshing to see this story out there in a way that will capture a new generation, as this is one chapter of history that should never be repeated. –Esther Keller

BEASTS OF BURDEN: ANIMAL RITES
Written by Evan Dorkin, Illustrated by Jill Thompson • Dark Horse

BeastsOfBurden 228x300 The Best Comics for Kids 2010Easily my favorite graphic novel of 2010, this book will appeal to teens with its quirky mash-up of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and The Incredible Journey and its cast of compelling animal characters. Strange things are happening in the city of Burden including a coven of witch cats and a group of zombie dogs, and it’s up to a crew of dogs (and one cat) to keep the neighborhood safe from these dark forces. Readers will come to love these pups through Dorkin’s light-hearted, sharp dialogue coupled with seriously dark plots. Thompson’s fully painted artwork here is some of the best she’s ever done. –Scott Robins

BRAIN CAMP
Written by Susan Kim and Laurence Klavan, Illustrated by Faith Erin Hicks • First Second

Jenna and Lucas have almost nothing in common, save for the fact that neither is working up to his potential. When their parents ship them off to Camp Fielding, however, the two quickly discover that their fellow campers aren’t just doing quadratic equations — they’re serving as lab rats for a terrifying experiment. Any teen who’s been subjected to SAT coaching and summer enrichment programs will appreciate the clever way in which the authors use horror tropes to poke fun at helicopter parenting and college-prep hysteria. The cheeky dialogue is nicely complemented by Faith Erin Hicks’ sharp, distinctive artwork; no one captures the teen-age eye-roll with quite the same authority as she does. –Katherine Dacey

HEREVILLE: HOW MIRKA GOT HER SWORD
By Barry Deutsch • Abrams • 1 volume, ongoing

Meet eleven-year-old Mirka: she’s smart, strong, and determined to become a dragon-slayer, even though her family expects her to marry, be a homemaker, and raise a family. Mirka resists their counsel, however, seizing every opportunity to prove her warrior worth. When a witch tells her how to find a sword, Mirka must draw on what she’s learned from her stepmother in order to defeat the sword’s current protector, a troll. The fantasy aspects of Hereville may be familiar, but Barry Deutsch’s deft treatment of the heroine’s religious heritage is not; he makes her upbringing in an Orthodox Jewish community fundamental to the story without sliding into caricature or didacticism. Crisp, evocative artwork and a memorable cast of supporting characters — including Fruma, Mirka’s wise if conventional stepmother — make Hereville a terrific read for teens and adults. –Katherine Dacey

KILL SHAKESPEARE
Written by Connor McCreery and Anthony Del Col, Illustrated by Andy Belanger • IDW Publishing • 7 issues, ongoing

In this fast-paced story, the Bard is a powerful wizard, and his most famous creations potential enemies. Part of the fun is seeing all the events — sea battles, sword fights — that usually take place off-stage in Shakespeare’s plays, and part of the fun is seeing favorite characters in new situations: Iago becomes Hamlet’s advisor, for example, pouring poison into the impressionable prince’s ear, while the Weird Sisters offer supernatural counsel to Richard III. Bold, dynamic artwork and imaginative use of Shakespeare’s own words make this an entertaining and surprisingly educational read, especially for high school students who are just beginning to learn their way around Julius Caesar and Macbeth. –Katherine Dacey

MERCURY
Written and illustrated by Hope Larson • Athaneum Books for Young Readers

mercury The Best Comics for Kids 2010Manga has done a lot to bridge the gender divide in comics, but there are still a lot of teen girls who are seeking realistic tales similar to the novels they love from authors like Judy Blundell, Justine Larbalestier, and Laurie Halse Anderson. Hope Larson emphasizes the same elements as these novelists: balancing friendship and romance, defining yourself, and suffering through awkwardness to learn from your mistakes. Two time lines intertwine in Mercury, a blend of historical fiction and supernaturally tinged suspense. One narrative relates the increasingly unsettling intrusion of a handsome young gold prospector into the life of farmer’s daughter Josey in the 1859 Nova Scotia woods. The other tale follows teen runner Tara as she recovers from the loss of her family home to fire and aims to hold on to her family’s legacy with or without her mother’s support. Larson’s skill with setting the mood, portraying realistic relationships, and telling the story with silence and expressions as much as dialog make this a quiet, memorable vision. –Robin Brenner

RED MOON
By David McAdoo • Cossack Comics

Mox, a terrier mix, discovers that he has a terrible destiny to fulfill in this apocalyptic thriller. His hero’s quest takes him through a beautifully illustrated world of animals who have their own opinions on how to deal with the coming disaster. Teens who have moved past Redwall and Warriors will enjoy this moving story of a dog who must become a hero. –Snow Wildsmith

7 BILLION NEEDLES
By Nobuaki Tadano • Vertical, Inc. • 2 volumes, ongoing

Nobuaki Tadano gives Hal Clement’s Needle a manga makeover, moving the action from a remote island in the South Seas to Japan, and replacing Clement’s wholesome, Hardy Boy protagonist with a sullen teenage girl who’s none too pleased to discover that an alien bounty hunter has taken control of her body. The decision to make Hikaru a troubled loner with a difficult past is a stroke of genius; her social isolation proves almost as formidable an obstacle for her to overcome as the monster that she and Horizon (as the bounty hunter is known) are pursuing. Her personal struggles also add a level of raw, emotional authenticity to the story — something that was largely absent from the fascinating, though clinically detached, original. Oh, and the monster? It’s a doozy. For older teens. –Katherine Dacey

THE SONS OF LIBERTY
Created and Written by Alexander Lagos and Joseph Lagos, Illustrated by Steve Walker • Random House • 1 volume, ongoing

Tired of the same old stories? This is a great mix of historical fiction, adventure, and a bit of supernatural. Through a chance encounter with Benjamin Franklin and his son William, two runaway slaves are given extraordinary powers. Franklin and his friend Benjamin Lay guide these youths into using their powers in different ways, which leads to a riveting, though sometimes violent, story. With striking artwork, this is an exciting must-read for teens.  –Esther Keller

THE ZABIME SISTERS
By Aristophane • First Second

The Zabime Sisters is a slow, meandering collection of three stories that form a moving and realistic coming-of-age story for the oldest of three sisters. What at first seems dark, heavy, and flat becomes light, detailed, and nuanced as the sisters spend the first day of summer vacation together waiting until it’s time to go to the schoolyard and watch the big fight. This literary novel is a study in contrasts and won’t appeal to every teen. Instead it’s one of those special books that careful readers will appreciate and love.  –Eva Volin

ISBN Information
Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders: 978-0803733084
Anne Frank: The Anne Frank House Authorized Graphic Biography: 978-0809026852
Beasts of Burden: Animal Rites: 978-1595825131
Brain Camp: 978-1596433663
Calamity Jack: 978-1599903736
Chi’s Sweet Home, Vol. 1: 978-1934287811
Chi’s Sweet Home, Vol. 2: 978-1934287859
Chi’s Sweet Home, Vol. 3: 978-1934287910
Chi’s Sweet Home, Vol. 4: 978-1934287965
Dragon Puncher: 978-1603090575
Ghostopolis (Hardcover): 978-0545210270
Ghostopolis (Paperback): 978-0545210287
Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword: 978-0810984226
Kill Shakespeare, Vol. 1: 978-1600107818
Mercury: 978-1416935889
Missile Mouse, Book One: Star Crusher: 978-0545117159
Olympians: Zeus, King of the Gods: 978-1596434318
Olympians: Athena, Grey-Eyed Goddess: 978-1596434318
Red Moon: 978-0615353241
7 Billion Needles, Vol. 1: 978-1934287873
7 Billion Needles, Vol. 2: 978-1934287958
Smile: 978-0545132053
The Sons of Liberty, Vol. 1: 978-0375856679
Three Thieves, Book One: Tower of Treasure: 978-1554534142
Twin Spica, Vol. 1: 978-1934287842
Twin Spica, Vol. 2: 978-1934287866
Twin Spica, Vol. 3: 978-1934287903
Twin Spica, Vol. 4: 978-1934287934
The Unsinkable Walker Bean: 978-1596434530
Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty: 978-1584302674
The Zabime Sisters: 978-1596436381
Zig and Wikki in Something Ate My Homework: 978-1935179023
Zoey Zeta and The Sisters of Power, Book One: Family Secrets: 978-0986539206

Please note that Scratch 9 is currently available only in pamphlet and electronic form; if Ape Entertainment issues it as a graphic novel, we will update the list to include the ISBN number. For more information about the series, please visit the website. (Link above.)

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Katherine Dacey About Katherine Dacey

Katherine Dacey has been reviewing comics since 2006. From 2007 to 2008, she was the Senior Manga Editor at PopCultureShock, a site covering all aspects of the entertainment industry from comics to video games. In 2009, she launched The Manga Critic, where she focuses primarily on Japanese comics and novels in translation. Katherine lives and works in the Greater Boston area, and is a musicologist by training.

Comments

  1. susan norwood says:

    I enjoyed reading your list and wrote down some titles for when I get my next paycheck. My 8th graders absolutely love Smile by Raina Telgemeier. The captain of our football team, an African-American male, has been encouraging his friends to read it, because he liked it so much. It speaks to both boys and girls of different races and ethnicities.

    I can’t wait to get a copy of Yummy. I don’t know why it isn’t in the stores around me. We’ve got significant gang activity in the area where I teach, so this will be a good book for my kids.

  2. Thanks so much for including Hereville on this list! (And oy, what great company it’s in!)

  3. @Susan: Thank you for the feedback! We’d love to know what your students think of Yummy: The Last Days of a Southside Shorty, so please check back in after you’ve had a chance to share it with them.

    @Barry: You’re very welcome! Hereville is definitely one of our favorites here at GC4K!

  4. A useful list and effort to help sort the wheat from the chaff in bumper crop of graphics coming out these days. I would add that I think Sfar’s adaptation of “The Little Prince” and Kelly’s “I Kill Giants” deserve mention and inclusion in “Best of 2010.”

  5. Thanks for the feedback, Craig! The first TPB of I Kill Giants came out in 2009, so we couldn’t consider it for this year’s list, but I agree: it’s a terrific story, and one that will resonate with a lot of teens. The hardcover edition that was released this year would make a great addition to any library’s graphic novel collection.

    I haven’t had a chance to read The Little Prince, but I’m glad to hear it’s good; I’m a big fan of Sfar’s Little Vampire, which is an all-too-rare example of an all-ages book that really works for kids and adults.

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  1. [...] The crew at Good Comics for Kids compiles an impressive list of the year’s best comics for kids, organized by age [...]

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