Earlier this month, Denver Public Library staff members posted lists of the books they enjoyed the most in 2021. In this blog we’ll dive a little deeper into some of the picks from the graphic format list!
First and foremost: what is a graphic format book? Graphic here means illustrated. You may know it as a graphic novel or comic book, but I like the phrase “graphic format book” because it encompasses both fiction and nonfiction, as well as various illustration styles and the subgenres like manga, superheroes, and personal narratives.
Let’s get started!
Memoir really shines in graphic format. Often these books are written AND illustrated by the same author, so when you read them you are experiencing the creator’s life story in several ways. (Looking for even more graphic memoirs? We at DPL put together a list of classic and core graphic format memoirs for you to check out: these are books that truly excel in the genre by creating a fully rounded reading experience and give you a foundation in the genre.)
The Secret to Superhuman Strength by Alison Bechdel
Recommended to you by Robin. A layered story about Bechdel’s lifelong fascination with different fitness crazes from the 1960s through to now, this book discusses Eastern philosophy and literary figures who all search for self-transcendence in the great outdoors, Bechdel comes to the conclusion that the secret of strength comes not from having defined abs, but in her connection to others. The Secret to Superhuman Strength is written by a true graphic memoir genius.
That Can Be Arranged: A Muslim Love Story by Huda Fahmy and Yes, I'm Hot in This: The Hilarious Truth about Life in a Hijab by Huda Fahmy
Recommended to you by Kristen A. and Elizabeth. That Can Be Arranged and Yes, I’m Hot in This, both by Huda Fahmy, talk about the experience of being a Muslim-American women through memoir comics that break down stereotypes and misconceptions she encounters every day.
Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder
Recommended to you by Wendy T. This is a humorous and piercing graphic memoir about the author’s mother’s diagnosis and eventual death from cancer. Readers familiar with loss with laugh and cry along with Feder as she chronicles how she begins to move forward.
My Alcoholic Escape from Reality by Kabi Nagata
Recommended to you by Ivy. This graphic memoir book is drawn and written in the manga style and follows our author as she is hospitalized for pancreatitis following alcohol consumption and severe stomach pains. As Nagata comes to terms with her breakdown, art plays a huge role in helping her find her way back to reality.
Spellbound: A Graphic Memoir by Bishakh Kumar Som
In this graphic memoir by transgender artist Bishakh Kumar Som, readers are given the chance to enter into her daily life and explore her thoughts on gender, sexuality, memory, love, and loss. Recommended to you by Lauren, who says of the book, “Funny and touching, peppered with the occasional Star Trek reference and delicious-sounding food, Som is not just a great storyteller but also someone who seems just cool to talk to.”
History and Nonfiction
History and nonfiction graphic format books are another truly unique and captivating read because of the way the illustrations allow you to see things as they happened. Here are four of DPL staff members favorite history and nonfiction graphic format books we read in 2021.
The Harlem Hellfighters by Max Brooks
Recommended to you by Kristen A. This graphic format history book tells the story of the 369th, an African American infantry regiment in World War I that spent more time in combat than any other American unit, broke barriers, and won countless decorations. When they left the war in Europe, they returned home as heroes, yet they still continued to fight off the battlefield to make America safe for democracy.
Flash Forward: An Illustrated Guide to Possible (And Not So Possible) Tomorrows by Rose Eveleth
Recommended to you by Lily. This isn’t quite nonfiction….but it isn’t quite fiction, either. Told in small chapters written and illustrated by a variety of authors, this compilation is a look at how the future could be if certain things were to come to pass. Will we live on and within the ocean? What rights do animals have? What if gender was more like hair color? Filled with “what if” answers to these questions and more, Flash Forward is a great look into the possibilities of tomorrow.
Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall
Recommended to you by Becker. A book that tells the story of women-led slave revolts on slave ships, this historical graphic format book uses archival research and a healthy dose of historical imagination, reconstructing the likely pasts of women rebels who fought for freedom both on slave ships and in Colonial New York.
The Photographer of Mauthausen by Salva Rubio
Recommended to you by Dodie. A dramatic and harrowing retelling of a World War II Spanish press photographer sent to the Mauthausen concentration camp by the Nazis. He finds himself the confidant of an SS officer who is documenting prisoner deaths at the camp.
Fiction in the graphic format – especially fantasy and science fiction and magical realism – is special because it invites the reader into a wildly imaginative and adaptive experience. If you’d like more graphic novels to dive into, check out the Standalone Graphic Novels Core Collection list!
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado
Recommended to you by Erin W. In this queer fantasy, two best friends must save themselves and their town from a mysterious illness that steals your memories. The two journey forward, as they search for answers to questions everyone else forgot.
Shadow Life by Hiromi Goto
Recommended to you by Becker. A combination of slice of life, magical realism, and poetic storytelling, this graphic novel is the story of 76 year old widow Kumiko who tries to escape death by finding a cozy apartment and enjoying her daily pleasures. And then Death swoops in to collect her…
After the Rain by Nnedi Okorafor
Recommended to you by Amanie. Based on Okorafor’s short story “On the Road,” a Nigerian-American woman in a small Nigerian town during a violent storm encounters a boy with a severe head wound whose touch burns like fire.
The Burning Metronome by R. Alan Brooks
Recommended to you by Hadiya. From local Denver author R. Alan Brooks, this book is a cross between The Twilight Zone and a classic murder mystery. Walter, a mysteriously supernatural figure, is in a race to determine which of his compatriots tried to murder him.
P.S. Here are some graphic format books that we’re excited about that will be coming in 2022 and are available to put on hold right now!
Alice in Leatherland by Iolanda Zanfardino
Enter the Blue by Dave Chisholm
Manga Classics: Hamlet by William Shakespeare
Made in Korea by Jeremey Holt
Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh
Across a Field of Starlight by Blue Delliquanti
Coming Back by Jessi Zabarsky
Secret Passages by Axelle Lenoir
Paranormal Hitmen by Brett Murphy
The Secret to Superhuman Strength is one for my 2021 favorites.