Graphic novels have been steadily expanding their scope — and their readership. No longer focused squarely on reluctant-reader boys, today’s graphic novels run the gamut from action to drama, comedy, and even some romance.
In Doug TenNapel’s Cardboard, Cam Howerton’s out-of-work father is so broke, the best he can do for Cam’s birthday is an empty cardboard box purchased from a toy seller with two mysterious rules: return every unused scrap of cardboard and don’t ask for any more. From the box, father and son construct “Boxer Bill” — who comes to life. When the neighborhood bully gets wind of the cardboard man, he steals the scrap materials and begins turning out an evil empire of cardboard monsters. The graphic novel format, with its dynamic panels and fast pacing, is a perfect vehicle for this imaginative, action-packed tale. (Graphix/Scholastic, 11–14 years)
Two stories unfold in alternating threads throughout Kevin C. Pyle’s Take What You Can Carry. One is the wordless story, rendered in sepia tones, of a Japanese American boy’s experiences in an internment camp. The other, washed in two shades of blue, is the more contemporary tale of a wayward teen caught stealing from a store owned by a Japanese American man. The boy’s punishment involves working weekends at the store, where he slowly comes to respect the owner — who is gradually revealed to be the youth of the first narrative strand. The store owner, too, grows to empathize with the thief, creating a rewarding arc of forgiveness and redemption. (Holt, 11–14 years)
Faith Erin Hicks’s Friends with Boys finds Maggie starting her first day of high school after having been homeschooled her entire life, her mother (her only teacher and the only other female in the house) having left the family suddenly the year before. Maggie has to tackle making friends, figuring out cliques, and finding her place among long-established groups on her own. Hicks excels at showing everyday adventures and contemplative moments in expressive, sharp black-and-white ink work and careful pacing. Evocative mysteries involving a broken friendship and a restless ghost add layers to Maggie’s world. Strong characters and excellent art give teens a girl’s slice of life. (First Second/Roaring Brook, 13–16 years)
In this quiet, atmospheric biographical graphic novel, Arne Bellstorf depicts the brief, intense, real-life love affair between Astrid Kirchherr and Stuart Sutcliffe — the man known as “The Fifth Beatle.” Set in Hamburg, Germany, Baby’s in Black: Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles (translated from the German by Michael Waaler) tells of talented young photographer Astrid—drawn as a cool, calm beatnik in a black turtleneck—growing close to the band in its early years. Beatles lyrics and lore are incorporated within the narrative, and the panel compositions re-create the spirit of Kirchherr’s own iconographic Beatles photography. Subtle facial expressions, thick black lines, and swirling ribbons of white cigarette smoke create a mood befitting the time. (First Second/Roaring Brook, 13–16 years)