The best graphic novels with a dark theme

Erik Kriek Author Of In the Pines: 5 Murder Ballads
By Erik Kriek

Who am I?

From an early age I have been drawn to dark themes in stories. I always wanted to hear the dark fairy tales when I was a kid. My mother is from Finland originally, so I was weaned on Finnish folk tales and the Finnish mythology, the Kalevala, which has very many dark stories. Being a graphic novelist myself, I tend to favor morally ambiguous, darker broken characters in my stories. Happy characters make for boring stories I believe. There needs to be conflict for there to be drama. And there needs to be drama to make interesting stories.


I wrote...

In the Pines: 5 Murder Ballads

By Erik Kriek,

Book cover of In the Pines: 5 Murder Ballads

What is my book about?

Five short dark tales of murder based upon song lyrics taken from so-called murder ballads. A genre that flourishes in American roots music. Kriek explores love, death, revenge, and morality in these stark little tragedies. 

The books I picked & why

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My Friend Dahmer

By Derf Backderf,

Book cover of My Friend Dahmer

Why this book?

An amazing personal tale of someone who went to high school with, what was to become, infamous serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer. What makes it so good, in my opinion, is, that it doesn’t become sensationalist in any way. It clearly shows how a vulnerable, very disturbed child could fall through the cracks in 70’s America. It is drawn in a cartoony style, which helps to create a distance from the reader to the incredibly dark and sad subject matter. It works amazingly well as it is told from the perspective of Dahmer’s classmates. Well recommended!

My Friend Dahmer

By Derf Backderf,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked My Friend Dahmer as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

My Friend Dahmer is the hauntingly original graphic novel by Derf Backderf, the award winning political cartoonist. In these pages, Backderf tries to make sense of Jeffery Dahmer, the future serial killer with whom he shared classrooms, hallways, libraries and car rides. What emerges is a surprisingly sympathetic portrait of a young man struggling helplessly against the urges, some ghastly, bubbling up from the deep recesses of his psyche. The Dahmer recounted here, although universally regarded as an inhumane monster, is a lonely oddball who, in reality, is all too human. A shy kid sucked inexorably into madness while the…

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

By Emil Ferris,

Book cover of My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

Why this book?

This book is incredibly well-layered. It is a facsimile of an angsty teen’s diary who thinks she is a werewolf on the one hand, while also telling a haunting tale of her next door neighbour’s history as well. The art also pays homage to old monster comics from the 1950s. All drawn in a miraculous ball-pen technique. An amazing piece of work.

My Favorite Thing Is Monsters

By Emil Ferris,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked My Favorite Thing Is Monsters as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ’60s Chicago, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the fictional graphic diary of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography. Karen Reyes tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, while the interconnected stories of those around her unfold. When Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anka’s life in Nazi Germany, the reader discovers how the personal, the political, the past, and the present converge.

X'ed Out

By Charles Burns,

Book cover of X'ed Out

Why this book?

I personally read everything Burns makes. He is one of my all-time favourite graphic novelists and I’m heavily inspired by his work. This penultimate work of his has again that sense of otherwordly weirdness to it that he does so well. I just adore the tight line work and moody nightmarish sequences he does. Painting a tale here that raises questions that only get answered when the entire trilogy is completed. Mind-bogglingly well-constructed and strange but very good.

X'ed Out

By Charles Burns,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked X'ed Out as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Meet Doug, aspiring young artist. He's having a strange night. A weird buzzing noise on the other side of the wall has woken him up, and there across the room, next to a huge hole torn out of the bricks, sits his beloved cat Inky. Who died years ago. But that's no longer the case, as he slinks through the hole, beckoning Doug to follow. So he does. Now there's no turning back. What the heck is going on? To say much more would spoil the creepy, Burnsian fun, especially since - unlike Black Hole - X'ed Out has not…


Beautiful Darkness

By Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoët,

Book cover of Beautiful Darkness

Why this book?

An incredibly haunting book. At first glance it looks like a fairy tale for children but after only a few pages in you realise it is quite a sinister tale and something much darker altogether. It is a very brave book I think and I’m not really sure how to categorize it other than it being very, very dark indeed.

Beautiful Darkness

By Fabien Vehlmann, Kerascoët,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Beautiful Darkness as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Newly homeless, a group of fairies find themselves trying to adapt to their new life in the forest. As they dodge dangers from both without and within, optimistic Aurora steps forward to organize and help build a new community. Slowly, the world around them becomes more treacherous as petty rivalries and factions form. Beautiful Darkness became a bestseller and an instant classic when it was released in 2014. This paperback edition of the modern horror classic contains added material, preparatory sketches, and unused art. While Kerascoet mix gorgeous watercolors and spritely cartoon characters, Fabien Vehlmann takes the story into bleaker…

Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume

By Jeff Smith,

Book cover of Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume

Why this book?

This must be my all-time favorite graphic novel. It is a weird mixture of Walt Kelly, Disney, and Tolkien. As you progress further into the story it really turns into a dark epic fantasy. All the while the main characters remain warm and genuine, even though they are only silly cartoony figures. 

Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume

By Jeff Smith,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked Bone as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

BONE – The Complete Cartoon Epic in One Volume

Winner of 41 National and International Awards including 10 Eisner Awards and 11 Harvey Awards!

Meet the Bone cousins, Fone Bone, Phoney Bone and Smiley Bone, three misfits who are run out of Boneville and find themselves lost in a vast uncharted desert. They make their way into a deep, forested valley filled with wonderful and terrifying creatures. With the help of the mysterious Thorn, her tough-as-nails Gran’ma Ben and the Great Red Dragon, the boys do their best to survive in the middle of brewing trouble between the valley’s denizens.…

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