The best graphic novels that explain things that matter

Uta, Chris, and Alex Frith Author Of Two Heads: A Graphic Exploration of How Our Brains Work with Other Brains
By Uta, Chris, and Alex Frith

The Books I Picked & Why

Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

By Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos Papadimitriou

Book cover of Logicomix: An Epic Search for Truth

Why this book?

Logicomix is a revelation. It tells the colorful life stories of some incredibly important philosophers and mathematicians of recent times, how they met and how their lives reflect their thoughts about some of the most difficult questions ever posed. The stories are beautifully illustrated with a detail that conveys more than mere words. It feels wondrous how the most abstract ideas can be made comprehensible and captivating when we had only the vaguest notions about what these ideas even meant.


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Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

By Scott McCloud

Book cover of Understanding Comics: The Invisible Art

Why this book?

What subject merits explaining more than comics themselves? This playful and enthralling book is full of examples of what, how and why comics can do things that no other medium can. Partly because there are so few comics like this one, it's vastly influential on almost any comic that provides step by step explanations of how things work - not least on Two Heads. For a book that so clearly explains its own subject, it's amazing how much it lends itself to re-reading - especially after some years of looking all different kinds of comics - to remind yourself of just how insightful it is.


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Trashed

By Derf Backderf

Book cover of Trashed

Why this book?

One of those books that tells you about a topic most people never think about - in this case, your trash. Partly semi-autobiographical about the time Backderf spent as a a trash collector but interspersed with general info about America's love of waste and where it all ends up. Backderf's hyper-exaggerated figures render everything fun to read, with a cynical but accurate eye towards human behavior. It's also painstakingly detailed, and the depictions of the gigantic dumps at the edges of towns cannot be unseen. We all know that trash smells terrible - and boy does this book manage to convey how much worse the smell of a whole canyon full of trash can be.


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What It Is

By Lynda Barry

Book cover of What It Is

Why this book?

This extraordinary, and very LARGE, book is a simple guide on how to write and draw things. It is also a subtle and ambitious attempt to explain what it is to be creative. Chapters with suggestions for things to draw or write are interspersed with short stories from Barry’s own life. At first it feels a bit instructional, as one might expect from an art/writing teacher. But it really draws you in to see just how basic and wonderful any act of creation is, with no need to try to create important or original things - those features will all come out in the end.


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Max and Moritz

By Wilhelm Busch, Stefan Hollos, J. Richard Hollos

Book cover of Max and Moritz

Why this book?

We can’t resist adding a historical first, published in German in 1865 by Wilhelm Busch, the father of countless other comics that present the pranks of naughty boys. And it features in Two Heads because it inspired psychologists, including ourselves, to study the remarkable ability to mindread. In a single panel Busch reveals that the reader can infer that what is in the mind of the terrible duo is different from what’s in the mind of Widow Bolte, and different from what’s in the mind of her dog. It allows us readers to get the contradictions between these different views and makes us laugh. So although this book doesn't set out to explain anything, it ends up doing a marvelous job of explaining the psychology of intention, interaction and reputation management - in the tradition of great comic strips from Crazy Kat to Peanuts to Calvin & Hobbes.


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