The best graphic novels for a big imagination

Andrew MacLean Author Of ApocalyptiGirl: An Aria for the End Times
By Andrew MacLean

The Books I Picked & Why

The Incal

By Alejandro Jodorowsky, Jean Giraud

Book cover of The Incal

Why this book?

The Incal follows John DiFool, an everyday goofball, as he is swept away on the most metaphysical, surrealistic, galactic adventure possible. Written and drawn by two of the wildest, most ingenious imaginations to ever grace the page, Jodorowsky and Moebius guide the reader gracefully to the edge of existence and back – without confusing or pandering to its audience. 

This book works so well because, first, Moebuis’ art is an absolute delight to look at, and second, because using the common-man-character of DiFool as the protagonist, the reader can learn alongside the story in a way that feels smooth and natural – in a world that would otherwise be beyond the understanding of mere mortals.

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Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Volume 1

By Hayao Miyazaki

Book cover of Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind: Volume 1

Why this book?

I absolutely adore Miyazaki’s art in Nausicaa. Although dealing in themes of plague and pollution, the artwork really feels like it comes from a place of love. His creature and vehicle designs exude his adoration of nature and science. And everything is rendered in a soft, effortless chiaroscuro that makes reading an endless pleasure. 

But maybe the single most endearing attribute is the character, Nausicaa, herself. It seems to me, that more often than not, a hero story asks its protagonist to go through some sort of reluctant change to become a hero. But not Nausicaa. She comes to us fully formed, full of virtue and ambition. And so the story is centered on her choices. The story doesn’t happen to her, she drives it herself.

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Little Bird: The Fight for Elder's Hope

By Darcy Van Poelgeest

Book cover of Little Bird: The Fight for Elder's Hope

Why this book?

In a post-apocalyptic world run by an oppressive American empire, we find Little Bird hiding in a hole. Though her mother was a great leader of the rebellion, Little Bird has found herself very lost, in a very cruel world - and she just might be the last chance that the freethinking people of the Western world have. 

I love that this story takes familiar forces and fears of our modern life and cranks them up to eleven. With that in mind, the star of the show must be Ian Bertram’s artwork. All the huge ideas and themes created by Darcy are elevated to a startling degree by the way Ian is able to build this world visually. The iconography, the violence, the characterizations, it slaps you in the face page after page.

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Akira, Volume 1

By Katsuhiro Otomo

Book cover of Akira, Volume 1

Why this book?

The ultimate classic! If you haven’t read Akira, stop reading this and order these books… I’ll wait…

Another dose of a grim post-apocalyptic future, Akira is a delight to behold. Things get weird in Neo Tokyo when a group of rough-and-tumble teens encounter a boy with what seems to be… contagious telekinesis? 

I love how this series centers on a “friendly” rivalry that just grows and grows as this mysterious power grows and grows until it threatens to swallow the entire city. Left unchecked, surely it would swallow the world. 

I’ve never read a story that felt so big! And I don’t mean it's long. Two street-rats butt heads until eventually, it threatens to destroy existence, as we know it. It’s huge! And the art! Aaargh! I can’t take it!

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Beautiful Darkness

By Kerascoët, Fabien Vehlmann

Book cover of Beautiful Darkness

Why this book?

This book is an exaggeratedly bizarre and macabre twist on fairy tales.

A child has died in the forest and the gnomes (if gnomes are what they are) who live inside the child’s body are abruptly evicted from their home as the body starts to enter a state of goopy decay. I told you it was bizarre. The gnomes don’t know the outside world and so survival in the forest proves most difficult.

The premise of this book is right up my alley. It’s too strange to resist. But it’s also adorable at times.  With artwork seamlessly ranging from realism to simple cartoons expressed with just a few strokes of the pencil and a dab of watercolor, Beautiful Darkness is cute, dark, funny, and from time to time, downright sinister.

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