The best graphic novels that reinvent the book (literally)

Why am I passionate about this?

I’m an artist who likes to write, but I’ve never been interested in classic superhero or pulp graphic novels. Early in my career, the word “comics” felt like an insult—it's not “real art,” right? Too childish! While that instinct was definitely wrong, I found a (small) world of experimental, abstract, genre-breaking graphic novels that combine art and writing in a wholly unique way. This is a list of some of my recent favorites that have inspired my drawing and writing practice, and will hopefully inspire you. 


I wrote...

2120

By George Wylesol,

Book cover of 2120

What is my book about?

2120 is an interactive graphic novel formatted like a retro point-and-click video game. You control Wade, a 46-year-old computer repairman, sent to fix a computer in a nondescript office building. Then the door locks behind you. You’ll have to explore the building and figure out its horrifying secrets on your own. This book is not linear, and you’ll use choose-your-adventure-style prompts and directional arrows to navigate the building. 

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of Here

George Wylesol Why did I love this book?

This book is a great introduction to the “not-Marvel-or-DC” branch of graphic novels. Using nonlinear, overlapping panels, Here tells the story of a single point in space throughout the history of time. It flips from a midcentury living room to a primordial swamp, to a 23rd-century history exhibit, and everywhere in between. 

Of course, the real story of any space is the lives of the people and animals that inhabit it. Through the fragments of conversation and clips of action in Here, you’ll start thinking about the fleeting beauty and heartbreak that exist, existed, and will continue to exist on your own here.

By Richard McGuire,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

From one of the great comic innovators, the long-awaited fulfillment of a pioneering comic vision. Richard McGuire’s Here is the story of a corner of a room and of the events that have occurred in that space over the course of hundreds of thousands of years.

"In Here McGuire has introduced a third dimension to the flat page. He can poke holes in the space-time continuum simply by imposing frames that act as trans­temporal windows into the larger frame that stands for the provisional now. Here is the ­comic-book equivalent of a scientific breakthrough. It is also a lovely evocation…


Book cover of Making Comics

George Wylesol Why did I love this book?

This is an excellent textbook to get readers and comic makers of all experience levels to loosen up, think deeply and personally, and make better, more confident comics. It’s warm but practical, smart but approachable, deep but unpretentious. This is a comics veteran generously sharing both her knowledge of comics and teaching, as well as her own methods for drawing, brainstorming, and writing. It’s an incredible resource and one I often find myself quoting and recommending to my own students. 

By Lynda Barry,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Making Comics as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Hello students, meet Professor Skeletor. Be on time, don t miss class, and turn off your phones. No time for introductions, we start drawing right away. The goal is more rock, less talk, and we communicate only through images. For more than five years the cartoonist Lynda Barry has been an associate professor in the University of Wisconsin Madison art department and at the Wisconsin Institute for Discovery, teaching students from all majors, both graduate and undergraduate, how to make comics, how to be creative, how to not think. There is no academic lecture in this classroom. Doodling is enthusiastically…


Book cover of Everywhere Disappeared

George Wylesol Why did I love this book?

You could really choose any graphic novel by Patrick Kyle—they’re all excellent. I personally like this collection of his short stories. The art is abstract, cartoony, expressive, drawn with a stylistic boldness not often seen in graphic novels. 

The art could stand on its own, and often I find myself skimming this novel just to look at the art. But the narratives themselves are the real key here—completely original, contemporary thinking that discusses things like the end of cell phones and purifying skin creams. These narratives will change the way you think about narrative.

By Patrick Kyle,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Everywhere Disappeared as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

A keen observer of the absurd, Patrick Kyle's stories defamiliarize the machinations of life, work, and art with droll dialogue and his angular, humanely geometric drawing and sci-fi settings that recall set design more than satellite images. Kyle's figures may be foreign and his settings strange, but his stories resonate deeply.

Patrick Kyle lives and works in Toronto, ON. He is the author of the graphic novels Black Mass (2012), Distance Mover (2014), and Don't Come In Here (2016). At the 2016 Doug Wright Awards, he won the Pigskin Peters Award for New Comics #6 and #7.


Book cover of Building Stories

George Wylesol Why did I love this book?

This is one of the first graphic novels to truly reinvent the medium, and is absolutely required reading for anyone who wants to experiment with visual storytelling. Instead of a traditionally bound book, you get an oversized box filled with pamphlets, booklets, newspapers, and more. The comics themselves read pretty straightforwardly, but it's the act of rifling through this giant box for the first time, not knowing exactly where it'll lead you, that's truly a unique reading experience. 

By Chris Ware,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Building Stories as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In Chris Ware's own words, 'Building Stories follows the inhabitants of a three-flat Chicago apartment house: a thirty-year-old woman who has yet to find someone with whom to spend the rest of her life; a couple who wonder if they can bear each other's company for another minute; and finally an elderly woman who never married and is the building's landlady...'

The scope, the ambition, the artistry and emotional heft of this project are beyond anything even Chris Ware has achieved before.


Book cover of Press Enter to Continue

George Wylesol Why did I love this book?

Press Enter to Continue is incredible on every level. The art is beautiful, with a technicolor palette and skillful drawing that belies the corporate horror in the narratives. We see humiliating job interviews, vampiric computer viruses, and cosmic labor camps that feel a little too close for comfort in our online world. It’s a collection of short stories told with a deadpan minimalism that makes the reader think, sweat, and maybe put their phone away for a while.

By Ana Galvañ,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Press Enter to Continue as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Spanish cartoonist Ana Galvañ charts an often-psychedelic and existential course for modernity in her English language debut, utilizing swaths of electric and florescent colors to create a series of short stories that intertwine and explore the dehumanizing effects of contemporary society. Like a candycolored collection of Black Mirror episodes, Galvañ’s world, set in the very near-future, is familiar and cautionary at once. Galvañ’s unwitting and addictive characters navigate a world of iridescent pastels and geometric energy like puppets. Departments of inhumane resources dehumanize the people it is purported to protect; information is determinedly mined like the gold of the 21st…


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The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

Book cover of The Road from Belhaven

Margot Livesey Author Of The Road from Belhaven

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Reader Secret orphan Professor Scottish Novelist

Margot's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

The Road from Belhaven is set in 1880s Scotland. Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small girl that she can see the future. But she soon realises that she must keep her gift a secret. While she can sometimes glimpse the future, she can never change it.

Nor can Lizzie change the feelings that come when a young man named Louis, visiting Belhaven for the harvest, begins to court her. Why have the adults around her never told her that the touch of a hand can change everything? When she follows Louis to Glasgow, she begins to learn the limits of his devotion and the complexities of her own affections.

The Road from Belhaven

By Margot Livesey,

What is this book about?

From the New York Times best-selling author of The Flight of Gemma Hardy, a novel about a young woman whose gift of second sight complicates her coming of age in late-nineteenth-century Scotland

Growing up in the care of her grandparents on Belhaven Farm, Lizzie Craig discovers as a small child that she can see into the future. But her gift is selective—she doesn’t, for instance, see that she has an older sister who will come to join the family. As her “pictures” foretell various incidents and accidents, she begins to realize a painful truth: she may glimpse the future, but…


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