The best illustrated books for ‘grown-ups’

Who am I?

At some point in our tweens, we learn that picture books are for children, and comic books are for nerds. I personally never heard it spoken aloud. It was more that thinly disguised looks of disapproval from adults delivered the message. As a graphic novelist, it sometimes feels like an uphill battle. I find pushing a reluctant ‘grown-up’ straight to graphic novels is perhaps a step too far. A start is an illustrated book. No speech bubbles. No comic book panels. Just illustrations supporting text, and text supporting illustrations. And sometimes, just sometimes, this opens the door to graphic novels.

I wrote...

The Junction

By Norm Konyu,

Book cover of The Junction

What is my book about?

When Lucas Jones turns up on his Uncle’s doorstep 12 years after disappearing, it should be a cause for celebration, but there are far too many unanswered questions. Where is his father who disappeared with him? Where is Kirby Junction, the town he claims to have lived in for 12 years, a town not on any map? And how can Lucas still be 11 years old?

Norm Konyu’s The Junction is probably my favourite graphic novel. Gorgeous in every way, it is hallucinatory, moving, and always mesmerising.” - Jordan Roberts, writer of Big Hero 6

The books I picked & why

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Alice in Wonderland

By Lewis Carroll, Illustrated by Rebecca Dautremer,

Book cover of Alice in Wonderland

Why this book?

Everyone is familiar with the classic tale of Alice, but mostly the bright and breezy Disney version or perhaps the original John Tenniel illustrated book. This version picks up on the darker, more surreal elements of the text in illustrations that are perhaps a bit unsettling for some children (not mine – the more unsettling the better for them!). This book is so absolutely gorgeous, that when I first saw it on a trip to Barcelona, I just had to have it, despite not being able to read the Spanish text or having room in my baggage. But have no fear, an English version is now available!

House Held Up by Trees

By Ted Kooser, Jon Klassen (illustrator),

Book cover of House Held Up by Trees

Why this book?

This book is so evocative, a marriage of poetic words and nuanced illustrations so successful that when I first read it, it immediately took me back decades to my childhood and the old barn on my parents’ property. I could almost smell the pine trees through the barn boards, hear the birds nested in the rafters, and feel the summer sun on my face. 

Ramayana: Divine Loophole

By Sanjay Patel,

Book cover of Ramayana: Divine Loophole

Why this book?

As an animator, I first knew of Sanjay Patel through his work at Pixar before discovering his book, Ramayana, a virtual explosion of colour and sharply-edged design, exploring traditional tales from Hindu Mythology through anything but traditional means. Would I have read these tales without the artwork dragging me in? Probably not. But I’m so glad they did, opening my eyes to a whole new world of folklore I was unaware of.

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

By Neil Gaiman, Elise Hurst (illustrator),

Book cover of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Why this book?

I was first introduced to this version of the book, long after having read and loved the original and unillustrated version, when Gaiman and Hurst hosted a talk about it in London several years ago. Hurst’s whirling, swirling black and white illustrations are a perfect accompaniment to Gaiman’s similarly whirling, swirling tale, adding another layer of dreamlike unreality. Unlike many illustrated versions of previously released books which feature only a handful of illustrations, this book is absolutely permeated with them, giving the reader something new to marvel over constantly.

Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein

By Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, Bernie Wrightson (illustrator),

Book cover of Bernie Wrightson's Frankenstein

Why this book?

The late great Bernie Wrightson was a comic book genius of my childhood whose artistic merits were probably overlooked due to the media he chose to work in. This volume, illustrating the classic gothic masterpiece of horror, hopefully went some way towards righting that wrong. The glorious and intricate black and white illustrations are a marriage between the horror comic books of my youth and the woodcuts of Gustav Doré a hundred years earlier. I remember being staggered by them in my teens and making my own poor attempts at replicating them in college life drawing. Sorry, Bernie.

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in trees, magical realism, and surrealism?

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