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Read (Comics & Graphic Novels) Harder: Challenge Accepted Part One

The words Graphic Novel Making Contest are in a speech bubble with an illustration of a pencil to the right.

We're Natasha and Megan, two of San José Public Library’s Graphic Novel Making Contest committee members, and we’re taking Read (Comics & Graphic Novels) Harder Challenge. Each week, we’ll read a graphic novel or comic for each task. Along the way, we’ll highlight some recommendations. We hope you join us for the reading challenge!

Task One: Read An Historical or Historical Fiction Graphic Novel or Comic

The graphic novel medium is well suited to historical fiction and memoir, offering readers a personalized and immersive experience. Step back in time or walk in another’s footsteps with an historical or historical fiction graphic novel. Here's what we read for the challenge:


Natasha's Pick

March: Book One, book cover

March: Book One John Lewis

The March trilogy is part memoir, part civil rights history, told from the perspective of the late congressman and civil rights hero John Lewis. Scenes cut between a conversation with a mother and her two sons with the congressman in his office in 2009 and events in Lewis’ life decades earlier. Lewis recounts moments from his life, from growing up on Alabama sharecrop, raising and preaching to chickens, to meeting Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., lunch-counter sit-ins and the founding of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. The expressive and detailed drawings, paired with well-paced, honest storytelling, make this an immersive and accessible reading experience.


Megan's Pick

Step Aside, Pops (A Hark! A Vagrant Collection), book cover

Step Aside, Pops (A Hark! A Vagrant Collection) Kate Beaton

This sequel collection of comics is full of Kate Beaton’s signature literary, historical and pop-culture references, dry humor and comic timing. Hark! A Vagrant began as a webcomic in 2007 (you can visit the archived website) and quickly gained a following. The black and white drawings appear simple but are deceptively sophisticated and perfectly complement and heighten the humor in these strips featuring scenes from famous moments in history to popular literature. Ever wonder what the founding fathers would do in a modern day shopping mall? What does Wonder Woman really think about her outfit? This book is well researched (the author holds a BA in history and anthropology), so you’ll learn a thing or two between laughs.


More Recommendations

Maus: A Survivor's Tale, book cover

Maus: A Survivor's Tale Art Spiegelman

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats. Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father into an astonishing retelling of one of history’s most unspeakable tragedies. It is an unforgettable story of survival and a disarming look at the legacy of trauma. -Publisher’s Description

Maus is the first (and only) graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize and is a champion of graphic narrative. Part biography, part autobiography, and part Holocaust survival memoir, Maus tells the story of the author’s father, Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of the Holocaust, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s history, and their complicated, often frustrating, relationship. The book weaves between two timelines: the narrative present of 1978 in New York City, and Vladek’s past from the beginnings of WWII to 1945. Take note: Maus is published in two volumes. The first is subtitled A Survivor's Tale, the second installment further includes And Here My Troubles Began. -Natasha

Showa: A History of Japan, book cover

Showa: A History of Japan Shigeru Mizuki

Showa 1926-1939: A History of Japan is the first volume of Shigeru Mizuki’s meticulously researched historical portrait of twentieth century Japan. This volume deals with the period leading up to World War II, a time of high unemployment and other economic hardships caused by the Great Depression. Mizuki’s photo-realist style effortlessly brings to life Japan of the 1920s and 1930s, depicting bustling city streets and abandoned graveyards with equal ease.

When the Showa Era began, Mizuki himself was just a few years old, so his earliest memories coincide with the earliest events of the Era. With his trusty narrator Rat Man, Mizuki brings history into the realm of the personal, making it palatable, and indeed compelling, for young audiences as well as more mature readers. As he describes the militarization that leads up to World War II, Mizuki’s stance toward war is thoughtful and often downright critical – his portrayal of the Nanjing Massacre clearly paints the incident (a disputed topic within Japan) as an atrocity. Mizuki’s Showa 1926-1939 is a beautifully told history that tracks how technological developments and the country’s shifting economic stability had a role in shaping Japan’s foreign policy in the early twentieth century. -Publisher’s description

The Hip Hop Family Tree , book cover

The Hip Hop Family Tree Ed Piskor

The lore of the early days of hip hop has become the stuff of myth, so what better way to document this fascinating, epic true story than in another great American mythological medium — the comic book? From exciting young talent and self-proclaimed hip hop nerd Ed Piskor, acclaimed for his hacker graphic novel Wizzywig, comes this explosively entertaining, encyclopedic history of the formative years of the music genre that changed global culture.

Originally serialized on the hugely popular website Boing Boing, Hip Hop Family Tree is now collected in a single volume cleverly presented and packaged in a style mimicking the Marvel comics of the same era. Piskor's exuberant yet controlled cartooning takes you from the parks and rec rooms of the South Bronx to the night clubs, recording studios, and radio stations where the scene started to boom, capturing the flavor of late-1970s New York City in panels bursting with obsessively authentic detail. With a painstaking, vigorous and engaging Ken Burns-meets-Stan Lee approach, the battles and rivalries, the technical innovations, the triumphs and failures are all thoroughly researched and lovingly depicted. -Publisher’s description

Read for Hip Hop History Month, celebrated at SJPL every November!

From Hell: Being A Melodrama in Sixteen Parts, book cover

From Hell: Being A Melodrama in Sixteen Parts Alan Moore

Legendary comics writer Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell have created a gripping, hallucinatory piece of crime fiction about Jack the Ripper. Detailing the events that led up to the Whitechapel murders and the cover-up that followed, From Hell has become a modern masterpiece of crime noir and historical fiction. -Publisher’s description

Who was Jack the Ripper? It’s one of the great mysteries of English history. In this haunting graphic novel, acclaimed author Alan Moore and artist Eddie Campbell explore one of many possibilities. We follow both the killer himself and those investigating his crimes through the seedy underbelly of 19th century London. This version of events digs into the darker, dirtier sides of Victorian English society, from the impoverished and exploited poor to the corrupt aristocracy and dismissive royalty. Equally as much a tale of horror as of historical fiction, it is a gritty, gripping and absolutely plausible tale of what could have happened.

Originally serialized in the Taboo anthology series from 1989-1992, it was then published on its own in ten volumes from 1991-1996 which were collected into a trade paperback first published in 1999. It has one several awards, including five Eisner Awards and was adapted into a film in 2001. -Megan


The Arab of the Future: A Graphic Memoir, book cover

The Arab of the Future: A Graphic Memoir Riad Sattouf

In striking, virtuoso graphic style that captures both the immediacy of childhood and the fervor of political idealism, Riad Sattouf recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi's Libya, and Assad's Syria--but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation. Riad, delicate and wide-eyed, follows in the trail of his mismatched parents; his mother, a bookish French student, is as modest as his father is flamboyant. Venturing first to the Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab State and then joining the family tribe in Homs, Syria, they hold fast to the vision of the paradise that always lies just around the corner. And hold they do, though food is scarce, children kill dogs for sport, and with locks banned, the Sattoufs come home one day to discover another family occupying their apartment. The ultimate outsider, Riad, with his flowing blond hair, is called the ultimate insult... Jewish. And in no time at all, his father has come up with yet another grand plan, moving from building a new people to building his own great palace. Brimming with life and dark humor, The Arab of the Future reveals the truth and texture of one eccentric family in an absurd Middle East, and also introduces a master cartoonist in a work destined to stand alongside Maus and Persepolis -Publisher’s description

One Dead Spy (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales), book cover

One Dead Spy (Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales) Nathan Hale

Nathan Hale, the author's historical namesake, was America's first spy, a Revolutionary War hero who famously said "I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country" before being hanged by the British. In the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series, author Nathan Hale channels his namesake to present history's roughest, toughest, and craziest stories in the graphic novel format. -Publisher’s Description

This popular graphic novel series is for middle grader readers, but is a rewarding, amusing, and deceptively educational read for all ages. For those thinking about reading the series, the books aren't necessarily historically linear (the character Nathan Hale is consumed by and time travels through a United States history book...providing him with many lives to lose for his country), however the character development does progress from book to book. Therefore, reading in publication order rather than by historical setting is recommended. -Natasha

Blog Category
Graphic Novels

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