You are in a bookstore, checking out the “Graphic Novel” section. Maybe a friend told you to read Saga, you saw that March was sold out online, or you heard that Ta-Nehisi Coates was writing a comic. Now you now find yourself in the comics section and it’s weird, confusing, and overwhelming. You walk away because you’re not even sure you want to read Saga anyway, and how do you find something to your taste in that jumble of superheroes?
It’s hard to try a new storytelling medium when you’re not even sure where to start or if you’ll even like it. I didn’t grow up reading comics, so I get it! But there are so many good stories being told in comics now, it’s worth the effort to try to find some you will enjoy. I find a good introduction to reading comics is by trying the same genre or stories you enjoy reading in prose books, such as fantasy.
To help with your endeavor to branch out to a new medium, I’ve paired five fantasy comics recommendations with five fantasy books.
If you like The Magicians, try The Unwritten
The Unwritten (Mike Carey, Peter Gross, Chris Chucky, Jeanne McGee, and Todd Klein) follows Tom Taylor, the inspiration for the best-selling Tommy Taylor fantasy series. When Tom’s father, the author of the Tommy Taylor books, mysteriously vanishes, Tom finds himself in the center of a literary conspiracy and magical underground. While The Unwritten immediately brings to mind some of the most famous children’s fantasy stories and imagery (chiefly the Harry Potter and Narnia series), in later volumes it circles around and delves into other classic books and characters, giving bibliophiles some delightful nuggets and trails to follow.
If you like the Abhorsen books, try Monstress
Monstress (Marjorie Liu, Sana Takeda, and Rus Wooten) is intense, and does not hold back on the darker elements of magic it explores. Set in a matriarchal world where sorceresses capture and use magical creatures (the Arcanics) to sustain their power and control, Monstress follows Maika on her quest to avenge her mother. Littered with nuanced, flawed, powerful, hopeful, and dangerous female characters, this tale of war and race is a punch to the gut at every turn of the page.
If you like The Princess Bride, try Castle Waiting
Castle Waiting (Linda Medley and Todd Klein) is a warm blanket on dark and rainy night. This gorgeously illustrated graphic novel begins where most fairy tales end: with the rescue of a princess and a happily ever after. What happens to ordinary castle workers once the princess is gone? What does a lady-in-waiting do if she has no lady to wait upon? Why, dote on a pregnant runaway, of course. Castle Waiting is like reading slice-of-life, fairy tale fiction, with ample opportunity to explore the lives of characters who would normally just be background characters. It’s sweet, funny, hopeful, and the kind of book you can turn to on a dreary day for a bit of cheer.
If you like The Last Unicorn, try Mirror
Mirror (Emma Rios and Hwei Lim) is one of the most striking and beautiful comics I’ve read recently. The story of conflict between mage-scientists and sentient animals is told with flashbacks to the past, so while it takes a little bit to understand the unfolding story, you are always learning more about the relationships and histories between characters. Mirror explores familiar themes of bigotry, love, and identity, but what sets it apart from other comics is the stunning, painterly, water color artwork.
If you like A Darker Shade of Magic, try The World in Deeper Inspection
The World in Deeper Inspection (Reimena Yee) centers around detective Alcott Grimsley, resident of Brookham Night, and a Jersey Devil. Alcott helps resolve the problems of the recently deceased whilst trying to avoid other dangers and creatures. The World in Deeper Inspection is a webcomic, which allows the creator to easily explore other characters and stories of the Night world (the newest chapter is about Alcott’s vampire friend). It also means it is simple for you, new reader, to catch up on this wonderful blend of Victorian sensibilities and macabre humor.