On top of that, I’m a sucker for a good comic series or standalone graphic novel. And when my fave genre and my fave medium overlap? All the better.
But what gets me really excited is when there’s a novelist I’ve loved for years, and I discover, out of the blue, that they’ve also dabbled in comics. Yahtzee!
As a writer who loves reading comics, I’ve occasionally wondered if I could write one myself. I’ve read books about the business and craft of writing comics. I’ve noodled around with a number of graphic nonfiction ideas.
After all my research, however, I’ve come to the conclusion that the act of creating comics requires a different writing muscle entirely, one I suspect I don’t actually have. Which makes those writers who straddle mediums all the more impressive.
Below, I share some of the best comic series and standalone graphic novels from speculative fiction writers who were already killing it as prose-only novelists. Pretty damn cool, right?
The Cape by Joe Hill, Jason Ciaramella, and Zach Howard
Joe Hill’s writing is much like his father’s (Stephen King), so of course, I’m a fan. The fact that he also writes comics doesn’t hurt. At this point, I think he actually has more comics under his belt than full-on novels and short story collections. In fact, he even launched a horror imprint —Hill House Comics — with DC Comics in 2019. But the graphic novel that haunts me the most is the 2012 book The Cape, adapted by Ciaramella from one of Hill’s short stories. In it, an 8-year-old boy who’s suffered some hard knocks in life once used an old blanket as a superhero cape. When he unearths the cape as a self-pitying adult and realizes it allows him to fly, he eschews the superhero route, instead seeking vengeance on everyone who ever wronged him.
Victor LaValle’s Destroyer by Victor LaValle, Dietrich Smith, and Joana LaFuente
LaValle is another novelist whose books I automatically purchase no matter what the hell they’re about. And his comic series are just as good. His most recent series is the post-apocalyptic Eve, but Victor LaValle’s Destroyer — his modern take on the tale of Frankenstein’s monster —remains my fave. In this limited series, we’re introduced to Frankenstein’s last descendant, a mad scientist herself, and someone who will go to extreme lengths in order to reconnect with the son she lost.
The Sacrifice of Darkness by Roxane Gay, Tracy Lynne Oliver, and Rebecca Kirby
I feel like I’m cheating here, as Gay is known best for her cultural criticism and literary fiction. But she did write the Amazon Original Graceful Burdens, which skews speculative, and this graphic novel she created with Tracy Lynne Oliver is speculative AF. As with The Cape, this graphic novel was adapted from Gay’s short story of the same name. In it, she reveals a universe in which the world has been bathed in darkness as the result of a tragic event in which a man flew an air machine into the sun, turning the world dark. The darkness persists for years, and members of the community begin to turn their resentment and hate toward the family he left behind. The fabulist story that follows is one of guilt, persecution, class, and survival…but also of love and hope.
The Night Eaters by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda
I actually first became familiar with Liu’s work through her comics. I picked up issue #1 of her long-running comic series Monstress at my very first Comic Con and had her sign it. But it turns out she’s also the author of at least 19 novels (it’s hard to keep track), many of them in the realm of urban fantasy and paranormal romance. Anyway. Comics fans might know her best for Monstress, but I more recently enjoyed The Night Eaters, a graphic novel about a pair of Chinese American twins struggling to keep their restaurant afloat. Their mother worries she’s coddled her kids too much, leaving them incapable of finding success on their own. So she forces them to clean up the run-down house next door, where they find a whole lot more than your run-of-the-mill mess. Book 2 in this trilogy just recently came out, and I can’t wait to read it.
The Low, Low Woods by Carmen Maria Machado, Dani, and Tamra Bonvillain
I didn’t even know about speculative fiction as a genre label until I read Her Body and Other Parties, and Machado introduced me to speculative memoir as well. So, I’m thrilled to be able to include her on this list. At the beginning of this limited comic series, we’re introduced to two friends and their hometown of Shudder-To-Think, Pennsylvania, a former mining town where strange and unexplainable occurrences go unexplored. But when El and Octavia wake up in the movie theater with no memory of the past two hours, things come to a head. El wants to know more. Octavia wants to forget it ever happened. This push and pull is at the heart of what’s wrong in their small Pennsylvania town.
Earthdivers by Stephen Graham Jones, Davide Gianfelice, and Joana LaFuente
I recently spotted this one at my LCS whilst picking up items from my pull list and felt compelled to add it to my pile. A graphic novel from a popular contemporary horror novelist? Sign me up! This is apparently Jones’s comics debut, and he starts strong with a story about a group of apocalypse-era Indigenous outcasts who discover a cave that allows them to travel back in time. Naturally, they decide to use it to save the world, and to do that, they figure they need to start where all the trouble began: the “discovery” of America.
Hide by Kiersten White, Scott Peterson, Veronica Fish, and Andy Fish
I saw this one sitting right to Earthdivers and immediately recognized it as a graphic adaptation of a horror-suspense mashup that had come out the year before. Obviously, I added it to my tab. Somehow, I was even more engaged by the graphic novel than I was by the original. In this book, a group of young adults enters a hide-and-seek competition that takes place in a shuttered amusement park. All of the competitors are vying for a sizable cash reward, but they soon realize the stakes are higher than they thought.
The Autumnal by Daniel Kraus, Chris Shehan, Jason Wordie, and Jim Campbell
Daniel Kraus crash-landed into my life with the publication of Whalefall, though he already had a hefty backlist behind him. I immediately decided I had to read his entire oeuvre, which I was thrilled to discover included comics. Right now, I’m halfway through The Autumnal, which is about a woman who returns to a hometown she barely remembers after her estranged mother’s death. The book is filled with creepy folklore and small-town horror, which I love. I can’t wait to see how it ends!