In the parts of the world where nights are lengthening and lockdowns are intensifying, many comics lovers may be looking for project reads. These aren’t volumes to finish in a sitting, but ones to luxuriate in. (You may also want to check out this Goodreads list of graphic novels of 300 pages and over.)
Non-superhero doorstoppers aren’t the easiest comics to produce and market; for instance, the initial publisher ultimately rejected Emil Ferris’s My Favorite Thing is Monsters for being too lengthy. But in these books, the length is crucial for world-building, for mood-setting, and for plot elaborating.
The Essential Dykes to Watch out For by Alison Bechdel
This is a collection of Bechdel’s long-running comic strip. While it tackles politics and serious matters, the strip is lighter in tone than Bechdel’s graphic memoirs Fun Home and Are You My Mother?. Dykes to Watch out for is a warm hug of community and queerness – simply drawn in black and white, but big-hearted and satisfying.
The Color of Earth by Kim Dong Hwa
The first of a trilogy, this is as gentle and earthy as the title suggests. The books relate the daily lives of a close-knit mother and daughter in a Korean village. The rhythms of their daily lives and the natural world float seamlessly on delicate drawings, making for an evocative reading experience.
My Favorite Thing Is Monsters by Emil Ferris
My Favorite Thing is Monsters would be compelling as either a standard novel or as a graphic artwork. With the combination of the gripping narrative and the boundary-pushing illustration, it’s utterly brilliant. It tracks a young, unusual, adventurous girl in Chicago who’s out to solve both crime and her family’s unhappiness – a similar plot engine to Mark Haddon’s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. But the tone is darker and weirder. This would be a delightful book to read over many candle-lit nights.
The Dharma Punks by Ant Sang
The Dharma Punks is a soulful ache of a book. It follows a group of punks in New Zealand looking for meaning in and among grunge music, Buddhist enlightenment, and leftist violence. It’s a compelling, nail-biting, utterly believable world to get drawn into, especially for anyone who can relate to being young and longing to make sense of it all.
Lost Girls by Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie
Created by perhaps THE power couple of comics, Lost Girls is a lusty doozy. This absolutely massive book imagines Alice (of Wonderland), Dorothy (of Oz), and Wendy (of Never Never Land) as sexually unfettered young women slipping easily through eras and dalliances. The colors and the erotic scenes are dreamily beautiful, making this a hefty tome to savor.
On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
You’d know a Tillie Walden comic from a single panel. No one uses color like she does, in dramatic limited-palette washes. That distinctive visual style helps build the dreamlike sci-fi world of On the Sunbeam, in which the work of a space vessel gets bound up in a long-ago romance between two boarding-school girls. The plot isn’t the point here; it’s all about the feeling.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang
This work really merits the “epic” label. Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese was a delightfully wide-ranging account of Chinese American kids figuring out assimilation, plus a story of the Monkey King from Chinese folklore. Boxers & Saints takes the concept of the braided historical narrative even further, in two paired volumes. Boxers tracks members of China’s anti-imperialist Boxer Rebellion around the turn of the 20th century, while Saints follows the Chinese Christians of the other side. Together they show the complexity and humanity of the conflict.
Building Stories by Chris Ware
Like Boxers & Saints, Building Stories can’t be contained in a single book. In fact, it’s more of a box than a book, containing 14 texts of different sizes and following very different characters (including a bee). Like B.S. Johnson’s novel The Unfortunates, the segments of Building Stories can be read in any order. It may be less narratively satisfying than Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan: the Smartest Kid on Earth, but this book-in-a-box is an experiment and an experience.