Fremantle Press illustrator, Aśka, shares her top five examples of masterful graphic novels

I believe comics to be a medium with a potential to tell unique and complex stories, by taking the reader on a personal journey. Below are five of my (many) favourite books. I recommend these highly if you’d like to see the masters at work, want to understand what the graphic novel fuss is all about, or just love beautiful things.

(I would rate all of the following books as M15+)

Skim bookcover of a illustrated face
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

Skim – by Mariko Tamaki & Jillian Tamaki

This book made me fall in love with the teen graphic novel genre. Mariko’s gentle story, presented with Jillian’s poetic art-style, makes a beautiful read about the loss of innocence and what it feels like to be a teenager in that uncomfortable stage of trying to close the gap between childhood and adulthood.

The visual language of this book has had a powerful emotional impact on me, upon each reading. I find myself staring at some of the spreads for lengthy periods of time, trying to comprehend how Jillian and Mariko managed to tap into all of my memories of what high school felt like, with such precision and force.

Cover of Blue with waves
Blue by Pat Grant

Blue – by Pat Grant

Good comic makers work within parameters of a world they’ve created and invite you to explore this creation with them. What I really like about this book is the way Pat has created a unique representation of every mundane object in his world. The way he draws trees or rocks forces you to re-examine these ideas closely, rather than treat them as backgrounds. The same goes for the characters who are recognisable as human but also slightly grotesque. The carefully chosen representation of both ‘us’ and ‘the other’ offers up a mirror to our complicated relationship with our national identity. This quintessentially Australian book celebrates our nostalgic sense of place, but simultaneously urges the reader to reflect on our country’s underlying xenophobia.

Person standing on the world
The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isabel Greenberg

The Encyclopedia of Early Earth – by Isabel Greenberg

In this book Isabel invites us to participate in parallel ancient history, where a long-forgotten fictional civilisation inhabits a frozen earth. A journey from the North to the South Pole, documented through a set of beautifully depicted stories, is a vehicle to explore the gods, the monsters and the storytellers of that time.

But, despite the fascinating nature of this foreign world, we are reminded of the intrinsically unchanged nature of humanity, by either time or place. And most of all, how at the core of being human is storytelling itself – a way for people to know themselves and their world.

cover of Alone with a dark room and a window shining light on a desk and chair
Alone by Christophe Chabouté

Alone – by Christophe Chabouté

I like to recommend this book to older readers who claim to have never enjoyed a comic. The story is thin on text, and uses a dramatic black-and-white graphic style, with superb brushwork, to introduce us to the world of a character who lives in his imagination alone. The story submerges the reader into the skin of a disfigured man who inhabits a lighthouse, to allow them to see life as he does. To truly enjoy his, seemingly, shrunken and limited world experience. To be shown touching beauty in strangeness, isolation and otherness. This layered emotional journey is a celebration of human curiosity as a form of resilience, using cinematic visual storytelling, which in turn awakens curiosity in its reader.

cover of book with a girl whispering in a boys ear
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me – by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell

The synopsis for this book might sound much like any teen, queer romance, but trust me when I say this book is a stand-out. Written, again, by Mariko Tamaki – the master of the YA comic – the visual experience of reading this book will linger on and stay with you. The artist, Rosemary Valero-O’Connell, is one of the most extraordinary contemporary comic creators, unmatched at establishing mood, atmosphere, tension and a sense of longing through her visual choices. She skilfully oscillates between playfulness of finding magic in the everyday (for example, the universe that is a teenager’s bedroom), and Mariko’s weighty themes of toxic relationships and defining self-identity. Her panel compositions, shapes and the use of empty space, in my opinion, push the envelope of what can be done in this medium, to new levels.

I hope that you not only enjoy the above recommendations but that they will inspire you to search out many more fascinating comics experiences of your own.

Happy reading!

Aśka’s graphic novel Stars in Their Eyes is available in all good bookstores and online.

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