Columbia University professor Jeremy Dauber is the author of American Comics, a new book that traces the history of the art form from Civil War caricatures to today's Marvel blockbusters. Below, he recommends six books that showcase comics' impressive range.
Bone: The Complete Cartoon Epic by Jeff Smith (2004).
What if Lord of the Rings was told by characters who looked like they had jumped out of the Sunday funnies, with heart and humor to match? Smith's magnum opus packs in adventure, comedy, suspense, and thrills — and tells an unforgettable tale suitable for kids and grown-ups alike. Buy it here.
40: A Doonesbury Retrospective by Garry Trudeau (2010).
Here's an epic of an entirely different sort. For more than half a century, Garry Trudeau has managed to apply the stiletto to American political failures and foibles via a multigenerational saga with a cast of dozens, all rendered sympathetically. This massive collection, now a decade old, gives you many of the (uncountable) highlights. Buy it here.
Spinning by Tillie Walden (2017).
This stunning graphic memoir, by one of the great talents of the past decade, chronicles a young girl's devotion to a particular activity, and to herself, and how she learns to distinguish one from another. An essential read for anyone who is growing (or has grown) up. Buy it here.
All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (2007).
Close to a century on, Superman remains the closest to the Platonic ideal of a superhero. Morrison and Quitely's graphic novel gets at the character's essential appeal, marrying the outlandishness of his adventures and abilities with his grounded humanity. Buy it here.
The Sandman: World's End by Neil Gaiman and various artists (1994).
Chances are that you've at least heard of Sandman, a series as crucial as any other to where mainstream comics are today. This (largely) stand-alone collection of Sandman comics shows, magnificently, how Gaiman and his collaborators helped stretch the framework for the kinds of stories comics told. Buy it here.
Special Exits by Joyce Farmer (2010).
One of the most powerful catalysts for great comics work is artists' relationship to their parents (think Art Spiegelman's Maus or Alison Bechdel's Fun Home). In Special Exits, Farmer, one of the trailblazing graphic artists of the past 50 years, turns her talents to the quotidian — her parents' illness and death, her role as caretaker — and renders it extraordinary. Buy it here.
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