10 Graphic-Novels guaranteed to make you a comic connoisseur

More than just strung-together pictures, a graphic novel has evolved into a respected genre in its own right. They’re certainly my favourite reads. Here are ten of the best, all of which are responsible for elevating this marriage between art and literature to a whole new level. Consider this my A-B-Cs of the graphic novel curriculum.


The Book of Genesis by Robert Crumb

What it’s about: The book is literally a graphic retelling of the actual Book of Genesis – the first book of the Hebrew Bible and the Christian Old Testament. It is considered one of the best graphic novels of all time, despite its rather mixed reception. Sticking almost entirely to the original text that is merciless and carnal, Crumb has been able to bring it alive with his signature scratchy crosshatch and his exaggerated bawdy characters.


Why you should read it: The original Book of Genesis is mythology, religion and history – it lends to three existing religions today. Crumb’s intricately detailed masterpiece is an unparalleled work of art, a brilliant place where sacred meets profane with beautifully raw illustrations, which will keep you glued to the novel. He’s been able to take a fascinating but tedious text and make it evocative and engaging.


A Contract with God by Will Eisner

What it’s about: This graphic-novel, published in 1978, is a collection of stories about Jewish people living in a tenement building in New York. The stories depict frustration and despair of poor Jews in America, coming from Eisner’s own disappointments in his childhood and career. Eisner is considered one of the fathers of graphic novels and this work has been given much importance in comic studies as one that pioneered the use of comics as a medium for serious story-telling.


Why you should read it: This work completely changes your notions of what a conventional comic is, not only in terms of content but also in style. Eisner has moved away from the traditional box frame and experimented with visual techniques, sometimes having no distinguishable border at all. He takes you though an emotional journey, and portrays human strife in a stunning and almost cinematic way.


Maus by Art Spiegelman

What it’s about: Maus is an autobiographical illustrated depiction of a father telling his son about his experiences as a Polish Jew during the Holocaust. Spiegelman employs a visual choice, which has often been done after Maus: which is using animals to represent people. In his novel depicts Jews with mice faces, the Germans as cats and Polish as pigs. The comic initially came out as chapters in Raw magazine and was later published in the form of two volumes. It is the first graphic novel to win a Pulitzer Prize.


Why you should read it: This ‘post-modern’ graphic-novel is unlike any other holocaust representation out there, it’s simple and transporting. The use of animals makes you lose pre-conceived notions and understand the situation with objectivity. Though the book is about extreme suffering and pain, it also ‘bleeds history’ and takes you to the trenches of raw human emotion.


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

What it’s about: Persepolis is an autobiographical story of the life of Satrapi herself, as she grew up in Iran during the revolution and her subsequent departure to Europe to escape the repercussions. Though the subject of the book exists around violence and suffering, the story is actually light and humorous. The two-part volume begins with the protagonist as a ten year old and ends when she’s 25, as she ages we see the world around her change: we see Iran going through it’s various regimes, we see fads come and go, and most importantly we see a young girl become a woman.


Why you should read it: This bildungsroman comic is a story of Iranian people, who are often misrepresented. It is also a refreshing depiction of women in the world of comics. Profound and gritty, the book is told in a colloquial way. So much so, that I’m still confused about how I was able to relate to a character that has a life so different from mine.


Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

What it’s about: Ghost World is a graphic-novel about friendship and life. It follows two cynical girls as they meander through a sleepy town, bonding over their mutual dislike for other people and hating everything they encounter. The story takes a slow turn as we see life gradually creep up to them and pose them with decisions, which could potentially threaten their friendship. This dark comedy illustrates the languid comfort of young friendships and explores the hidden complexities and insecurities that surface with age.


Why you should read it: The main two characters are very specifically sketched out, I was able to see parts myself in each of them. The comic will strike a chord in you because of its honest depiction of adolescence and youth. Filled with witty references and stylish intellectual protagonists, this comic is in some ways represents the popular notion of what a comic is and leaves you feeling inspired.


Epileptic by David Beauchard

What it’s about: Originally in French, this comic’s real title is ’L’Ascension du haut mal’, or The Rise of the High Evil. It is an autobiographical account of the author’s childhood with his parents, sister and severely epileptic brother. As the epilepsy gets worse, the family keeps making changes in their lifestyles and the author deals with his brother’s sickness by slowly engaging less with the real world and more with his fantasies.


Why you should read it: This unique and amazing piece of work is a touching tale of brotherhood and imagination. It portrays disease and affliction and it’s repercussions on people in a stunning way that no other medium could. It starts simple and straightforward but slowly turns into rabid jarring visuals, mimicking the author’s mind. It will open your eyes to the potential of the graphic-novel as a tool of story telling.


Palestine by Joe Sacco

What it’s about: This iconic graphic novel is about the author’s time in Gaza and his experiences witnessing the plight of the Palestinian people. It’s a collection of stories set during his visit, with historical and religious explanations. It is a chronological telling of his two month visit through his conversations with people.


Why you should read it: Having a degree in journalism, Sacco is known for using reportage as his story telling style, which is an engaging and informative technique. Due to his access to intimate testimony, he has given details and perspectives normally excluded by mainstream media coverage. Palestine is a work hailed by both journalists and comic artists for it’s masterful depiction of war; it’s a must read.


V for Vendetta by Alan Moore and David Lloyd

What it’s about: V for Vendetta is one of the most popular graphic novels of all time. It is a post-apocalyptic story about a masked revolutionary character, ‘V’, and his plan to overthrow the fascist political party in power. It has a fictional premise of a nuclear war which obliterated most of the world, and is set in post-war 1990’s London.


Why you should read it: This novel is gripping and mysterious; between the enigma of the protagonist and the thrill of the narrative, it’ll keep you hooked. It is filled with literary allusions, clues and details that can keep you re-reading and studying it for more answers. There’s a fine line between good an evil, hero and villain, sanity and psychosis – so much so that you finish this novel feeling like you’ve gained some perspective on society,


Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

What it’s about: This work is a ‘Family Tragicomic’ about the author’s dysfunctional home and complicated relationships set in rural Pennsylvania. It deals with themes of abuse, sexual orientation, familial roles and identity. The central theme of the story, however, is the conflicted relationship between the author and her father.


Why you should read it: Fun Home is a complex narrative about gender and identity. It depicts the story of middle-class people and the restrictions society puts on those who are different. Touching and real, this comic will speak to you.


Love and Rockets by the Hernandez brothers


What it’s about: Love and Rockets is a collection of 50 separate slim comics exploring the lives of various Latin Americans. Jaime Hernandez focuses on an American town called Hoppers/Huerta and it’s Californian punk scene; depicting the everyday life, love and adventures of the Mexican-American teenagers. Gilbert Hernandez tells the story of Palomar, a fictional village in Latin America and it’s in inhabitants. It was a pioneer in the 1980s Alternative Comics movement.


Why you should read it: These are a set of sultry comics that are alluring because of its glamorous characters and crude ‘street’ settings. The characters’ lives unfold — they change, grow, form friendships, travel, experience heartbreaks and hardships — right before the readers’ eyes. It’s like being a part of their community. The stories are funny and easy to read and the style is rich in detail with accents of magic-realism.


And when you’re done with these, holler at @pyjamapeople. I’m bursting with recommendations.

Pakhi Sen
Written by

Pakhi Sen is a 22-year-old talent with a sharp wit and on-point art. A part of our team as the Pyjama Illustrator, she lives between Gurgaon and Goa, and is currently working on a graphic novel with her father Orijit Sen. She's assisted at Jaipur Lit Fest to Gallery SKE in Delhi. Her preferred art mediums are oil and acrylic paints, but she's recently started doing digital illustrations. Follow her work here or on her Instagram www.instagram.com/pakhi.sen