Published on September 14th, 2015 | by Carli Spina

Starter Graphic Novels for Librarians

Whether you are a frequent reader of graphic novels or are only reading this blog to be able to collect comics for your library, as a librarian you may find yourself in the position to recommend comics to someone who has never read them before. This can be a tough question to answer as it depends on the person’s general reading and art preferences. To help you get started, this list aims to offer some good options. These books are great introductions to comics from a variety of angles, ranging from powerful stories and artwork to adaptations of popular works that were not originally presented in a graphic novel format. Hopefully you will find something here to recommend to any of your patrons who are interested in branching out into graphic novels.


eldeafo“I will never forget the first comic I read. Maus I by Art Spiegelman. It’s tough to forget that one as it was a very influential book – both in subject matter and in format. I don’t think it would be the perfect first comic for anyone though. That honor I would give to Smile by Raina Telgemeier or El Deafo by Cece Bell. Yes, I know, they were written with children in mind, but the nostalgia that comes with a childhood memoir will definitely catch and keep an adult reader reading.   Both stories are humorous and easy to relate to. I know I definitely found myself having sympathy tooth pain while reading Smile. I’d recommend these to a novice reader simply because they require no background knowledge of comics. You don’t have to know any of the characters’ backstories and you don’t need to be aware of how unique panel layouts work. You can pick up the title and just read it.“ — Andrea Scherer



“My graphic novel pick is the Parker series by Darwyn Cooke. The Parker novels were written by Donald E. Westlake aka Richard Stark and lovingly adapted into graphic form by Cooke. I’m a big fan of Cooke’s style, and it’s easily swallowed by those uninitiated to sequential art. The graphic novel series is a great read for people who enjoy gritty noir mysteries like the True Detective television series and classics by Dashiell Hammett.” — Amy Dittmeier


“The perfect first comic in my mind defies what the average non-geek thinks of when he or she hears the words “graphic novel.” You should probably avoid capes for the moment. Go with persepolissomething with a wonderful, universal story. The art should be amazing and help tell the story in a way that words couldn’t. It also doesn’t hurt if it’s on a college reading list, like the graphic novel that changed my mind about comics: Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi.

Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Tehran during the Islamic Revolution. From her childhood shenanigans to awkward teen years through to adulthood, Marjane’s story illustrates the universal experience of coming of age. The artwork consists of simple black and white drawings, but the images remain incredibly powerful, proving to readers everywhere that you don’t need flashy full-color images to tell a great story.

Others I recommend for first-time Comic Readers: Blankets by Craig Thompson, The Odyssey by Gareth Hinds, and The Stereotypical Freaks by Howard Shapiro.” — Liz Strauss


lastman“As with any book recommendation, so much of finding the right graphic novel for a person depends on that person’s interests, reading habits, and age. I would second the recommendation of Cece Bell’s wonderful El Deafo for children. For teens, I would recommend one of Gene Luen Yang’s books or one of Lucy Knisley’s memoirs, all of which I have absolutely loved. But it can be most difficult to recommend graphic novels to adults who have never read them, because they may think of the genre as one meant for children or dominated entirely by superheroes. For these patrons, I would recommend Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra or Sumo by Thien Pham. Y: The Last Man is the epitome of an adult story that makes full use of the graphic novel format. It tells a dystopian story that is original and very engaging and it makes full use of the graphic novel format. While there may be other classic graphic novels that could be mentioned more frequently on lists such as these, this is a great book for science fiction and dystopian fans that will keep readers turning pages and coming back for more. Sumo, on the other hand, is the perfect option for art fans who are still on the fence about the graphic novel format. It has beautiful artwork that integrates with the story to take it to a new level that wouldn’t be possible with words alone. It is a great story but also a beautiful book and it is one of my favorites from the last several years.” — Carli Spina


“For people who don’t normally read graphic novels, I like to suggest things with either a.) broad appeal or b.) a tie to pop culture. So for kids, I might suggest Raina Telgemeier’s graphics (Smile, Sisters, Drama, Babysitter’s Club) or the graphic novel versions of the Rick Riordan Percy Jackson series. I would also give them something like Lunch Lady or Babymouse, since those are fun dramaand easy graphics to start with.

For teens, I would recommend Ms. Marvel because it has a great story, broad appeal in its overarching message, and is a nice introduction to the superhero comic format. I would also give them an adaptation of a teen novel, such as the Maximum Ride graphics. Other suggestions: Bone by Smith, the Marvel: Season One series, Rapunzel’s Revenge by Hale, Nothing Could Possibly Go Wrong by Shen.

For adults, The Walking Dead graphic novels are a good start since they are based on a hit television show and not too intimidating to read. Superhero graphic based on recently released movies are also good because readers will already be at least a little familiar with the storylines.

What makes a perfect first comic for me is one that’s both well-done art and story-wise as well as accessible to those who are unfamiliar with the format.” — Kim Castle-Alberts


Hopefully these recommendations will help you to find the perfect starter graphic novel for each of you patrons!

About the Author

Carli Spina is an emerging technologies and research librarian at an academic library. She is a big fan of graphic novels, young adult and children's literature, and popular culture and writes about these topics for several blogs including the Horn Book's Lolly's Classroom blog and YALSA's The Hub blog. You can find her on Twitter as @CarliSpina or on her website at

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