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Twelve months ago, when we chose 2011’s best graphic novels, we predicted that this year’s list would be even better—and we were right.
More and more creators of graphic novels for kids are really starting to hit their stride, including Raina Telgemeier, Doug TenNapel, Chris Schweizer, and Faith Erin Hicks, whose most recent works appear on our 2012 list. And there’s always room on our top 10 list for a promising newcomer: Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin’s “Princeless” series nabbed two nominations for an Eisner Award (the equivalent of an Oscar) in 2011, when it was published in single issues, and we were bowled over by this year’s graphic novel version.
What’s happening in the wider world of comics? Licensed graphic novels remain red-hot, as young readers continue to flock to familiar entries such as the “Ninjago” series (Papercutz), which follows the escapades of four martial-arts-loving Lego ninjas. And now that graphic novels for kids have been around for a while, some older series are being revived, including full-color editions of Ted Naifeh’s “Courtney Crumin” (Oni) and a stunning black-and-white collection of Tania del Rio’s manga-style “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” (Archie).
Without further ado, here are our favorite comics of the year:
1. Drama by Raina Telgemeier. There’s plenty of drama both on and off stage in Telgemeier’s new middle grade graphic novel. Callie is crazy about the stage, but unfortunately, that’s not where her talent lies. Still, she’s content to work backstage, and there’s no shortage of drama there, including romantic interests, best-friend woes, and classmates who are grappling with their sexual identities. Telgemeier’s playful, passionate, and boisterous artwork fits the text perfectly. And like her previous title, Smile (2010, both Scholastic Graphix), the new one is bound to be a big hit with her target audience, since it captures the agony and ecstasy of those tumultuous middle school years.
2. Cardboard (Scholastic) by Doug TenNapel. Mike is a single father who’s out of work, and the only birthday present he can afford to buy his son, Cam, is a cardboard box. But this is no ordinary box: it comes with its own set of rules. When Mike and Cam use the box to create a cardboard man, it comes to life. But when they break the box’s rules and attract the attention of the spoiled rich kid next door, things begin to get wonderfully out of control.
3. CROGAN’S LOYALTY (Oni) by Chris Schweizer. The latest installment in the “Crogan Adventures” series features two brothers on opposite sides of the Revolutionary War. Loyalist Charles and rebel William must decide what’s more important: their respective causes or their family ties. The narrative’s nonstop action, humor, and, yes, politics will keep readers on the edge of their seats, and there’s also an important lesson to be learned: just because somebody’s a Tory doesn’t automatically mean he’s a bad guy!
4. FRIENDS WITH BOYS(First Second) by Faith Erin Hicks. Maggie McKay is about to leave her sheltered life as a homeschooler for the scary world of high school. Although she’s still got her dad and big brothers to lean on, things haven’t been the same since her mom left home. Alone and friendless, Maggie is struggling to make friends and fit in. And then there’s the not-so-small matter of the ghostly spirit that’s been haunting her.
GIANTS BEWARE! (First Second) by Jorge Aguirre and Rafael Rosado. When scrappy Claudette hears about a baby-feet-eating giant, she convinces her younger brother, Gaston, and her friend Marie to accompany her on a quest to slay the monster. After overcoming scads of magical threats, they finally find the giant, who turns out to be not quite what they’d expected. Readers who love fairy tales will enjoy how this story defies stereotypes and is loaded with boundless wit and slapstick humor.
6. HEREVILLE: HOW MIRKA MET A METEORITE by Barry Deutsch. To avoid a huge falling meteorite, a witch transforms it into a clone of Mirka, our favorite 11-year-old Orthodox Jewish heroine—and that’s only the beginning of this kooky, captivating tale. The meteorite cleverly creeps into Mirka’s life, convinced it’s a better Mirka than Mirka herself, and the original Mirka must figure out a way to win back her life. This title—a sequel to Hereville: How Mirka Got Her Sword (2010, both Amulet)—is not to be missed.
7. LEGENDS OF ZITA THE SPACEGIRL by Ben Hatke. In this clever follow-up to Zita the Spacegirl (2011, both First Second), Zita is enjoying the life of an intergalactic celebrity. But when her fame becomes overwhelming, she swaps places with a robot double who decides to make the switch permanent. Stranded and on her own, Zita must seek out friends, expose the doppelgänger, and—oh, yeah—save another planet from a hostile space invasion.
8. NATHAN HALE’S HAZARDOUS TALES: BIG BAD IRONCLAD (Abrams) by Nathan Hale. If only all history books could be this entertaining. Hale, the author, uses Nathan Hale, the historic figure, to tell the story of the creation of the Confederate and Union navies, the building of the U.S.S. Merrimack and, most awesomely, the true-life exploits of William Cushing, a prankster who became a forerunner of today’s Navy Seals. The story’s laugh-out-loud humor makes it easy to remember this time in history.
9. PRINCELESS (Action Lab Comics) by Jeremy Whitley and M. Goodwin. Princeless features a dragon, a princess who’s trapped in a tower, and a dramatic rescue. In the end, however, it’s the princess—not the prince—who saves the day. This title playfully skewers gender stereotypes and classic fairy tales, and older children and younger teens will find it a hoot to read. Plus, its main characters are people of color—a rarity in comics.
10. THE SECRET OF THE STONE FROG (Toon) by David Nytra. This short graphic novel is a lovely coming-of-age story that’s a cross between Alice in Wonderland and Peter Pan. Nytra creates a wonderful world for Leah and her brother, Alan, to discover that’s filled with giant rabbits, foppish lions (dandy lions, maybe?), talking buildings, and a subway station for deep-sea creatures. This tale is highly recommended for fans of Lewis Carroll and exquisitely drawn comics.
For more great titles, visit Brigid Alverson and the “Good Comics for Kids” gang.