13 Graphic Novels To Look Forward to in 2020 | Stellar Panels 

It’s looking like 2020 will be a big year for graphic novels for young people.

It looks like 2020 will be a big year for graphic novels—especially graphic novels for young people.

Random House Graphic, the new graphic novel line led by publishing director Gina Gagliano, will roll out its first four books in the first four months of the year. Gagliano started her career as marketing director of First Second Books, where she promoted not only her company’s books but the medium as a whole.

Two more publishers are launching dedicated graphic novel imprints this year: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt’s Etch and HarperCollins’s HarperAlley. Etch will be curated by editors from the publisher’s existing imprints and will include books from HMH’s existing series, such as “Carmen Sandiego” and new titles such as Renee Trimi's Sherlock Bones and the Natural History Mystery, which features a bird skeleton, which lives in a museum and solves mysteries.

The editorial director of HarperAlley is another First Second alumnus, former art director Andrew Arnold. HarperCollins was already in the graphic novel business, with successful titles such as Noelle Stevenson’s Nimona (2015) and Jerry Craft’s New Kid (2019), and Arnold says that the number of graphic novels will increase with the new imprint. HarperAlley will include both fiction and nonfiction and will encompass books for early readers, middle graders, and young adults. Arnold described the imprint as “creator-focused” and says, “Its authors and artists will define HarperAlley through their unique visual voices and thought-provoking storytelling. Our books will be both beautiful and bold and will face key issues head-on.”

Whether from a new imprint or an old stalwart such as Scholastic Graphix (which is almost as old as its readers), there are plenty of new graphic novels to look forward to in 2020. Here’s a look at some of those coming out in the first few months of the year.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani, illus. by Maris Wicks (First Second, February 2020)
Gr 4-6–Astronaut Mary Cleave is the narrator of this history of women in the space program, starting with the struggle to be included. Women are, if anything, better suited for space travel than men, but in order to get into orbit, they had to overcome political and institutional barriers. Ottaviani and Wicks tell the story of these pioneering women, including Valentina Tereshkova, the Russian astronaut who was the first woman in space, with humor and fascinating details.   

Attack of the Stuff by Jim Benton (Papercutz, May 2020)
Gr 3-7–It’s a gift and a curse: Bill Waddler can talk to inanimate objects, but all they ever do is give him a hard time. Even his toilet tells him, “Not today, Bill.” (She dreams of being a movie star). Unable to get any peace, he goes off to live in nature, but when the internet suddenly stops working, his weird skill comes in handy for the first time. Like Benton’s earlier graphic novel Clyde, Attack of the Stuff is filled with silly, sometimes crude humor and absurd jokes that build up as the story goes along.

The Banned Book Club by Hyun Sook Kim & Ryan Estrada, illus. by Ko Hyung-Ju (Iron Circus, February 2020)
Gr 9 Up–This graphic memoir is set in South Korea in 1983, when Kim was a freshman in college and her fellow students were protesting the country’s military dictatorship. The first in her family to go to college, she tries to avoid the turmoil, but she quickly learns that “in times like this, no act is apolitical.” That lesson hits home when she joins a clandestine book group whose members risk imprisonment and torture just for possessing books that are banned by the regime. Lively storytelling, expressive characters, and flashes of humor keep this book from being overly grim, despite the serious subject matter.

Catherine’s War by Julia Billet,  adapt. & illus. by Claire Fauvel (HarperAlley, January 2020)
Gr 3-7–Rachel Cohen, a Jewish girl, is a student at a progressive residential school in occupied France during World War II. To avoid the Nazis, she must change her name to Catherine and move from place to place, living in a variety of different circumstances. Through it all, her Rolliflex camera helps her stay grounded as she views the people around her through its viewfinder. The story is based on Billet’s mother’s experiences and concludes with her photos of the people depicted in the story.

Dragon Hoops by Gene Luen Yang (First Second, March 2020)
Gr 9 Up–Yang, a high school teacher and comics creator, found inspiration on the job: His school’s basketball team went to the state finals for the seventh time in a row, with an 0-6 record. Yang followed them as they prepared for their seventh try, hoping that their two star players would finally net them a win. 

Drawing the Vote by Tommy Jenkins, illus. by Katie Lacker (Abrams, April 2020).
Gr 8 Up–Arriving in the lead-up to the 2020 U.S. presidential election, this history of voting rights in America focuses on the causes of polarization in politics, including gerrymandering and voter suppression. The topic is timely but complex, and Lacker’s straightforward art style should make the book less intimidating to young readers. 

Drew and Jot: Dueling Doodles by Art Baltazar (BOOM! Studios, January 2020)
Gr 4-7–Art Baltazar, cocreator of "Tiny Titans," goes solo in this story about two fifth graders, Andrew and Foz, who draw superhero comics together. Things go haywire in their shared universe when Andrew’s little sister gets hold of his notebook and adds some unexpected story elements of her own.

InvestiGators by John Patrick Green (First Second, February 2020)
Gr 3-5–Green is an expert at creating silly animals, and these are some of his silliest: Two alligators investigate the kidnapping of a baker, and it seems like his employee is in on the plot. The goofy humor in this story makes it a good pick for fans of Dav Pilkey's "Dog Man" series.

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp and Manuel Preitano (DC, March 2020)
Gr 7-9–In this stand-alone story, fan-favorite Barbara Gordon, the daughter of Gotham City’s Commissioner Gordon, is a paraplegic teenager adjusting to life in a wheelchair after a shooting. Her father sends her to the world’s creepiest rehab facility, the Arkham Center for Independence headed by the sinister Dr. Maxwell. Most of her fellow patients are cheery and friendly, but one troubled girl wanders the halls at night and tells Babs disturbing stories. Babs gets her groove back when she puts her hacking and puzzle-solving skills to work to figure out the dark secret hidden deep within the facility. Batman doesn’t appear at all in this story, except on some playing cards; like Gotham Academy, the tale is set in the Batman universe but completely accessible to first-time readers.

Owly: The Way Home by Andy Runton (Scholastic, January 2020)
Gr 2-5–Graphix is publishing a new, full-color edition of Runton’s charming comic about a big-hearted owl and his best friend, a worm he rescues from drowning during a rainstorm. As in the originals, Owly speaks only in pictograms, but the other characters use words as well as rebuses, making this an easier book for parents to read aloud while also allowing very young readers to figure out the story for themselves.

Snapdragon by Kat Leyh (First Second, February 2020)
Gr 4-6–Snapdragon is a feisty tween who lives in a trailer park with her mother. Jacks is a feisty old lady who lives alone and is rumored to be a witch. The two form an unlikely friendship, bonding over animals, both dead and alive: Jacks agrees to take in a litter of orphaned opossums if Snapdragon will help her with her business, which consists of picking up roadkill and reassembling their skeletons, which she sells on the internet. As their friendship grows, Snapdragon realizes that Jacks not only has magical powers—she also has an unexpected connection to Snapdragon’s family. 

Softies: Stuff That Happens After the World Blows Up by Kyle Smeallie (Iron Circus, March 2020)
Gr 5-9–This story starts eight hours after the destruction of the earth, but it’s not a horror story. Rather, it’s a hilariously absurd comic about the wanderings of 13-year-old Kay, the only survivor, who is rescued by a space trashpicker and his three-eyed cybernetic pet. Together they travel to strange worlds and have adventures, all conveyed through bright cartoons.

Stepping Stones by Lucy Knisley (Random House Graphic, May 2020)
Gr 3-6—Knisley, best known for her graphic memoirs (Relish; Something New; Kid Gloves) draws on her childhood memories for this fictional story of a girl who moves from the city to the country after her parents’ divorce. Jen is not thrilled that she and her mom are leaving her father and her friends to move to a farm to live with her mother’s boyfriend and his two daughters. Worst of all, her new “sister” Andy is better than she is at pretty much everything. This book is the first volume of a planned trilogy.

Brigid Alverson edits SLJ’s “Good Comics for Kids” blog (slj.com/GoodComics).

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Brigid Alverson

Brigid Alverson, editor of the “Good Comics for Kids” blog, writes “Stellar Panels” SLJ’s graphic novels column. 

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