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Alistair’s allergic to standing. If there’s a wall somewhere, he’ll lean on it.

Okay, so people have been asking about graphic novel recommendations, especially comics they might pick up that are perhaps similar to Friends With Boys. I’m going to start a list of graphic novels and creators I personally enjoy and am influenced by, so while perhaps not exactly similar to FwB in terms of story, they are similar in storytelling methods, which for me is very important. I’m going to split the list into two groups: comics for everyone (meaning, comics appropriate for very young as well as older readers) and comics for adult readers (may contain stuff that would not be appropriate for a child). The list will also include manga. I realize that manga is intimidating for some readers, but let me assure you, you are missing out if you don’t read manga. I have three favourite comic book authors right now, and two of them are Japanese. Manga is full of awesome, so don’t be intimidated by it. There is manga out there for you, and your gateway book may be one of the comics on this list.

Comics for Everybody!

Bone by Jeff Smith. Bone is the granddaddy of the whole Comics Are For Everyone movement. I would give Bone to a 9 year old; I would give it to a 90 year old. It is a sweeping story filled with great characters (both male, female and Bone), epic battles, friendship, stunning artwork, and it can be yours for the low price of $10 a volume. I actually recommend getting the individual volumes instead of the One Volume, because the story breaks very nicely into those nine pieces, and it is much easier to deal with small books of about 200 pages each than trying to read a 1200 page behemoth. Seriously, that thing will crush you.

I feel that Bone is a very important comic because it is so accessible. It is very easy to read. I don’t mean that it skews young or that it’s simple, I mean that Jeff Smith’s storytelling abilities are so strong that his comics can be understood by those that have little experience reading comics. His work is intuitive and graceful, and that is a major reason Bone has sold millions of copies.

I would also say the same thing of Smile by Raina Telegemeier. It’s a memoir of Raina’s experiences growing up with braces, and it’s probably (this side of Bone), one of the finest examples of Comics Are For Everyone. It’s easy to read, really engaging, with cartoony, attractive artwork that works perfectly within the framework of the story. I love picking Smile off the shelf and just flipping through it, it grabs me every time.

Yotsuba by Kiyohiko Azuma. Yotsuba is an adorable book; I once heard it described as a Japanese Curious George, and yeah, that comparison kinda works. It’s about a kid (Yotsuba), her dad, their weird neighbors, their weird friends, and all the ordinary stuff Yotsuba gets into in her daily life. It’s a great read, funny and well drawn, and very accessible for a manga (I understand why manga can be challenging to readers unfamiliar to it, as panel layouts can sometimes be confusing. But never fear, Yotsuba is a very well laid out, easy to follow comic). I gave a volume to my 60 year old Mom, who easily read it in an hour. Hey, if my Mom can read Yotsuba and be charmed by it, so can you.

Comics for Adults! (May contain adult situations, but none contain gore/explicit sex)

Monster, Pluto, and 20th Century Boys by Naoki Urasawa: Urasawa was my manga gateway. Before I read Monster (high concept: a surgeon saves the life of a child. Nine years later, that child has become a serial-killer. What does the surgeon do? You’ll have to read 18 riveting volumes to find out) I was ignorantly dismissive of manga. Now I’d say about 3/4ths of the comics I read are manga. But back to Urasawa. As I’ve mentioned before, no one (maybe not even Jeff Smith? I dunno, I can’t choose) approaches Urasawa for cinematic storytelling ability. His comics suck you in like an excellent TV show or movie, and you find yourselves frantically flipping pages because the suspense is killing you. Urasawa’s work is definitely for adults. It isn’t gory or overly violent, but it is definitely mature. His comics are high concept science fiction, mysteries and thrillers, and no one does them better than him. I would suggest starting with Pluto, a character driven science fiction murder mystery about a future society where robots have evolved to near human status, and the cost of that evolution. Pluto is 9 volumes long and is personally my favourite Urasawa work. Monster is a great, tense, pulpy thriller (high concept mentioned above), but unfortunately some volumes are out of print (try your local library). 20th Century Boys is about a gang of friends trying to stop the end of the world, something they might have inadvertently set in motion, and while it is excellent, it is also 24 volumes long (so far 17 have been published in English), so I suggest Pluto for an Urasawa starter.

Solanin by Inio Asano: This manga I reccommend highly to those in their early 20s, who feel stuck in transition, trying to get to adulthood but not quite there yet. It’s about young adults in Tokyo doing exactly that, trying to fin adulthood and financial security without sacrificing the things they loved as teens. It’s a single volume and the artwork is gorgeous, realistic backgrounds and adorable characters with surprising depth. It’s a really touching book, and I’m glad I read it when I was a bit older and already knew what I wanted to be when I grew up. I think I would have bawled my way through the entire book if I’d read it while I was in college and couldn’t imagine ever finding a profession I was happy in, or a life in which I fit as a human being.

Skim by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki (this book gets bonus points for being Canadian): Skim is about a teen girl in the ’90s, and school and social struggles. It feels really trite to sum the book up thus, because it is incredibly rich, both in artwork (Jillian Tamaki is a STUNNING artist, a truly brilliant talent) and in storytelling. It’s a character piece, delving deep into the main character’s inner life and subject-wise, it’s probably the closest to Friends With Boys of these recommendations. But the execution is so much different.

So there you have it! Six books to start your graphic novel adventure with. And I have many more. Maybe I’ll do a weekly “what I’m reading now” blog post, as only picking six books from my giant collection of graphic novels was kinda hard, and I feel these suggestions are a little expected (all of these books are quite popular and award winning. Oh well, start with the best, I guess). I’d like to suggest some lesser known books a little down the road. But this is enough to start with. Oh, and if you’d like to make your own comic recommendations, toss ’em in the comment section. :)

REMEMBER! If you don’t have much money (which I understand) or are reluctant to purchase books by authors you aren’t familiar with, try checking out your local library. Libraries have really gotten into stocking graphic novels over the last 10 years or so, and you could be surprised by what you find there. If your library doesn’t have a particular graphic novel you’d like to try, ask your librarian to buy the book, and they may do so (some libraries even have a ‘recommend a book for purchase’ link on their website).


26 Responses

  1. Arabia says:

    Oh!!! SO happy you have Yotsuba on the list – it is the only manga I’ve read so far! I just love it. But now that I’m all caught up, the wait between volumes is so long…. sigh. Well, I am going to have to check out some more on your list!

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, unfortunately the guy who draws Yotsuba only puts out about a volume a year. A slow pace for a manga… You might try Bunny Drop if you like Yotsuba. It isn’t as comedic as Yotsuba, but it has a lot of the same elements.

  2. Ari says:

    Craig Thompson’s Blanket?

    Speaking of Manga, I’m really enjoying Naoto Yamakawa‘s One More Cup of Coffee

  3. Ari says:

    Bah. You can’t edit your own comments. That should be Blankets, not Blanket.

  4. Some Guy says:

    Man, I love Naoki Urasawa so much. So, so much.

    Way to give the plug on libraries, by the way. San Francisco Public Library had and has an incredible graphic novel/comics collection. I definitely grew up reading comics voraciously, and almost entirely out of libraries – from old TPBs of 70s X-Men comics to stuff like Bone (all of it, several times) and Blue Monday and a whole bunch of manga to some graphic novels that I’m pretty sure I should NOT have been reading as a kid. Go to libraries. In general, and also to read comic books, because they are awesome.

    Also you have a really good comic that I like a lot so uh yeah

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, I credit moving to Halifax, which has an excellent library system as well as an excellent local comic book store, with starting my graphic novel habit. Libraries are awesome. They allow you to try before you buy, and read stuff you might not normally pick up. It works brilliantly.

  5. Anii says:

    Aw those are all so awesome… I’m goning to check out Solanin & Skim as I’m unfamiliar with them, but they seem totally like something I’d like!

  6. I’ll toss some brandon graham in the mix. i really enjoyed king city. there’s still no trade but it should be in the works.
    he’s the one who sent me to friends with boys, if i remember correctly.
    i enjoy both, so could you :D

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yeah, Graham is an interesting cartoonist. It’s unfortunate his work isn’t widely available. Hopefully he’ll get some bigger opportunities sometimes soon.

  7. Arabia says:

    Oh boy oh boy! My library’s online catalog says that they have Bone (as well as a sort of making-of-Bone book?), Solanin, and several of the Urasawa books! I know where *I’m* going after work today….. :-)

  8. Agata says:

    I read ‘Solanin’ and like it a lot. Really good slice-of life story. Too bad I won’t find any good graphic novels in my library.
    Thanks for all recomendations :)

  9. Margo says:

    You speak the truth about Solanin. I am in that transition age group, and I bawled my way through it. Like, buckets of tears. So glad I was home alone.

    The latest comics that I’ve read that I’ve really enjoyed were Hellboy (somehow never got around to it before) and Académie des chasseurs de prime, which I had to read alongside a french-english dictionary because it doesn’t seem to exist in English (yet). All of these were library books. Hurray for libraries! :D

  10. clemon says:

    I’ve actually read those books except Smile (which I’ve heard about) and Skim (which I attempted to read when I wasn’t an adult–hmmm your recommendation will make me try again). I’m also only on vol.15 20th century boys and vol.5ish Yotsuba.

    Pluto is also based off Astro Boy: The Greatest Robot on Earth (which I’m not sure if you didn’t mention because you didn’t think it was necessary or didn’t know) by Osamu Tezuka. Although I read Pluto first, it’s interesting to compare the two.

    If you can recommend more great books, that’d be awesome! :)

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Yes, I did know that about Pluto, but the blog post was getting really long, so I didn’t want to delve into talking TOO much about it. ;) I read Pluto before reading the original Astro Boy story, and I think it stands very well on its own. It was cool to read the original Tezuka story, tho.

  11. Vanessa says:

    I love Solanin! (Funny fack: a friend of mine designed the English-version cover! it’s a small industry) His other books are a little…bizarre, but I still kind of like Oyasumi Pun Pun (not sure if it’s in English).

  12. Jennifer says:

    I’ll have to check those titles out (hopefully literally if my library has them). I also like Owly, Babymouse and Copper, all GN’s that I feel comfortable letting my 8 yo daughter read, yet I enjoy as well.

    • Faith Erin Hicks says:

      Definitely try Yotsuba if you like Owly. There’s a similar vibe there, and it’s certainly appropriate for an 8 year old. You will have to read right to left instead of left to right, (it’s a Japanese comic, and that’s how their language is written) but it’s easy to get used to.

  13. ike says:

    Also I have found that my local library branch may not have an item they sometimes find it at another in the county and can order it.

    Actually that reminds me, I have to go pick up Amulet 3&4 which got ordered from another branch.

  14. Jennifer says:

    If your library doesn’t carry manga and/or graphic novels, or doesn’t have much, take some time to talk to the librarians and see if you can find one who would LIKE to have more – then round up your friends and flood the suggestion box.

    I have to fight for every volume of manga I buy (My director “you’ve already got two shelves. Why don’t you buy the teens more nonfiction to help them do their homework?” Me “closes eyes and moans softly”) but I have a group of voracious teen manga readers that help me out – they bump our circulation numbers and whenever I want to buy a new series, I tell them when the director is on the desk and they stop by and tell her they want more manga please!

  15. Tanja says:

    Just finished reading “Solanin” by Inio Asano, because of your recommendation. I really enjoyed it; and yes, it definitely brought back memories of my own university and those interesting/challenging 20-something years. Was surprised and pleased to find “Solanin” at my local library, and I liked it so much I’ll probably add a copy to my own home library, too. Next up: “Pluto” (v01 at least)…and I’ll continue to enjoy your stories as well. :) Thanks for the list!

  16. Angel says:

    I love Raina Telegemeier’s work too! I first came across her stuff a few years back, and I was hooked after reading the first panel. I’m so glad you recommended “Smile”, you just became so much cooler (not that you aren’t already cool) in my eyes. :)

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Friends With Boys, webcomic edition!

Hello readers, new ones just discovering the comic and those who’ve been with it since the beginning. Friends With Boys is now complete online. You may read it in its entirety, all 200+ pages, for free, for the next eight days. Then the image files of the comic (except for a short preview) will be taken down. While the comic was being serialized online, I blogged a lot about my comic making process. I did write ups about how I make comics, what my opinions on what makes a good comic are, and pointed out various Easter eggs throughout Friends With Boys. That stuff will all remain up, so if you buy a hard copy of Friends With Boys, you can still read along with my thought process.

And now (today!), Friends With Boys is a published book! Yay! I hope that if you’ve read the web version and liked it, and want to support me as a creator, you’ll consider buying the book.

I’ve really enjoyed serializing Friends With Boys online. If you’re new to my work, I started out making comics online before moving into print. I posted the very first page of my very first online comic on my very first website back in August, 1999, and wow, was that page ugly. Here it is! Notice a weird similarity to the first page of Friends With Boys? Yeah, that was not deliberate, I promise. But look how much your drawing skills can improve if you draw thousands of pages of comics over a ten year period! Anyway, I’m really thrilled my wonderful publisher First Second Books has allowed me to return to my roots and put Friends With Boys online as a lead up to its publication. As a reader and purchaser of comics, I have bought quite a few hard copy versions of online comics, because I enjoy the reading experience of having the whole thing collected, and I want to support the author. I hope you will too. :)

Otherwise, there are a few upcoming events I hope to see some readers at:
Book signing! At my local comics shop Strange Adventures, in Halifax, Nova Scotia, March 3rd (Saturday), 2-4pm (EDITING TO ADD: The book launch has been moved to the following Saturday due to the books not shipping to Strange Adventures on time. The launch will now be March 10th from 2-4pm. Go here for info).
Comic convention! I’ll have a table at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival, May 6th-7th. There are a few other conventions I am trying to attend, but everything else is up in the air at the moment. For updates, please follow my twitter or join my Facebook fan page.  I’m pretty good about updating those two spots.

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