Flood features 19 of Wisconsin’s Colonial bird species and references both biblical imagery and scientific information regarding climate change.
Compiled here is a list of books that may be of interest for avid collectors of illustrated narratives, graphic novels, and books that make good use of illustrated storytelling. They are not in a particular order and I tried to just cite one book from each author, though many of these artists could be cited more than once. I tried to find unique contributions. There are picture books, graphic novels, and illustrated novels, but I tried not to have too many of any one genre. My slowly growing collection of illustrated books includes most of these titles. I encourage you to seek them out. Additionally, feel free to comment on additions you feel you would like to see, discoveries you make, or just any banter in which you want to engage. Suggestions may not be to my taste, but I am always, always curious. I am open to any illustrated narrative form, though shy away from things that fall too squarely into a genre or mode of creating. I am particularly interested in adding female illustrators to my list, though there are a number of notable ones found here.
2. The River by Alessandro Sanna: Sanna tells the story of a river community throughout joys and sorrows in loose, brilliantly colored watercolors and also without the use of words.
3. The Middle Passage by Tom Feelings: In a personal project that took years to research and create, Tom Feelings tells a wordless story of Africans sold into slavery who suffered the tortuous ocean crossing know as the Middle Passage. He renders the European slave traders in a ghostly white and the African in deep grays and blacks with incredibly controlled ink washes. It’s oddly often listed as a children’s book, probably because it is illustrated and horizontal, but it is best for middle readers to young adults to adults.
4. Sharaz-De: Tales from the Arabian Nights by Sergio Toppi: Sergio Toppi was an Italian fashion illustrator who began telling his own stories and classic folktales in a black and white comic style that was so distinct, it is still influencing illustrators today. This book represents some of my favorite work of his because the human renderings are so exquisite and though they bear some of the exotic qualities his other renderings have, here it just seems to fit perfectly with the heightened nature of the tales.
5. Syllabus by Lynda Berry: In her playful and quirky, but honest and insightful manner, Berry encourages creative journal keeping through the use of writing/drawing exercises which occasionally and comically reference her job and life. Just the format of the book is worth it.
6. Everything is Its Own Reward by Paul Madonna: My favorite of Madonna’s four books, Everything… has some of Madonna’s best renderings of San Francisco architecture and other locales which he peoples not by drawing people but by recording the dialogue he overhears as he works on location, or he superimposes his own musings over the spaces, adding an element of time to the places. His command of grays is fantastic.
7. Frankenstein illustrated by Bernie Wrightson: Wrightson spent years on this, probably his greatest work. He renders the story in gorgeous line and hatched drawings that are traditional and progressive at the same time.
8. Glen Gould: A Life Off Tempo by Sandrine Revel: Maybe one of the less known graphic novels on my list, it is a real treasure. Revel’s art is fantastic and her interpretation of different events are both creative and consistent enough to build a crescendo of mood and possible madness. Her overlays of textures also add a wonderful tactile feel to the panels.
9. Pinocchio illustrated by Roberto Innocenti: With minute details, inspiring vantage points and perspectives, and a mood that fits the darker tone of the original story, Innocenti amazes with page after page of Renaissance-like artwork for this classic Italian folktale.
10. The Theory of a Grain of Sand illustrated by Francois Schuiten: In an unusual fashion, this french graphic novelist now being translated widely uses black and a sepia tone for his elegant drawings and white for a conceptual emphasis. Schuiten’s/Peters’ stories have a Borges-like magic surreal quality where things dawn on you rather than hit you. If you are looking for action, look elsewhere. If you are looking for conceptual storytelling, you are in business.
11. Britten and Brulightly written and illustrated by Hannah Berry: Berry wrote and illustrated this hard-boiled detective story. The illustrations are done in a quirky and unique watercolor style, but what I find most compelling is that the mystery holds up with the best crime stories out there.
12. Escaping Wars and Waves: Encounters with Syrian Refuges written and illustrated by Olivier Kugler: A graduate of SVA, my alma mater, Kugler spent years interviewing Syrian refugees from Iraq to France, he gives humanity to the headlines. The interviewees most often allowed him to draw them when they did not want a photograph taken. His drawing, especially those that give the reader a sense of place are truly a joy to spend time with.
13. The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui: Bui’s novel taught me a lot about the French in Vietnam and the more intimate impacts of the war on families and the subsequent diaspora.
14. Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets illustrated by Jim Kay: After his work on A Monster Calls, Jim Kay lucked out in a cosmic way by being hired to illustrate all of the Harry Potter Books. Completed in a range of media (water-color occasionally modified with digital effects), the images keep getting better, the perspective here was one of my favorites.
15. Heart of Darkness illustrated by Matt Kish: Matt Kish was a librarian, I believe, when he decided to do rather spontaneous drawings for every page of his copy of Moby Dick. This led to additional commissions, including illustrating the early anti-colonial work, Heart of Drakness by Joseph Conrad.
16. Gulliver’s Travels illustrated by Chris Riddell: Riddell is a well-known British caricature artist and illustrator of books, including the popular Edge Chronicles. He applies his skills of exaggeration and humor to a retelling of Jonathan Swift’s great satire and adventure, Gulliver’s Travels. Though it is a retelling, it does not dilute much of the story’s political relevance.
17. Flotsam illustrated by David Wiesner: Wiesner is the winner of six Caldecott Medals (more than any other illustrator) and is widely considered a master of the wordless picture book using that form for his earliest successes. Flotsam’s story is simple but engaging and imaginative and features Wiesner’s signature watercolor style.
18. The Invention of Hugo Cabret by Brian Selznick: Selznick’s book, which celebrates both film and illustrated books, takes on an unconventional format by telling part of his story in words and part in pictures which forces the reader to participate in different ways. The black borders reference cinema and it’s history is inserted, often in the form of stills. The book was later made into a film by Martin Scorsese called Hugo, and Selznick went on to make more books in similar, experimental formats.
19. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi; A serious, yet often comical, look at a young female artist trying to find a way through a rapidly changing Iran during its cultural revolution. The graphic novel sensation was turned into an animated film.
20. Indeh illustrated by Greg Ruth: Written by actor Ethan Hawke, who originally wanted to make a film of the story, this tale of the Cherokee resistance to U.S. occupation and resettlement takes a hard look at the conflict without flinching at atrocities. Ruth’s digital ink style is wonderful at creating space and atmosphere, evoking the openness of an America that is no more.
21. Norse Myths illustrated by Jeffrey Alan Love: Love’s powerful graphic style is perfect for communicating the brutish, epic scale of many of the most beloved Norse myths and stories. I enjoyed reading the tales, particularly now the Marvel has made Thor and Loki household names with younger generations. The tales reminded me what the comic characters took from the originals and why myths are so good at exposing truths about human nature.
22. The Faithful Spy by John Hendrix: A whirlwind of German and Lutheran history, The Faithful Spy tells the incredible story of Dietrich Bonhoeffer and his resistance to Hitler, resulting in his fleeing from Germany, his return to Germany, and his plot to assassinate the Fascist leader of the holocaust.
23. The Ramayana illustrated by Sanjay Patel: Executed in primarily the Adobe program illustrator, Patel’s retelling of this classic Indian religious story/myth takes on an energetic and animated feel (indeed Patel is an animator and conceptual artist for Dreamworks). A section at the end of the book shares some of his process in developing the characters and scenes.
24. March! illustrated by Nate Powell: Nate Powell’s art for John Lewis incredible tale of the battle for civil rights in the United States is timely and effective and managed to teach me a thing or two or three.
25. My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris: Ferris spent years on this story that interweaves a story about self-acceptance with one of self-discovery that involves a non-traditional mystery and both 1940s and 1960s history. Her pen and ink drawings and homages to monster stories and pulp fiction from the 60s make this tome of a book feel like pieces of a puzzle that shouldn’t fit together but all do by the end.
26. Building Stories by Chris Ware: In one of the more intricate comic tales I have come across, Ware tells the lives of several different individuals and their relationships, interconnected through the building they live in. The format is also unprecedented, using books of various sizes, pamphlets, and other packaging. But the magic is in the way Ware uses and innovates on traditional comic storytelling, dissolving sequence when he wants to evoke a vague and sudden flashback or memory, for example. The wonder of it all is that it is storytelling on par with any contemporary fiction, but really wouldn’t be effective in any other medium.
27. And the Ocean Was Our Sky illustrated by Rovina Cai: written by Patrick Ness (A Monster Calls), this odd reversal (quite literally) of Moby Dick has the reader seeing humans, and specifically whalers, from the perspective of whales. Much more a fantasy than Moby Dick, Rovina Cai perfectly captures the dreamlike atmosphere of the tale.
28. Alone by Christoph Chaboute: French graphic novelist, Chaboute, packs real emotion into this story about being alone in a physical and metaphysical sense and that kind of isolation’s connection to the creative spirit. Alone is not wordless but often goes many, many frames without words.
29. Anno’s Journey by Mitsumasa Anno: Continuing my appreciation for wordless books on this list, Anno’s series of travel books are intricate and whimsical and evoke a where’s Waldo effect when trying to locate Anno on each spread. They also encourage travel and exploring other cultures.
30. Monk! by Youssef Daoudi: Recently published, Daoudi’s energetic drawings and inking style evoke the great improvisational and unusual structural approach of the great Thelonius while depictly fairly honestly his lifestyle and his patronage by Pannonica de Koenigswarter.
31. This One Summer illustrated by Jillian Tamaki: This coming of age and awakening story caused some controversy in libraries and schools, but it’s realistic and soulful handling of teenage discovery is wonderfully executed and written by the artist’s cousin, Mariko Tamaki.
32. Journey Trilogy by Aaron Becker: Aaron Becker won numerous awards for his wordless treatment of the power of the imagination to takes us to places undiscovered. He turned the success of Journey into a trilogy that can be purchased together.
33. Jane the Fox and Me illustrated by Isabelle Arsenault: As both a lover of foxes, literature, and books that have a sweet spot for the struggles of beleaguered young people trying to find a place to fit in, this graphic novel was a great joy for me to read…several times.
34. Women in Science illustrated by Rachel Ignotofsky: Ignotofsky’s book may appear straight forward, but it beautifully communicates historical and scientific knowledge in a playful and accessible manner. A great nonfiction use of a graphic/comic style.
35. The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff: Rendered in ink and watercolor with occasional images of just watercolor this is an offbeat, strange, and gothic tale. I’m not overwhelmed by Novgorodoff’s character renderings, but the way she draws and the content of her stories seem so well-suited it makes for an undeniable experience.
36. The Iliad and The Odyssey illustrated by Neil Packer: Many illustrated versions of this classic exist, but this (abridged) version is compulsively readable and visually inventive on every page. Wonderful, historical, visual allusions abound.
37. The Wind and the Willows illustrated by Inga Moore: Another classic that has been heavily illustrated, Moore’s simply stands out as the best. Her intricate work would do any fable justice, but what emerges most is her love of the English countryside so essential to the story. Her pen and ink renderings are exquisite.
38. Square Eyes illustrated by Anna Mill: Square Eyes received a lot of attention when it was released, mostly positive for the art and mostly negative for the story. I find the story to be dynamic and transporting, almost more of a tone poem than a traditional sci-fi mystery. I interpreted the story to have metaphorical implications about how tech companies and social media giants have hijacked our attention and our brains. Regardless, all of the reviews about the art are warranted, simply one of the best illustrated graphic novels to come out in recent memory and likely a classic in the making.
39. Belonging by Nora Krug: In a blend of graphic memoir, collage of historical photographs and ephemera, Nora Krug makes a genuine attempt to discover the truth of her family’s German, Wartime past. Through her unflinching search for truth, she somehow gives us courage to face our own truths, especially considering the age in which we live.
40. The Electric State by Simon Stalenhag: A grim and dark look at an alternate 1997. The Electric State depicts an America in which a virtual reality device created to allow the military to seamlessly interact with drones has been adopted by the entertainment industry and absorbed the greater part of the american population. The landscape has become a dysfunctional and dangerous place for the young girl and her companion on a journey to put some things to rest. The paintings are gorgeous, but beware that the story is not a happy one…
41. Once Upon a Time in France, a gorgeously rendered, powerfully written story of a complicated Romanian/French figure from WWII. It’s a wonderful tome of a graphic novel. Sylvain Vallee’s art and Fabian Nury’s story completely absorbed me.
42. Boxers and Saints by Gene Yang combines personal story and sweeping revolution with a balanced view of two sides to the tumultuous period in Chinese history.
43. Nick Hayes blends his signature graphic style with a re-telling of Coleridge’s classic sea story that places the narrative in a contemporary environmental context in Rime of the Modern Mariner.
44. Alan Crawford’s visual translation of Whitman’s Song of Myself is a gorgeous, spiraling cascade of graphic forms and elegant hand lettering that make the poem breathe even deeper.
45. Filled with wonderful characterizations, lush color and detail, and driven by a story with excitement and plot twists, The Golden Age is a delight from it’s first page to it’s last for almost any age of reader.