Introduction

What do you think of when you think of art? Do you think of the greats who reach millions, or do you think of how art affects individual lives and helps people express themselves?  In this latest feature, we focus on graphic novels where art plays a significant role in the story.  We take a broad definition of art and cover fine arts, theater, music, and textiles; we hope you find something to enjoy!

Blue Period

Tsubasa Yamaguchi

What if someone took all the usual trappings of a sports series and applied them to art? That's precisely what Blue Period does! The main character is suddenly struck to take art seriously and as the complete rookie, starts learning at a rapid pace. There's also an actual discussion of art techniques, and the student art in the series is from real students in Japan. If ever there was a high-emotion series about drawing and painting, Blue Period is it.

Appeals to

Readers of other manga series about art like Blank Canvas or Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun will find parallels here to pick up, but also because it has the feel of a sports series Blue Period can appeal to readers of series like Haikyu! or Yowamushi Pedal. The way it introduces the reader to art means they don't need to have a basis to understand; they're learning along with the main character.

Creator Identities:

Japanese |

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Improve

Alex Graudins

After college, cartoonist Alex Graudins was struggling with crippling anxiety and isolation. At a breaking point, she decided to sign up for improv classes. With illustrations that capture the zany improv fun and the full range of Alex's feelings, this comic about anxiety and self-discovery should not be missed.

Appeals to

Readers interested in learning more about improv and fans of memoirs focusing on mental health

Creator Identities:

Asexual |

Main Character Identities:

Asexual |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Maybe an Artist

Liz Montague

In this thoughtful and often funny graphic memoir, Liz Montague describes the experience of growing up black in a mostly white area, the role art played throughout her childhood and her eventual trajectory into her career as an artist.

Appeals to

With plenty of humor, coming-of-age themes, and references to the early 2000s, Maybe An Artist will appeal to a variety of ages, including tweens and teens going through similar experiences and adults who lived through the same time period. It will especially appeal to readers who have a relationship with art or want to see how someone got into a career in art.

Content Notes

Brief mentions of racial microaggressions and anti-Muslim rhetoric

Creator Identities:

Black |

Main Character Identities:

Black |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Needle & Thread

David Pinckney

Ennun Ana Iurov

An unlikely friendship blooms between two teens unhappy with the expectations their parents have laid on them, and a beautiful costume forms from it. Needle and Thread is very much a comic about cosplay and finding a family in shared fandom or interests, but it's also distinctly about learning how to explain to adults that their hopes are not the same as your own and that you can still be a successful and happy person without following their dreams. Also, the art is just lovely!

Appeals to

The dreaming of possible other lives that don't feel possible and shifting friendships of teen life might appeal to readers of What If We Were, and the use of creative pursuit to process what's happening in life is a great fit for readers of Slip or The Greatest Thing.

Creator Identities:

African-American, Romanian |

Main Character Identities:

African-American, Latine |

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Our Colors

Gengoroh Tagame

Sora knows he's gay and knows that this is something he has to keep hidden because everyone around him reacts with disgust at the idea of gay people. It's not until he stumbles across a cafe run by Mr. Amamiya, an out gay man, and begins painting a mural on the walls, that he starts to recognize that disgust is wrong, but also that life is as complex as the colors on a palette. The book itself is lovely too, with a very striking cover and inner lining.

Appeals to

Our Colors' sense of slightly magical realism mixed with heavy realizations about life fit right in with readers of Our Dreams at Dusk, while the use of painting and color in discussions about feelings might resonate with readers of A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow (which uses more nautical metaphors, as the title suggests).

Content Notes

Instances of homophobia, as well as implied infidelity and accusation of sexual assault of a minor

Creator Identities:

Japanese |

Gay |

Main Character Identities:

Japanese |

Gay |

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Pixels of You

Ananth Hirsh

J.R. Doyle

Fawn, an AI with a realistic-looking human body, and Indira, a prickly young woman managing chronic pain, are both photography interns with shows at a local gallery. After their very public clash, Indira and Fawn are forced to collaborate on a show together. Can Indira and Fawn form an understanding and perhaps something more?

Appeals to

With gorgeous art and a quiet exploration of identity and technology, readers who enjoy exploring these ideas will find much to enjoy here.

Content Notes

Some drug and alcohol use

Creator Identities:

Indian American |

Main Character Identities:

Indian American |

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Primer

Jennifer Muro

Gretel Lusky

Take a girl who has been in and out of foster homes for years and has a dad in prison, add a new set of foster parents who certainly seem to be interested in her well-being, plus a top-secret case full of special paints, and you get Primer. Ashley so badly wants to prove she's not bad or broken like her dad, that she's special in a good way and worthy of love, she just creates a little chaos. It's sweet, funny, and very colorful.

Appeals to

The semi-magical adventures Ashley goes on, making friends and adapting to a new life, could appeal to readers of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. This could also appeal to readers of Invisible, looking for other stories of people not generally considered heroic finding ways to use even negative things about their lives as potential positives.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Scout is NOT a Band Kid

Jade Armstrong

Scout wants to meet her favorite author more than everything, but when her Dad says no to taking her to an upcoming convention where the author is appearing Scout needs to come up with a new plan to get there. When she discovers that her school's band is going to said convention as part of a school trip, she makes a plan to join the band so that she can go to the convention and see her favorite author before she retires from making appearances. Scout thinks she can fly under the radar in band until the trip but she runs into the talented and driven trombone first chair, who is determined to finish her middle school career with a win in the band competition at the end of the year.

Appeals to

Nerds, geeks, and super fans of all kinds will appreciate all about pursuing your passions and finding your people.

Creator Identities:

Nonbinary |

Main Character Identities:

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Slip

Marika McCoola

Aatmaja Pandya

Jade has been accepted to a month-long summer art intensive that could give her the scholarship she needs to be able to go to art school. Right before she leaves something happens that will shake her to her core, her best friend tries to commit suicide. Feeling like she is separated from her friend when she needs her most, Jade struggles with the demands of the art intensive at first. But with the help of some new friends and mentors at the art intensive, Jade is able to use her art to move through the feelings she's having about her best friend and what happened.

Appeals to

Fans of Bloom and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me will enjoy this emotional coming-of-age with soft art and queer themes.

Content Notes

Discussions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and attempted suicide.

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

The Sculptor

Scott McCloud

David Smith is a sculptor unable to get the recognition he craves. When he meets an old man who claims to be his uncle Harry, David gains the power to sculpt any material. The catch is that he now has only two hundred days to live. David must now navigate his art goals and his personal life and figure out what really matters.

Appeals to

Readers who like stories that feature interesting bargains and explore big questions

Content Notes

Mental health; some physically intimate scenes; death (discussion of it and portrayal)

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Our Colors

Gengoroh Tagame

Sora knows he's gay and knows that this is something he has to keep hidden because everyone around him reacts with disgust at the idea of gay people. It's not until he stumbles across a cafe run by Mr. Amamiya, an out gay man, and begins painting a mural on the walls, that he starts to recognize that disgust is wrong, but also that life is as complex as the colors on a palette. The book itself is lovely too, with a very striking cover and inner lining.

Appeals to

Our Colors' sense of slightly magical realism mixed with heavy realizations about life fit right in with readers of Our Dreams at Dusk, while the use of painting and color in discussions about feelings might resonate with readers of A Tropical Fish Yearns for Snow (which uses more nautical metaphors, as the title suggests).

Content Notes

Instances of homophobia, as well as implied infidelity and accusation of sexual assault of a minor

Creator Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Japanese

  • Sexuality: Gay

Main Character Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Japanese
  • Sexuality: Gay
Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

The Sculptor

Scott McCloud

David Smith is a sculptor unable to get the recognition he craves. When he meets an old man who claims to be his uncle Harry, David gains the power to sculpt any material. The catch is that he now has only two hundred days to live. David must now navigate his art goals and his personal life and figure out what really matters.

Appeals to

Readers who like stories that feature interesting bargains and explore big questions

Content Notes

Mental health; some physically intimate scenes; death (discussion of it and portrayal)

Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Maybe an Artist

Liz Montague

In this thoughtful and often funny graphic memoir, Liz Montague describes the experience of growing up black in a mostly white area, the role art played throughout her childhood and her eventual trajectory into her career as an artist.

Appeals to

With plenty of humor, coming-of-age themes, and references to the early 2000s, Maybe An Artist will appeal to a variety of ages, including tweens and teens going through similar experiences and adults who lived through the same time period. It will especially appeal to readers who have a relationship with art or want to see how someone got into a career in art.

Content Notes

Brief mentions of racial microaggressions and anti-Muslim rhetoric

Creator Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Black

Main Character Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Black
Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Blue Period

Tsubasa Yamaguchi

What if someone took all the usual trappings of a sports series and applied them to art? That's precisely what Blue Period does! The main character is suddenly struck to take art seriously and as the complete rookie, starts learning at a rapid pace. There's also an actual discussion of art techniques, and the student art in the series is from real students in Japan. If ever there was a high-emotion series about drawing and painting, Blue Period is it.

Appeals to

Readers of other manga series about art like Blank Canvas or Monthly Girls Nozaki-Kun will find parallels here to pick up, but also because it has the feel of a sports series Blue Period can appeal to readers of series like Haikyu! or Yowamushi Pedal. The way it introduces the reader to art means they don't need to have a basis to understand; they're learning along with the main character.

Creator Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Japanese

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Needle & Thread

David Pinckney

Ennun Ana Iurov

An unlikely friendship blooms between two teens unhappy with the expectations their parents have laid on them, and a beautiful costume forms from it. Needle and Thread is very much a comic about cosplay and finding a family in shared fandom or interests, but it's also distinctly about learning how to explain to adults that their hopes are not the same as your own and that you can still be a successful and happy person without following their dreams. Also, the art is just lovely!

Appeals to

The dreaming of possible other lives that don't feel possible and shifting friendships of teen life might appeal to readers of What If We Were, and the use of creative pursuit to process what's happening in life is a great fit for readers of Slip or The Greatest Thing.

Creator Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: African-American, Romanian

Main Character Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: African-American, Latine
Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Primer

Jennifer Muro

Gretel Lusky

Take a girl who has been in and out of foster homes for years and has a dad in prison, add a new set of foster parents who certainly seem to be interested in her well-being, plus a top-secret case full of special paints, and you get Primer. Ashley so badly wants to prove she's not bad or broken like her dad, that she's special in a good way and worthy of love, she just creates a little chaos. It's sweet, funny, and very colorful.

Appeals to

The semi-magical adventures Ashley goes on, making friends and adapting to a new life, could appeal to readers of Amethyst: Princess of Gemworld. This could also appeal to readers of Invisible, looking for other stories of people not generally considered heroic finding ways to use even negative things about their lives as potential positives.

Recommended by

Shannan Prukop

Improve

Alex Graudins

After college, cartoonist Alex Graudins was struggling with crippling anxiety and isolation. At a breaking point, she decided to sign up for improv classes. With illustrations that capture the zany improv fun and the full range of Alex's feelings, this comic about anxiety and self-discovery should not be missed.

Appeals to

Readers interested in learning more about improv and fans of memoirs focusing on mental health

Creator Identities:

  • Sexuality: Asexual

Main Character Identities:

  • Sexuality: Asexual
Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Pixels of You

Ananth Hirsh

J.R. Doyle

Fawn, an AI with a realistic-looking human body, and Indira, a prickly young woman managing chronic pain, are both photography interns with shows at a local gallery. After their very public clash, Indira and Fawn are forced to collaborate on a show together. Can Indira and Fawn form an understanding and perhaps something more?

Appeals to

With gorgeous art and a quiet exploration of identity and technology, readers who enjoy exploring these ideas will find much to enjoy here.

Content Notes

Some drug and alcohol use

Creator Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Indian American

Main Character Identities:

  • Race and/or Nationality: Indian American
Recommended by

Megan Rupe

Slip

Marika McCoola

Aatmaja Pandya

Jade has been accepted to a month-long summer art intensive that could give her the scholarship she needs to be able to go to art school. Right before she leaves something happens that will shake her to her core, her best friend tries to commit suicide. Feeling like she is separated from her friend when she needs her most, Jade struggles with the demands of the art intensive at first. But with the help of some new friends and mentors at the art intensive, Jade is able to use her art to move through the feelings she's having about her best friend and what happened.

Appeals to

Fans of Bloom and Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me will enjoy this emotional coming-of-age with soft art and queer themes.

Content Notes

Discussions of self-harm, suicidal ideation, and attempted suicide.

Main Character Identities:

  • Sexuality: 5366
Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

Scout is NOT a Band Kid

Jade Armstrong

Scout wants to meet her favorite author more than everything, but when her Dad says no to taking her to an upcoming convention where the author is appearing Scout needs to come up with a new plan to get there. When she discovers that her school's band is going to said convention as part of a school trip, she makes a plan to join the band so that she can go to the convention and see her favorite author before she retires from making appearances. Scout thinks she can fly under the radar in band until the trip but she runs into the talented and driven trombone first chair, who is determined to finish her middle school career with a win in the band competition at the end of the year.

Appeals to

Nerds, geeks, and super fans of all kinds will appreciate all about pursuing your passions and finding your people.

Creator Identities:

  • Gender Identity: Nonbinary

Recommended by

Tayla Cardillo

  • Megan

    | She/Her

    Features Writer

    Megan earned her MLIS from Simmons College and is currently the evening librarian at Bay State College in Massachusetts. She satisfies her voracious appetite for graphic novels and manga through regular visits to her local public libraries and puts her love of graphic novels to good use by adding to Bay State’s collection whenever possible. Megan maintains a personal blog, Ferret with a Strobe Light, where she discusses awesome books she’s read lately. When not engaged in reading or library work, she likes running, drinking tea, and working on her own stories and art.

  • Shannan

    | She/They Teen Services Librarian, San Antonio Public Library

    Features Writer

    Shannan waffled between English professor and librarian as career choices for all of college; eventually librarian won. She is a Teen Services Librarian with the San Antonio Public Library. When not running TTPRG games for their teens or teaching them how to bake, she's doing what she can to promote comics to anyone who will listen. At home they're likely deep in the middle of their latest cosplay project or watching B movies with her husband, while generally pushing the cats out of the way.

  • Tayla

    | She/Her Branch Librarian

    Features Writer

    Tayla Cardillo (she/her) is the Branch Librarian of the Oaklawn branch of the Cranston Public Library in Cranston, RI. She is also a member of the ALA Graphic Novel and Comic Round Table and the chair of the Rhode Island Library Association Intellectual Freedom Committee. She completed her MLIS at the University of Rhode Island and her B.A. in English at Rhode Island College. Tayla has known that she wanted to be a librarian since she was 17 years old. When not doing library wizardry, she enjoys playing tabletop games and cosplaying.

  • Martha

    | She/Her Youth Services Librarian, William Hall Branch of the Cranston Public Library

    Features Editor

    Martha Boksenbaum is Youth Services Librarian for the Youth Services Librarian for the William Hall Library of the Cranston Public Library. She purchases graphic novels, comics and anime for children and teens, and runs a manga and anime club for teens. She has served on ALA’s Graphic Novels and Comics Roundtable (GNCRT) Conference Committee and is currently a Member-at-Large for the GNCRT. She has also served on YALSA’s Quick Picks for Reluctant Readers Selection Committee. She works every day to champion graphic novels, manga and anime from her small library branch, and tries to keep up with the amazing number of comics being published today.

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