10 Years Later: Our 20 Favorite Graphic Novels From First Second Books

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Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas

Writer: Jim Ottaviani
Artist: Maris Wicks
Year Released: 2013

Comics nonfiction can resemble its non-pictorial siblings as it often reads like a succession of one damn factoid after another. Either the narrative is dry and feels unshaped, or the hand of the author intrudes excessively, heightening the drama of reality beyond what it will bear. Primates is a beautiful example of a story that is utterly entertaining and yet grounded. The intersecting stories of primatologists Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey and Biruté Galdikas are laid out with great skill by Jim Ottaviani and drawn even better by Maris Wicks. It's a charmer even if you're not interested in the subject. Hillary Brown

Relish: My Life in the Kitchen

Writer/Artist: Lucy Knisley
Year Released: 2013

Lucy Knisley grew up surrounded by food, and her long-cultivated palate saturates every page of Relish: My Life in the Kitchen. With bright, inviting artwork, Knisley takes readers through a full course of key moments in her upbringing under the parentage of a chef and a gourmand, dining out, cooking and—most importantly—eating. Full-page recipe blowouts enhance the flavor of Knisley's memoir and ensure that readers will turn each page of this appreciative, positive ode to eating with an eager, grumbling stomach. Steve Foxe

Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson

Writer/Artist: Mark Siegel
Year Released: 2012

Mark Siegel's hazy charcoal allows Sailor Twain, or The Mermaid in the Hudson to flow seamlessly from quaint humor to haunting eroticism as its turn-of-the-century protagonists delve deeper and deeper into their individual obsessions. Seigel, who also serves as editorial director for First Second, renders entrancing mermaids and the intricate workings of steamboats with equal grace. In visual identity, subject matter and execution, Sailor Twain remains almost wholly unique in the graphic canon, a testament from a truly talented storyteller. Steve Foxe

The Sculptor

Writer/Artist: Scott McCloud
Year Released: 2015

Scott McCloud suffered from a singular pressure leading up to the publication of this hefty tome. As perhaps the most widely-read scholar on sequential art (thanks to syllabus staple Understanding Comics and its two follow-ups), what would he actually do when let loose on fiction once again? The result is a flawed, worthy story about art, love and sacrifice told with the assured confidence of a master (but not a show-off) of the form. Steve Foxe

The Silence of Our Friends

Writers: Mark Long, Jim Demonakos
Artist: Nate Powell
Year Released: 2012

Before there was March, the collaboration between Rep. John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell that's received all kinds of notice even outside the comics world, there was The Silence of Our Friends. A smaller-scale story of the civil rights movement set in 1967 in Houston, it benefits in similar ways from Powell's gorgeous, lyrical ink, and it's very nearly as good as its more lauded sibling. Hillary Brown

The Divine

Writers: Boaz Lavie, Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka
Artist: Asaf Hanuka, Tomer Hanuka
Year Released: 2014

The complex political fantasy of The Divine came to life after Asaf and Tomer Hanuka saw a cryptic photo of Johnny and Luther Htoo, twins who built an army of children to storm a Thai hospital in 2000. The Hanukas—also twins with a military history—erected a story that pits Western unilateral politics against southeastern mysticism. Seen through the eyes of a conflicted military contractor, The Divine offers no easy answers nor any heroes of conventional values. As the dragons, bombs and bloodshed escalate, this graphic novel serves as an eye-catching parable for the cost of innocence in the maw of military apathy. Sean Edgar

The Shadow Hero

Writer: Gene Luen Yang
Artist: Sonny Liew
Year Released: 2013

National Ambassador For Young People's Literature Gene Luen Yang is well known for his solo work, but this collaboration with Malaysian cartoonist Sonny Liew is a high-concept gem that serves as both a love letter to—and an indictment of—comic book history. During the caped-crusader boom of the '40s, a short-lived hero known as Green Turtle appeared in a handful of adventures and then faded into obscurity. Yang picked up on a curious detail: creator Chu F. Hing never depicted the hero unmasked. Yang and Liew expand upon the rumor that Hing intended the Green Turtle to be the first Asian-American superhero but was shot down by his publisher, shaping the public-domain hero into a story of identity and the masks we choose—or are forced—to wear. Steve Foxe

This One Summer

Writers: Mariko Tamaki
Artist: Jillian Tamaki
Year Released: 2014

Positively showered with awards, this fantastic coming-of-age novel by cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki is the kind of book with enough cross-over appeal to bring new audiences to comics. Usually, books like that (I'm looking at you, Wimpy Kid series, entertaining as you are) make use of a lot more text than imagery, but the Tamakis know the language of pictures, too, and they know how to use visuals to convey information less clunkily than words. It deserves every accolade it's received. Hillary Brown

The Wrenchies

Writer/Artist: Farel Dalrymple
Year Released: 2014

Looking back at the postmodern, post-apocalyptic mind melt of The Wrenchies, I can say with certainty that I maybe understand 70% of what happens in its gorgeously stylized pages. This dense fairy tale about feral children battling hellish boogeymen almost requires repeat readings as it traverses multiple realities. A graphic novel about childhood, but definitely not for children, The Wrenchies raises dark questions about fantasy while reveling in its shadow. And even if most of the plot twists careen past your head, Dalrymple's signature art summons dread with majesty and awe. Sean Edgar

Zita The Spacegirl

Writer/Artist: Bet Hatke
Year Released: 2011

Ben Hatke, who contributed many a memorable short to Kazu Kibuishi's Flight anthologies, ascends once more into the heavens for his first long-form project, Zita The Spacegirl. Currently on its second sequel, Zita follows the titular adolescent as she's marooned from earth to a distant planet whose inhabitants kidnap her friend Joseph. And that's just fine for a character who wields dangerous levels of charm and moxy. She quickly uses her wits and unerring determination to make new friends and save old ones from cryptic rituals. Hatke's characters are addictively endearing, forming an ensemble overflowing with sci-fi quirk. Strong-Strong, Pizzicato the Mouse, Randy and ONE (our favorite warrior droid whose "malfunctions" are loyalty and honor) take the Seven Samurai formula to its apex, with the affable Zita uniting them into an unconventional family. Hatke further indulged his fascination of little girls hanging with friendly robots in the earthbound Little Robot last September. Sorry diamonds: automatons are a girl's best friend. Sean Edgar