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Great Graphic Novels (#GGN2021) Nominees Round Up, June 4 Edition

Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.

Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
First Second / Macmillan
Publication Date: February 4, 2020
ISBN: 9781626728776

A lightly fictionalized memoir of Dr. Mary Cleave is used as a framework in this graphic nonfiction title that presents stories of early female astronauts and cosmonauts. Cleave was a member of the 1980 class of NASA astronauts, served as CapCom (Capsule Communications) for five space shuttle missions, went to space twice as a mission specialist in 1985 and 1989, and eventually ran NASA’s science program. This title shows how Cleave’s road to space was paved by Valentina Tereshkova, the first woman in space; the Mercury 13, women who passed all the astronaut medical exams but were not allowed to join NASA; the first mixed gender and racially diverse NASA astronaut class of 1978; and many more, including legendary Star Trek actress and NASA recruiter, Nichelle Nichols. 

The first person POV narration elevates this book from a traditional collective biography, adding humor, immediacy, and a personal touch to the information. For example, when Cleave, operating as CapCom, speaks to Sally Ride from Mission Control, it was the first time in history a woman on Earth spoke to a woman in space. But she didn’t notice the historical significance until reporters questioned her about it later. Wicks’s cartoony illustrations are particularly strong in portraying Cleave’s experiences in space, with the feeling of G-forces portrayed as a series of monkeys and primates increasing in size on Cleave’s chest, and the extreme color shift and shakiness of re-entry. This is integral in reinforcing the POV, adding to the humor, and humanizing astronauts, who can often be caricatured as overwhelmingly driven and perfect in popular media.

This well-researched and -sourced graphic novel will be enjoyed by feminist history fans and space fans in upper middle school (6th–8th grade) and open-minded high schoolers. Read-alikes include nonfiction title Almost Astronauts (2009) by Tanya Lee Stone, nonfiction graphic novel Rocket to the Moon (2019) by Don Brown, and Ottaviani and Wicks’s previous collaboration, Primates (2013).

—Kacy Helwick

The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson
HarperTeen / HarperCollins
Publication Date: March 3, 2020
ISBN: 9780062278272 

In this memoir, Stevenson uses a combination of essays and mini-comics to guide the reader through the eventful past eight years of her life. The book begins with Stevenson’s art school graduation and continues through to her being a National Book Award finalist for her debut graphic novel, Nimona, to the present. Interspersed with these achievements are Stevenson’s mental health and relationship challenges.

This is an unflinchingly honest memoir—with a stream-of-consciousness style pulled from contemporary journals—that has important things to say about body image, mental health, and love. Older teen fans who grew up with Nimona and Lumberjanes and current fans of Netflix’s She-Ra, as well as other aspiring comic artists who may have enjoyed titles like I Moved to Los Angeles to Work in Animation, will appreciate her candid description of the time period between high school and young adulthood.

—Thea Hashagen