Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
The Life of Frederick Douglass: A Graphic Narrative of a Slave’s Journey from Bondage to Freedom written by David F. Walker and illustrated by Damon Smyth and Marissa Louise
Ten Speed Press
Publication Date: January 8, 2019
He was born Frederick Augustus Washington Bailey on a plantation in Maryland. He was born a slave, but after he escaped and chose his own name—Frederick Douglass—he became a public speaker, abolitionist and the most photographed man in the nineteenth century. The story of Frederick Douglass from slavery to celebration by dignitaries from around the world is brought to life in this beautiful graphic novel that both tells his extraordinary story, but also provides readers context in the form of brief vignettes titled “lessons” that show the relation between what Douglass was experiencing and what was happening in the United States and abroad. Writer David F. Walker uses his introduction to inform readers that he wrote the book having Douglass “narrate” it himself by using Douglass’ published works to influence and shape the narrative voice. Thus, readers get a story told as much as possible by Frederick Douglass himself.
The illustrations are beautifully and thoughtfully done showing the true horrors he and other slaves experienced as well as happy times Douglass spent with his family. The panels vary from traditionally multiple paneled pages to full page spreads that show the breadth and depth of the artists’ work. The book also includes a list of sources as well as an index for those who wish to learn more about Douglass and his life. This is a beautiful, well-researched, and thoughtful biography that will engage readers and encourage them to learn more about this extraordinary man.
Captain America, vol. 1: Winter in America by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Leinil Yu and Alex Ross
Publication Date: March 5, 2019
The United States has been saved from Hydra, but not without serious repercussions. Hydra used the face of Steve Rodgers, Captain America, and now his country sees him as a villain. The US is not the same country Steve knew during World War II. Good and evil are no longer as clear cut as they used to be. Still acclimating to this new world, Steve continues to fight for his country nevertheless. He recruits friends and allies to help take out the remnants of Hydra’s takeover as a new threat rises in the shadows to capture his love, Peggy Carter. With the country against him, will the US let Captain America save them again? Do they even want to be saved?
In this new arc of Captain America, Ta-Nehisi Coates brings many complexities to the character that reflect the very same issues both teens and adults face in today’s politically divided times. Captain America can no longer rely on the world of his era, when heroes and villains were clear-cut, patriotism reigned, and the US was the supreme force of good helping to save the world from evil. Coates expertly ties in Captain America’s history and Hydra’s takeover of the country to present readers with parallels to our own society. The bold and realistic artwork perfectly complements both the physical and moral battles Captain America faces. Though this is an excellent read for Captain America and Avengers fans, this volume is also a must read for socially conscious teens trying to understand the intricacies of patriotism and activism in today’s society.
I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir written and illustrated by Malaka Gharib
Publication Date: April 30, 2019
Author and illustrator Malaka Gharib shares her first hand account of being a first generation American growing up in Cerritos, California in this touching and engaging new graphic memoir. Trying to balance her status as a “perfect Filipino kid” living with her mom during the school year and learning the customs of her father’s home in Egypt during her summer vacations is challenging. When she is accepted to college and moves out of state, she sees a whole different world than where she grew up. She experienced so much diversity in her southern California town, but at her New York college, things are much different. She often feels alone and isolated while her family was “growing up and growing old” without her. Her touching story shows her wanting to embrace the customs from both sides of her family while also wanting to create new customs of her own with her friends and partners. After she meets her future husband, she sets upon the path of creating a life full of all the things she loves while also discovering and incorporating new customs into her life.
Gharib’s line illustrations are so fun, colorful, and expressive. She mixes it up with traditional paneling; full pages showing all sorts of fun items and foods and two page spreads that are spectacular. Readers will see the love behind the illustrations of her friends and family and of traditions she wants to share. Plus, readers get to see a photocopied page from a mini-zine she made as a teen! This memoir is truly a gem; relatable, heartwarming, and a beautiful story that will resonate with teens.