Click here to see all of the current Great Graphic Novels nominees along with more information about the list and past years’ selections.
Grass by Keum Suk Gendry-Kim, translated by Janet Hong
Drawn and Quarterly
Publication Date: August 27, 2019
Grass is the story of Lee Ok-sun, a Korean woman born into abject poverty and hard labor, denied any formal education, adopted out by her desperate parents, kidnapped off the street, and forced into sexual slavery as a “comfort woman” by the Japanese military during World War II. Upon liberation, Lee was outcast and homeless, eventually settling into an abusive marriage that kept her in China for the next fifty years before finally returning to Korea to reclaim her identity—and be rejected by her remaining family. Despite having “never known happiness from the moment I came out of my mother’s womb,” Lee is a survivor who refuses to be silent in the ongoing fight for comfort women to be recognized by the Japanese government. Lee’s story is not for the faint of heart, but author and artist Keum Suk Gendry-Kim tells it with compassion and respect, asking the reader to bear witness to these events, to face brutality head-on and endure.
Grass is an immensely powerful piece of art, a history lesson, and a warning all in one. Gendry-Kim’s artwork is a beautiful compliment to the brutal story, pitch-black inky brushstrokes that can convey both the small sturdy details of a Korean girl’s quiet hard life and the overwhelming feelings of powerlessness and loss experienced by the girls who were forced to serve as comfort women. As Gendry-Kim tells Lee Ok-sun’s story, she also explores her process of interviewing Lee and the steps she took to retrace Lee’s life. Lee Ok-sun is over 90 years old today, and still a voice to be reckoned with as she refuses to let her story be forgotten again—a story that, in the age of #MeToo, has forced the world to confront the horrors of its past and present, and that continues to encourage other survivors to come forward and make their own stories heard and seen. Grass contains mature subject matter and would be an ideal text to teach in a history or English class, along with The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui, George Takei’s They Called Us Enemy, Persepolis by Marjane Strapi, and even Art Spiegelman’s classic Maus.
Charlotte Bronte Before Jane Eyre by Glynnis Fawkes
Publication Date: September 24, 2019
This latest nonfiction graphic novel from The Center for Cartoon Studies tells the life story of novelist Charlotte Bronte from her mother’s death when Charlotte was only five years old up to the publication of her landmark novel Jane Eyre in 1847, when Charlotte was thirty-one. Teen bookworms are perennial fans of Jane Eyre, and they will find a lot to enjoy in this biography and make connections to the autobiographical parts of Charlotte’s novels. The book has a real appreciation for the ambitions of Charlotte and her sisters, both their desires to write and to live independently. Glynnis Fawkes’ art is wonderfully expressive, making the characters come alive. Panels are sketched in black and white and shaded in a wash of pale indigo. The introduction by Alison Bechel and panel discussions at the end aid in understanding Charlotte’s life and the endurance of Jane Eyre.
Become You, vol. 1 by Ichigo Takano
Publication Date: September 10, 2019
Third-year high-school student, Taiyou, suddenly finds himself as the only remaining member of the music club after all his fellow club members leave at the start of their final year. Dreaming of musical stardom, Taiyou desperately tries to recruit new band members with zero success. Eternally optimistic and not willing to give up, Taiyou convinces sullen music prodigy, Hikari, to help him on his quest. Though Hikari no longer wants to play music, he agrees to help Tiayou improve his musical skills. But can Taiyou overcome the trauma of his past and his crippling self-doubt to achieve his musical dreams?
Become You perfectly demonstrates the internal struggles versus the external presentation of a person’s emotions. Though Taiyou is outwardly enthusiastic and optimistic, on the inside he is traumatized by his emotionally abusive former art teacher and the self-doubt this experience instilled in him. Hikari balances Taiyou’s enthusiasm, and though he seems overly harsh at times, he shows the impact Taiyou’s dedication is having on him as he begins to open up and enjoy music again. Takano’s artwork perfectly matches the prose, concentrating primarily on capturing close-up expressions of the characters to showcase both their inner emotions and outer appearance. Hand this book to teens who are fans of Takano’s previous series Orange and Dreamin’ Sun or who enjoy music-themed manga such as Anonymous Noise by Ryoko Fukuyama.