11 Graphic Novels to Liven up the Long Winter

The first time I encountered a graphic novel, I have to admit, I was skeptical — comics were never really right up my alley, I found it exhausting to have to work so hard for each bit of dialogue and every scrap of story. As far as I was concerned on that first go around, graphic novels just seemed like comic books with delusions of grandeur. It wasn't until art school that I came to truly appreciate the art of the graphic novel (and I'm not just talking illustration here).

These days I love a good graphic novel, the vibrant richness of the setting, the fully embodied personhood of the characters — the art of the graphic novel is immersion, there's a cinematic quality to the storytelling that you just can't find anywhere else.

And as much as I love doing my own world building, I'm finding myself lacking in inspiration as the nights get longer and my heating bills get larger and larger. As they say in the songs, baby it's cold outside, and dark and all-too-often just a little bit grey, so why not liven up the long winter? These 11 graphic novels bring new animation to the space of the story, and a welcome splash of color in the darkness.

Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

If you've never quite felt comfortable with graphic novels, Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis might just be the perfect place to start given that Satrapi's sharp, funny, personal story of her own troubled teenage years as a young punk in Tehran is nothing if not uncomfortable, and, of course just magnificently illustrated.

The Incal by Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius

Earlier I mentioned the cinematic qualities of my favorite graphic novels, so perhaps it shouldn't come as any surprise that one of the brightest, strangest stories out there comes from director Alejandro Jodorowsky and his esteemed co-author Moebius. This sci-fi adventure of epic proportions may be just the thing to take the edge off a long dark night.

Big Questions by Anders Nilsen

There's nothing that can tide you over better while the storm rages on outside than some thoughtful reflection, and if you're having some trouble getting it up on your own, why not turn to Anders Nilsen's Big Questions for a little food for thought? This utterly original graphic novel wrestles with the great riddles of the universe through the eyes of songbirds in a dystopian forest that feels all too much like our own strange world, although not half as windy, from where I sit.

Jimmy Corrigan, The Smartest Kid on Earth by Chris Ware

Finding your way into the subjectivity of a fictional stranger is no small thing, it's one of the pure delights of delving in to a particularly special story, and it also happens to be one of the specialties of the graphic novel. In this case, Chris Ware demonstrates the full power of the illustrated page with his rich, personal drawings of the inner life of Jimmy Corrigan, who, at age 36, finally gets the opportunity to meet his father. And if that doesn't strike you as the perfect fodder for a snow day spent at home, I don't know what would.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

Alison Bechdel's Fun Home is not the only memoir to make my list, and if I had to lay odds I'd bet that that's because many authors find sharing the intimate details of their private lives through the graphic novel just a little bit more personal. Bechdel dredges up distant memories of her father, a funeral home director, and the mysteries of his past that come to light only days before he dies suddenly and unexpectedly. Bechdels, warm, rich, full story of searching for answers that may or may not exist makes the perfect companion to a roaring fire and a mug of tea.

From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell

All right, all right, I know I said earlier that I'm not the biggest fan of comics, but the work of the legendary Alan Moore is the stuff that dreams are made of, and when he turns his talents to the historical novel, I for one am completely sold. This dark and sordid tale exploring the life and times of Jack the Ripper brings new meaning to the word "atmospheric," regardless of the weather outside the window.

Epileptic by David B.

Epileptic is another graphic novel that brings the visceral power of visual storytelling to bear on a startlingly personal story. As you wind your way through David B.'s emotional tale of growing up with an epileptic younger brother, you'll forget about all the harrowing winter weather and lose yourself in the personal drama of these two devoted brothers.

Ghost World by Daniel Clowes

Teenager girls don't seem to get much love in graphic novels these days, except of course for the wild and wonderful world of Daniel Clowes. The two teen besties Enid and Becky who form the backbone of Clowes' alternative cult classic Ghost World are still making waves years after the original publication. So rather than letting the hours slip slowly by, why not go back in time this winter with a graphic blast from the past.

Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks

Don't you love it when things get meta? Personally, nothing tickles me more than a story about a writer working on a story, and Hicksville is one of the best there is. If you're looking to thoroughly distract yourself this winter, you would do well to give Hicksville a chance.

Cerebus by Dave Sim

An anthropomorphic aardvark, the British Prime Minister, the pope, and a real live barbarian populate this strange, sumptuous graphic novel from the delightful David Sims. The world outside is dark and dreary, but the weather inside the simsverse is warm and strange — step right in.

Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner

While the world of graphic novels is by no means as cheery and fanciful as the comic books of yesteryear, Phoebe Gloeckner's The Diary of a Teenage Girl is something else altogether. Gloeckner's tragic retelling of very wayward youth is nothing if not necessary reading, and there's no better time to catch up on the more unusual books on your must-read list than the cold heart of winter.

Image: Flickr / Ana Ulin