What could be better than a short story collection combined with a graphic novel? Honestly, I think this is one of those combinations — like peanut butter and jelly or Nutella and pretty much anything — where the individual parts complement each other in ways that elevate the whole. I mean, peanut butter and jelly on their own are okay, but together they become an iconic part of any American child's diet.
Short stories and graphic novels may not look like they have much in common, but their roots as serialized stories and comics share much of the same struggles and successes. Both have a limited amount of space on a page or in a frame and time to convey the atmosphere and build a believable world for their readers. They both also tend to have a tight focus on characters or specific situations. So together, the short story structure can provide a way for graphic novels to explore more serious topics or issues without having to commit to a whole book, while the graphic novel takes a step back from blocks of text and can transform scenes into more potent, wordless images.
I believe that the graphic story collection is a great starting point for both readers of traditional novels and graphic novels or comics alike because of the flexibility of its hybrid nature. The art is still breathtaking, but there are usually bigger or fewer panels and sometimes even less text—allowing the reader a chance to interpret the emotion and context of the image. The stories are no less thought-provoking, but the ability to play with length means that writers have more opportunities to experiment with different styles of writing that might not have been possible in a novel.
Here are nine graphic story collections that I think do the best job of implementing and highlighting techniques from both the short story and graphic novel worlds, and have incredible narratives and artwork to boot.
1'Heads or Tails' by Lilli Carré
With a literary voice similar to Carson McCullers and Flannery O'Conner, Lilli Carré's collection of short stories will leave you breathless. These elegant stories are steeped in the lives of the characters and their family narratives — full of melancholy, fantasy, poetry, and gothic themes.
2'Jamilti and Other Stories' by Rutu Modan
Set in Israel, these stories capture a unique perspective and sense of whimsy with elements of revenge, murder, mistaken identities, love, and longing. The images range in style and technique, but are all compelling and thought-provoking. These stories will make you rethink how you see the world and remind you how the power of belief can shape peoples' actions, for better and worse.
3'Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall' by Bill Willingham
A prequel of sorts to the long-running Fables comic series, this collection is both a great entry point for new readers and an essential piece of the series' mythos. Snow White narrates — Scheherazade-style — these tales of horror, intrigue, and the secret histories of the fairy tale characters you thought you knew and loved, in the hopes of saving herself from the sultan who has captured her. Perfect for fans of Once Upon a Time and the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
4'Dragon's Breath: and Other True Stories' by MariNaomi
Born from the "Smoke in Your Eyes" series on The Rumpus, this collection of vignettes is an autobiographical look at the author's childhood, dysfunctional relationships, mental health and emotional stability. The white space and lack of sprawling scenes pulls the reader into the story and transports them to that emotional and physical space. The clean, powerful style is sometimes tragic, sometimes humorous, but always honest.
5'How To Be Happy' by Eleanor Davis
Don't let the cover or the title fool you; this is not a book on how to be happy. Instead, the stories try to capture and examine the idea of happiness and what it can (or cannot be) to different people in different situations. It's full of sentiment, satire, a hint of melancholy, and accompanied with gorgeous artwork using a variety of different techniques. You'll want to hang each and every page of this debut collection on your walls when you're done.
6'It Never Happened Again: Two Stories' by Sam Alden
With just two stories, It Never Happened Again is the smallest collection on the list. But don't underestimate it. Done entirely in pencil, the collection's rough-sketched feel pairs well with the themes of longing, sense of connection, and desire to belong that the characters in both stories are looking for. The style and sparse narration also give a reader the room to fill in the blanks and interpret the story in their way, which is refreshing. Plus, it's incredible to just look at the amount of detail and texture that can be done with just a pencil. While it may be short, this is one book that will have you coming back for more.
7'A Drunken Dream and Other Stories' by Moto Hagio
Though not as well known in the US, Moto Hagio's stories and images, along with others in the Year 24 Group, were crucial to the reinvention of the shōjo (girls' comics) genre in Japan. Afterward, the genre became more accessible to female manga artists and began to examine more radical and philosophical issues, including sexuality and gender. This collection contains stories that span Hagio's entire career and are quick-witted, psychologically and emotionally complex, and tenderly poetic. Though the book hasn't been "flipped" (meaning you'll have to read it right-to-left) it is a beautiful and historical edition that should be on every reader's shelf.
8'The Infinite Wait and Other Stories' by Julia Wertz
This trio of graphic novellas packs quite the punch. The narrative has Wertz's signature wit, cynicism, and tough-but-tender persona, but also explores a much deeper and intimate space than her previous work. She explores her journey into writing comics as a response to her diagnosis with an incurable, auto-immune disease and the keen attention to the every-day-details only makes it that much more powerful and inspiring. A perfect reminder that despite how messy and heartbreaking life sometimes is can make some pretty damn good art.
9'Through The Woods' by Emily Carroll
Anything can happen in the woods, especially if they're strange and a little dark. Drawn in mainly blue, black, white, and red, these five stories have the voice and style of reimagined fairy tales, but with a little more darkness added for good measure. Like any good scary story, the plot is quick and easy to share around a campfire but has a more subtle message and warning if you're willing to get a little closer. By the end, you'll be more than a little relieved that nothing like this has ever happened to you. Just remember: the wolf only needs to get lucky once.