Book List: Comic Books for Kids and Teens

Children’s comics embrace all the possibilities inherent in good fiction. They are original, compelling and relevant, but also of increased importance for reluctant readers, and those who value the written word and illustration. Here, Monty Masseurs and Nicola Crombie from Wellington City Libraries suggest 18 fabulous titles to inspire your graphic novel collection.

Children’s comics have changed hugely in the last 10 years. More original titles are being written for girls, with strong girl characters than ever; translated titles, and comics from other countries provide cultural insight into others viewpoints and ideas, and non-fiction comics provide content that is factually compelling and entertaining.

Meanwhile, graphic novels for young adults have come a long way from the days when the “Big Two” (DC and Marvel) were the only publishing houses worth noting. These days, there is a wide range of titles on a wide range of subjects – history, romance, memoir, science fiction – with a diverse selection of complex narratives and excellent art. New manga is being released all the time. Even traditional publishers are looking at innovative ways to tell new stories. YA graphic novels have reached an important time; no matter what the reader likes, there’s likely to be a graphic novel out there that speaks to them.

New Zealand comics for kids and teens continue to develop, published occasionally by larger publishers and local champions, like Beatnik, Earth’s End and Pikitia press. Cartoonists like Li Chen and Katie O’Neill continue to break new ground in CYA comics, whilst important New Zealand creators like Ant Sang, Chris Slane and Bob Kerr have contributed to our New Zealand comic’s scene for children and teens. There should/must be room for growth and hopefully the international trend seeing CYA comics become more popular, will influence the expansion of our own comics literature range.

KIDS comics

By Monty Masseurs

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Snarked! by Roger Langridge (Boom! Studios) (NZ)

Snarked is a genuinely original take on Lewis Carroll’s work that embraces absurdity, flawed characters and old-fashioned cartoon chaos. New Zealander, Roger Langridge received a well-deserved Eisner award for this genius all-ages invention. Age range 8 – 12 years

If you like Snarked, try: Moa by James Davidson (Earths End Publishing) (NZ), Adventures in cartooning by James Sturm (First Second), Princess, Princess ever after by Kay O’Neill (Oni Press, US) (NZ)

Olympians series by George O’Connor (First Second)

This is a well told non-fiction comics series that explores original Greek myths with punchy, dynamic illustrations. Each retold legend is responsive to the thrust of its story – Zeus origin comic is violent and mythic, Hera’s is depicted in dark hues and uncompromising. All are consistently good. Age range 8 – 12 years

If you like the Olympians, try: Maui: Legends of the outcast by Chris Slane (Godwit) (NZ)

Ghosts by Raina Telgemeier (Scholastic US)

It would have been easy to have included Telgemeier’s other comics like Smile or Sisters, because they are just as expertly told and realised but Ghosts’ mix of local folklore, spectral surprises and families in flux wins. Look closely as well – Telgemeier provides a master class in illustration – not one panel is wasted. Age range 8 – 12 years

If you like Ghosts, try: Real Friends by Shannon Hale (First Second), Sunny side up by Jennifer L. Holm (Scholastic US), Roller Girl by Victoria Jamieson (Puffin)

Hazardous Tales by Nathan Hale (Harry M. Abrams Ltd)

Each of Hales’ six Hazardous tales so far, covers an aspect of American history through the story of one character during slavery, the Civil and Revolutionary war and early settlement. What makes the series unique? Each tale is presented by humorous incarnations of early American sensibility – a soon-to-be-dead-spy, his flippant executioner, and their proper soldier escort. This meta-device ensures clear eyed and insightful comment from the three unlikely narrators, and each tale provides an irreverent take on what are sometimes murderous and treacherous times. Age range 9 – 13 years

If you like Hazardous Tales, try: Corpse Talk by Adam Murphy (David Fickling Books), High-speed history series by Terry Deary (Scholastic)

Pearls Before Swine collections by Stephan Pastis (Andrews McMeel Publishing)

The traditional cartoon format still flourishes in libraries – a beginning, a middle and end in 3 or 4 panels, with comedic pay-off – hurrah! ‘Pearls before swine’ maybe differs from other children’s options in its unusual pacing, original language (‘Hullllloooo Zeeba neighba!’) and deft characterisation. These cartoons are derived from the adult webcomic, and tend to hit the bullseye more often than some. Age range 8 – 12 years

If you liked Pearls before Swine, try: Phoebe and her Unicorn adventures by Dana Simpson, Belle by Putze (NZ)

Ariol series by Emmanuel Guibert (Turtleback Books)

There is a great tradition of French comics, and just as Tintin and Asterix have reframed our comics reading experience, so have recent translated works like Ariol. Set in an ordinary neighbourhood, with friends and parents and school as preoccupations, Ariol differs from other comics in its unhurried nature. Little Ariol explores the complex world around him, plays, works, fights, argues but sometimes without resolution or lesson. Children’s comic as arthouse? Age range 6 – 10 years

If you like Ariol, try: Monster Dinosaur by Lewis Trondheim (Papercutz), Harvey, how I became invisible by Herve Bouchard (Groundwood books)

Hilda and the Midnight Giant by Luke Pearson (Flying Eye Books)

Comics can be a window into another culture and one pleasant development in recent years is the emergence of British cartoon voices. Luke Pearson’s, Hilda series represents one aspect of this new advance – fully realised, beautifully illustrated and magical – but confident enough to be universal in its outlook and vision. Each new Hilda title is like a bibliophiles special treat. Age range 7 – 11 years

If you like Hilda and the midnight giant, try: Azzi in Between by Sarah Garland (Frances Lincoln Childrens’ Books), The Puddleman by Raymond Briggs (Red Fox Children’s Books)

Three Thieves series by Scott Chandler (Voyager)

Across seven comic volumes, and seven years, Scott Chandler has created a fully complete and immersive adventure fantasy world. Essentially about Dressa and her quest to regain the lost throne at the royal city, it’s also about friendship, loyalty, family, knights, pirates, giants and fighting! I’ve talked to many children in the library that have loved this series from beginning to end. Age range 9 – 12 years

If you like The Three Thieves, try: Amulet series by Kazu Kibuishi (Scholastic NZ), Hereville by Barry Deutsch (Amulet Books)

Benjamin Bear Toon comics by Phillipe Coudray (Turtleback books)

Academic studies often point to comics as a bridging reading tool, but also as a way for reluctant readers to find their way using a visually accessible format. ‘Toon’ comics have taken on this comics ‘readers’ role, with established cartoonists and provided early readers fantastic original titles. Benjamin Bear is a surreal translated comic that will surprise and challenge young minds. Age range 5 – 8 Years

If you like Benjamin Bear, try: Little mouse gets ready by Jeff Smith (Toon Books), Maya makes a mess by Rutu Modan (Toon Books)

Terry Teo and the Gunrunners art by Bob Kerr, written by Stephen Ballantyne New Zealand (Earths End Publishing)

Important New Zealand comic that combines the adventurous feel of Tintin, with a warm sense of small town New Zealand and genuine kiwi dialogue. Local publishers, Earth’s End, have done a fine job of restoring the comic in a larger format, with digitally remastered watercolour illustrations in 2015. A thing of beauty! Age range 7 – 12 years

If you like, Terry Teo and the gunrunners, try: Changing times: the story of a New Zealand town and its newspaper (Potton & Burton) (NZ) Lucky Aki in New Stone Age by Barry Linton (NZ)


By Nicola Crombie

The nameless city by Faith Erin Hicks (First Second)

The titular city has been squabbled over for centuries by three “great” nations. It’s located in the only gap in the mountains, and whoever controls the city controls the wealth of this world. It has been invaded and conquered so many times that it no longer has a name. Or at least, no one can agree on one. The book follows Kai and Rat; Kai a dreamy military recruit from the current occupiers of the city, the Dao; Rat a street urchin with every reason to hate the invaders. Of course, they strike up an uneasy friendship, but a fraught one, between the occupier and the occupied. But this is more than just a story of two conflicting peoples; it’s a great adventure story as well. It’s funny and poignant. And the art, as always with Hicks, is incredible. She manages to convey a rich, lush world without being cluttered or busy. It’s a historically inspired world. Age range 12 – 16

If you liked The nameless city, try: City in the desert by Moro Rogers (Archaia Studios Press)

Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman (Turtleback Books)

This is a Marvel “what if” comic, transporting many of the characters from the Marvel Universe into the year of 1602: Queen Elizabeth is dead, the Spanish Inquisition are a constant danger and England has begun its colonisation of America. It seems like a strange premise at first reading, but this is Neil Gaiman at his best. It’s a really satisfying and unique look at some familiar characters. Age range 14 – 18

If you liked Marvel 1602, try: Superman: Red Son, by Mark Millar (DC Comics)

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur by Brandon Montclare & Amy Reeder (Turtleback Books)

Take one pre-teen genius with a latent mutant gene and one…massive dinosaur. But Lunella Lafayette has a plan…unfortunately she has to deal with school, monsters, parents…and the Incredible Hulk himself. It’s a very cute look at what happens before superheroes (or supervillains) are born and it’s not bogged down in the typical Marvel mythos. Age range 12-16

If you liked Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur, try: The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl (Marvel Comics)

Through the Woods by E M Carroll (Faber & Faber)

These stories are the stuff of nightmares. But it’s not Freddy Kruger jump scares – the stories that Carroll writes are just as visceral, but subtle. Gory, sometimes – but they’re equally about psychological terror. Her stories often don’t have neat and tidy endings; the stories stay with you, especially after you close your eyes…Carroll’s art is some of the most stunning in graphic novels today. Age range 14 – 18 years

If you liked Through the woods, try: The Singing Bones by Shaun Tan (Walker Books)

Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang (Turtleback Books)

These two graphic novels tell the story of the Boxer rebellion from different points of view. The Boxer Rebellion was a clash between the occupying colonial powers in China and a pro-nationalist and anti-Christian movement that became known as the Boxers. Gene Luen Yang captures the hard lives of the protagonists: Little Bao, who fights for the Boxers, and Vibiana, who is Christian. Both books are heart-breaking stories of people caught up in larger events beyond their control. Age range 14 – 18 years

If you liked Boxers, you’ll like: Templar by Jordan Mechner (First Second)

Victory at point 209 by Andrew Burdan (Huia Publishers) New Zealand

This is the true story of Second Lieutenant Te Moana-nui-a-Kiwa Ngarimu who won the VC in 1943; it is also the depiction of a single battle in World War Two. It’s a testament to extraordinary bravery and strong family ties. As well as the main narrative, there’s a play-by-play depiction of the placement and movement of troops and geographical features, along with the time as each factor changes, which makes the story even more gripping and puts the individual stories against the larger context. Age range 12 – 18 years

If you liked, Victory at point 209, try: Resistance, Defiance and Victory by Carla Jablonski (First Second)

Nimona by Noelle Stevenson (HarperTeen)

A mysterious shapeshifter turns up on the doorstep of the villainous Lord Ballister Blackheart, offering her services. Set in a strange fantasy world, it’s an interesting twist on tired fantasy tropes. It manages to be funny and heartbreaking at the same time, and nothing is quite what it seems. Age range 12 – 16 years

If you liked, Nimona, try: The Adventures of Superhero Girl written and drawn by Faith Erin Hicks (Dark Horse Comics)

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (Turtleback Books)

Rose and Windy and their families go to a small town for their summer vacation. They’ve done the same thing for years, but this summer everything starts to change. Rose finds herself on the edge of the adult world, watching events slowly unfurl that are by turns tragic and hopeful. A well-written and beautifully illustrated coming-of-age story. Age range 14 years and up

If you liked, This one summer, try: Honor Girl by Maggie Thrash (Candlewick Press)

Shaolin Burning by Ant Sang New Zealand (HarperCollins)

A Stunningly drawn, award winning Kung Fu epic from Auckland cartoonist, Ant Sang. Mixes intensely choreographed action scenes and bold entertaining illustration, with a legendary tale of lost love, and the overwhelming power of revenge. Age range 14 – 18 years.

If you liked Shaolin Burning, try: Usagi Yojimbo by Stan Sakai (Dark Horse Comics)

Monty Masseurs
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Monty has worked in public libraries for 11 years, and has happily selected the comics and graphic novels for Wellington City Libraries for 6 of those. He’s the co-planner of the libraries pop culture event, ComicFest along with fellow staff member Rachel Lynch. The day-long event occurs on Free Comic Book Day and involves local cartoonists, comics workshops, panel discussions, free comics and prizes with manic cosplay. It’s the highlight of his work year, as is reading and enjoying the libraries comic’s collection.

Nicola Crombie
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Nicola has been working in libraries for seven years and has been interested in comics since forever. Her first comic experience was at Wellington Central Library, reading Camelot 3000- look it up if you can find it! She is currently studying for her Masters in Information Studies at Victoria University. Outside of work she likes Dungeons and Dragons, crafts and writing. She also blogs at the Wellington City Library Teen Blog.