9 Graphic Novels That Revolutionized the Comic Industry

Sure, they’re comics. But did you ever stop to think that they’re also books? Whether you’re a lifelong comic book fan, or you’ve just noticed that geek has become chic of late, graphic novels are here to stay. And those that love them will spend hours upon hours lauding their benefits and fighting about which ones are more important. To all of those long-time lovers and those with intimate industry knowledge: we salute you. As mainstream cultural communication becomes almost entirely visual (ugh), it is clear that in the future, your commitment to creating and promoting better stories through comics shall (hopefully) not be in vain. And because we want to hear more of your thoughts, here they are (in no particular order): nine graphic novels that revolutionized the comic industry.

  1. Maus

    No. 1 with a bullet has got to be graphic artist Art Spiegelman’s cat-and-mouse tale of the Nazis and their prey. His two part graphic novel, Maus: A Survivor’s Tale revolutionized the way that we think about the potential and gravitas of comics as a medium, as well as how we learn about the Holocaust. Told through vignettes of his own personal experience with his father, as well as his father’s first-hand tales of life during the Holocaust, the brilliant writer and artist makes palatable that which is not (read: the human effects of attempted genocide, not to mention the ensuing World War). The importance of the art, the story, the symbolism, and the narrative lens cannot be overstated. College classes often use the books as narrative reading material, and a host of relevant analysis has ensued.

  2. Persepolis

    Rivaling Maus in global cultural importance, Persepolis is a female-written triumph of monochromatic art and an exposé on the importance of cultural communication. This graphic novel, a French language autobiographical work by Marjane Satrapi, is one of the most important graphic novels ever published. It revolves around the story of Satrapi’s childhood, growing up in Iran during the lead-up to the Islamic Revolution. A fantastic feminist graphic novel and a greatly humanizing picture of an often conflict-ridden, willfully misunderstood region, Persepolis has been rightly translated into several languages. It’s a truly global world, and it’s a big win for Satrapi and those who come after: some stories just need to be told.

  3. Blackmark

    After several printings, the 1971 sci-fi (with a little swordplay) graphic novel seems to be one of, if not, the first of its kind. And it’s a good thing that it was highly praised, or graphic novels may have been delegitimized before they ever even started. Creator Gil Kane won a 1973 Shazam Award for the 119-page work, and thus was born a prototype for this now burgeoning type of read. Though not always a favorite of the genre’s fan universe, upon release and over time, it’s clear that Blackmark has certainly made its mark.

  4. A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories

    Comic writer and artist Will Eisner is the namesake of the Eisner Awards, which are similar to the Oscars for the ever-morphing face of the comic book industry. Contrary to popular belief, A Contract with God, and Other Tenement Stories isn’t the first graphic novel, but it’s certainly the first one to completely legitimize the format as literarily meaty, as well as popularize use of the term. The beautifully told and rendered stories were first published in 1978, and Eisner’s work will light the halls of graphic novel history forever.

  5. The Dark Knight Returns

    Frank Miller’s 1986 The Dark Knight Returns has been called a “masterpiece of modern comic storytelling.” The 1986 graphic book reinvigorated the comics industry, and was one of the first tentpole pieces to paint a superhero in a darker, um, light. Miller changed the face and oeuvre of the complicated hero forever, and changed the way that we consider caped crusaders ever since.

  6. American Splendor

    Comics are words and pictures. You can do anything with words and pictures.— Harvey Pekar

    When you think graphic novels, you should think Harvey Pekar. And when you think great movies based on graphic novels, you should think American Splendor. The curmudgeonly misanthrope drew and wrote about himself from a first-person perspective, and showed us the potential of the Great American Graphic Novel with The Best of American Splendor (originally a serial). Also of great importance to the industry was the story of his wife, Joyce Brabner, and the two’s relationship during Our Cancer Year. This novel showed the industry that it was possible to talk about tough issues (like disease, fear of death, and the intricacies of marriage) and be successful, a great legacy to leave for the late, great artist.

  7. Watchmen

    Writer Alan Moore used postmodern, anxious critiques of the superhero archetype to change the way that the comic industry perceives its protagonists. And the film version of Watchmen (insanely popular in book form before its optioning) proved once again that a good story can find its voice in many media. Not only did the graphic novel (released in 12 separate issues) brilliantly expose the good guys for the complex characters that they were, but it ignited the mainstream press and placed comics firmly in the throes of literary critics. While many can argue that V for Vendetta was his more revolutionary work, as far as mainstream scope, Watchmen wins that prize. And if what’s good for art and literature is good for society (it is), then both Alan Moore and Watchmen (fine, and V for Vendetta) have more than made their contribution.

  8. Astro City

    In a broad sense, Kurt Busiek’s Astro City is about how people (whether super or not) interact with and are affected by their communities and world. Instead of superheroes saving the day and being the arbiters of Good, Astro City showed the comic industry that it could reconceptualize the ways in which these folks are characterized, and bring a bit more anthropology and psychology to the mix. It’s an artfully radiant triumph of a study on the urban situation, as well as to the complexities enmeshed in the question: What makes a hero? And that’s a question whose implications run much deeper than pictures on a page.

  9. Sandman: Endless Nights

    Though not necessarily an artistic genre-buster, Neil Gaiman’s Sandman is unique in several ways: (1) it never appeared in serialized form (this is rare for the genre), (2) it was written by an author who was famous in other areas, bringing new fans to the genre, and (3) it reached the New York Times Bestseller List (although it did not reach No. 1). It won a Bram Stoker Award in 2003, and is further proof of the limitless and stretchable possibilities of this unique art form.

The Best Colleges Degree Finder

Accredited, top-rated, low-cost degree programs.© 2016 The Best Degrees