The Fantastic Tween Comic Scene

by Emily Z.

The holidays are upon us now. For some of us, that means:

  1. Winter Break
  2. Long trips to other peoples’ houses
  3. Even longer periods of waiting for some elaborate meal to be prepared
  4. Holiday parties where everyone is somehow between 5 and 50 years older than you (or at least 5 years younger than you) and they all want to play touch football or watch Frozen for the 900000th time.
  5. You need something to do in that sweet, sweet blanket fort you made
  6. Power outages and all that they entail

Perhaps you or someone you know who is roughly between the ages of 9 and 13 is going to need something to read? Oh, but maybe not something big and heavy because it’s a break and don’t you/they do enough serious reading the rest of the year? They might want some lighter material as a kind of treat. Something adventurous that’s also fun to look at? A faster, more accessible read so that, if they do need to take a break to help set the table (or pick a better hiding reading spot), getting back into the story is relatively easy? What about: graphic novels?

OK, but are there good graphic novels for younger people? Admittedly, for far too long, the biggest names in the juvenile graphic novel game were:

Each and every one of them published 35-85 years ago! While there is surely still enjoyment to be had from these classics of the junior comic world, said world is much larger now and just waiting to be explored. First, there were the Amulet, Bone, and Avatar the Last Airbender books. Then there was Rutabaga the Adventure Chef, the works of Ben Hatke, sparkling hilarity of Phoebe and Her Unicorn, the Lumberjanes, and whimsical romps of Hilda. With Hilda’s new animated adventures recently arriving on Netflix, middle-grade graphic novels are finally and truly a big ol’ deal.

Today I have a few of my newer faves in the adventure/fantasy/scifi/supernatural vein. They are geared towards people in 4th-7th grade, but I also enjoyed each and every one of them, so whatever your age or stage, please give them a gander. Oh, and some of them come in the eBook format too.

The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks

The City has actually had many names, one for each of the peoples who have occupied it, though each of those people were themselves eventually conquered. Then there’s the Nameless people who have always lived in the City, watching the invading kingdoms rise and fall for centuries. Rat is a Nameless girl who runs the streets of her city (as well as along the rooftops and everywhere in between). Kaidu is a sheltered, but not unlikable young member of this new ruling class. Not long after he moves to the City, they encounter one another. Romeo and Juliet this is not; Rat and Kaidu have too much on their minds and more often than not keep one another at arm’s length. Their friendship is tentative as they learn about the other’s culture. While maintaining a swift pace and lots of action (and some sweet parkour), Hicks also offers us some humor and more complex concepts to unpack. Sometimes the people you considered your enemy are still also people. History is always more complex than you’ve been told. Peace is possible.

Fake Blood by Whitney Gardner 
AJ is on the verge of something. As he starts 6th grade, he wants to make a change, to finally, actually feel different. Older? Cooler? When his new teacher pairs him up with his secret crush, AJ learns about much more than the country they’re studying. Nia has always been cool, confident, and smart, but she’s also obsessed with vampires. In an effort to get her attention, AJ starts experimenting with his style: a little of his sister’s purple eye shadow under his eyes to look paler, hair gel, and even a tiny bit of glitter. He acts more aloof and mysterious, avoiding the sun and sometimes (unfortunately) his other friends in his attempts to pique Nia’s curiosity. Strangely enough, it works and that’s when things start to go wrong.

As a former art teacher and school librarian, Gardner’s transition to YA author is going quite well. For all its vampiric silliness, “Fake Blood” actually feels like a story about real people most of the time. There’s friendship, drama, goofiness, misunderstandings, and sibling squabbles. There’s also a mystery and dramatic fight scene, though still no real blood.

Cucumber Quest: The Doughnut Kingdom by Gigi D.G.
Cucumber’s world is sweet and adorable on the surface, but as you explore it, you’ll realize the characters are also a little salty. Gigi D.G. artfully balances a clear love of cute, cuddly fantasy adventure and a desire to deride some of its sillier tropes. Young Cucumber is a quiet, nervous, nerdy young man eagerly awaiting his future at a prestigious magical academy. This familiar tale is quickly derailed by another epic fantasy standard: The Chosen One. Suddenly, Cuke and a requisite motley crew of sidekicks are tasked with finding a fabled sword and saving their kingdom, even if it might not entirely deserve it. Again, while the story might sound familiar, D.G. keeps things lively with twists, quips, absurd villains, and some truly unhelpful adults.

Any other fabulous middle-grade comics on your radar?
Any favorite comics from your own youth?

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One response to “The Fantastic Tween Comic Scene”

  1. Jordan says:

    Oh, Emily your blogs are the best!!!

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