Comic books, for a lot of Americans, are still thought of as a medium that’s mostly just for kids. Even while superheroes become a bigger and bigger part of our movie landscape, the idea is that, well, adults should just be reading. But this is unfortunate, because there are so many good comic books out there.
Travelers in particular could get a lot out of comics, because, since they are a visual storytelling medium, they are particularly good at transporting you to a totally new place. So — if you love travel but aren’t totally sold on comic books just yet, here are four to check out.
1. Bone by Jeff Smith
Bone is basically Lord of the Rings mixed with Saturday morning cartoons. It tells the story of three brothers who were chased out of their hometown and into a mysterious valley that’s haunted by dragons and “rat creatures.” It’s cartoon-y and funny while also managing to be sweeping and epic, and it’s really great for kids.
When I was a kid, it was the epic quest stories that really stoked my wanderlust — stuff like Indiana Jones and Lord of the Rings and Star Wars. The idea of leaving home to do something great was just endlessly appealing. If you have a kid and you want to get them into the idea of venturing out into the greater world, give them Bone. If you’re an adult and you feel nostalgic for the days of getting lost in a book of Calvin & Hobbes or The Chronicles of Narnia, pick up Bone.
2. Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi was born in Iran in 1969, and so was a young girl when the revolution came. After seeing the repression of the fundamentalist regime, her parents sent her to Europe for her studies, but it was hard on her — she eventually became homeless and nearly died on the streets, before returning to Iran. Persepolis is the story of her life, and it is both heartbreaking and uplifting.
If you’ve ever left home and found it harder than you imagined, this book will ring particularly true to you. So much travel fiction is about going out into the world and achieving something great, but for many of us, living abroad is difficult and often exhausting. Persepolis is also a coming of age story set in a time of political upheaval, and it may be worth reading in these troubled times.
3. Saga by Brian K. Vaughan
Saga is basically an R-rated comic book version of Star Wars. It tells the story of Marko and Alana, who are from two different, eternally-warring species, and fall in love and have a baby, Hazel. Hazel tells the story of what it’s like to grow up in wartime, on the run, and as a person who many people believe shouldn’t even exist.
The closest thing to compare Saga to, in terms of actually feeling like you’re in a totally different world, is Avatar. The series is illustrated by Canadian comic book artist, Fiona Staples, and oh my god, it’s stunning. The series is ongoing, it has yet to be concluded, but new chapters come out regularly, and it is absolutely worth the read. It’s transporting like only a few other books and movies are.
4. From Hell by Alan Moore
From Hell is one of the stranger true crime books you’ll ever read — the author, Alan Moore (of Watchmen and V for Vendetta fame) took a holistic approach to dealing with the Jack the Ripper murders. Which is to say, instead of solving the crime, he uses the crime to solve the society that it happened in. If that sounds weird, it’s because it is. But it’s also entrancing and beautiful and terrifying.
Travelers in particular will enjoy this because Victorian London is the main character, and in it, the city is almost alive. And, in some sense, aren’t cities literally living things? Every street corner is drenched in decades or even centuries of history — great people (and less great people) walked every alley, haunted every corner, and left traces of themselves wherever they went. Cities, in a very real way, are an accumulation of human lives, and they reflect this in their layouts and in their architecture.
This all makes it sound very heady, but it is still a murder story, and a harrowing one, at that. And if nothing else, it’ll make you want to go to London.