Comics for kids: a list

I've been meaning to put together a list of comics for kids for a long, long time,  frequently hearing that there's a lack of such a resource. This is the first installment of what will hopefully be an ongoing list of fantastic comics for children of all ages- free of graphic violence, no sex, nothing that you wouldn't feel comfortable with your child reading (although I am aware that that can be very subjective, so if you are thinking of buying, please check to your satisfaction first), just great comics. I'm always hearing that there aren't enough good comics for kids out there, but there certainly isn't a dearth, so I hope this will be a useful guide.

I was initially going to put a rough suitable age range in brackets next to each title, but instead I've opted to include a page from the book itself (just click on the picture to view a larger version), not only because children's reading abilities can vary, but also because I think looking at the art and text for oneself is perhaps a better and more helpful gauge as to suitability. Needless to say, all these books are great for reading together. I've only compile a short synopsis for each to give an idea of story, as I find having a lot of text to wade through can be off-putting. Where possible, I have linked the title of each book directly to the publisher or author from whom you can buy, but many are also linked to Amazon due to issues such as not having UK distributors etc. It's great to support creators and smaller publishers who bring us these superb books and I'd urge you to support them where you can, but if you can't find a place to buy a title, I know for sure they are all available on Amazon, If you have any further questions, please leave a comment.

1) Giants Beware by Rafael Rosado and Jorge Aguirre: This is one of my favourite books, full stop. Simply superb, with a story that encompass a bit of everything, humour, adventure, a little bit of life lessons, and heart. It's printed in full colour and a large A4 size, and follows the rascally but sweet red-haired Claudette, who's determined to free her village of the giants she's heard so much about, dragging along her younger brother, Gaston, a prodigious patissere chef, and her best friend, Marie, an alternative princess. Things, however, as not as straightforward as they seem. It's a joy of a book; very, very funny and the cartooning is lovely- very lively and expressive. One of the great things about it is the portrayal of the children's aspirations, Gaston wants to be a sword-maker and a chef, Marie wants to be a princess, one that leads and will maybe marry if she meets someone she really likes. The charcertisation is very natural, none of it feels forced, or is if it's setting out to make a point. 

2) Hilda and the Troll, Hilda and the Midnight Giant, Hilda and the Bird Parade by Luke Pearson: If you haven't discovered Pearson's award-winning Hilda books yet, you're in for a real treat. Hilda and the Midnight Giant finds our blue-haired heroine and her mum living together in a little wooden cabin near the woods and mountains, where Hilda spends her days roaming around, finding things and interacting with the animals and her surroundings. That idyll is interrupted when mysterious messages are left at the cabin door, and Hilda begins to find clues that suggest there's something out there... something big. There have been 3 Hilda books so far, and they are all utterly magical; Pearson's narratives quietly absorbing, his illustrations beautiful- magical and engrossing, and Hilda as spirited and inquisitive as ever. The mother/daughter relationship depicted is lovely to see, too. These stories are classics in the making, and publishers Flying Eye have recently re-released all 3 books in gorgeous, full-colour, hardback versions. 

3) Freddy Stories by Melissa Mendes: Freddy is a great introductory comic for children, with clear bold panels which are easy to follow; there's usually never more than 5 panels on a page. The strips in here follow Freddy, a little girl who likes wearing her favourite red hoodie, and wandering by herself, finding curiosity and delight in leafs and twigs and boxes, like kids do. Mendes excels at writing children, and Freddy's a very independent child, raised  by a single mother, and gets on with things while her mum's at work. Those are more subtle things that will perhaps come across to older readers, but there's so much for kids to find affinity with here and the drawing style simple and attractive.

4) Cowboy: a boy and his horse by Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos: Cowboy is the tale of Boyd Linney, a young man sick of his family’s criminal and errant ne’er do-well ways, who decides enough is enough and that a lesson must be taught. So Boyd sets out on his horse to  round them all up one by one and deliver them to the Marshall. Cosby write Boyd straight, very serious about his task (it doesn't make Boyd the butt of the joke), so it's not played for laughs, although it is funny. There's some great riffs on the western genre too. The best and perhaps most surprising thing about Cow Boy, however, is the depth of emotion it manages to convey in Boyd's relationship with his family, especially towards the end, which, if you're reading together you need to be prepared for (tissues at the ready!).

5) Guinea PI series by Colleen AF Venables and Stepahnie Yue: Ah, this is a such a delightful series, partiulalry for younger children (and me). Set in a pet shop owned by the kind but forgetful Mr Venezi, the animals within are all happy and comfortable, although incorrectly labelled and therefore rarely sold. But every now and then odd occurrences take place and that' where reluctant resident PI, Sasspants, the book-loving guinea pig gets roped in -usually by the perennially enthusiastic Hamisher (a hamster) to embark on some detective work.
 There's some super characterisation of the various pets- the ditzy goldfish are never any good for questioning or eye-witness accounts, and the two rabbits are very proper and a little snooty. Yue's illustrations are wonderful- cute and colourful. The books themselves are a nice smaller size to hold, so good for when encouraging independent reading. 

6) Return of the Dapper Men by Jim McCann and Janet Lee: This is a gorgeous large book with beautiful, intricate, stylised spreads of pictures and perfect if you're looking for art styles and stories that are a bit more diverse. In a land in which all the clocks long ago stopped at the exact same time, so that no-one knows what has come or what has gone,  what was work, or what was play, children and robots join forces when a rain of strange 'dapper men' from the sky interrupts their timeless existence. It's a slightly surreal story, full of imagination, certainly different, more ponderous in pace, but whimsical and involving.

7) Explorer: The Mystery boxes, edited by Kazu Kibuishi: This is an anthology featuring a series of short comics from a host of fab comics artists and writers, all focused around the concept of a mystery box. The stories aren't connected in any way, but they're all fun and engaging. Anthologies can often be a bit jagged, because some contributions are better than others, but this one is edited by Kazu Kibuishi, a comics veteran, and all the tales collected here are brilliant. The variety of illustrators also means you get a selection of art styles, as well as stories that are disparate in tone and genre- space adventures, robots, some spookiness, etc. The shorter stories make it easy to dip in and out of, too. This is published by Graphix, Scholastic's comics line, which doesn't have any UK distributors, so I have no problem telling you it's currently a steal for £5.75 on Amazon- that's 128 pages of full colour, quality comics.

8) Anna and Froga by Anouck Ricard: Anna and Froga is originally a French language comic, but luckily for people like myself, it's been translated into English. I really like the simple illustrations which are quirky and charming, it's not a style you see often in kids comics and its refreshing, but what I absolutely love is how they're self-involved and a little rude and outright the way kids often are. It balances the line between hilarity and grossness and adorableness, a line which, until right now, I didn't even know existed. There's the incident, for example, when Froga offers Anna a pink gumball and she eats it, only to have Christopher the worm approach them a few minutes later about his cousin Sammy who he left curled up in ball somewhere, but now can't seem to find... Could it be? One of my favourites, there was a follow up volume published a couple of months ago.

9) Bird and Squirrel on the Run by James Burks: Squirrel is collecting nuts for winter when he meets the always enthusiastic and happy Bird and the cautious and risk-averse Squirrel just doesn't understand the optimism and will-nilly ways of his feathered acquaintance. He certainly doesn't want to be friends with such a fellow, but the two are thrown together when Cat appears on the scene and they find themselves on the run. Bird and Squirrel is a showcase for friendship, accepting others for they are and acknowledging differences are good. I love the little touches in character design that Burks has added: Bird's aviator goggles and Squirrels acorn hat.

10) Monster on the Hill by Rob Harrell: Monster on the Hill is the most recent book on this list and it has to be one of my books of the year; I honestly just read this with a smile on my face all the way through and only realised I was doing so because my face started to hurt. It's 1860′s England and each town has a designated ‘town monster’ whose job it is to both protect the townspeople and also give them a good scare every now and again for the fun of it (and tourism, of course). So what to do when your town has a really rubbish monster, called Rayburn, of all things? Take him on road trip to tune him up, of course. Funny and warm, this blends together lots of recognisable elements, the cockney newspaper kid, the eccentric, loveable professor and laughs at them a bit to produce a story that's genuinely new- you wont'see the ending coming on this one. One of my favourite parts is where Rayburn goes to meet his old friend to re-learn some scary monster tricks- that;s the two of them hugging in the page above. A fab book.

11) Pippi Moves In by Astrid Lindgren and Ingrid Van Nyman: Here's a slightly retro addition on our list: Pippi Longstocking. Most people have heard of the Pippi books, but these comics were made actually produced during author Astrid Lindgren's lifetime, in collaboration with artist Ingrid Van Nyman. They've only recently seen English language releases, and while the throwback illustration style can perhaps be viewed as a wee bit creepy from a certain angle, I find it's kookiness endearing. The stories are pure, escapist fun which children will love (hell- I love them!) as a parent-less Pippi lives on her own, buys up sweet and toys shops, flexes her strongest girl in the world muscles at the circus by lifting all the animals, and disavows school after a few days voluntary attendance. Pippi is, quite simply, amazing. And my role-model.

12) The Unsinkable Walker Bean by Aaron Renier: I'd recommend Walker Bean for older children; there's a lot of text and lots going on generally with various parallel plot strands that may be difficult for younger readers to keep up with. Walker Bean loves his gran-dad and loves all the stories he tells him of his times at sea, loves spending time with him inventing things together. His parents don' really understand Walker but grand-dad does, so when he's stricken down with a curse and the worst looks like it's going to happen, Walker knows what he has to do: gather his courage and embark on a trepidious quest to find a cure to save the most important person in his life. This is a hugely satisfying adventure book, with pirates, and magic, and beasts and creatures and a whole lot more. Renier's illustrations are incredibly detailed, with so much going on in each page- it's a great book to come back to again and again and discover new things each time.

13) The Shark King by R. Kikuo Johnson: Nanaue lives on an island with his mother, frustrated by her constant need to protect him and know where he's going.  He yearns to be free and roam, and makes a series of discoveries about himself: he can swim underwater, and also seems to have a snappy set of shark jaws on his back, which pop out every now and again What could it all be? Johnson's art really sets this book apart, it captures the breathtaking beauty of Hawaii. I thinks it's vital to have children reading books that are representative of other cultures and backgrounds from a young age, even if it's just loric, and this fits the bill. It's pretty short and similar in format to Ladybird books, ideal for kids who have started to read independently. 

14) Good Dog, Bad Dog by Dave Shelton: A canine crime investigating duo like no other. Bergman isn't happy when the captain pairs him up with Duncan McBoo initially, but it turns out the large-boned, amiable dog detective has a knack for solving cases, be it through fortuitous clumsiness or eating. I don't have much to say about Dave Shelton's book other than it is superb and you should buy it- a pair of dog detectives solving crimes, dog noir, folks- the kids will love it and so will you. 

15) Monster (series), Kaput and Zosky, Sardine (series), Tiny Tyrant series) by Lewis Trondheim: I could (and have been meaning to) write a whole separate post about how utterly  outstanding Trondheim's comics for children are -and he's made quite a few of them! There's 4 books in the Monster series and 4 (perhaps more) in the Tiny Tyrant series, but there's no need to read them in any kind of order or to buy them all- they are self-standing in their own right. Anybody looking for excellent comics for children need only to look as far as Trondehim: his drawings are fantastic, full of life and verve and humour, and his tales funny, silly and smart, full to bursting with imagination and ideas. I read a lot of his books with my 3 year old nephew, who loves to make up his own stories to go with what he sees in the pictures. If I was pressed to pick a favourite, I'd have to go with Kaput and Zoksy, two aliens intent on finding new worlds to conquer and rule, and being rather rubbish at it.

And that's it for part one! I hope it's been of some use. Please let me know if you'd like to see more, as they are quite time-consuming to do.

So it's been a while, but here we go, updating the list with 10 more titles:

16) The Elsewhere Chronicles (series) by Nykko and Bannister: This is another series of books that's hard to find anywhere apart from Amazon, but it's worth it- the books have a nice A4, paperback format that makes them easy to read and allows the art more space to breathe, too. As much as these things shouldn't need pointing out, it's great to have a young black girl as the main hero and protagonist- comics are slowly getting better at this and it's so encouraging to see. The adventure revolves around a magical portal a group of kids find that transports them to another world with wonderful beasts and creatures, but increasingly find themselves faced with a deluge of problems, as mysterious cloaked figures begin to shadow them. I'm up to book 5 in this series and it's incredibly good, with fantastic art, although it can get darker in tone, so perhaps best suitable for ages 6 and up.

17) The Rainbow Orchid by Garen Ewing: Ewing's superb adventure/mystery comic is told in the classic style of ligne claire -similar to the style of Tintin books- and centers around the search for a rare, presumed extinct flower: the rainbow orchid, referred to in ancient Greek literature and supposedly a myth.

25) My Mommy is in America and she met Buffalo Bill by Jean Regnaud and Emile Bravo:

18) The Adventures of Venus by Gilbert Hernandez:

21) Batman Adventures

19) Smile by Raina Telemeiger:

20) Cardboard, Tommysaurus Rex and more by Doug Tenapel:

22) Ariol by Marc Boutavant and Emmanuel Gilbert:

23) Yotsuba! by Kiyohiko Azuma:

24) Sidekicks by Dan Santat: