5 Escapist Graphic Novels to Transport You Into New Worlds

'Daytripper by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon, 'This One Summer' by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki, 'Y: The Last Man' by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra.

These days, graphic novels can be a welcome escape when we find ourselves questioning whether scrolling through Twitter and binge-watching Netflix are the best uses of time while sheltering in place. For me, they can be a way to get over the attention deficit hump of reading a book when I just can’t bring myself to relax and dive in.

The visual component heightens the reality of the story, and I find myself transported like a child enamored with a picture book. So let’s take a trip the only way we can right now—in our minds—and read these transcendent graphic novels.

All selections are available on Kindle, the digital comics site ComiXology, independent booksellers or your local library via the Libby app.

Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá 

The best dreams feel so real that we want to return to them as soon as we open our eyes. In Daytripper, obituary writer Bras is constantly trying to decide when to live out his dreams. As he tries to put someone else’s life into words, he struggles to make sense of his own. In each chapter, Brazilian twin brothers Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá show us pivotal moments in their main character’s existence as Bras wonders which exact event might signal his true purpose in life.

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It’s hard not to frequently get lost in the incredible depictions of Brazil throughout Bras’ lifetime in Daytripper. He journeys into the mesa-lined valleys of Bahia, sips coffee amid downtown São Paulo’s post-colonial architecture and travels to the countryside getaway of his youth. This is a story about love, life, success, death and the moments of pause in between, told as one big, colorful dream. 

Memorable quote: “If you travel too fast, all you’re gonna see is a blur and you’ll never really meet anyone interesting.”

An illustration from 'Daytripper' by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon.

Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra

Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra’s seminal Y: The Last Man is as addicting as a binge-worthy TV series. A Y chromosome-killing epidemic swiftly sweeps the Earth, and the world is suddenly ruled by women. All males are dead (people, animals—all of them) except for one: a quick-witted son of a high-ranking congresswoman named Yorick Brown, who fancies himself a Houdini-like escape artist. Oh and Yorick’s pet monkey, Ampersand, too.

Meanwhile, cloning specialist Dr. Allison Mann might be the only person who can get to the bottom of what sparked the epidemic and, you know, maybe save the world. Trouble is her lab in Boston was torched by either an extremist man-hating group called the Daughters of the Amazon or Israeli military operatives. The only hope? A cross-country journey to Dr. Mann’s back-up lab in San Francisco by Yorick, his government-appointed protector Agent 355, the doctor and Ampersand.

The long-rumored Y: The Last Man TV show is supposedly slated to drop on FX sometime in 2020. This is your chance to read it first and brag to all your friends how “the books were way better!” 

Bonus: After Y Concluded in 2008, co-creator Pia Guerra found her second calling as a sharp political cartoonist for the likes of The New Yorker, The Nib and others. You can see some of her notable cartoons on her Instagram account here.

'Habibi' by Craig Thompson.

Habibi by Craig Thompson

Craig Thompson is best known for his autobiographical coming-of-age graphic novel, Blankets, which sees him growing out of his Midwestern hometown and shedding his Evangelical Christian identity. For Habibi, he sought to better understand Islam while expressing the beauty of Arabic calligraphy and interpreting mystical numerology. The result is one of the finest expressions of the graphic novel medium. The book’s gorgeous binding makes it easy to mistake for a sacred text, which is fitting for a saga that visually weaves in many stories of the Quran as major motifs. 

A sweeping epic, Habibi tells the tale of a boy and girl who are raised in the vindictive worlds of slavery and child trafficking in a fictional Middle Eastern locale. The boy, Zam, and the girl, Dodola, meet early in life and forge a loving friendship that is torn apart by the circumstances in which their eventual captors marginalize their human value. While heartbreaking at times, the way Zam and Dodola’s lives diverge and converge throughout the incredibly drawn Habibi is reminiscent of Slumdog Millionaire, without all the Hollywood fanfare. Although sometimes criticized for its Orientalism, the world that multiple Eisner Award winner Thompson creates in Habibi flows triumphantly like water through the burning desert, bustling medina and brutal cityscape of the fictional Wanatolia. 

Memorable quote: “That city’s a rich man’s paradise. They waste their treasures.”

Note: While not available on Kindle or ComiXology, the stunning physical copy of Habibi just begs to be held as you escape into it. It's available online through several Bay Area booksellers, including San Francisco's City Lights and Oakland's Walden Pond, which also offers the option of a “safe, sanitized pickup.”

Strange Planet by Nathan Pyle

While not quite a graphic novel, Nathan Pyle’s new Strange Planet book is a cute and hilarious collection of his webcomics about aliens getting accustomed to the mundane aspects of human life in their rudimentary alien vernacular. Think of a whole family of Robert Heinlein’s Valentine Michael Smith, a Martian who comes to Earth and tries to adapt to earthling customs in Stranger In A Strange Land.

'Strange Planet' by Nathan Pyle.

Pyle’s characters refer to the parent aliens as “lifegivers”; cookies are “sweet disks”; high-fives are “elevated handslaps”; and an alien rationalizes the need to study for a test by proclaiming that “this information is best absorbed by diligent repetition!” This is a sweet series based off of Pyle’s incredibly popular Instagram account, and will certainly help you appreciate life’s simple pleasures. 

Memorable quote: [Alien watching Jeopardy!] “I recalled trivial knowledge that none of these beings knew!” 

This One Summer by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki

What This One Summer does so well is depict the Canadian vacation town of Awago Beach through the eyes of Rose and Windy, two young girls who reunite each year with their families in the town. Author Mariko and illustrator Jillian Tamaki (who are cousins) totally nail the girls’ experience of adolescence. Rose is 12 years old and coming into her own as her parents struggle to keep their marriage together. Windy is 10 and constantly on a carefree sugar high, and is just really good at being a kid.

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The pair goes for swims, collects shells and pops into one of the town’s two stores to rent slasher films. We experience Awago Beach most vividly when the words cease and we’re left with just Jillian Tamaki’s images of raindrops at twilight, ominous clodhoppers and the lake's musk filling the dank air. The sense of escapism in This One Summer is powerful, and made me pine for the vacation town my family and I would steal away to when I was a kid. A deadly contention comes to light as the story presses on, and with every turn of the page, the world outside of Awago Beach might as well not even exist.

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Memorable quote: “You’re not coming in?” “I’m gonna swim along the beach. Home.”