I’ve read over 100 graphic novels in the last 6 months. There are only two that I would universally recommend:
This is the graphic novel I would give to describe Canada to a non-Canadian. On the surface, its a memoir about working in the Albertan oil sands to pay off student loans, but it touches on so many vaguely Canadian themes. For example:
Maybe its not the themes themselves, which undoubtedly happen in other countries, but the way they’re presented that feels Canadian. Like the way the landscapes and industrial processes are drawn in awesome scale to highlight the vulnerability of Kate and her fellow workers. Or the way she portrays the charming regional accents and quirks of her coworkers, while also describing their familiar Canadian weaknesses and cruelties.
Adrian Tomine is such a Next Fucking Level cartoonist that comparing him to anyone else makes them feel trivial in comparison. I love Chester Brown, but he feels quaint/outdated compared to Adrian’s continuously updating perspective. Daniel Clowes has been rightly celebrated for years, but his characters feel like caricatures compared to the subtle nuance featured in Adrian’s portrayals. Zoe Thoroughgood’s art excels when drawing grand and fantastical metaphors, but Adrian’s depiction of mundane phenomena doesn’t need to be dressed up in a visual metaphor to feel impactful.
His short-story compilations, such as Killing and Dying, are great. His most recent publication, a memoir called The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist, is beautiful. But I recommend starting out with Shortcomings. Its his only work of longer fiction, his work that is most studied/discussed (because of its focus on being a young Asian-American male in American society), and is being adapted into a film. Don’t read the Wikipedia article or watch the film trailer, they both feel inaccurate/limiting/cutesy in their summary.