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Since works like "The Watchmen," "Maus," and "The Dark Knight Returns" helped bring graphic novels into the mainstream in the 1980s, the genre has exploded into an enormous industry, producing works that are frequently recognized just as much for their literary merit as their illustrations and entertainment value.
With the hugely increased popularity of graphic novels over the past decade or so has come an influx of illustrated books that double as amazing learning tools. Below we've rounded up seven that might be worth adding to your curriculum if you're a teacher, or might just be worth reading if you're intellectually curious about a wide range of hugely fascinating things.
After a chance meeting on a small French island in 1994, author and illustrator Emmanuel Guibert and American World War II veteran Alan Cope collaborated to create "Alan's War," a powerful memoir of Cope's time spent as a young American soldier in the waning days of the war in Europe. A departure from other novels and nonfiction books on World War II, "Alan's War" features a vivid first-person account of the wreckage of the war instead of the battles.
It may have completely overturned our understanding of the human species and led to a heated debate about our place in the world still goes on today, but how many people have actually read "On the Origin of the Species"? Hold your hands high. No one? It's cool, here's your chance.
With their graphic novel adaptation, author Michael Keller and illustrator Nicolle Rager Fuller give readers a compelling reason to check out Darwin's landmark text, which is condensed into easily digestible words and elegant illustrations. The authors also devote their own chapters to the origin of the brave scientist himself and the controversy that followed when his book debuted in 1859.
You might not know Richard Feynman by name, but his stamp as a physicist is all over the history of the 20th century. He helped develop the atomic bomb, was part of the Rogers Commission that investigated the 1986 Challenger disaster, and is even widely credited for introducing the idea of nanotechnology.
And, far from being an ivory tower academic, Feynman was a noted great wit, author, and eccentric, who frequently worked in a "gentleman's club" not far from his Caltech office. In their graphic novel, writer Jim Ottaviani illustrator Leland Myrick examine this oddball genius' lasting legacy.
Fitting a general synopsis of "Logicomix" into a healthy paragraph is no easy task, but bear with me as I do my best: A story oscillating between the late 19th century, early World War II, and modern day Athens explores the life of English mathematician and philosopher Bertrand Russell as he searches for mathematical truth, shares conversations with other intellectual heavyweights of his time, and battles inner demons related to his genius. Got all that? Good. It's all much more entertaining than it sounds. Plus, the pictures are pretty.
The first part of a planned trilogy, "March" views the difficult early years of the African American civil rights movement time from the viewpoint of the civil rights activist John Lewis, the former chairman of Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) who now serves as a United States Congressman. The first entree chronicles Lewis' early days, including his childhood in rural Alabama, and his first encounter with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The trilogy is inspired by "Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story," a 1957 comic book that helped introduce Martin Luther King, Jr. to the country. The comic book also notably detailed the methods of nonviolence deployed during the Montgomery Bus Boycott of 1955-1956, which would continue to fuel the Civil Rights movement during the 1960s.
Life in Iran during the 1980s may feel (and is, really) a world and generation away from most coming-of-age Americans. But Marjane Satrapi's two-part Persepolis series humanizes aspects of 20th century history that most Americans know little about. With great insight, a bit of hope, and a surprising amount of humor, "Perspolis" details Satrapi's life as a middle-class, Bruce Lee-loving, punk rock-listening Iranian during the tumultuous years following the Islamic revolution. Similar to "Alan's War," the illustrations in Persepolis help breathe life into one person's point of view during a moment in history.
In "Pyongyang," Québécois author Guy Delisle details his strange, nearly-surreal journey into the closed off totalitarian dictatorship of North Korea, where a dead man has ruled since 1994, streets and buildings light up like a movie set with no activity behind them, and there is an eerie absence of disabled and elderly people. However, because of a starving population, animators like Delisle are occasionally admitted for two months at a time to help boost the economy.
"Pyongyang" mostly follows Delisle around the country's capital as he has a series of equally strange, funny, and dispiriting encounters with the North Korean population. But these small moments help reveal greater truths about the nature of totalitarianism and North Korea's strange place in the modern world.
Beardsley, Eleanor. "'Alan's War': A Graphic Novel Revisits WWII." NPR, 24 May 2009. Web. 15 June 2014. Retrieved from NPR.
Cavna, Michael. "In graphic novel 'March,' Rep. John Lewis renders a powerful civil rights memoir." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 12 Aug. 2013. Web. 25 June 2014. Retrieved from Washington Post.
Holt, Jim. "Algorithm and Blues." The New York Times. The New York Times, 26 Sept. 2009. Web. 25 June 2014. Retrieved from The New York Times.