The barrier between comics and prose has long been a shallow divide, with acclaimed talents like Neil Gaiman and Joe Hill rushing between mediums so nimbly that either “team” would claim them as their own. Some novelists, like Marjorie Liu and Duane Swierczynski, get into comics and barely look back. Others, like recent Marvel recruits Ta-Nehisi Coates and Roxane Gay, remain frequent prose powers. A few longtime comic book writers, like Warren Ellis and Mike Carey, have even enjoyed decade-long prose success in their funny book careers.
The novels (and short story collections) below represent some of the most compelling prose posts from writers who spend a lot of time in the fully illustrated world. Chances are the new Marvel or DC writer who seems like an “overnight sensation” has a New York Times bestselling novel tucked away in their bibliography.
Nnedi Okorafor’s first published comic wasn’t released until early 2018. But there’s a ton of hype surrounding his upcoming one. Black Panther series, and with an HBO adaptation of his novel Who is afraid of death in production with George RR Martin attached, Okorafor is about to become a household name.
Binti, Okorafor’s Hugo and Nebula Award novel, follows the first titular member of the reclusive Himba people to join a prestigious interstellar academy. Beyond dealing with differences in customs, Binti is immersed in a diplomatic situation with the dreaded Medusa alien race. Okorafor imbues his trilogy with a respect for conflicting cultures and an eye for the ways colonialism affects society. Wait for her Black Panther mini-series to present the same skillful balance of awareness, imagination and action.
MR Carey, better known to comic book fans as Mike Carey, is a sequential art favorite thanks to several passages on the X-Men titles and epic passages on the Vertigo series like Lucifer and the literary The unwritten. His 2014 novel The girl with all the presents shattered the zombie buzz to become a bestseller and inspire a critically acclaimed film adaptation. We named his follow-up, Fellside, one of the best horror novels of the 21st century thanks to its poignant approach Orange is the new blackprison-style tension.
This year, Carey posted The boy on the bridge, a prequel to The girl with all the presents. He follows a scientific team, including a 15-year-old autistic boy, aboard their fortified research vehicle during the outbreak of “hungers” which finally invaded Great Britain. Knowledge of TGWATG will enrich your time with this one, but The boy on the bridge works perfectly as a standalone story about the pressures on humanity in times of crisis.
We also included that of Lauren Beukes The brilliant girls on our list of the 21 best horror novels of the 21st century, but it was really a mix between this time-leaping serial killer novel and this Annibal-meets-Lovecraft whole piece in a recovering Detroit. Like his Vertigo comic book series Survivors Club, Broken monsters requires a disparate group of protagonists (including a Latino cop, his teenage daughter, a freelance journalist, and a homeless man) to come together against a disturbing threat. Beukes, who contributed to the flagship series Vertigo Fables, has the gift of managing complicated castings and situating unknowable horror in everyday life. But readers with a lower tolerance for mutilated bodies should consider Zoo city and Moxieland, the South African author’s first science fiction releases.
Benjamin Percy is one of those comic book writers who seemed to come out of nowhere, but the Green arrow and Teen Titans scribe has behind him a list of acclaimed essays, post-apocalyptic thrillers and werewolf horrors. The black net, his 2017 mix of all-too-real cyberpunk intrigue and occult horror, was praised by the New York Times Book Review as “one of the best Stephen King novels not written by the master himself”. Just as Percy rehabilitated the two DC properties he writes, the author has managed to produce one of the few works of fiction centered on the (real) dark web that doesn’t bother with outdated depictions of hackers and of Internet culture.
Caitlin R. Kiernan is a strange fiction giant, with the World Fantasy and Bram Stoker Awards to her credit. She was one of the first architects to contribute to Neil Gaiman’s sprawling expansion Sand seller mythology, scripting much of the spinoff series the dream as good as The girl who would be death and Raffia. His work in comics in recent years has focused on his character Alabaster, an ideal vehicle for Southern Gothic fantasy. Perhaps Kiernan’s most notable trait as a writer, beyond his emphasis on sentiment over the plot, is his prolificity and the 2016s. Dear sweet dirty world brings together 28 rarely published short stories in its 14th collection. The stories inside contain vampires, Paleozoic beasts, industrial fairies, desperate writers, and more. While Kiernan continues to produce novels and short stories like Agents of Dreamland, these shorter accounts highlight the breadth of his work and read a bit like a journey into the realm of dreams.
America, Gabby Rivera’s Marvel comic book starring artist Joe Quinones, debuted in all its shameless quirk and Latin space pride earlier this year. But before donning America’s star-studded jacket, Rivera wrote the novel YA Juliette breathes about a Puerto Rican lesbian who comes out and comes to terms with her relationship with her family, her gender and her sexuality during a hectic summer. With its emotional rawness and its portrayal of a desperately underserved community, Juliette breathes found an instant niche in the YA world and helped bring Rivera’s attention to Marvel. And Marvel is lucky to have it; America is doing well with its first commercial collection on shelves and its second bow in progress.
Warren Ellis is by far the most prolific comic book author on this list, with deeply humanistic sci-fi books like Trans-metropolitan and Planetary under his belt. Ellis has long been somewhat of a polymath, and in recent years has staked his claim as a novelist with books like Small twisted vein and Firearm. Normal, his latest, can also be his best with a brief 160 pages. Ellis is a bit futuristic, and this news takes place in an Experimental Forest where the Predators of Destiny go to unplug and relax… until one of them ends up dead in a locked cabin. Like in comics like Global frequency and Iron Man: Extremes, Ellis knows how to distinguish between the amazing technology we have today and the possibilities, good and bad, just around the corner.
Thriller writer Chelsea Cain entered the comic book world in 2015 with Mocking bird. She transformed the main character, who briefly appeared on ABC Agents of SHIELD and sported a puzzling history as a B-lister in the Avengers comics, in a suddenly cool and feminist super-spy. Cain already had a history as an accomplished prose writer, covering titles from the New York Times the hit thrillers Archie Sheridan / Gretchen Lowell (one of the few serial killer series to feature a female antagonist) for a kick, her 2014 novel about a child abduction survivor who transforms into the perfect weapon. Cain’s novels don’t have the same sexy-funny tone as Mocking bird, but his skill with tension and the Boiler plot has earned him a legion of fans both inside and outside the comic book community.
Ryan North’s The unbeatable squirrel girl is one of Marvel’s most delightful series, both for its heartbreaking protagonist and its heartfelt take on the publisher’s often-wacky story. And the Canadian cartoonist, who has also written a long series on the Adventure time comic book linked, ran a massively successful Kickstarter for an adventure to choose from Hamlet novel too. He sold the result to Penguin Random House and followed it up with Romeo and / or Juliet, an equally heartbreaking take on Shakespeare’s classic doomed lovers. Don’t expect simple “Juliet fell in love with Mercutio instead” twists; North’s novel is packed with puzzles, puns, robots, and over 100 hilarious ending illustrations from cartoonists like Kate Beaton and Jon Klassen.
Voodoo heart is the oldest book on this list, but it’s worth searching to read Scott Snyder’s prose ahead of his meteoric rise to Batman fame with DC Comics in 2010. Snyder’s news reveals a skillful hand at cutting the edge. fancy with the darkness, which surely helped win this Stephen King’s cover text. While writers like Gaiman and Hill use their marks of dark fantasy and horror in the prose and comic book worlds, Snyder opened a different door when he entered Gotham, bringing only ‘a penchant for interior monologue. So, fans of the comic book superstar will be pleasantly surprised by Voodoo heartis a fictional landscape that is both entertaining and disturbing.