Disease provides a narrative springboard within many a comic book — freak infections alone have spawned legions of superheroes, and there’s even an X-Men villain named Pandemic — but the CDC’s young-audience title uses medieval and fantasy scenarios to put immunology itself under an illuminating microscope.
As coronavirus cases increase exponentially, paralyzing much of day-to-day life, well-crafted stories will help entertain, inform and distract readers of all ages. Some relevant titles speak to the state of isolation and disorientation; others fill the void of an activity missed.
Here are some recommended graphic novels and illustrated tales to aid you in your time of social distancing and self-quarantine:
'My Favorite Thing Is Monsters,' by Emil Ferris (Fantagraphics)
Ferris created this masterwork of a murder mystery against the odds. The artist says West Nile virus left her temporarily paralyzed from the waist down and lacking dexterity in her drawing hand. Created over six years by force of will and imagination, “Monsters” is inspired by literary horror and mid-century “creature features,” as a wolf-loving girl’s curiosity leads to layers of creepy discovery.
'Dragon Hoops,' by Gene Luen Yang (First Second)
Missing “March Madness,” with its bracket basketball and Cinderella postseason teams? Then the first work of comics journalism by Yang, a National Book Award finalist, is here to help. In the heartfelt “Dragon Hoops,” an Oakland prep school that has a long history of championship near-misses fields a team of uncommon talent — but do they have enough grit and luck to buoy their hard-luck coach? Textured reporting and smart pacing make this a rousing read.
'Mooncop,' by Tom Gauld (Drawn and Quarterly)
For anyone feeling too isolated, it could be worse: Pity poor Mooncop, a melancholy officer on a space colony who has too much time — and too little crime — on his hands. This is a masterfully understated tale of a life lived on a low hum of the humdrum, with only occasional socialization at the Lunar Donuts shop to perk up his day. Is a therapy robot really going to help a Rocket Man stranded on a desolate surface, floating in his own ironic detachment?
'Stand Still, Stay Silent,' by Minna Sundberg (Hivework)
Launched as a webcomic, this post-apocalyptic adventure opens with a riveting prologue, as clustering citizens try to get their minds around the beginnings of a pandemic. “The government has deemed it necessary to also prohibit international sea and land traffic,” reads a dialogue box, as Denmark closes its borders “to hinder the spread” of an illness. The action then jumps forward nearly a century, with descendants inhabiting a vastly remade landscape.
'The Zombie Survival Guide: Recorded Attacks,' by Max Brooks and artist Ibraim Roberson (Three Rivers Press)
“The Walking Dead” comic consumes so much media attention because of the AMC franchise it spawned. But “World War Z” creator Brooks is just as compelling when it comes to zombie lit, especially with this graphic novel — bolstered by Roberson’s grippingly grotesque art — that continues where his hit “Zombie Survival Guide” left off. Spanning the millennia up to the digital age, “Recorded Attacks” is a sly way to contemplate a zombie virus.
'The Junior Disease Detectives — Operation: Outbreak' (CDC with the USDA and 4-H)
Students have a lot to learn about immunology — and hand-washing — en route to an agricultural fair. And that’s before heading to Atlanta for a CDC Museum Disease Camp. This comic book, available for download, even demonstrates why one 4-H student must stay home sick. It’s an information-driven story with a retro-’80s vibe. And for parents suddenly home-schooling their kids for the foreseeable future, it’s a swell addition to the syllabus.
Michael Cavna writes about comics and graphic novels for The Washington Post.