Travel and reading go hand in hand, but may I suggest that graphic novels make some of the most enjoyable reading for travel?
Travel and reading are a part of each other, and I cannot imagine a trip without a paperback – at once a familiar friend and a stimulant of mind-trips.
I like my books to be about somewhere completely opposite of where I am. For example, in Central America, I might read about somewhere cold and dark. In this way, reading keeps your mind floating between where you are, where you’re from, and somewhere completely different altogether.
When I travel, I often read between breaks of staring out the window of a plane or boat or café. The setting is a spark plug for the words you’re reading. Books we read in far flung destinations stick with us longer and the words stand out more.
In this way, I find the marriage of story and drawings so suitable for travel. At home, I might zip through a graphic novel in an hour or two. But on a train, I spend more time with each panel. Again, the travel makes it a richer experience.
There are several genres of travel-related graphic novels that make for great travel reads: the travel memoir graphic novel, the science and history graphic novel, the foreign setting graphic novel, and the travel journalism graphic novel.
Here are some of my favorite graphic novel reads for travelers:
Ruins, by Peter Kuper
Ruins is one of the most beautiful and exquisitely drawn travel graphic novels ever produced. It’s also a dense, thick hardcover and a long read. Ruins is about an American couple who, on a sabbatical year in Oaxaca, Mexico, fall into political and personal conflicts that sets the stage for the story. The journey of a Monarch from the East Coast of the United States, into Mexico serves as an allegory for the journey made by Samantha and George. Link
Daytripper, by Fabio Moon and Gabriel Ba
In Daytripper, fabled Brazilian graphic novel artists Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá imagine Brás de Oliva Domingos, a young Brazilian man who writes obituaries, dreams of becoming a well-known writer, and imagines his own death at different stages in his life. Through this story, we are taken on a journey throughout Brazil, offering an intoxicating and exotic journey into questions about what our life would be like on the very day we die. As a paperback, Daytripper makes a taut graphic novel for carry-on weight conscious travelers. Link
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea, by Guy Delisle
Any of the travel journalism graphic novels by Guy Delisle are recommended, but I particularly enjoy Pyongyang, which follows Delisle’s family during their work visa days living in Pyongyang. Through simple drawings of his family’s encounters with North Koreans, he captures the strange experience of life in the Hermit Kingdom. Link
Primates: The Fearless Science of Jane Goodall, Dian Fossey, and Biruté Galdikas by Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks
Primates offers biographies of the ‘trimates’, the three famous female primatologists of the 20th century, through their research in the Kenyan Highlands, Tanzania, Congo and Borneo. The graphic novel is exotic, enjoyable and educational, with memorable illustrations. Link
The Venice Chronicles by Enrico Casarosa
My favorite travel graphic novel is the personal travelogue. Enrico Casarosa, a Pixar artist, captures both his own travel experiences in Italy, filled with humor and romance, as well as his own personal journey in The Venice Chronicles. The watercolor sketches and the encounters with locals truly come to life in this packable hardcover. (Link)
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984: A Graphic Memoir by Riad Sattouf
Riad Sattouf spent his early years in rural France, Libya under Gaddafi, and Syria under Assad. This graphic novel captures the genuine absurdity of growing up as an outsider in two of the dimmest countries, at some of their darkest times. Sattouf does so with personality and humor. The Arab of the Future, which is the first of two in a series, is a master of travel memoir storytelling and makes a taut, paperback read perfect as a slim carry-on. Link
Terra Tempo: The Four Corners of Time by David R. Shapiro and Christopher Herndon
The Terra Tempo series by David R. Shapiro and Christopher Herndon, imagines three children as time travelers who are able to travel back into different ages of prehistory. This series is designed for children, and I read these to my son while traveling.
However, the science of geological epochs is so important as a travel subject that I could recommend this graphic novel and its sequals to adults as well. The Four Corners of Time dives into the prehistory of the Grand Canyon and the Colorado Plateau, a perfect compliment to travels in Utah and Arizona. The other books in the series cover prehistoric Cascadia and the Great Plains during the Cenozoic. Link
Illegal: A Graphic Novel by Eoin Colfer & Andrew Donkin
Stunning, magical drawings complement a fictionalized story of migration from Africa to Europe based on interviews with survivors of Mediterranean crossings.
This graphic novel, the story of a boy who crosses the Mediterranean, beautifully illustrates the human and natural landscapes that play a central role in the terrifying migrations being made by Africans. A subject few choose to consume, this graphic novel vividly makes alive one of today’s biggest human stories. Link