The success of Rick Riordan's Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, which chronicles the adventures of a modern demigod, descendent of the Greek god of the oceans, has elevated the pantheon of ancient Greek gods to the same exalted levels teenage wizards and star-crossed nosferatu enjoy among YA and middle readers.
"I have definitely seen more kids asking for mythological-themed titles," said Stephanie Anderson, of WORD Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y. "There's a YA title that I feel never got enough attention that is now much easier to sell: Oh. My. Gods. by Tera Lynn Childs [Speak]. And the classic D'Aulaire's Book of Greek Myths [Delacorte] is selling well."
Beth Puffer at Bank Street Books in New York City, said that the trend carries over to non-Greek myths and legends: "Kids ask specifically for books 'like' the Percy Jackson series," she said. "We then recommend other books connected to Greek myths but we might also steer them toward some with other kinds of mythology." She cited the Samuel Blink series by Matt Haig (Putnam), based in Norse mythology, and the Theodosia books by R.L. LaFevers (Houghton Mifflin), rooted in Egyptian myth.
And there are some noteworthy graphic novels that may interest young readers looking for more myth-themed adventures.
Zeus: King of the Gods by George O'Connor (First Second) is the first of a proposed four-volume series on the Greek gods; it chronicles young Zeus's overthrow of Kronos and the Titans, the brutal race of proto-god giants that ruled the Earth before the better-known pantheon of Greek deities took over. O'Connor's book combines the brisk pop style of comic book heroics with a story that focuses on the under-explored "origin story" of the Greek gods. The book features a family tree of the gods, character profiles, recommendations for further readings and other resources for readers who can't get enough of these ancient stories. (For older readers, this might be the first time you'll see Zeus presented in a truly heroic light. Though the seeds of his flaws--his brutal temper and his weakness for the ladies--are there, O'Connor's Zeus is a hero who genuinely earns the title King of the Gods.) The next novel is the series focuses on Athena and will be released next Tuesday, April 13. Look for future titles on Hera and Hades.
For younger readers, there's Michael Townsend's comedic take on these classic tales: Amazing Greek Myths of Wonder and Blunders (Dial). Jennifer Laughran at Books Inc., San Francisco, Calif., called it "Matt Groening–esque and so cute!" Townsend's book goes beyond stories of the gods to include important figures such as Midas, Icarus and Pandora. The graphics are bold and cartoonish, keeping with the gag-filled tone, but the stories are surprisingly accurate to the sources. Plus, readers will find out how many centaurs it takes to screw in a light bulb.
For middle-reader comics fans, both DC and Marvel have important properties rooted in the classic Greek myths. Wonder Woman, the distaff corner of the DC's central triumvirate of characters (along with Batman and Superman) is herself an Amazon princess. Recent collections by Gail Simone have emphasized Wonder Woman's mythological origins. In Wonder Woman: Rise of the Olympian, the famed superhero clashes with Zeus, Ares and gods from other pantheons (gods from native Hawaiian culture play a major role; no foolin'). Marvel recently refurbished its previously comedic Hercules character, darkening up his adventures and adding a layer of irony to his stories. Herc stars in four recent collections: Against the World, Sacred Invasion, Dark Reign and The Mighty Thorcules. The plots of these graphic novels assume a level of familiarity with the broader "universes" of each comic publisher. If your store doesn't already carry superhero stuff, this might not be the place to start.
Also, keep an eye on the October 2010 graphic novel adaptation of Percy Jackson (Hyperion). As the brisk preorder business of the Twilight graphic novel proves, young readers eagerly follow their favorite franchises into other formats. If you sold significant numbers of the Percy Jackson series in prose, then the graphic novel will be a safe bet.
For adults who are tired of kids getting all the coolest graphic novels, there's Eric Shanower's brilliant Age of Bronze (Image Comics), possibly the best modern retelling of the Trojan War. Shanower strips the tale of supernatural elements, foregrounding the realpolitik crisis that lead to antiquity's defining conflict. Crisp black-and-white art informed by Shanower's extensive research into the period helps makes Age of Bronze the definitive modern take on the seminal tale. The series has been collected into three graphic novels: A Thousand Ships, Sacrifice and Betrayal, Part One.
Other Graphic Novel News
Middle readers into epic fantasy and fans of Jeff Smith's classic graphic novel series Bone will gobble up Kazu Kibuishi's excellent Amulet series (Graphix). Amulet seamlessly weaves together so many classic tropes of fantasy lit, it feels like Kibuishi is cheating. After a family tragedy, a young brother and sister, Navin and Emily, move to an old house that, naturally, contains a doorway to an exciting and dangerous world. Lush artwork that blends Pixar and manga influences brings this grand-scale adventure to vibrant life.
Fans of hip memoirs like Fun Home will dig Laurie Sandell's The Impostor's Daughter (Little, Brown). In a darkly humorous voice, Sandell recounts the true story of her relationship with her father, a larger-than-life eccentric genius who turned out to be a con man. Sandell's story is poignant and her ironic self-awareness prevents this from becoming a pity party. Her simplistic art style evokes the art of Persepolis and the New Yorker cartoons of Roz Chast.
The trailer for the film adaptation of Scott Pilgrim lit up the Internet on its release and is an indication that the film, to be released in August, is going to be a big deal. That means you can expect interest in Oni Press's Scott Pilgrim series. Created by Bryan Lee O'Malley, Pilgrim follows the adventures of a young man who, to win the right to date the girl of his dreams, must defeat her seven evil exes in videogame-style combat. A winning combination of wit, charm and action has made the Pilgrim series a hit among comic fans. The film, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Michael Cera as the title character, should give this deserving series mainstream traction. The sixth and last volume of the series hits stores in July.
(So how many centaurs does it take to screw in a light bulb? Zero. There were no light bulbs in ancient Greece!) --Michael Bagnulo
Our new graphic novel columnist, Michael Bagnulo, has worked in publishing for a decade, edited graphic novels and been a comic book reader for life. Moreover, he's the husband of Jessica Stockton Bagnulo, co-owner of Greenlight Bookstore, Brooklyn, N.Y.