2016 VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award Winners Announced

The Diversity & Inclusion Forum of the Virginia Library Association has just announced the 2016 winners of the VLA Graphic Novel Diversity Award. The deliberation was quite intense due to the high quality of the submissions. The Diversity Awards Committee wants to thank all the publishers and self-publishers who participated. The committee wishes that every nomination could be honored, however we are very happy to announce the Winners and Honor Books. The committee also identified Overfloweth Titles that meet the high standards of quality literature and that they would recommend reading.



Watson and Holmes Volume 2 coverWatson and Holmes, Volume 2 by Lyndsay Faye, Brandon Easton, Hannibal Tabu, Steven Grant and Karl Bollers, Illustrated by N. Steven Harris, Dennis Calero and Eli Powell. New Paradigm Studios.
Watson and Holmes, Volume 2 is a great twist on a British classic that features a reimagining of beloved, iconic characters. With great black role models this series is relevant with the emergence of more black heroes and grittier storytelling, as seen in Netflix’s Luke Cage. These complex characters solve crimes with diverse elements, including sex slavery, suicide, transgender sex workers and more. The artwork is expressive and provides its readers with a distinct cast of characters.


March Book 3 coverMarch: Book 3 by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, illustrated by Nate Powell. Top Shelf Productions.
March, Book 3 concludes Congressman John Lewis's memoir of the Civil Rights movement. This volume begins with a church bombing in 1963, marches through Bloody Sunday, and ends with the 1965 Voting Rights Act. Like the previous volumes, it is framed by the inauguration of President Obama. The collaboration between Lewis, co-author Andrew Aydin, and artist Nate Powell addresses race, equality, and justice in our nation's continuing struggle to live its moral vision. March, Book 3 shows that graphic literature is capable of handling difficult and complex issues respectfully while meeting the highest literary expectations.
With the immediacy of courtroom sketches and the flow of video, Powell's black and white drawings pull the reader into those years. He shows the cruelty and brutality that civil rights workers faced for registering people to vote. Even more than the violence, foreboding settings and faces full of emotion evoke reader empathy for the struggle to make America more inclusive.
Lewis's memory, recorded speeches, and other documents ensure historical accuracy in the characters' conversations. They reveal the courage of people risking death to protest, the tensions among civil rights leaders with differing goals, and the political maneuvering behind historic legislation. These make Lewis' narrative not only vivid history but also a timeless account of what it takes to make a movement succeed.

Honor Books


Brotherman: Revelation coverBrotherman: Revelation by Guy A. Sims, illustrated by Dawud Anyabwile and Brian McGee. Brotherman Comics.
Antonio Valor, like many teenagers, is trying to find his own path in the world and hopefully leave it better than he found it. In trying to finding his path, Antonio must confront who is father is and why it impacts the expectations placed on Antonio. Brotherman: Revelation talks about community exploitation and how systemic racism impacts that exploitation via embedded crime, poverty, and a lack of opportunities within an inner city. Brotherman also creates a compelling world with fun engaging characters, albeit a bit violent, with a beautiful aesthetic strongly influenced by the graphic nature of graffiti.

Japanese Notebooks book coverJapanese Notebooks: A Journey to the Empire of Signs by Igort. Chronicle books.
Japanese Notebooks is a beautiful graphic novel that combines the aesthetic techniques and structure of both Japanese and European print and comic history. The story follows Igort as he lives in Japan discovering what he loves about Japan, the opportunity to create new aspects of his life and personality, and confronting his preconceived notions about Japan and its culture. Igort uses his own experiences as "the other" in Japan to tell this story. Nothing is incredibly overt, so there are no stunning moments of action, but it all comes together so nicely for a wonderful reading experience.

Paper GIrls Volume 1 coverPaper Girls, Volume 1 by Brian K. Vaughan, illustrated by Cliff Chiang, and colored by Matt Wilson. Image Comics
In the early hours of November 1st, 1988, four girls delivering newspapers team up to avoid harassment from local boys. But when the sky opens up to reveal beings from another world, the girls get caught up in a conflict they are only beginning to understand. Paper Girls deals with issues of classism, ageism, and homophobia straight on, while captivating the audience with a twist on a classic alien invasion story. Cliff Chiang’s expressive art takes the reader easily from drama to action with seamless transitions between scenes. Colorist Matt Wilson also deserves recognition for setting the mood with color alone.

Your Black Friend coverYour Black Friend by Ben Passmore. Silver Sprocket.
The scene is this: Your Black Friend is at the coffee shop. He overhears an older white woman describe a suspicious “tall, black” character. The white barista clarifies the “suspicious” character is a local who comes in there all the time, but she doesn’t call out the customer for her racist assumptions. Whiteness means avoiding awkward confrontations. Your Black Friend wants you to browse this 12-page “open letter” to every white person who has a black friend (and every white person without any black friends). The author of this letter doesn’t seem to fit into white society (his white friends love to touch his hair) or the black community (he dresses “too white” and they hate his messy hair). The artwork is absolutely stunning and beautifully colorful. The characters are uniquely drawn adding more diversity to the visual representation. Your Black Friend provides a blunt and open look as to what it is like as a marginalized person and hopefully lead people to examine themselves, their actions and their words.


Lowriders to the Center of the Earth coverLowriders to the Center of the Earth by Cathy Camper, illustrated by Raúl the Third. Chronicle Books.
Lowriders to the Center of the Earth follows three car mechanics — Lupe Impala, El Chavo Flapjack, and Elirio Malaria — down into the realm of Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of the Underworld. On a mission to save their beloved cat Genie from this all-powerful, pet-knapping god, the friends must journey through lucha libre wrestling, Dia de los Muertos celebrations, and Aztec legends. This is a stand-out adventure story in every sense. Camper’s joyful, bilingual narrative draws on scientific facts, humor, and friendship while also bringing to life a vibrant Chicanx* culture. Ballpoint pen art by Raúl the Third brings even more energy to this exciting and culturally diverse book.
*A Chicano or Chicana (of any gender); Chicanxs is a group of Chicanas and Chicanos.

The Nameless City coverThe Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks, illustrated by Jordie Bellaire. First Second Books.
The Nameless City by Faith Erin Hicks gives us a refreshing look at how characters from different backgrounds can get along despite what society thinks. The story depicts a conquered nation that has been taken over and renamed so many times that no one knows its true name. However, the conquered people stay to themselves while those who rule the city now look down on them as if they are not people at all. This changes when Kai, a Dao soldier in training meets Rat, a native Named girl. Faith does a great job in showing the cultural differences by borrowing different aspects of the characters from known cultures from the past through the beautiful artwork. In addition to addressing the racial animosity, Hicks shows how the native people identify themselves among their own people.

Overfloweth Titles

This category is for those graphic novels which the committees had determined met the high standards of quality literature and that they would recommend reading.


The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage coverThe Death-Defying Doctor Mirage: Deluxe Edition by Jen Van Meter, illustrated by Roberto de la Torre. Valiant Entertainment.
Shan Mirage is coping with her husband Hwen’s death in a way that only she can: by bringing his soul back from the underworld. On the other side, she comes face-to-face with a horde of demons bent on entering the physical realm, and they’re standing between her and Hwen. This modern take on the Orpheus myth features Chinese American main characters, with a diverse supporting cast that includes a lesbian ghost and a powerful genderless being. Roberto de la Torre’s art is dramatic and gestural*, easily capturing scenes from sun-drenched California to the writhing creatures in the depths of the underworld.
*Gestural art is characterized by vigorous application of paint and expressive brushwork.

Gumballs coverGumballs by Erin Nations. Top shelf Productions.
Erin rides his bike to work, deals with depression and anxiety, and just goes about his everyday life as a transgender man. Gumballs is a fantastic glimpse into Erin's life as well as getting to know Tobias, and meeting Phillip and Ezra. Gumballs is important because it is a rare autobiographical depiction of being transgender, which greatly impacts public perceptions and visibility.


Agents of the Realm coverAgents of the Realm by Mildred Louis. Self-published.
A new take on the magical girl genre, Agents of the Realm presents women of different races, beliefs, and sexual orientations who must learn how to work as a team to fight evil while trying to navigate through their collegiate careers. A slightly more mature read than most mainstream magical girl series, Agents of the Realm will appeal to young adult and adult readers alike. Fans of Sailor Moon and Puella Magi Madoka Magica will love this series.

Faith Volume 1: Hollywood and Vine coverFaith Volume 1: Hollywood And Vine by Jody Houser, illustrated by Francis Portela and Marguerite Sauvage. Valiant Entertainment.
Faith: Hollywood and Vine by Jody Houser is a refreshing take on superhero graphic novels. Faith has a modern alias as a 20-something journalist named Summer, and a secret life full of flight and crime fighting. What makes Faith stand apart from other female superheroes is her wit, her practical crime-fighting attire, and her body type. Faith is a testament to body positivity: you don’t have to be a size 0 to save the world.


The Graphic Novel Diversity Award is a project of VLA's Diversity & Inclusion Forum. To learn more about the D&IF, visit the forum's website. To learn more about the Graphic Novel Diversity Award, visit the award website

—Posted June 7, 2017