As a kid, I didn’t read comic books. No Archie. No Superman or Batman. Not even Classics Illustrated (even though I adored books like The Three Musketeers). I was definitely a nerd, but somehow that particular flavor of nerdiness eluded me.

Once I hit adulthood, things changed fast. I don’t recall my gateway drug—Gilbert and Jaime Hernandez’s Love and Rockets? Alan Moore and David Lloyd’s V for Vendetta? Art Spiegelman’s Maus? Whatever it was, I was addicted to graphic novels from then on. This was the 1980s, and although Maus received widespread acclaim, eventually winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, most graphic novels were eyed with suspicion by the literary establishment. College kids like me didn’t care; these books spoke to us.

In time, graphic memoirs like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home (2006), Roz Chast’s Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? (2014), and Jerry Craft’s New Kid (2019) would transform attitudes toward the genre as critics and awards committees realized what readers had long known: Comics were a valid and artful way of telling a story, as profound—or silly or strange—as their creators made them. Graphic literature even proved worthy of serious study as an art form, as evidenced by Hillary Chute’s Why Comics: From Underground to Everywhere (2017). Spiegelman even did a deep dive into his own classic work with MetaMaus (2011).

So it’s about time that we at Kirkus recognized the variety and vitality of the genre in our inaugural Graphic Lit Issue. In those pages our editors highlight some of the best examples they have seen this year for both adults and young readers. Elsewhere, we talk with practitioners such as Deena Mohamed (Shubeik Lubeik), Darrin Bell (The Talk), Dan Santat (A First Time for Everything), and SJ Miller (Mage and the Endless Unknown). And nonfiction editor Eric Liebetrau pays tribute to the work of Chuck D, better known as a rapper with Public Enemy; this year he released not one but two works of graphic nonfiction, Stewdio and Summer of Hamn, which both received Kirkus stars. Finally, contributing editor revisits Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, published 20 years ago and now a classic.

As for me, my late-blooming obsession with comics continues unabated. Among my favorite books of recent years in any genre—are Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do (2017), Nora Krug’s Belonging: A German Reckons With History and Home (2018), Adrian Tomine’s The Loneliness of the Long-Distance Cartoonist (2020), and Kate Beaton’s Ducks: Two Years in the Oil Sands (2022). This year I may add another graphic memoir to that list: Julia Wertz’s Impossible People: A Completely Average Recovery Story (Black Dog & Leventhal, May 9), a painfully honest but warmhearted account of the artist’s struggles with alcohol. In a starred review a critic wrote, “Her story may be ‘completely average,’ but the way she tells and draws it is extraordinary.”

If you’re not already a devoted reader of graphic literature, we hope the issue will introduce you to some books worth checking out. Like me, you just might find yourself addicted.

Tom Beer is the editor-in-chief.