Comics are cool. Spiderman, Batman, Superman, Transformers. Sandman, 100 Bullets, all these are fun, occasionally very violent and/or explicit, and nearly always considered "Boys' stuff". For some reason, though, many people call them "Graphic Novels". They are comics. They were printed in little 32 page issue at comics shops, full of ads and everything. It almost as if we were embarassed to stock comics... After all, we don't call TV shows "condensed films" or newspapers "ephemeral books". Comics are a medium unto themselves, just as film, radio and visual arts are. Let's be proud of that.
Enough of that rant. When we think of graphic novels, that leaves a lot of room for interpretation. What qualifies? What fits our focus here of books for boys?
You've got you X-Men, your Spiderman, Batman, Superman, so on and so forth. These are the stuff of summer blockbusters, and they've been around for decades. Sure, the histories might be confusing (these guys never age, yet the world and technology around them march on). But beware! There are tons of published trade paperbacks collecting tons of eras of comics, and not all are created equal. Know your users. If they are generally a younger audience, chances are they won't care for the collections in black and white or from the '50s and '60s (or even the ever-so-long-ago '80s).
Some series don't really qualify as superheroes, or plainly aren't superheroes. These tend to be grittier and much more mature, so you need older and possibly more literate readers. These are things like 100 Bullets (recently optioned to be made into a TV series) or Neil Gaiman's Sandman series. These are not ongoing series; rather, there is a fixed plot that occasionally makes sense. These ones are far more controversial due to the more intense violence and sexual mature themes.
What not to give boys
Don't assume Graphic Novels = boys will read them. There is plenty out there that is just not appealing, yet I see them on all sorts of recommended lists. These are often single-volume stories that are closer to novels than comic series. For example, there is Blankets. A classic tale of young romance, feelings and growing up in a repressive home, it is also boring, plain and unappealing to average comic book readers who want action! action! action! Or American Born Chinese, an interesting and weird story of an American-born Chinese person. Still not really the comic that comic readers are looking for (I did like it, but still. It's not really the same audience). To me, these have some merit on their own, but they are the difference between a Harlequin romance and Booker Prize winners. It doesn't make them bad (I would prefer a Harlequin over a Booker almost everytime if I was so inclined to read adult fiction about things I don't care about). It just makes them different.
If you need an idea of what you should get, have a look at the amazon.com lists, or check out this blog. It has links to plenty of other comics blogs, and he clarifies the amazon list a little. Or, look at the upcoming summer blockbusters. That's pretty much a sure bet.
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