Photo: I'll Be Dead by the Time You Read This

7 of 11
I'll Be Dead by the Time You Read This
96 pages; Plume

Technically, I'll Be Dead by the Time You Read This: The Existential Life of Animals isn't a graphic novel or even a graphic short story collection. Maybe it's best described as a graphic poetry collection: When Alaeff adds a line of dialogue to his stand-alone illustrations of a cat or jellyfish or ram, he creates something more resonant than a caption. The key to understanding (and laughing and going "Ouch!" with recognition at) these creations is reading the introduction, in which Alaeff describes how he collected bits of overheard conversations between his fellow humans. These verbal snippets, which sounded "bittersweet if not downright tragic," led him to think it was "a bit absurd that we regularly torture ourselves with thoughts that seem at odds with our well-being." And so he attached them as bubbles over the heads of nonhumans. Thus, a bear will mournfully say, "Everyone seems so young all of a sudden," or a so-called proud lion will tell himself, "I need to shut up." One of the marvels of the book is that the more you read, the more you smile, and then—bam!—suddenly you're wondering if you're the cheetah or the snail. My advice: Identify with the bumblebee who claims, "I know there's happiness in me somewhere."

— Leigh Newman