Wendy Xu’s Graphic Novel Evaluation Tips

mooncakesJunior Library Guild (SLJ‘s sister company) assistant editor Wendy Xu created this wonderful handout evaluating graphic novels and has graciously offered to share with our reviewers.  She is a Brooklyn-based illustrator and comics artist. Wendy is also the cocreator of and currently draws the webcomic “Mooncakes.”

Important vocabulary

  • Panel: Frame in which an illustrated action takes place
  • Gutter: space between the panels. The most important part of a comic, actually! In the gutter is where the reader’s mind connects the shift in time between one panel to the next. When spaced accordingly, a gutter can jump time for the reader from a millisecond to an eon.
  • Acting: how a character’s body language conveys their personality & how they interact with other characters

In General:

  • How well does the story convey the flow of time? Can it be mapped easily to a time line and broken down chapter by chapter? Can you tell easily where one scene ends and another begins?
  • How well does the art and writing fit together? Is the story tone too harsh for the artwork, does the artwork look really young for what the story is, or vice versa?
  • How do the colors work for the story and contribute to mood and tone? Would the story be better served with a different style of color—monochromatic, colored line art with pops of color, etc.
  • How dynamic is the artwork? Are panel layouts varied and character expressions clear and emotive?
  • Do the backgrounds feel like a stage, or an actual realized world that engages the five senses? Are there panels that enhance the worldbuilding (especially important if it’s a fantasy comic)
  • Does the lettering style and font work for the comic? Are the word balloons taking up too much space and detracting from the art?
  • If there are POC depicted, are they done so in a respectful manner (ie, Asian skin not colored yellow, Black hair drawn appropriately)

If Nonfiction:

  • How effectively are the facts conveyed, is there room for the reader to breathe to take it in? How well do the visuals help with making the content memorable?

Note for Reviewers:

  • Discussing the art style in conjunction with the writing is essential. The artist does most of the heavy lifting in the work process from layouts to lettering (in some cases), so discussing how they work with the writing to create the story is important.

Examples of Excellent Serial Storytelling

Individual Illustrators:

Elementary/All Ages:

  • Rutabaga the Adventure Chef, Eric Colossal
  • Sweetness and Lightning, Gido Amagakure
  • Nightlights, Lorena Alvarez Gomez
  • Hilda and the Stone Forest, Luke Pearson
  • Earth Before Us: Dinosaur Empire, Abby Howard


  • Pigs Might Fly, Nick Abadzis, Jerel Dye
  • Newsprints, Ru Xu
  • Cast No Shadow, Nick Taplansky and Anissa Espinosa
  • Thornhill, Pam Smy
  • Garbage Night, Jen Lee
  • Baba Yaga’s Assistant, Marika McCoola
  • Castle in the Stars, The Space Race of 1869, Alex Alice
  • Cucumber Quest, Gigi DG
  • Awkward, Svetlana Chmakova


  • Power and Magic: The Queer Witch Comics Anthology, editor Joamette Gil
  • Elements: Fire (anthology), editor Taneka Stotts
  • Zodiac Starforce, Kevin Panetta, illus. Paulina Ganucheau
  • Orange, Ichigo Takano
  • Spinning, Tillie Walden
  • On a Sunbeam (webcomic), Tillie Walden
  • Hotblood! (webcomic), Toril Orlesky
  • Tetris: The Games People Play, Box Brown