If you’ve never picked up a graphic novel or comic as an adult, you’re not alone. A decade ago I looked at the shelves of manga and graphic novels, got overwhelmed, and decided that this format of book wasn’t for me. But my misgivings were quickly squashed when I was introduced to nonfiction graphic novels, and more specifically, the graphic memoir.
What is a graphic memoir?
“Graphic memoirs are comics or sequential art that tell an autobiographical or semi-autobiographical story. Because they are a sub-genre of graphic novels and comics in general they may sometimes be referred to more generally as ‘nonfiction graphic novels.’”
Graphic memoirs were first noticed in the 1980s and have only grown in popularity since then. The component of illustration adds depth to memoir writing in a way that makes the genre unique. Many can be read in a single reading session, but take your time appreciating the artwork. You might just find yourself picking up more graphic novels!
Some of the most well known graphic memoirs include:
March by John Lewis
This autobiographic graphic novel series in three volumes shares the story of the Civil Rights Movement through the eyes of U.S. Congressman John Lewis, one of the integral leaders during the marches. With illustrations all in black-and-white, Lewis’s memories provide a dramatic, first-hand account of the key events of the movement. This is a must read.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
An unusual memoir done in the form of a graphic novel by a cult favorite comic artist offers a darkly funny family portrait that details her relationship with her father, a historic preservation expert dedicated to restoring the family’s Victorian home, funeral home director, high-school English teacher, and closeted homosexual. If you enjoy this one, try the author’s other titles Are You My Mother and The Secret to Superhuman Strength.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
The great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor and the daughter of ardent Marxists describes growing up in Tehran in a country plagued by political upheaval and vast contraditions between public and private life. The author’s life continues in the second volume, Persepolis 2: the Story of a Return.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
A son struggles to come to terms with the horrific story of his parents and their experiences during the Holocaust and in postwar America, in an omnibus edition of Spiegelman’s two-part, Pulitzer Prize-winning best-seller.
Some of my favorites include:
The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui
An intimate look at one family’s journey from their war-torn home in Vietnam to their new lives in America. Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves.
They Called Us Enemy by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, and Steven Scott, illustrated by Harmony Becker
The iconic actor and activist presents a graphic memoir detailing his experiences as a child prisoner in the Japanese-American internment camps of World War II, reflecting on the hard choices his family made in the face of legalized racism.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Spanning the last several years of their lives and told through four-color cartoons, family photos, and documents, and a narrative as rife with laughs as it is with tears, Chast’s memoir is both comfort and comic relief for anyone experiencing the life-altering loss of elderly parents.
I Was Their American Dream by Malaka Gharib
The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigated her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid.
El Deafo by Cece Bell
Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! This is written for a middle grade audience but is great read for any age.
Hey Kiddo by Jarrett J. Krosoczka
In kindergarten, Jarrett Krosoczka’s teacher asks him to draw his family, with a mommy and a daddy. But Jarrett’s family is much more complicated than that. His mom is an addict, in and out of rehab, and in and out of Jarrett’s life. His father is a mystery — Jarrett doesn’t know where to find him, or even what his name is. This is written for a teen audience but is a great read for any age.
If you’re participating in Winter Reading Bingo, any of these titles would be great for the “Read a graphic novel” square! If you haven’t signed up yet, join in on the fun: https://rrpl.org/winter-reading/