One of the things I love most about graphic storytelling is the sheer range of styles that are possible. From classic superhero comics to minimalist black-and-white webcomics, from lush watercolor art to quick pen sketches, from long-running series to ten page stand-alones—there is something for everyone. There are graphic memoirs, graphic novels, graphic short stories, graphic essays, and these works come in all genres.
Since I started reading comics in a serious way, I’ve been on a quest to read as many different kinds of graphic art as possible. This has lead me to some wonderful, creative, weird, and fascinating books. I’ve discovered that I love reading graphic essays and short stories as much as their non-graphic counterparts. The art adds an interesting dimension that really enhances short-form storytelling.
Here are five books of graphic essays and graphic short story collections that I’ve enjoyed recently.
How To Be Happy by eleanor davis
This collection of graphic short stories is weird, wonderful and beautiful. The art is widely varied, from gorgeous, full-color painted spreads to quick pen-and-ink sketches. The stories range from the magical to the mythological to the real. Some are more like parables and others read like literary fiction. There’s a retelling of Adam and Eve, a story about a homecoming in a dystopian future, a realistic story about first love, and so much more. It’s thoughtful, imaginative, and fresh.
Abandon the Old in Tokyo by yoshihiro tatsumi
In Abandon The Old In Tokyo, Tatsumi explores themes of ordinary urban life in post-WWII Japan. It’s a dark, gritty book. The characters are often factory workers and other laborers, unemployed and living in poverty. Sometimes the stories are disturbing, and sometimes they’re just weird. In one story, a man loses his job and watches his life spiral out of control. In another, a man struggles to care for his aging mother. There’s a thread of desperation, loneliness, and alienation that runs through them all. It’s a book about people seeking solace and companionship, and what happens when they cannot find it. These stories weren’t exactly comfortable to read, but I found them captivating and honest. It impossible not to empathize with the characters—everyday people navigating the ups and downs of urban life.
Toward a Hot Jew by miriam libicki
This collection of graphic essays explores what it means to be Jewish in the modern world—both personally and politically. The essays are a mix of personal narrative, academic, and investigative. Libicki explores her own relationships with Judaism and Israel, and how those relationships have shaped her, and also changed over time. She writes about her time in the Israeli military, the birth of her daughter, being in art school. Throughout the collection, she incorporates the words of many famous thinkers, politicians, philosophers, and authors, which added depth and complexity to the essays. This is a thought-provoking book, one that asks many questions and leaves them open-ended.
We All Wish for Deadly Force by leela corman
This book includes a variety of short comics— memoir, cultural observations, and family history—all of them with gorgeous, haunting art. Corman writes eloquently and heartbreakingly about the death of her infant daughter. Her grief permeates the collection, and is especially poignant in the short, one-page comics about her daughter’s infancy. There are also fascinating comics about bellydancing and bellydancing culture in Egypt and New York and about her grandparents’ life in Poland before the war. The art is extraordinary. I found myself lingering on each page, soaking up the details.
Embroideries by marjane satrapi
While technically considered a memoir, rather than a collection of short comics, Embroideries has the feel of a story collection. Over afternoon tea, Satrapi sits with her mother, grandmother aunt, and their friends, talking and telling stories.
Satrapi collects the stories they tell in this slim volume, which is overflowing with warmth, heart, and the power of and comfort of women gathering together away from the gaze of men. These women tell stories about marriages, both happy and unhappy, about finding freedom in divorce and widowhood, about losing their virginity. There are stories about falling in love, about being hurt and wronged by men, about sex, about affairs they’ve had. The stories are funny, sad, wise, absurd, sometimes serious, sometimes lighthearted. It’s a beautiful book, and though there’s a thread tying it all together, every story also stands on its own.
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