Riot Headline 10 Exciting Books to Read this Summer
Comics/Graphic Novels

Traveling Out of the U.S. Through Comics

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Julia Rittenberg

Senior Contributor

Julia is a professional nerd who can be spotted in the wild lounging with books in the park in Brooklyn, NY. She has a BA in International Studies from the University of Chicago and an MA in Media Studies from Pratt Institute. She loves fandom, theater, cheese, and Edith Piaf. Find her at

I don’t mean literal travel out of the United States at the moment. U.S. citizens cannot travel to many places right now. It feels a fitting punishment for the disastrous nature of the coronavirus response, which was terrible from the president to the governors to the local leadership who simply ignore the pandemic. I’m reminded of my international college roommate telling me she hoped in the future Americans had to apply for tourist visas for every country they visited—she was only eight years too early in her prediction. 

I’ve been turning more and more to comics that take place in different countries. It feels like there’s a difference in the quality of drawing between a local and a tourist. Comics journalism also falls into this category: artists like Joe Sacco and Guy Delisle draw incredibly detailed visions of the countries they’re visiting to report on. Although I still read comics in other planets and time periods and universes, comics set in the real world that take place in different countries can feel just as far off. These comics give a nice sense of travel without violating any international mandates. 

Memoirs, Journalism, and More Comics Set Outside of the U.S.

A Game for Swallows: To Die, to Leave, to Return by Zeina Abirached, translated by Edward Gauvin

If you need a bit of background on rising tensions in Beirut and Lebanon in general right now, this graphic autobiography from Zeina Abirached provides an extremely detailed perspective. Born in the midst of the Lebanese Civil War (which lasted from 1975 to 1990), Zeina plainly describes the violence and uncertainty that defined her days. One day when her parents don’t return home, Zeina and her brother fall into the care of their neighbors, who create a safe world of games to distract the children from the war. In addition to this melancholic story, Abirached includes maps, diagrams, and historical interludes to help the readers understand what Lebanon was going through. The art is innovative and beautiful, showing readers that Beirut should be preserved. This book also feels extremely relevant right now because of the way she depicts waiting and the slow passage of time during an incredibly tenuous situation.

Rolling Blackouts: Dispatches from Turkey, Syria, and Iraq by Sarah Glidden

Traveling around the Middle East with two journalist friends and a former marine, Sarah Glidden documents the conversations and encounters they have in comics form. Their mission is to research and document the effects of the Iraq War on the Middle East, especially the refugees. It isn’t deeply ponderous or overbearing, but Glidden’s drawings of the frank discussions she had with people during this time are extremely revealing. There are many different perspectives that Glidden shows, treating all of them with interest and fairness. Rolling Blackouts is an important read for understanding the long, far-reaching effects of what could seem to some like a contained event.

French Milk by Lucy Knisley

In addition to being a great travelogue of Paris, this memoir from Lucy Knisley perfectly represents the difficulty of shifting relationships with older parents. Knisley’s early-20s exploration of the city feels grounded, but she does look up at the beautiful historical structures with the wonder of a young explorer. If you’re also a fan of Lucy Knisley’s memoir Relish, you’ll see an earlier stage of her food drawing and writing. It all still looks delicious, of course. The discoveries of food, architecture, and little joys are extremely well-drawn and fun to read. Her clashes with her parents are also quite relatable for those of us building a post-college, independent life. It’s a perfect little dip into Paris for those of us who aren’t sure if we’ll be able to go any time soon.

Aya: Life in Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie

This comic series is just an unparalleled joy to read. Aya is 19 and lives in Yopougon (Yop City) in the Ivory Coast in 1978. The story is lightly based on Marguerite Abouet’s childhood. We follow our main character Aya through her daily, sitcom-y encounters with her friends and neighbors. Everyone seems to be embracing the current affluence of the city. This was right before the major economic downturn in the ’80s in the Ivory Coast, so there’s a sense of longing for the sun-soaked beauty of this particular moment in history. The story follows the quotidian life of the city through Aya’s eyes, showing us the hilarity of the neighborhood and the sweet intimacy of Aya’s young friendships. Marguerite Abouet created a wonderful reflection on the history of the Ivory Coast and it’s the perfect summer read for anyone craving to be in a different time and place.

I don’t imagine I’ll be going anywhere outside of my neighborhood these days. However, I’ve been working to embrace the stay-putness of the current moment and continue to explore what’s close to me. Luckily, reading has always been a form of traveling.