The graphic memoir is a vivid and wonderful format that has captured my love in the last year or two. Pulled in by the modern classics of this genre—Persepolis, Fun Home—I dug into books of this genre written by women, and found myself absolutely enchanted. It’s all the personal insight and creativity of memoir tucked into a gorgeous package, where the art tells the story as much as the narrative, a rich landscape of memory, interwoven. Here are nine books written and illustrated by women, in either memoir form or in the form of short, true stories illustrated beautifully.
Relish: My Life in the Kitchen by Lucy Knisley
Knisley’s Relish is a vivid graphic memoir about a girl’s relationship with food as she grows into adulthood. She writes about her childhood growing up with foodie parents, her experiences eating apricot croissants in France and tamales in Mexico, getting into the food scene in Chicago, and visiting the kitchen of famed restaurant Alinea. Funny, visceral, and dotted with recipes, and drawings and descriptions of meals, that made me hungry, it was a book that mused on the nature of eating and the love of food.
Forget Sorrow by Belle Yang
When Belle escapes an abusive relationship, she first goes to stay with extended family in China, and then ends up back home in the U.S. with her critical parents. She finds her solace in asking her father for stories of his grandfather and his many uncles, of the family dramas that twisted through their lives in Manchuria during a period of upheaval in China. This vivid illustrated story gives life to Yang’s family, and the black and white inky style is dense and engrossing.
Take It as a Compliment by Maria Stoian
Stoian illustrates stories of sexual assault, harassment, and abuse that she received anonymously online, through emails, and through interviews. Stoian uses different art styles, minimalist color schemes, and more to express the unique emotions, personalities, and feelings of dread, horror, rage, and more, of each tale. The book covers issues including street harassment, child abuse, domestic abuse, sexual violence, and more, and represents a variety of voices, including of various gender identities. The stories are vivid and horrifyingly familiar, and together they form a bold call for change.
Embroideries by Marjane Satrapi
In this short book, easily readable in one sitting, Satrapi shows the women of her family of all generations gathered over tea and talking about their sex lives, their marriages and divorces, about social expectations of virginity and love. It is often bawdy and laugh-out-loud funny, but at turns also becomes sad. Throughout, the book highlights the female sexual interior experience within Iranian culture, as Satrapi tells the controversial stories and tales of these women.
Dare to Disappoint by Özge Samanci
Samanci’s funny illustrated memoir is about her coming-of-age in Turkey and her struggle to figure out what she wants to do in life, and who she wants to be—an engineer? a scuba diver? a teacher?—amidst the pressures and difficulties of ’80s and ’90s Turkey, between its expectations of young women and the political influences of its leaders. It’s funny, snappy, and cute, getting into a child’s head, while also delving into darker subjects including an attempted sexual assault in her teens. Samanci is a true talent.
American Widow by Alissa Torres and Sungyoon Choi
This difficult memoir shows the aftermath of Torres losing her husband on September 11, and the immense tangle of red tape and mindless bureaucracy that followed as she tried to get the promised support for her and her newborn child. Many of these passages are powerful, and it highlights the way all “support” for 9/11 spouses and families ultimately had to be fought for. Torres has to struggle to get her own inner turmoil under control, all while trying to get the financial support she’s been promised and take care of her infant.
The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui
Author and illustrator Thi Bui is struggling to understand her parents, and so she digs into their past: they grew up in Vietnam, and as she uncovers their story, their experiences struggling in a climate of fear and their escape to a refugee camp and then to the U.S., she makes discoveries about why they are who they are now—what made her father so gruff, her mother so quiet. All of this, accompanied by gorgeous artwork, is framed within Thi Bui’s own pregnancy, giving birth to her first child, and wondering if all we can ever really do as parents is do our best.
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast
Chast’s book is a funny, truthful memoir about her parents’ aging years. Her parents are familiar, stubborn, often ridiculous elderly people who sometimes drive her up a wall; she highlights the immense expenses of elder care as well as the difficult twists and turns of relationships that come with trying to take care of parents who are fiercely independent but also nearing their final years. Chast’s graphic novel is equal parts hilarious, anxiety-inducing, and sad, as her parents decline and as she copes with her relationship to them both.
The Fire Never Goes Out: A Memoir in Pictures by Noelle Stevenson
Over her years of drawing and posting online, Stevenson began to draw and write small visual essays summing up each year, as well as tales of her struggles with mental illness, coming out as queer, and finding her place as an artist and writer terrified of failing those who fall for her work. These essays have been gathered together into this poignant memoir about a queer woman artist’s journey to find herself and grow comfortable in her body and mind.