9 Recently Published Graphic Novels about Politics and Identity
The intersection of politics and art has always been fascinating to me. So much so that I wrote my undergraduate history thesis on the Chilean socialist comic book La Firme. These comics tried to educate people through funny storylines about the problems of monopolies, agrarian reform, and even misinformation in the 1970s.
But that experience taught me that not all politics are always obvious. I read How to Read Donald Duck (1971) by Ariel Dorfman and Armand Mattelart that explores Carl Barks’s Disney comics through a Marxist ideology. It’s a real delight to read (and appears to be back in print), and it will change how you look at Ducktales and other media. (However, I still love watching Ducktales, new and old!) Even though the antics of Donald Duck and his family seemed apolitical, there was a lot of political commentary underneath it all.
In the past few years, we’ve seen some really smart graphic novels published about a spectrum of political issues from censorship and racism to women’s health. I decided to focus on fiction comics, since I love seeing how authors incorporate fiction and political messages. There’s also some works that might not be overtly political, like menstruation, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the past decade, the personal is political. So enjoy this list of nine graphic novels focusing on politics.
The Department of Truth by James Tynion IV and Martin Simmonds
Imagine a world where conspiracy theories can become true if enough people believe them, like the assassination of JFK or the faked moon landing. That’s where the Department of Truth comes in to enforce the truth. Cole Turner finds himself drawn into the work of the Department and begins seeing some of the worst conspiracies in physical form that they have to fight. Plus, he’s trying to get a handle on his own childhood where he was inadvertently drawn into the Satanic panic of the 1980s. Is the Department of Truth working on the right side? What is the truth? It’s a riveting narrative, but a heartbreaking one, especially when it delves into the story of a mother trying to deal with the death of her son from a school shooter.
Talk to My Back by Yamada Murasaki
While this work was originally published in 1982 in Japan, it was translated and published in 2022. This serial focuses on housewife Chiharu navigating her family life in a suburb of Tokyo. The promise of motherhood and marriage seems to have eluded Chiharu as she tries to go through her life. It’s a critique on societal expectations about women’s roles and families. What can be more political than the way we structure gender roles and relationships in society?
Undiscovered Country by Charles Soule and Scott Snyder
Taking a page out of recent inflammatory rhetoric, in this world, the U.S. has put up walls from the rest of the world, figuratively and literally. When a global pandemic sweeps over the world, the U.S. opens up its borders to small groups to help them — but the horrors within might be worse than those outside.
Borders by Thomas King and Illustrated by Natasha Donovan
National borders and identity clash in this adaptation of Thomas King’s short story. A mother and child are crossing the border to visit her estranged daughter in Salt Lake City, Utah. But when they are asked by border guards if they were Canadian or American, their response “Blackfoot” is not understood and it sets off a series of events leading them to be stuck between two countries. It’s a critical book to understand the lasting impact of colonialism in North America.
Red Scare by Liam Francis Walsh
Since I’m a Cold War junkie, I had to add this one to the list. It’s the height of the communist scare when 11 year old Peggy finds an object that gives her wings. She’s being bullied by her classmates as she recovers from a debilitating bout with polio. But soon Peggy learns that her new flying equipment is wanted by both the U.S. and the Communists.
Go with the Flow by Karen Schneemann and Lily Williams
As we’ve seen the overturning of Roe v. Wade and the waves of anti-choice laws, reproductive heath has become highly politicized. This story told on a smaller scale shows what is at stake. Friends Abby, Brit, Christine, and Sasha are trying to get more resources for menstruation at their school, but no one seems to listen. Can they find their voice to get people in charge to care at their school?
The Legend of Auntie Po by Shing Yin Khor
Anti-Asian racism is not new to the United States. This middle grade historical fiction focuses on a young Chinese girl working in a logging camp just before the Chinese Exclusion Act was passed. Mei and her fellow immigrants are dealing with the racism and hatred of the white Americans they encounter. Mei reimagines the story of Paul Bunyan as Auntie Po to provide solace on cold nights and grueling days. The comic is both about slice of life in the late 1880s and the importance of stories to help through hard times.
Displacement by Kiku Hughes
Kiku knew that her grandmother was forced to live in the Japanese internment camps during World War II, but she doesn’t really understand what that means — until she finds herself traveling back in time and place to the 1940s in the camp where her grandmother lived. Now she’ll experience this painful period of history firsthand. Can she return to her own time? Will she survive the hardships and injustices of internment camp living?
La Borinqueña by Edgardo Miranda-Rodriguez
I had to add at least one superhero to this list. College student Marisol Rios De La Luz decides to study abroad in Puerto Rico. She’s keen to search the caves and other geology for her degree — but that’s not all she learns. She faces firsthand many of the economic and political hardships that the island is facing. Everything changes when she finds five crystals in a cave and she becomes La Borinqueña, who is charged with protecting Puerto Rico and its people. It’s a delightful three superhero series (last one published in 2021) that you shouldn’t miss!
Want more comic books about politics? Check out this Rioter list of four comic books about politics or this list of the best 25 comic books about social justice.