Comics Newsletter

I (Re-)Discovered Comics in Grad School: 5 Favorites

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Blaga Atanassova

Staff Writer

Blaga is a PhD candidate in Classical Archaeology. A lover of stories and adventures of all kinds from an early age, she divides her time between reading (or listening to) books, visiting ancient sites (and occasionally excavating them), learning about the lives of ancient women, and playing board games. Email:

How often do you hear “grad school” and “pleasure reading” used in the same sentence? Not very often, I am willing to bet. There is a reason for that: the environment in grad school is such that more often than not, no matter how dedicated a reader you are, you will find yourself too exhausted or overwhelmed to pick up a book.

In my personal experience, after a day of reading articles, academic books, and writing hundreds if not thousands of words, the idea of reading more does not appeal. Yet, as I have come to discover over and over throughout my life, it is exactly at challenging times in life that reading is most necessary. It is a sanctuary, a temporary reprieve from the noise of the world. It can inspire me. Most often reading simply gives my mind the ability to recover and move forward.

All of that is good, but month after month in my program, reading remained a challenge. Audiobooks proved to be a great help, but (at the risk of sounding cliché) I missed the feeling of a physical book in my hands. Then, a few months ago, a newly released comic caught my eye, and, intrigued, I decided to pick it up. I was familiar with the medium, and had sporadically read some comics over the years, but for some reason had never really explored it. This time I decided to delve deeper. Oh, am I happy that I did!

One of the most significant powers of comics is that they communicate through both words and images. At times, they need few or no words at all to communicate. They will make me laugh, cry, and leave me awe-struck at their power. More importantly, I think, because my mind focuses on the visual art, the words in front of me feel less intimidating.

A dedicated nonfiction enthusiast, I have been especially excited to discover the genre of graphic memoir. Since I began this new adventure of exploration, I have read a fair number in the short time. I have listed a few favorites below. Take a look, and let me know about your own favorites in the comments below. Happy reading!

Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: An Introvert's Story cover imageQuiet Girl in a Noisy World by Debbie Tung

Debbie Tung is an introvert. Her memoir spans a period of three years, between college, graduation, getting married, and finding a job. It is funny and touching, and (a little frighteningly) familiar. One thing that stood out for me with this memoir is that it is composed of a series of short comics, sometimes just a page long, and others a few pages long. This meant that I could sneak a peek while taking a short break from work, or I could read for as long as I wanted to in my free time.

Fun Home by Alison Bechdel

When I first picked up Fun Home, the only thing I knew about it was that there was a stage adaptation (a musical) of it. I picked it up on a fellow Rioter’s recommendation. The memoir is a meditation on Bechdel’s relationship with her father, as well on her sexuality and identity. It is dark, but at times quite funny as well. A powerful, thought-provoking work, which I could not put down. Bechdel also recently published a second memoir, Are You My Mother. As the title suggests, is about her relationship with her mother, and I cannot wait to read it.

Kid Gloves cover imageKid Gloves by Lucy Knisley

I love all of Lucy Knisley’s memoirs, but this one is my favourite for several reasons. To begin, Kid Gloves is the reason why I picked up comics again. From the moment of its publication earlier this year, it grabbed my attention and started me on my comics-themed odyssey. It is both funny, sad, intimate, honest, and really informative. It recounts Knisley’s path to motherhood, including her struggles to conceive, her miscarriages, and then the health complications that came with her successful pregnancy. Between each personal chapter, Knisley adds chapters on a variety of reproductive-health-related topics. As with her other two memoirs, learned a lot from Kid Gloves, but for some reason this one in particular struck a chord.

Lighter Than My Shadow by Katie Green

I will be honest, Lighter Than My Shadow broke my heart. At the same time, I was compelled to keep reading until the end. I am glad that I did. This graphic memoir concerns Green’s lifelong struggle with an eating disorder. In sharing her story, Green considers what an eating disorder is, and what recovery means. Green’s style is relatively plain, but extremely powerful.

The Best We Could Do cover imageThe Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Thi Bui’s memoir concerns parent-children relationships. In an attempt to better connect to her parents, Bui began constructing a family history (from personal experience: it is not an easy task). It took years, but the end result is a brilliant, poignant work. It explores the history of Vietnam and its ramifications, the lives of Bui’s parents and her own struggle with family and identity. Informative, beautifully drawn and movingly written.