Comics Newsletter

Love Nonfiction? Try These Moving Graphic Memoirs

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Before I’d read any graphic novels my (very misinformed) assumption was that comics are mostly about superheroes and that just wasn’t my thing. Boy, was I wrong. There are superheroes all right, and so much more. My fellow Rioter Swapna created a helpful glossary of basic comics terms for newbies, and explains that “comics are a medium of storytelling, not a genre of story.” So just throw those limiting notions out the window when thinking about comics. There is something for everyone!

Last year I dipped my toe into the world of comics for the first time ever, and I discovered just how awesome a graphic memoir could be. Now I’m totally sold on them. I find that there is an immediacy, a heightened emotion inherent in graphic storytelling that makes memoirs especially moving. So if nonfiction is your thing, here are five marvelous nonfiction graphic memoirs that I highly recommend to get you started.

Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel

After seeing a number from the musical Fun Home on the Tony Awards, I decided I needed to read this book, and it did not disappoint. Bechdel was in college when she came out as lesbian, and soon after discovered that her father was gay as well. A few weeks later, he was dead. She tells of her childhood, her relationship with her father, and her experience of coming out and falling in love. Bechdel’s literary prose and insightful illustrations make this an affecting journey.

March: Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell

Book One focuses on Congressman John Lewis’s childhood in Alabama and his early years in the Civil Rights movement. He was instrumental in organizing sit-ins at segregated lunch counters in Nashville and fighting to end segregation. This is the first book of a trilogy, with parts two and three following his rise as a leader in the Civil Rights movement and including the 1963 March on Washington and “Bloody Sunday” on the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened by Allie Brosh

This colorful tale of depression and dog ownership veers between hilarious and heartbreaking. Brosh’s whimsical illustrations communicate the stark truth of her frustrating, often debilitating battle with mental illness in a way that words alone simply can’t manage. She uses humor, both verbally and visually, to tell a painful story in a way that invites you in and helps you to understand the nature of her struggle.

Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood and The Story of a Return by Marjane Satrapi

Satrapi grew up in Iran and lived there until she was 14, when her parents sent her to school in Vienna to avoid the Iranian regime. The book begins in 1980 when Satrapi is 10 years old. We witness her childhood in Tehran, her teens in Austria, and her return to Iran as a young adult. Her stark black and white illustrations convey all the complex changes in Iran through the eyes of someone who lived through it. It is a fascinating and enlightening account of a unique childhood.

The Best We Could Do by Thi Bui

Born in Vietnam, Bui immigrated to the United States as a child. In this graphic memoir, she recounts her family’s escape after the fall of South Vietnam and the challenges of starting over in a new place. As she becomes a mother herself, Bui discovers new depths in her family’s experience, and understands the weight of home and family and identity. The spare and lovely art perfectly reflects the beautiful prose.

If you are interested in more comics, check out this additional list of graphic novels and memoirs.