I have a major weak spot for graphic memoirs, especially when the writer and artist are one and the same. There’s something
incredibly personal and revealing about reading AND seeing somebody’s memories about a pivotal point in their life. (Similarly, I love listening to memoir audiobooks when the narrator is also the author). What follows is a list of 20 of my favorite graphic memoirs — the short descriptions are from the publishers, but the editorializing about the subject groupings are my own:
I love to travel, but like most people I don’t get to do it nearly as often as I want. Instead, I live vicariously through these excellent travelogues:
Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea
One of the few Westerners granted access to North Korea documents his observations of the secretive society in this graphic travelogue that depicts the cultural alienation, boredom, and desires of ordinary North Koreans.
How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less
Glidden, a progressive American Jew who is sharply critical of Israeli policies vis-â-vis the Occupied Territories, went on an all-expense-paid ‘birthright’ trip to Israel in an attempt to discover some grand truths at the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict. This graphic memoir tells the touching and often funny story of her utter failure to do so
A latest volume of graphic travelogues by a best-selling cartoonist details, in full color, her care of her ailing grandparents while on a cruise, a venture shaped by contrasting generational perspectives and her grandfather’s World War II memories.
Carnet de Voyage
A visual diary and travel sketchbook chronicles two months of the artist’s wanderings through Africa and Europe.
You Can Never Find a Rickshaw When It Monsoons
Presents the travel diary of the author, who drew a sketch of a memorable event at the end of every day during a yearlong trip around the world.
Memoirs Around the World
So how does this category differ from the travel category? In the travel memoir category, I included books about people experiencing a new place as an outsider, in the “around the world” category we have books that take place in countries were new and unfamiliar to me as the reader, but are presented from an insider’s POV.
I Remember Beirut
The author recounts her childhood experiences in Beirut during the civil war between Christians and Muslims in the 1980s, as her family tried to carry on a normal life despite violence, a partition of the city, and a lack of food.
A personal memoir told in the form of a graphic novel chronicles the author’s experiences growing up with an older brother suddenly afflicted with epilepsy and the effects of the disease on the family, and the roots of his career as a cartoonist. [Translated from French]
The great-granddaughter of Iran’s last emperor and the daughter of ardent Marxists describes growing up in Tehran in a country plagued by political upheaval and vast contradictions between public and private life.
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1984
Riad Sattouf recounts his nomadic childhood growing up in rural France, Gaddafi’s Libya, and Assad’s Syria–but always under the roof of his father, a Syrian Pan-Arabist who drags his family along in his pursuit of grandiose dreams for the Arab nation. Venturing first to the Great Socialist People’s Libyan Arab State and then joining the family tribe in Homs, Syria, they hold fast to the vision of the paradise that always lies just around the corner.
A Year Without Mom
12-year-old Dasha experiences a year full of turmoil after her mother leaves for America and she remains in Moscow with her grandparents.
Growing Up Memoirs
Bildungsroman technically means “a novel dealing with one person’s formative years or spiritual education.” In other words, it’s the fancy word for “coming of age” stories, aka one of my favorite genres. While the term really only applies to works of fiction, it’s also a good framing device for the following memoirs:
The author recounts in graphic novel format her experiences with hearing loss at a young age, including using a bulky hearing aid, learning how to lip read, and determining her “superpower.”
The author shares her memories of growing up on McNeil Island in Washington State which also housed the prison where her parents worked.
Eschewing female stereotypes throughout her early years and failing to gain acceptance on the boys’ baseball team, Liz learns to embrace her own views on gender as she comes of age, in an anecdotal graphic novel memoir.
An autobiography in graphic novel format describes how the author lost two of her front teeth in an accident when she was twelve, and her subsequent struggles with various corrective dental techniques throughout adolescence.
Maggie Thrash has spent basically every summer of her fifteen-year-old life at the one-hundred-year-old Camp Bellflower for Girls, set deep in the heart of Appalachia. A split-second of innocent physical contact pulls Maggie into a gut-twisting love for an older, wiser, and most surprising of all (at least to Maggie), female counselor named Erin. But Camp Bellflower is an impossible place for a girl to fall in love with another girl, and Maggie’s savant-like proficiency at the camp’s rifle range is the only thing keeping her heart from exploding.
Heavy Subject Memoiors
I wasn’t sure what to title this group of books — they’re what I usually think of as “standard” graphic memoirs. In each book, the author deals with something life changing: mental illness, physical violence, the death of a loved one, etc. If you’re anything like me, you may want to have a box of tissues at hand when you read these.
Dark Night: A True Batman Story
A semi-autobiographical graphic novel details the author’s recovery process after a vicious beating, detailing how he imagined Batman at his side, keeping his most dangerous villains at bay and protecting him during his darkest moments.
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me
An artist describes her bipolar disorder diagnosis and her struggles with mental stability while discussing other creative people throughout history who were also labeled as “crazy,” including van Gogh, O’Keeffe, and Plath.
Hart creatively portrays the solace he discovers in nature, philosophy, great works of literature, and art across all mediums in this expressively honest and loving tribute to his baby girl.
Don’t Go Where I Can’t Follow
A tender collection of letters, photographs, and drawings Anders Nilsen has compiled in memory of his fiancee, Cheryl Weaver, who died of cancer in November 2005
Through image and text Una asks what it means to grow up in a society in which male violence goes unpunished and unquestioned. With the benefit of hindsight Una explores her experience, wonders if anything has really changed and challenges a global culture that demands that the victims of violence pay its cost.
Until next time, find the stories that make you stronger. #WorkOutNerdOut