10 Must-Read Graphic Novels and Memoirs for Your Inner Comic Book Lover
Think comics are just for kids? Check out these literary masterpieces that you won't be able to put down.
David Small draws haunting images in this best-selling memoir about childhood illness. His artistry captures the trauma and pain of his experience with cancer. Drawings become a poignant medium to document how the disease took hold of his vocal cords. His artwork is anything but silent as it looks at his middle-class family life in Detroit. It’s a beautiful story about losing and finding your voice that’s hard to put down. You’ll find yourself transplanted into the riveting and emotional world Smalls has drawn for you. These are the signs of cancer that men are likely to ignore.
Cartoonist Chris Ware hit the scene with his acclaimed first graphic novel, Jimmy Corrigan, the Smartest Kid on Earth, first serialized in newspaper. His masterwork is the avant-garde Building Stories, filled with interwoven tales about family and relationships that hit on themes of loneliness, memory, and trauma. Building Stories is best known for its amazingly innovative presentation. The graphic novel comes in a game box filled with a bunch of different formats that you can read in any order. The box contains comic books, a “Golden Book,” newspapers and even a game board. The stories are riveting and moving, and the crazy format is fun, but also masterful, reportedly taking a decade to compile.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
“Fun Home” was the nickname young Alison and her siblings came up with for the funeral home their Dad ran. Bechdel’s graphic memoir captures all the humor and pathos within the macabre atmosphere she grew up in. Fun Home journeys through the story of her father who was hiding a desperate secret and died under mysterious circumstances. She also wrote the equally great companion book, Are You My Mother that explores her tense relationship with her mom. Bechdel’s two graphic novels work well together as a set that captures the relatable story of her childhood and its effects on her adult life. Her books are heartfelt and insightful even as they continually dive into the hard stuff. Both graphic memoirs are beautiful and moving, and Fun Home was recently adapted into a Broadway musical. If you love musicals here’s our list of the best movie musicals to watch.
Be careful of Tom Hart’s beautiful and haunting graphic memoir Rosalie Lightning. It’s a book about unbearable heartbreak, and it’s going to break your heart. The journey is powerful and raw, but you’re certain to come out changed by the time you finish. The images are wrenching and gorgeous as they capture a father’s grief as he unexpectedly loses a young child. It’s every parent’s biggest fear, but Hart faces the tragedy with courage and insight in this much-acclaimed book. If you’re still in the mood for crying, here are our 10 emotional novels that will stick with you.
The Greatest of Marlys
This recent collection gathers Lynda Berry’s beloved comic strips together in a wonderful compilation. Some of the strips are from as far back as the 1980s, but they all capture the raucous and confused goings-on of her childhood characters. Maybonne and Marlys are sisters with a single mom and their adventures are relatable, moving and often hilarious. Barry’s work spills over with humorous details that will take you back to your own childhood. You’ll remember the ways you looked up to teenagers and grown-ups, and all the ways they broke your heart. And like Barry’s characters, you’ll remember how creative and hopeful kids are even in the midst of the chaos around them.
Readers love Raina Telgemeier’s acclaimed autobiographical memoir, Smile. Who doesn’t relate to the struggles in that difficult period of life between sixth grade and high school? Telgemeier endured relentless bullying after a childhood accident. In the midst of the trauma she turned to drawing. The results are a hugely successful book series that chronicles her experiences with wit and passion. Smile is all about the ordeals of non-stop dental procedures and related disasters after a bad fall. The young adult crowd loves this book because it captures the truth about strength and survival. That’s why adults can enjoy it too. These are the young adult novels grown-ups secretly love.
This Pulitzer prize-winning work is emblematic of the power and artistry of the graphic novel form. Art Spiegelman’s Maus chronicles his Jewish father’s ordeal during the Holocaust. Spiegelman famously used cats and pigs to represent Nazis while Jews were depicted as mice. Using comics to tell this story was ground-breaking at the time. He used postmodern techniques to skew normal comic book conventions. His subject matter was so important and traumatic that he had to expand the medium to capture his themes adequately. Maus is considered a masterpiece of the possibilities of the form. Here’s how one American couple saved 50 Jewish children from the hands of the Nazis.
Superhero fans drool over the greatness of Watchmen. It was original published in comic book form before it was collected into a single graphic novel that’s now considered an icon of graphic novel awesomeness. Time magazine named Watchmen one of the 100 best novels of all time. Three artists are responsible for the creation, Alan Moore, Dave Gibbons and John Higgins. Watchmen presents an alternate origin story for superheroes and in doing so deconstructs popular ideas about what heroes are. It’s filled with inventive structure and artistry, and became a commercial and critical success with a huge motion picture adaptation released in 2009.
Daniel Clowes’ beloved cult hit Ghost World is a story about friendship and the cynicism that attended a generation of would-be grown-ups in the early 1990s. The story follows Enid and Rebecca as they cope with an American life that seems as meaningless as the malls and franchises that surround them. Clowes captured the universal adolescent angst of life after high school. He refused happy endings or satisfying solutions, which made the characters’ isolation seem all the more realistic. An acclaimed film adaptation premiered in 2001 staring Thora Birch and Scarlett Johansson as the misfit teens.
Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis is considered one of the best graphic novels ever due to its humor, sincerity, and stunning comic artistry. The story follows the autobiographical journey of the author during tumultuous wartime. With relatable detail, she recounts the Islamic Revolution through a child’s eyes. Her book is moving and riveting behind its seemingly simple drawings. Peresopolis is a masterpiece of the graphic form and often taught in schools.