The Autobiographical Comic: Some Recommendations
Autobiographical and memoir comics tell diverse stories, encompassing everything from historical events to personal, day-to-day life. They present worlds we know—anything by the late Harvey Pekar and his collaborators—to worlds we probably don’t want to, like Chester Brown‘s recent Paying For It. You’ve likely read or, at the very least, read about Marjane Satrapi‘s Persepolis or Alison Bechdel‘s Fun Home. If you haven’t read Craig Thompson‘s Blankets, someone probably has insisted that you should do so.
Even if you’re already aware of a few of these, there are some that you may have overlooked. And for those of you who have never digested an autobiographical comic, here are some recommendations:
While Raina Telgemeier‘s Smile has been a hit with its target audience—preteens and young teenagers—the Eisner Award-winning book has also connected with a good number of adults. Telgemeier’s tale of the dental trauma she faced as a young adolescent in San Francisco of the early ’90s is definitely harrowing (try reading it without getting sympathy pains!) but also sweet and funny. Telgemeier’s art owes a great deal to Lynn Johnston‘s For Better or For Worse comic strip and her honesty makes an instant connection with readers of all ages.
A Mess of Everything
Miss Lasko-Gross‘ Escape from “Special” and A Mess of Everything deal with much the same time period, but with very different results. While maybe not completely autobiographical, Lasko-Gross’ portrait of what it’s like to be a lost, angry teenager as the world changes around you will probably hit pretty close for a lot of readers. Her exaggerated style and washed out colors paint an accurate picture of the shifting alliances and changing times of being a teenager.
Small’s Stitches, however, is about something that most of us have fortunately never experienced. Small’s memoir about grappling with illness from childhood is filled with long stretches of silent, shadowy images as he deals with his own pain as well as his parents’ frustrations. Although sometimes slightly rambling and overly long, it does show how illness can affect an entire family for the worse.
While the names have been changed, Joyce Farmer‘s Special Exits is subtitled “A Graphic Memoir” and is clearly based on her real life. Farmer’s surrogate, Laura, deals with her aging parents with affection but without overt sentimentality. She’s willing to present the lighter moments along with the darker ones and her methodical drawings that fill each panel to the brim, along her uniform pages, give this book a gentle rhythm. It’s not a happy subject matter, but it’s tackled with grace.
But not all autobiographical comics deal with adolescent pain or the effects of illness. In fact, there is probably an overabundance of comics about a creator’s daily life in the big city. While the reasons for this are clear—people make comics about what they know—it can get boring after a while. Fortunately, a few people do it well. Gabrielle Bell‘s Lucky and Lucky Volume 2 #1 are her diary. Sure, the parts about moving from apartment to apartment and creative doubt can feel a bit tedious at times, but Bell is unblinking when it comes to presenting her own life. She’s unafraid of making herself look silly or vulnerable, and her simple lines capture moments beautifully.
Drinking at the Movies
Three Rivers Press
Julia Wertz’s Drinking at the Movies is maybe a little less introspective as it chronicles her move from San Francisco to Brooklyn and the bad (as well as good) behavior she indulges in throughout. Vulgar, playful and heartfelt, her cartoony art is perfect for her hilarious take on the large and small moments of a life in transition. It’s painfully easy to relate to.
Because of their basis in real stories, comic memoirs and autobiographies provide a great starting point for novice comic readers. Even if the form isn’t familiar, the subject matter is.
MOVED BY WHAT YOU READ?
Read any of these comics or think you might want to? Add to your myReads shelf before you forget!
Elsewhere inReads: Read our interview with Doug TenNepal to gain a greater appreciation for the art of the graphic novel and a few more recommendations.