Thursday, September 29, 2011

A life in images: 5 graphic novel memoirs

"When I put together a graphic novel, I don't think about literary prose. I think about storytelling."
- Ted Rall

I find graphic novel memoirs endlessly fascinating. They're an open invitation for us to literally view the author's life history as seen through their own eyes. It is an honour that I am ever mindful of. Sometimes the journey is challenging. Sometimes it's awkward and uncomfortable. Sometimes it's hugely inspiring. Sometimes it's devastatingly sad. Sometimes it's incredibly hopeful. Always, always they are a revelation. Earlier this month I read Alyson Blechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic in relation to another Comic Book Month post. Blechdel's bittersweet yet darkly funny memoir made me wonder what other graphic novels we had that were autobiographical which, of course, led me here. I've read quite a few over the last few days and the ones that I've chosen to list from #1 - #5 are ones I'd never heard of until this month. All of those in listed as further recommendations are either ones I'd read, read about, or had recommended to me by friends and colleagues. And so I give you - A life in images: 5 graphic novel memoirs.

Query: Have you read any of the titles below?

Further recommendations:
  • The year of loving dangerously / Ted Rall
  • Stitches : a memoir / David Small
  • Forget sorrow : an ancestral tale / Belle Yang
  • Persepolis / Marjane Satrapi
  • Scenes from an impending marriage : a prenuptial memoir / by Adrian Tomine
  • My brain is hanging upside down / David Heatley
  • Life, in pictures : autobiographical stories / Will Eisner
  • Cancer vixen : a true story / Marisa Acocella Marchetto
  • Maus : a survivor's tale / Art Spiegelman
  • Logicomix : an epic search for truth / Apostolos Doxiadis, Christos H. Papadimitriou
  • You'll never know. Book 1, A good and decent man / by C. Tyler


  • Vietnamerica : a family's journey / written and illustrated by GB Tran
    A memoir in graphic novel format about the author's experiences as the son of Vietnamese immigrants who fled to America during the fall of Saigon describes how he learned his tragic ancestral history and the impact of the Vietnam War on his family while visiting their homeland years later. Tran's memor is "engaging, challenging, and disturbing" (Library Journal)



    Siberia / Nikolai Maslov ; translated by Blake Ferris with Lisa Barocas Anderson
    In 2000, Nikolao Maslov, a night watchman and self-taught artist, asked Emmanuel Durand, a French book salesman in Moscow, to look at three panels from a graphic novel he had drawn. Stunned by the intensity of the work, Durand offered Maslov a modest advance to quit his job and finish the book. The result is this extraordinary visual portrayal of Russian life and spirit. Awash in alcohol from the first pages to the last, "Siberia charts Maslov's bleak path through the labyrinths of the Soviet system, from the desolate Siberian countryside, to military service with the Red Army in Mongolia, to the psychiatric hospital where he was admitted after his brother's death. Drawn entirely in pencil on paper, the book's nuanced gray tones document with unremitting clarity and delicate nuance the austere Siberian landscape, the bad vodka, the daily brawls, the cynicism and violence of life in Siberia, but also the perseverance and hope of those in this often neglected but fascinating part of the world.



    Blue pills : a positive love story / Frederik Peeters ; translated from the French by Anjali Sing
    From one of Europe's most celebrated young comics artists, a deeply personal story that will resonate with all of us who have chosen to love in the face of great challenges One summer night at a house party, Fred met Cati. Though they barely spoke, he vividly remembered her gracefulness and abandon. They meet again years later, and this time their connection is instantaneous. But when things become serious, a nervous Cati tells him that she and her three-year-old son are both HIV positive. With great beauty and economy, Peeters traces the development of their intimacy and their revelatory relationship with a doctor whose affection and frankness allow them to fully realize their passionate connection. Then Cati's son gets sick, bringing Fred face to face with death. It forces him to question the meaning of life, illness, and love - until a Socratic dialogue with a mammoth helps him recognize that living with illness is also a gift; it has freed him to savor his life with Cati. Like the best graphic memoirs, Blue Pills puts a daunting subject into artistic and human terms in a way that is refreshingly honest and profoundly accessible. A brave and unsentimental romance, Blue Pills will resonate with anyone whose love has faced great obstacles and triumphed.



    Burma chronicles / Guy Delisle

    Guy Delisle’s "simple but highly eloquent" (Publisher's Weekly) travelogue revolves around a year spent in Burma (also known as Myanmar) with wife and son. Burma is notorious for its use of concealment and isolation as social control—where scissors-wielding censors monitor the papers, the de facto leader of the opposition has been under decade-long house arrest, insurgent-controlled regions are effectively cut off from the world, and rumour is the most reliable source of current information.



    Fun home : a family tragicomic / Alison Bechdel
    This book by Alison Bechdel is a darkly funny tale, illustrated with Bechdel's gothic drawings. Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and a family babysitter. Through narrative that is alternately heart-breaking and funny, we are drawn into a daughter's complex yearning for her father. And yet, apart from assigned stints dusting caskets at the family-owned "fun home" as Alison and her brothers call it, the relationship achieves its most intimate expression through the shared code of books. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is swift, graphic - and redemptive.

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