Diving Into Sub-Genres: Graphic Memoirs

We each have our own preferred genres of choice. Kate loves horrors and thrillers, really anything that will keep her up at night! And Serena enjoys escaping through hidden doors into realms of magic and adventure. We also read mysteries, historical fiction, graphic novels, etc. etc. And that’s not even counting the multitude of sub-genres contained within each greater genre. In this series, one of us with present a list of our favorites from within a given sub-genre of one of our greater preferred genres.

I really love a good memoir, and while I don’t really review many of them on here (if any?), I usually read a couple a year. What I like about memoirs as opposed to autobiographies is that there is usually a central theme to a memoir as opposed to an all encompassing life story. And one way that an author can make a memoir stand out is to do it in graphic form, therein creating a graphic memoir. As someone who also loves graphic novels, this is obviously a format and genre match made in heaven as far as I’m concerned.

What I love most about graphic memoirs is that with the images and visuals that graphic formats bring, there are other layers and storytelling techniques to bring personal stories to life. With the right image design and the right story you can make something very powerful and unique, and I’m always looking for new ones to read. Here is a list of some of my favorite graphic memoirs, that cover a range of topics and experiences, and have graphics that make the stories all the more fantastic.

Book: “Persepolis” by Marjane Satrapi

We have talked about this book multiple times on this blog, so I won’t dwell too much on the story itself (if you want to see our thoughts, here is our Book Club Review, and here is my separate Review). But it has to be on this list because it is one of the most referenced graphic memoirs, and one of my very favorites. It follows Satrapi’s life story of growing up in Iran during and after the Cultural Revolution, her education in Europe to escape the conflict, and her return home. It not only contextualizes a fraught time in her home country’s history, it also tells a relatable story of coming of age while contextualizing the history and culture without being overly critical, nor glossing over the details. The artwork is unique and striking, and while it isn’t really ‘realistic’, it conveys all of the emotions that Satrapi wants for her life story. I love this book. Read it if you haven’t.

Book: The “March” Trilogy by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell (Ill.)

Another series that I reviewed on this blog, and another powerful history lesson along with the life of one of the most important civil rights figures in American history. This book is written by and about John Lewis, congressman and Civil Rights leader who helped organize and implement the 1960s Civil Rights Movement for the rights of Black Americans, starting with his childhood and going up through and beyond the March on Selma. I love this series as it is deeply personal and has a lot of insight from Lewis, while also creating a very accessible history to the Civil Rights Movement. At times it’s heart wrenching and devastating, at other times it’s inspirational and hopeful, and it is always powerful. The artwork by Nate Powell is gorgeous and conveys all the emotional beats of the story as Lewis tells it, and it just fits with the narrative. This graphic memoir is a must for people who want to learn an important moment from one of the most important players. God I miss John Lewis.

Book: “El Deafo” by Cece Bell and David Lasky (Ill.)

This cute graphic memoir is more in the middle grade range, but I really enjoyed it when book club read it a number of years ago. It follows Bell’s childhood experience of being a hearing impaired child who transfers from a school for the Deaf to a public school, and getting used to her new Phonic Ear which will help her hear her teacher. Bell one day can hear her teacher (who has a microphone for the Phonic Ear) even when she is out of the room, and starts to believe that she has superpowers. She takes on the superhero alter ego of El Deafo, a Listener for All. But being a Superhero is just another way of being Othered. I love this sweet, cute, and funny graphic memoir, as it feels very real and relatable, has moments of humor and poignancy, and tells a coming of age story that has some great representation while also being very easy for kids to see themselves in. And the pictures are so cute, with Bell and everyone else being represented by a bunny!

Book: “Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic” by Alison Bechdel

I have a distinct memory of my sister retrieving this book from her room and tossing it into my hands, saying that I needed to read it. And boy was she right! Bechdel, potentially most known for The Bechdel Test, is a comic writer and author who was coming to terms with her sexuality while having a fraught and tense relationship with her father when he died suddenly. She had also discovered that he, himself, was a closeted gay man, and his death meant that he took many secrets and revelations to the grave before she got any answers. “Fun Home” is her examination of this time in her life and before, as she becomes more comfortable in her own skin and reconciles the man she saw her father as (a creative and brilliant man who saw his kids as constraints) and who he never could be (a gay man who could be himself). Bittersweet and funny, “Fun Home” has become a hit Broadway show and spawned another graphic memoir. I think it’s lovely, and the graphic aspect lets Bechdel find and reveal answers about herself through text AND imagery.

Book: “They Called Us Enemy” by George Takei, Justin Eisinger, Steven Scott, and Harmony Becker (Ill.)

George Takei became famous when he played Sulu on “Star Trek” back in the 1960s, his role in that show being revolutionary as a Japanese American man playing a front and center role in a TV show in the 1960s. As a child, he and his family were imprisoned at Rohwer Internment Camp during WWII because of their Japanese ancestry. “They Called Us Enemy” is his story of being a child at this internment camp, and what that experience was like for him and his family, and how it affected him the rest of his life. This is another good history lesson memoir that looks at a VERY dark time in American history, and Takei’s story is powerful and deeply upsetting. His reflections of not only his memories, but his memories of how it affected his parents, especially his father, bring another layer to this memoir, and the artwork is both evocative but also tender and gentle when the content calls for it.

Book: “Hey Kiddo” by Jarrett J. Krosoczka

Jarrett J. Krosoczka was just a little boy when it became clear that his family structure was quite different from his classmates. His mother was out of the picture due to her struggles with addiction, and his father was never in the picture to begin with, so he was raised by his grandparents, who hadn’t planned to raise their grandson. This memoir is about Krosoczka’s childhood with his grandparents, as well as what it was like to be a family grappling with addiction, and while he is at the center of this story (it IS a memoir, after all), he also does a really good job of showing the far reaching pain and fallout of how devastating addiction can be for everyone involved. It is introspective and empathetic, as well as incredibly raw, and he intersperses his artwork (as well as his connection to art and how it helped get him through difficult times) with actual letters from his mother, and it will almost assuredly leave you in tears as you read it.

What graphic memoirs have you enjoyed? Let us know in the comments!

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