Memoirs in the form of graphic novels are a rare thing, but they make for truly powerful reads.
The graphic novel, today, has become an exceedingly popular medium and is one of the fastest growing genres in literature. Memoirs, for that matter, have always been a favourite amongst the book-purchasing public for their deeply personal nature and remarkable honesty, which appeals to the natural voyeur in most of us.
Though the history of comics can be traced all the way back to the 1800s, it has only been a few decades since the birth of memoirs in the form of graphic novels – a particularly potent combination that is both entertaining and enlightening.
Here is a list of graphic memoirs that simply must find a place on your reading list.
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
Marjane Satrapi’s autobiographical graphic novel is much more than a simple memoir, it is a bildungsroman-in-comic-strips, which traces the psychological and moral growth of the Iranian-born graphic novelist from youth to adulthood.
And, by combining political history with memoir writing, she skilfully narrates the tale of a once wealthy and powerful nation that is today stereotyped for its fanaticism and terrorism.
Descended from the last Emperor of Iran, Satrapi was brought up in a middle-class Iranian family by communist parents. Only 10 years old when the Islamic revolution swept over Iran, Satrapi’s honest and edgy portrayal of the changes that swept the nation, told from the perspective of a child is fascinating, to say the least.
Ultimately, what Persepolis does besides breathing life into a country that is considered to be ‘the plague’, is cement the fact that people need to breathe, that they need to smile, they need to live wherever they may be in the world.
Blankets by Craig Thompson
Craig Thompson’s Blankets is what one can categorise under autobiographical fiction. This award-winning graphic novel chronicles the author’s early life in Wisconsin, where he grew up with his controlling parents and brother, and found escape in art and fantasy.
A gorgeous work of art, it is an honest and immersive retelling of the tragedy and wonder of coming of age. At once a sweeping tale of young love, and a book full of fears and angsts. Blankets talks about everything from first love to religion and faith to family and the pursuit of art.
The 600-page opus is illustrated poetry that will stay with you long after you are done.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home is a memoir that explores the author’s fraught relationship with her late father. When Alison was in college, she came out to her parents as gay. Shortly after, she found out that her father was also gay. He died a few weeks after the revelation, leaving behind a legacy of mystery.
Fun Home is the story of a daughter’s efforts to make sense of her father’s life and death, and the story of someone who is coming to terms with who she is while remembering someone who never had the luxury to do so.
Empowering, deeply moving and dense with meaning, Fun Home makes for essential reading.
Stitches by David Small
Stitches is the emotional and cathartic graphic memoir of David Small, best known as the author and illustrator of children’s picture books.
In this powerful work of art, David takes the reader back to his childhood in Detroit and illustrates a heartbreaking but redemptive coming of age tale like no other.
A story of pain, of triumph, and of hope, Stitches tells the tale of a child who became the unwitting object of his parents’ buried frustration and rage, and against all odds chased down his dream of becoming an artist.
Maus by Art Spiegelman
Considered as one of the most human and educational accounts of the Holocaust, Maus is a graphic novel by Art Spiegelman, based on the life of his parents Valdek Spiegelman and Anja Spiegelman who survived and lived in Hitler’s Europe during World War II.
Masterfully drawn in black and white, Spiegelman puts the medium to clever use, drawing the Jewish as mice, the Germans as cats, the Polish as pigs and the Americans as dogs. By making all the people of a single nationality look alike, Spiegelman showcases the absolute absurdity of dividing people along such lines.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning novel traces the lives of the Spiegelmans before, during, and after the war, with the author himself a featured character in the novel. His experiences with his father are as much a part of the book as the stories of his father’s life under Nazi oppression.
Nikhil Sreekandan is a journalist with the desire to explore life through the stories he chases. He currently works as a content editor at Nature inFocus, India’s leading platform for nature and wildlife. When not lost in cinema, contemporary literature or his earphones — there is a genuine attempt at ‘giving chase’, and it is beautiful.