Graphic Memoir

Alison Staff Image

It is clear to anyone who has perused their local library’s graphic novel section that comics are more than stories about superheroes. The medium is diverse and the subject matter seemingly limitless, constrained only by the author’s imagination. This freedom allows for engrossing narratives in which metaphors come to life and the writing adage “show don’t tell” is taken to its literal conclusion. Though the term graphic novel would seem to describe fiction, comics are equally effective in telling true stories—the stories of authors’ lives. Here are four fantastic examples of graphic memoir that showcase the depth and diversity of the genre.

Epileptic

Epileptic is a chronicle of the author’s childhood in France and his family’s struggle with his older brother’s debilitating epilepsy. In its original French, Epileptic is titled L’Ascension du haut mal, which translates to “The Rise of the High Evil.” As this title suggests, epilepsy is characterized as something dark and sinister—an evil that cannot be escaped, despite David’s parents’ endless pursuit of a cure in both western and alternative medicine. His brother’s illness is illustrated as a monstrous creature, weaving its way in and out of the intricately drawn panels.

 

One Hundred Demons

Lynda Barry was inspired to write One Hundred Demons after learning about a painting exercise practiced by a 16th Century Zen monk who painted one hundred demons across a scroll. She decided to explore some of her own demons in seventeen short, vibrant comics exploring such topics as lice, femininity, and a legendary demonic dog. An interesting aspect of One Hundred Demons is that Barry opens by writing: “Is it autobiography if parts of it are not true?” She coins the term “autobificitionalography,” challenging the reader’s conception of where autobiography ends and fiction begins.

Persepolis

Persepolis is a graphic novel in two parts. Part one, The Story of a Childhood, is about Satrapi’s childhood growing up in Iran after the Islamic Revolution. Part two, The Story of a Return, focuses on her teen years living and studying in Austria and about her eventual return to Iran, where she transitions into adulthood. While Satrapi succeeds in crafting a complex portrait of post-revolution Iran that is both critical and humanizing, Persepolis is not merely a historical account. It is a story of a young girl struggling to find a sense of identity and purpose, all the while witnessing the horrific realities of war and oppression.

Blankets: An Illustrated Novel

Blankets is, in many ways, the story of a first love—it depicts a teenage Thompson meeting a friend at church camp, corresponding with her, and then traveling to visit her for two weeks in her snow-covered Michigan hometown. This sweet and redemptive love story is interwoven with darker memories from Thompson’s childhood and adolescence, including years of bullying from his peers. Both in the snowy landscapes that dominate Blankets and the story Thompson tells, the reader is faced with visions of purity and the things that tarnish it.