New Graphic Nonfiction: True Stories with Style and Substance

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Are you a reader of “very serious works of literature”, but you’re looking for something new? Maybe you’re short on time, but you don’t want to trade accessibility for quality? Maybe you’re feeling “comic book curious”, but you still want to feel moved and explore difficult or challenging topics. If I’m describing you, you might consider any of the current, graphic non-fiction titles featured below. You’ll find somber memoirs, personal narratives, and explorations of significant current and historical topics. You may be so surprised by the depth and artistry on display that find yourself a devoted comic book convert! 

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

An intimate and poignant graphic novel portraying one family’s journey from war-torn Vietnam, from debut author Thi Bui . 
 
This beautifully illustrated and emotional story is an evocative memoir about the search for a better future and a longing for the past. Exploring the anguish of immigration and the lasting effects that displacement has on a child and her family, Bui documents the story of her family’s daring escape after the fall of South Vietnam in the 1970s, and the difficulties they faced building new lives for themselves. 
 
At the heart of Bui’s story is a universal struggle: While adjusting to life as a first-time mother, she ultimately discovers what it means to be a parent–the endless sacrifices, the unnoticed gestures, and the depths of unspoken love. Despite how impossible it seems to take on the simultaneous roles of both parent and child, Bui pushes through. With haunting, poetic writing and breathtaking art, she examines the strength of family, the importance of identity, and the meaning of home. 
 
In what Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen calls “a book to break your heart and heal it,” The Best We Could Do brings to life Thi Bui’s journey of understanding, and provides inspiration to all of those who search for a better future while longing for a simpler past. 

Cannabis: The Illegalization of Weed In America

From the nineteenth century to the twenty-first, cannabis legislation in America and racism have been inextricably linked. In this searing nonfiction graphic novel, Box Brown sets his sights on this timely topic. 

Mexico, 1519 CE. 

During the Spanish conquests Cortés introduced hemp farming as part of his violent colonial campaign. In secret, locals began cultivating the plant for consumption. It eventually made its way to the United States through the immigrant labor force where it was shared with black laborers. It doesn’t take long for American lawmakers to decry cannabis as the vice of “inferior races.” 

Enter an era of propaganda designed to feed a moral panic about the dangers of a plant that had been used by humanity for thousands of years. Cannabis was given a schedule I classification, which it shared with drugs like heroin. This opened the door for a so-called “war on drugs” that disproportionately targeted young black men, leaving hundreds of thousands in prison, many for minor infractions. With its roots in “reefer madness” and misleading studies into the effects of cannabis, America’s complicated and racialized relationship with marijuana continues to this day. 

In Cannabis , Box Brown delves deep into this troubling history and offers a rich, entertaining, and thoroughly researched graphic essay on the legacy of cannabis legislation in America. 

Good Talk: A Memoir In Conversations

Like many six-year-olds, Mira Jacob’s half-Jewish, half-Indian son, Z, has questions about everything . At first they are innocuous enough, but as tensions from the 2016 election spread from the media into his own family, they become much, much more complicated. Trying to answer him honestly, Mira has to think back to where she’s gotten her own answers: her most formative conversations about race, color, sexuality, and, of course, love. 

I Was Their American Dream: A Graphic Memoir

Malaka’s upbringing will look familiar to anyone who grew up in the pre-internet era, but her particular story is a heartfelt tribute to the American immigrants who have invested their future in the promise of the American dream. The daughter of parents with unfulfilled dreams themselves, Malaka navigates her childhood chasing her parents’ ideals, learning to code-switch between her family’s Filipino and Egyptian customs, adapting to white culture to fit in, crushing on skater boys, and trying to understand the tension between holding onto cultural values and trying to be an all-American kid. I Was Their American Dream is at once a journal of growing up and a reminder of the thousands of immigrants who come to America in search for a better life for themselves and their children. 

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers

Your Black Friend and Other Strangers is a collection of culturally charged comics by cartoonist Ben Passmore, including the Eisner Award nominated and Ignatz Award-winning “Your Black Friend,” named one of NPR’s 100 favorite comics of all time in 2017.Passmore masterfully tackles comics about race, gentrification, the prison system, online dating, gross punks, bad street art, kung fu movie references, beating up God, and lots of other grown-up stuff with refreshing doses of humor and lived relatability. The comics in this 112-page collection include works previously published by The Nib, VICE, and the As You Were anthology, along with brand new and unreleased material.These comics are essential, humorous, and accessible, told through Passmore’s surreal lens in the vibrant full-color hues of New Orleans.