When most people think of graphic novels, they think of comic books. And when they think of comic books, they think of adolescent males living out their superhero fantasies vicariously through the pages of a book with mostly pictures and few words. I would venture to say that most people wouldn’t think of women and women’s issues when they think of graphic novels.
But those of us who work with these kinds of books know better. I see the “typical” graphic novel and they are very popular, but I also see graphic novels based on classics, ones that represent people and their everyday lives, that are written to help deal with and understand historic events, those purely for fun, some specifically to make you think, and ones that give advice in a more non-traditional way.
I am most attracted to the graphic novels written from a woman’s point of view and those that deal with women’s issues. This preference may come naturally as a result of my gender and I recognize that. But it’s nice to know that authors and illustrators are taking the inclinations of me, and those like me, seriously enough to put pen to paper in the graphic novel format. No one likes to be left out.
Here are some of the graphic novels that have caught my attention recently:
Aya Series by Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie – This series about a teenage girl who lives in the Ivory Coast during the 1970s will make you realize that the dramas of suburban life can happen anywhere at any time.
Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama by Alison Bechdel – The true story of the artist’s relationship with her mother. Alison’s mother stifled her own artistic interests due to marriage and child-rearing, thus stunting the emotional relationship between mother and child. What follows is the tale of how Alison developed into the writer and artist she is and how she finally came to a truce with her mother.
My Most Secret Desire by Julie Doucet – A look inside the dark dreams of a woman. Some may seem a little out there, but you’ll see truth resonate for you in at least a few of them. Reassurance for you that just because you had that weird dream, you are not actually crazy.
Underwire by Jennifer Hayden – You’re middle-aged. You want to have sex with your husband, but life keeps getting in the way. Your teen-age daughter is acting psycho. Your son is living away from home for the first time. What do you do? Write and illustrate a graphic novel so that others just like you can laugh and cry right along with you.
The Shiniest Jewel: A Family Love Story by Marian Henley – This is the story of how one woman got from “me” to “we”. At the age of 49, she decided to adopt a child from Russia. Along the way, she discovered things about her relationship with her boyfriend of seven years, as well as her parents. If you’ve gone through the process of an international adoption or are considering it, you’ll want to read this journey.
French Milk by Lucy Knisley – The chronicle of a six week trip to Paris by a 23 year old and her mother. It’s a lovely journal of their Parisian adventures, as well as their relationship, told through stories, drawings and photographs.
Cancer Vixen: A True Story by Marisa Acocella Marchetto – An honest and moving true life tale of the cartoonist’s battle with breast cancer. She gives it to you straight, all the highs and the, unfortunately, more numerous lows. If you are going through a similar trauma and want to feel like you’re not alone, this is your story.
Kiss & Tell: A Romantic Résumé, Ages 0 to 22 by MariNaomi – A visual diary of all the author’s interactions with boys (and conversations with her girlfriends where they talk about boys) from the age of 5 through her early 20s. The beginning of each section had a title page that charts the life cycle of a butterfly. The connection is both obvious and apropos.
Dotter of Her Father’s Eyes by Mary M. and Bryan Talbot – A tale of two father-daughter relationships, drawing parallels in their coming-of-age experiences in two different historical time periods. Both women rebel against societal expectations based on their gender, as well as experience hardships and personal losses. These events made their relationships with their fathers were difficult at best.
Tammy Pierce is Unlovable, Vol 1 & 2 by Esther Pearl Watson – This is the diary of Tammy Pierce circa the late 1980s. She draws pictures and writes about the usual high school events that fill her day: detention, boys, dances, makeup, mix tapes, and girls that are sometimes her friends and sometimes not. You will see your high school experience on these pages somewhere. Either you were Tammy or you were one of her classmates.
My advice is always try reading something new, something outside your comfort zone. You never know what adventures and wisdom you may find lurking in the pages of that book you thought you’d never read.