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Mar 22

Graphic Novels: Beyond Superheroes

Posted on March 22, 2016 at 1:22 PM by Craig Jacobson

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Quick, name a comic book. What came to mind? “Superman?” Maybe “Batman” or perhaps “The Avengers?”

While superhero stories are still being published today, graphic novels and memoirs have rapidly expanded to cover a wide range of topics: from a young woman living during the Iranian Revolution to an only child’s humorous attempts to care for her aging parents. No matter what you like to read, there’s a graphic novel for everyone.

Persepolis2.jpgMarjane Satrapi was just 10 years old when the Iranian Revolution upended her family’s life. Her family’s hopes for a new, moderate government were never realized. From her young perspective, we see the differences between public conduct and private life in a rigid regime. Persepolis shows the fall of the Shah and the Iranian Revolution through the eyes of a young girl just starting to figure out who she is.

AraboftheFuture.jpgThe Arab of the Future also examines a period of rapidly shifting political landscapes, this time in the Mediterranean region. Riad Sattouf’s memoir moves from France to Syria to Libya as his father chases his dream of “The Arab Nation.” A child of two worlds, Sattouf highlights the aspirations of the time and shows how those dreams betrayed the dreamers.

LovelaceBabbage.jpgAda Lovelace and Charles Babbage laid the groundwork for modern computers. Babbage built one of the world’s first computing machines – the design came complete with printer – but it was never finished. Lovelace published the first computer algorithm, although no machine advanced enough to test her program existed until decades after her (early) death.The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbageimagines a world in which Ada lives a long life and Babbage completes his machine – and the absurd scrapes and messes the two friends manage to get themselves into.

CantWeTalk.jpgRoz Chast copes with her parents’ messes instead. Her aging parents would rather not discuss any unpleasant topics. Like the fact that they’re aging. When that fact becomes inevitable and unavoidable, Chast is left to contend with her anxious father and her overbearing mother. Unlike the three books above, Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? blends short essay-style writing with her cartoon-style panels. While funny at many points – particularly about the absurdities of aging in our culture – this graphic memoir is also unflinchingly honest about Roz’s difficult relationships with her parents, her own flaws, and the heart ache of watching her parents slip away from her.

Fun Home.jpgAlison Bechdel’s parents run a funeral home or, as she and her siblings call it, the “fun home.” Her distant father meticulously restores their family home, teaches at a local school, and is the director of the “fun home.” As she grows up, Alison comes to understand that her father is deeply closeted while she struggles to make sense of her own sexuality. Fun Home conveys the complications and struggles of her upbringing with a twist of dark humor and muted drawings. The appropriately subtitled “family tragicomic” is now a Broadway musical with 5 Tony Awards.

HyperboleandaHalf.jpgAllie Brosh’s unique blend of humorous illustrations and slice-of-life stories got their start on her blog and are collected in Hyperbole and a Half along with new stories and essays. From the hilarious “Dogs Don’t Understand Concepts Like Moving” to her insightful “Adventures in Depression,” widely recognized as one of the “best contemporary portraits of the condition.” Brosh’s half-written, half-drawn stories are accessible and just plain fun to read.

Through the Woods.jpgFinally, if you’re intrigued and you’d like to try more, or you’re not sure where to start, come to our Graphic Novel Book Club, starting this May. Our first book will be Through the Woods by Emily Carroll, a selection of five short, shiver-worthy tales.

All images courtesy of Easicat.