Rants & Reflections

Thoughts on graphic memoirs

I am relatively inexperienced when it comes to reading graphic novels. I’ve read 5, and they are:

  1. The Infinite Wait and Other Stories by Julia Wertz
  2. Drama by Raina Telgemeier
  3. American Born Chinese by Gene Luen Yang
  4. Peanut by Ayun Halliday
  5. Persepolis (both 1 and 2) by Marjane Satrapi

I recently started reading Fun Home by Alison Bechdel, which inspired me to write this post. I am also currently teaching Persepolis in one of my classes, so I’ve had graphic novels on the mind. While reading Fun Home (which is OUTSTANDING, btw, I cannot put it down), I was struck by a rather obvious pattern in the small sampling of graphic novels I’ve read: many of them are 1st-person accounts of the authors’ lives (I hesitate to say “memoir” because not all of them are memoirs, however, I will be using the term in this post anyway).

Fun HomePersepolisAmerican Born ChineseThe Infinte Wait, they all have this in common. The others on my list are more YA (Peanut and Drama), so they aren’t as “serious” of stories, but it occurred to me that I have read several now that follow the same sort of let-me-tell-you-the-story-of-my-troubled-yet-comical-life vibe. I wondered why this was. Here’s how it looks:

There are captions that serve as the narration of the story from the point of view of the author, describing what’s happening and offering the occasional wit and insight of one reflecting back on his or her life. The characters depicted in the panels have speech bubbles that adhere to what the narrator is describing (sometimes offering additional humor if it be incongruous to said narration.) Ultimately what the reader remembers most is the voice of the narrator’s captions, rather than the characters’ voices via the speech bubbles.

This brought me to the conclusion that the medium of a graphic novel is an ideal medium for a memoir. Of the graphic novels I’ve read, the ones I’ve enjoyed the most and remembered the most have been the memoir (or memoir-like) books. (I guess I also technically shouldn’t be calling them graphic novels, but it’s late and I’m not going back now). Think about it: the structure is already there for you, I described it above. And what adds further poignancy to these memoirs is the artwork; memoirs being a reflection back on one’s life, it’s only right that a visual medium be included, like memories playing back in our heads. As a reader, it’s instantly captivating.

This structure is probably already a trope that professors are talking about in classes on graphic novels (or graphic memoirs). But I feel like, to us laymen readers anyway, this is a new and exciting genre being born. There’s not that much out there yet, especially not in the mainstream. There’s definitely not enough for a section at Barnes & Noble for “graphic memoirs.” But the genre seems to work so well, I wouldn’t be surprised if there is one day. Stan Lee just released a memoir, and surprise surprise, it’s in comic form. Nothing more appropriate than that.

I’m curious though, since I’m looking to expand my graphic novel horizons, let me know which ones I should read that aren’t memoirs (or memoir-style) in the comments! (Something NOT first person POV). Thanks! (PS – *says in Chandler Bing voice* could I have had any more parenthetical asides in this post??)


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