Law and Conversation

November 17, 2010

Three graphic memoirs worth reading

I mentioned last week that I’ve been on a graphic novel kick on and off this year.  The combination of dialogue, occasional narration, and often stylized cartoons to tell great stories never ceases to fascinate me.

The relatively recently coined term, “graphic novel,” not to mention the Pulitzer Prize that Art Spiegelman won for “Maus” in 1992, is an indication of the respect comic books have gained since I was growing up, when my parents admonished me against revealing that I had a subscription to Mad magazine.

My parents’ admonitions notwithstanding, until recently, I didn’t realize just how controversial comics once were, condemned by no less than Sterling North, the author of Rascal, and Frederic Wortham, the Comic Book VillainDavid Hajdu recounts that interesting and scary history in his nonfiction “The Ten Cent Plague:  The Great Comic Book Scare and How It Changed America,” which is reviewed here and here.  Hajdu discussed his book and the history of comic book persecution and burning in a number of podcast interviews, including this one from Maximum Fun and this one from NPR.

Here are three other graphic memoirs worth reading:

1)  Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, which got me started on graphic novels earlier this year, is the story of the Iranian revolution of 1979 from the vantage point of a young girl in Tehran as she grows from a small child into a rebellious teenager.  Her parents ultimately send her to Vienna for her own safety and for more opportunities.  (Satrapi now lives in France.)  Satrapi also wrote “Embroideries” and “Chicken With Plums,” both of which I enjoyed, but not as much as “Persepolis,” which was made into a movie.  Like “Maus”, “Persepolis” is a two-volume work, and, also like “Maus,” the first volume so enthralled me that once I’d finished it, I RAN to the library to check out the second. 

2)  Stitches:  A Memoir.  David Small’s remarkably nonbitter account of his parents’ dysfunctional marriage and his radiologist father’s unwittingly planting the seeds of cancer by treating his breathing difficulties with massive amounts of x-rays during the 1950s.

3) Fun House, Alison Bechdel‘s memoir of coming to terms with her father’s and her own homosexuality, and with her relationship with her complex father.  Bechdel drew and wrote the comic strip “Dykes To Watch Out For” for years; I thought she’d stopped, but her website seems to suggest that she may still be drawing it.

I have more graphic memoirs and novels and books relating to comics on my near-term reading list, including Craig Thompson’s “Blankets” and Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier And Clay.”  With so many great stories, fiction and nonfiction, in graphic novel format, and with even more stories about the history of comic book controversy and censorship, there’s no lack of material for future posts.

What comics or graphic novels have you enjoyed?


  1. There is also a cartoon movie of Persepolis, which I highly recommend. Stitches looks really good too.

    Chabon’s Amazing Adventures of Kevaliar and Clay is just that: amazing. I can’t think of another book like it. It will definately have an impact on you. Make sure you pick that one up soon, because i want to know what you think of it!

    hmmm… most of the graphic novels I read are on the fiction side, you might like Phil Foglio’s Girl Genius (silly steampunk action comedy romance) and Ai Yazawa’s Nana.

    Comment by Redhead — November 17, 2010 @ 9:35 am | Reply

    • Redhead, thanks so much for your suggestions. I’ll move Chabon’s book up on my list; it’s been on my nightstand way too long.

      I’m wondering whether you have a view of Adrian Tomine’s or Daniel Clowes’ graphic novels? I took a look at a couple in my library and had negative impressions (though they’re beautifully drawn), but I’m open to reconsidering.

      Comment by helengunnar — November 17, 2010 @ 10:48 am | Reply

      • I haven’t read anything from either of them, but I have heard very good things about Clowes’ Ghost World.

        I’m planning to hit up the library’s graphic novel section on friday, if I see Maus I’m going to get it (uncomfortableness be damned), and I’ll look for some Tomine and Clowes too.

        Comment by Redhead — November 17, 2010 @ 11:42 am

    • Redhead, I’m going to propose a deal: you read “Maus,” and I’ll move “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” up on my own list. I’ll suggest a completion date of December 31 to allow us both plenty of time (you may be able to finish “Maus” pretty quickly, but I’ll definitely need some extra time for Chabon’s novel). Then we can each do blog posts about what we thought of them. Deal?

      Comment by helengunnar — November 17, 2010 @ 3:59 pm | Reply

      • lol! so I was planning to hit the library friday or saturday, and ended up there this afternoon instead. and got Maus, vol 1. AND I got “The Escapists”, which once you read Adventures of Kavalier and Clay you will want to read too!

        might take me a while to get a hold of volume 2, but you got a deal! 🙂

        Comment by Redhead — November 17, 2010 @ 7:46 pm

  2. […] posted several times over the last couple of weeks about how I love comics and graphic novels.  I’d […]

    Pingback by Harvey Pekar: Stories of Everyman « Law and Conversation — November 19, 2010 @ 5:54 pm | Reply

  3. I posted my review of Maus, and i’ve come to the conclusion that nothing I say can do it justice.

    Comment by Redhead — November 20, 2010 @ 1:07 pm | Reply

    • I’m so glad you read it, Redhead, and that you’re glad you did. Enjoyed your post over on your blog. I have a few more matters to take care of before I can start “Kavalier and Clay,” but I’m looking forward to it.

      Comment by helengunnar — November 20, 2010 @ 3:37 pm | Reply

  4. […] the meantime, I’ll be making good on my promise to RedHead (the Little Red Reviewer) to read “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay” by […]

    Pingback by Read This: Comics and the Law « Law and Conversation — December 21, 2010 @ 10:01 am | Reply

  5. […] As I’ve written, I never lost my childhood love of comic books. A few years ago, I discovered their history and how they’ve grown up into graphic novels. If possible, I love them now even more than when I was seven years old. Some contemporary graphic novels that I’ve found outstanding include Marguerite Abouet and Clement Oubrerie’s Aya series (Yay! Volume 4 is coming out in English in just a couple of months!!), set in the Ivory Coast, David Small’s “Stitches,” Guy DeLisle’s documentary-style books on Pyongyang, Shenzhen, and other places, and Craig Thompson’s “Blankets.” […]

    Pingback by New graphic novels « Law and Conversation — May 4, 2012 @ 12:04 am | Reply

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URI

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Create a free website or blog at

%d bloggers like this: