Category Archives: 100 Must-Read Graphic Memoirs

March:​ Book One by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin. Art by Nate Powell

March Book One by John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, and Nate Powell Title: March:​ Book One
Authors: John Lewis and Andrew Aydin
Art by Nate Powell
Publisher: Top Shelf Productions
ISBN: 978-1603093002
Genre: Graphic Novels, Biographies and History Graphic Novels, African-American and Black
Pages: 128
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

History is shameful. Events occurred that shouldn’t have. Things happened that shouldn’t have in a million years. People lost lives. History for the most part is cruel and perhaps (for sure I think) we need constant reminders of what it was like, so we do not make the same mistakes. And, yet we continue to make them, as though they never happened, or we never learned from them. Part of this is the unjust trials and tribulations forced upon Black Americans by White Americans in a time not so long ago. “March: Book One” is a graphic memoir of United States Congressmen John Lewis. It also goes beyond being just a memoir. It becomes an account of “The United States Civil Rights Movement” as seen through the lens of John Lewis.

“March: Book One” is the first part of a trilogy of the events that unfolded in the life of John Lewis – who was born in Alabama, from childhood to facing segregation every step of life, to his very humble family beginnings to how he so desperately wanted to study, and he did to eventually his fight for basic human rights not given to Blacks due to racial discrimination. He is of course in the present-time, a Congressman, but the journey to there hasn’t been easy and “March” documents that through three volumes intermingling it very closely with racial biases and American History.

I also think that “March” isn’t just about America or one man. It is about what is going on around the world – in terms of collective injustice and discrimination. Because this is the truth – John’s story that is, you somehow feel anger and empathy hundred times over. His interactions with Dr. Martin Luther King were to me the highlight of the graphic memoir. Powell’s illustrations therefore are enchanting – taking us through every interaction, idea, indicating the tension filled atmosphere with some brilliant brushstrokes, when it comes to marches and travelling between past and present. Also, for those who haven’t read ant graphic memoir before, this is a perfect entry into that genre.

“March: Book One” should be read by all – irrespective of what race, caste or colour you are bracketed under. The attempt is to document injustices, and lives of people who lived through those times and to ensure that the mistakes made as I said earlier, should not be made again and this to my mind fits for every country in the world.

P.S: I cannot wait to pick up the second and third volumes.

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Barefoot Gen, Vol. 1: A Cartoon Story of Hiroshima by Keiji Nakazawa, Translated by Project Gen

Barefoot Gen 1 Title:
Author: Keiji Nakazawa
Publisher: Last Gasp
ISBN: 978-0867196023
Genre: Graphic Novel, Manga
Pages: 288
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Never a good time to read about Hiroshima and Nagasaki and yet something draws me to picking up more books about that time and what happened to them during WWII. I don’t know what it is – maybe just some fascination or dread even (which I will never admit) – the fact that we know how it ended and yet we want to know more about it – the horror of it all, but more than that it is the human stories that come out of it, with every new read on the bombings. Yes, that’s why for sure. And this time in the form of a graphic novel.

“Barefoot Gen” is a series consisting of 10 books. The story begins in Hiroshima during the final months of the World War II. Six-year-old Gen Nakaoka and his family live in poverty and struggle to make ends meet. Gen’s father Daikichi is critical of the war. He hates the idea of it. And then in all of this, his brother Koji joins the Navy and on August 6th, the atomic bomb is dropped on Hiroshima, killing Gen’s father and his siblings. His mother and he escape and “Barefoot Gen” is the story of that survival, as they witness the horror of war and the bombing.

The book is autobiographical in nature and though you think it is only but a comic, it manages to wrench your heart. The perspective of war from the eyes of a six-year-old and the maturity as well of it will leave you speechless.

Books such as “Barefoot Gen” will always be so relevant (sadly so) – given the atrocities of war and the common folk who are always in the eye of the storm. For most part of reading the book, I just didn’t know how to react. There was a lot of sadness and love and more than anything else, a lot of anger at a chosen few who decide to do what they do, when all that the majority wants is peace and the chance to be alive and thrive. A read not to be missed out on for sure. Can’t wait to read the other nine parts.

 

The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition by Vivek J. Tiwary, Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker

The Fifth Beatle Title: The Fifth Beatle: The Brian Epstein Story Expanded Edition
Author: Vivek J. Tiwary
Illustrated by: Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker
Publisher:M Press; Expanded edition
ISBN: 978-1616558352
Genre: Graphic Novel, Graphic Memoirs
Pages: 176
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

Not much is known about people behind the scenes in any profession. It is always people who hog the limelight, get spoken of or written about. Which is how the world works. The ones who are in the shadows rarely get any credit. Not to say that it happens to all. Maybe to some. Maybe not to some. And we all know of The Beatles – almost about all four of them, even some additions, but very few know of Brian Epstein, on which this graphic novel is based.

Brian Epstein was The Beatles’ manager. Actually, I think he was more than just their manager. He was their friend, philosopher and guide in the true sense of the phrase. “The Fifth Beatle” (as he was known after his death by Paul McCartney many years later) is the story of Brian. Not just because he discovered The Beatles and gave the world the joy of listening to them but also because people need to know the man behind this band and what he stood for to believe in four unknown musicians and make them the darlings of the pop music scene in a very short time.

Vivek J. Tiwary’s research is meticulous and the writing is spot-on. From speaking of Brian’s personal life (being gay and Jewish wasn’t easy on the man) to his professional life (despite having a soft corner for George, he never let that come in the way of furthering the career of The Beatles), Tiwary covers everything with just the right amount of content. It doesn’t feel too much, nor does it feel too little. Plus, the illustrations of Andre C. Robinson and Kyle Baker are so spectacular that you just go back and fix your gaze on so many panels.

Brian Epstein’s life comes to life in the true sense of the word through this graphic memoir and it doesn’t take a lot to read this one. If anything, I reread it because you can never get enough of a good graphic memoir and more so given I didn’t know anything about him or had heard of him at all before buying this one on a whim.

Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir by Maggie Thrash

Title: Honor Girl: A Graphic Memoir
Author: Maggie Thrash
Publisher: Candlewick Press
ISBN: 978-0763687557
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 272
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5 Stars

For the longest time after I came out, all I remember reading is gay literature. I devoured all of them – from Edmund White to Gore Vidal to Tennessee Williams and not to forget William Baldwin. I was scared of reading lesbian literature, thinking I would never be able to relate to it, because it wasn’t about two men. Of course, I was highly mistaken. The angst and the pain were the same. The feeling of alienation, even more similar. So basically, I was being an idiot by not exploring more diverse literature, that was right there for the taking.

Then several same-sex love books were being read, despite the gender. It didn’t matter anymore as I discovered the fact that human emotion is the same, no matter what and if I were to discriminate then I wouldn’t be any better than the next person who does the same. Having said that, September has begun with a cracking of a read, a graphic memoir at that, titled “Honor Girl” by Maggie Thrash.

Honor Girl is of course a true story of Maggie’s life – a summer spent at a camp when she was fifteen and why was that so important to her. So yes, the story is about Maggie and self-discovery and all of that at that age, but it is also about first love, which to me is paramount. Maybe that’s why I picked up this book at all. It is about Maggie and the way she feels for a female counselor at the camp and thereby what transpires between the two. It is about them having to be careful about their interactions (given the world we live in and how cruel it can be to same-sex lovers), to confessing their love and the angst and sometimes humor around it.

Maggie’s life is brilliantly told by her, at least the formative years and how it shaped her as a human being (you can tell to some extent). The artwork is beautiful and adorable to a very large extent. What I loved about this book was the entire camping site. The illustrations brought it to life and all I wanted to do was go to a place like this one. The nighttime scenes are done with such vividness that it sucks you into the narrative and sense of place. At the same time, it isn’t easy talking about same-sex love and that too between teenagers and more so when it is from your life, but Maggie does it so beautifully and gracefully at that, it just seems effortless all throughout. The bittersweet moments make the read seem so real – just what might happen to you.

“Honor Girl” is a perfect summer read and more importantly also for young girls who are on the verge of discovering their sexuality and personality. It may help, or it may not – but what it will end up doing is warming the heart. A kind of book you must gift every young girl – whatever she might grow up to be.

The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir by Thi Bui

Title: The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Author: Thi Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
ISBN: 978-1419718779
Genre: Graphic Memoir
Pages: 336
Source: Personal Copy
Rating: 5/5

The times we live in aren’t easy. We live in xenophobic times. As much as I hate to say it, it is true and we cannot turn a blind eye to this one. In these times, as much as I don’t want to read what stares in my face all over the place – on Twitter, on FB, on almost every social media – hatred for a religion or class, or a set of people that aren’t yours, but you read because you feel you will understand and empathize better and this is the time “The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir” came into my life.

This is a graphic memoir, which means it happened to the author and her family – a set of events – after her parents moved to the land of milk and honey from Vietnam on a boat. The story is deceptively simple but layered with relationships issues, immigration and belonging issues and above all: what it really takes to blend in? Do people who come from outside can after all be called citizens of a particular country even after decades or do they have to keep proving themselves and their patriotism over and over again?

Bui’s story is the story of her family – as she begins to adjust to being a first-time mother, she reminiscences what it means to be a parent from her parents’ perspective – from the sacrifices to unnoticed gestures to love that need not be spoken all the time. In all of this is America – Grand Old America in the background (not as much) always making them question their identity and the importance of home. There are panels that are so breathtakingly beautiful and how they mingle with the prose – will make you weep and in the next panel before you know it you are smiling and cheering on for Thi and her circumstances.

This book as Viet Thanh Nguyen claims will break your heart and then heal it – did just that for me. What is funny is that I also spoke to my maternal aunt after reading this book to know her memories of coming to India from Pakistan during the Great Partition and what it was like for them. “The Best We Could Do” as the title suggests is just that – the best they did and how sometimes you have to keep doing your best to find your place in the world.