Graphic memoirs are having a moment. Pairing comic book-style illustrations with confessional tales makes for captivating storytelling. Graphic memoirs can make tough topics like thorny relationships, the loss of a home, and death more approachable. Other times, they’re just colorful, guilty pleasures perfect for readers with short attention spans. Half of these graphic memoirs are brand-new and half are beloved classics. Consider this an introduction to your new favorite genre of books.
Relationships with parents are tricky, but when the shit hits the fan, you have to help out. Thus is Gabrielle Bell’s conundrum when her mother’s home in Northern California is destroyed by a fire. Bell, now a New York-based artist, returns to her childhood town to help her homeless mother. Anxiety, financial troubles, and mother-daughter tensions rise to the surface over the course of a year (and the book) as the duo attempt to rebuild. Everything is Flammable fearlessly explores the things we do not say and the murky motives of those we love.
Kristen Radtke reflects on impermanence, the definition of home, and the energy of place in this subtle yet beautifully crafted memoir. The narrative skips and plays with time as a dream might, from childhood to college to her adult life. Death is a constant, hovering presence; her beloved uncle dies due to a heart condition, to an urban explorer photographer who died doing what he loved in Gary, Indiana. Radtke immerses herself in the geography of the places she inhabits – small Midwestern towns, the South, Europe – and is particularly fascinated with ruins, a metaphor for the ways her life changes and sometimes crumbles around her. Part travelogue, part relationship memoir, part homage to lost loved ones, Imagine Wanting Only This will stay with you long after the final page.
Moved by the impending birth of her first son, Thi Bui retraces her refugee family’s history back to Vietnam. By delving into her parents’ tumultuous upbringings and the political climate of the Vietnam War that forced them to flee in a harrowing boat trip to the United States, Bui discovers new depths of empathy and tenderness for her family. Historically relevant and emotionally poignant, The Best We Could Do is a triumph of optimism over circumstances and love over conflict.
Alison Bechdel’s memoir of growing up under the tyrannical rein of a closeted gay father is the gold standard to which graphic memoirs are oft compared. Beginning in childhood, Bechdel recalls her teacher father’s interior design obsession, his angry outbursts, and the secretive nature of his relationships with his students. In college, Bechdel grapples with her own sexuality, finding her way out of the closet with the help of literature and a girlfriend. Just as she’s gaining firmer footing with her own identity, Bechdel’s parents divorce and her father dies suddenly in what may or may not be an accident. Fun Home, named after the abbreviation for the familial funeral home, returns again and again to the mysteries of those closest to us whom we’ll never know.
Roz Chast is caring for her elderly parents and it’s driving her crazy. Her mother and father, at age 95, have been together almost their entire adult lives. They know each other inside and out – perhaps too well. As their only child, Chast is responsible for making uncomfortable health care and end-of-life decisions, from nursing homes to hospice care to, ultimately, what to do with her parents’ ashes. Chast doesn’t shy away from the corporeal humiliation, or the exorbitant cost, of dying, and she even manages to make the process funny at times. If you’ve ever felt anxious in anticipation of a parent’s aging, this book will both prepare and terrify you, but you’ll be glad to know that someone else has been there before, survived, and dutifully recorded what to expect. Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is as pleasurable as real talk gets.
Lucy Knisley was raised by food lovers, so it’s no wonder that all things edible are an incessant obsession of hers. The comic artist recalls memorable eats and treats from childhood (“School birthdays always meant cupcakes, but my mom brought a blowtorch!”) and trips abroad (croissants in Venice) as well as shares favorite family recipes. With Knisley's whimsical drawings and charming tone, Relish is downright irresistible.