I read a lot of graphic novels and graphic memoirs last year. This list is heavy on the graphic memoirs (Marbles was my favorite). When it comes to the graphic novels, however, there’s no way I can choose a favorite graphic novel for the year: Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints and Boaz Yakin’s Jerusalem: A Family Portrait are both phenomenal.
Boxers & Saints by Gene Luen Yang (2013)
Both of these books begin in China in 1898, when Christianity is starting to have more of a presence in China. Boxers follows the story of Little Bao, a rural peasant boy who participates in the Boxer Rebellion, where Chinese rebels start fighting back against the invasion of “foreign devils.” Saints follows the story of Four-Girl/Vibiana, an unloved Chinese girl who eventually becomes a “secondary devil,” a Chinese convert to Christianity. It’s a dangerous time for all involved. From my review: “They’re beautiful books, and everyone should read them.”
Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole J. Georges (2013)
When she was twenty-three-years old, Nicole Georges had her palm read and learned that her father, whom she’d thought was long dead, was actually alive. It was a ridiculous idea that she brushed off, only to later discover that her father really was alive. Nicole comes of age (and comes out) within highly unconventional and sometimes tense family dynamics. From my review: “Whether she’s discussing painful episodes from her childhood, her tendency to zone out whenever she’s feeling cornered, or even describing mundane daily life in Portland, Nicole finds creative ways to illustrate her story.”
Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast (2014)
With her parents both in their 90s, Roz Chast had to start facing the fact that her parents wouldn’t be around forever and would eventually need care; her mom was still pretty strong, but her father was showing progressive signs of dementia. However, whenever she tried to broach the subject and make plans, her parents refused to discuss the matter. The memoir follows them through their failing health and eventual deaths, focusing on all the decisions that had to be made during that slow and expensive process. From my review: “The emotions that she captures ring bittersweet and true.”
Jerusalem: A Family Portrait by Boaz Yakin (2013)
This book is set in occupied Israel/Palestine from 1940-1948 and revolves around three generations of a poor Jewish family. There is a lot of turmoil because increasing numbers of Jewish settlers in Jerusalem are pushing Arabs out (the book begins with a brief historical context of that time period); tensions are high and everyone is preparing for war. There is a lot going on in this book; some family members are ideologically at odds with one another, and a few are still holding decades old family-related grudges against each other. The family dynamics are pushed to their boiling point once war erupts in their region.
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me by Ellen Forney (2012)
Right before her thirtieth birthday, Ellen Forney found out that she was bipolar. The book is a record of those early years coming to terms with mental illness. As an artist she was in good company: many of history’s most famous artists and writers were bipolar…but many of them were also suicidal. Forney struggled to figure out what kind of treatment, if any, she needed: would pharmaceutical treatments rob her of her creative ideas? From my review: “It’s dark sometimes, but it’s also very funny and charming. As far as graphic memoirs go, she completely nails it.”
Tomboy by Liz Prince (2014)
Liz Prince never fit in with girls, but although she dressed and played like boys, she never fit in with the them either. Her childhood was confusing because she knew she would never be a girly girl; dressing like a boy brought her grief and occasional bullying, but that’s how she felt most comfortable. Her middle and high school years brought even more confusion because she was clearly attracted to boys…they just didn’t know what to make of her. Her memoir recounts all of this early confusion, a few feminist aha moments, and the eventual peace she makes with being who she is.