Category: graphic novel

The Photographer: Into War-Torn Afghanistan with Doctors without Borders

Book cover: The Photographer by Emmanuel GuibertIn 1986, photographer Didier Lefèvre was hired to join Médecins Sans Frontières (Doctors Without Borders) on a mission into Afghanistan, which was in the middle of a war with the Soviet Union. MSF had roots in the country but had been forced to leave because of escalating violence that had resulted in the deaths of some of their aid workers. With the country now at war, the need for medical care was imperative, and MSF intended to go back into the heart of the country to establish a hospital.

Getting to their destination was a very dangerous journey that required the help of the Mujahideen. They left Pakistan in the middle of the night and traveled by foot across the border and higher into the rugged mountain terrain of Afghanistan. It was Lefèvre’s job to photograph the journey entire journey, and unlike the others in the MSF team, he didn’t know anything about the culture or speak the language. The team was led by a woman named Juliette, and it is through Lefèvre’s eyes that we see Juliette negotiate with everyone along the way, from humble nomads to wealthy landowners and Mujahideen fighters; it’s a rare sight, considering she’s a petite white woman dealing with leaders from a male-dominated culture. Lefèvre is equally shocked when he sees their final destination: the war-zone hospital they establish in Afghanistan looks nothing like the Western hospitals he’s accustomed to. It’s a life-changing and physically taxing experience for him, and the treacherous journey back is equally formative.

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Boxers & Saints

Book covers: Boxers and Saints by Gene Luen Yang

American Born Chinese pretty much guaranteed that I would read anything else Gene Luen Yang created, so when Boxers & Saints came out last year to great critical acclaim, I put the books high on my TBR list. The books are sold as two separate volumes as well as in a boxed set, but the stories run parallel to one another and should definitely be read together. Both books begin in 1898, when Christianity was beginning to take a stronger hold on China. In the space of two years, Chinese rebels fought back against colonization and murdered Westerners, “foreign devils” (Christians), and “secondary devils” (Chinese converts to Christianity) in what would become known as the Boxer Rebellion.

Boxers tells the story of Little Bao, a young peasant boy living in rural China. They live a relatively peaceful, hardworking life — though, like many other areas of rural China, suffer because of a drought — but then thuggish Chinese strangers arrive and cause trouble. Little Bao’s father intervenes and the men leave, but they return later with a priest as converts to Christianity; as such, they are above the law. There’s a lot of unrest over the foreign devils taking over China, and when a stranger named Red Lantern arrives and begins training the village men in the art of combat, Little Bao is enthralled. He wants to learn, but his older brothers still consider him a little boy and tell him to get lost. Seeing this, Red Lantern trains Little Bao in secret.

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Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me

Book cover: Marbles by Ellen ForneyWhat’s the difference between “crazy” and “creative”? Is there a difference? And if you take away the “crazy,” will you also be taking away the “creative”?

These are just some of the questions Ellen Forney found herself grappling with right before her 30th birthday, when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Suddenly, all those manic highs that she’d once thought made her eccentric and endearing and whimsically artistic took on a scary new meaning.

Though it shed light on some of her behaviors, she was also terrified of what it meant in the long run. Medications might help, but there was the chance that they’d dull her senses and take away her artistic abilities. Then again, the other option wasn’t much better: people diagnosed with bipolar disorder were at a high risk of suicide and recurring hospitalizations; not treating her condition could also lead to more extreme manic episodes that might be harder to control. And so, with a lot of uncertainty, Forney began her rollercoaster ride of different treatment plans and medication combinations.

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Calling Dr. Laura

Book cover: Calling Dr. Laura by Nicole GeorgesGrowing up, Nicole Georges had always believed that her father was dead. Then at the age of twenty-three, Nicole’s friend took her to a psychic, who informed her that her father wasn’t dead. It’s a secret Nicole sits on for a long time, until finally broaches the subject and her sister spills the beans: no, Nicole’s father never died of colon cancer.

Nicole Georges’s graphic memoir is part coming-of-age, part unlocking-family secrets story about growing up in a stressful household. Her mother dated a lot and was occasionally in abusive relationships, and the stress manifested itself in Nicole in different ways She also grew up in hippie vegan Portland, raised chickens, and refined her art. By the time she was twenty-three, she was keeping a lot of her life compartmentalized: she was still in the closet where her mother was concerned, didn’t know how to broach the subject of her father with the rest of her family, and was trying to navigate the tricky waters of her relationship (which involved living with lots of dogs and traveling with her girlfriend on their band’s tour). The questions about what really happened to her father start to eat at her, and the confusion finally culminates with a desperate phone call to ultra-conservative call-in advice show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whom Nicole occasionally hate-listens to.

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Book cover: Starling by Sage StosselTo almost everyone who knows her, Amy Sturgess is a stressed out woman trying to climb up the ladder in the marketing world. She’s pretty good at it, too…or at least she would be if her second job didn’t keep interfering with all aspects of her life: she’s the superhero named Starling.

Amy takes the concept of trying to juggle it all to a new level, and it’s been blowing up in her face more frequently. She’s good at her job, but to her coworkers, she just looks flaky since she’s always running off to “go to the bathroom” (her explanation for all that time allegedly spent on the toilet is hilarious). In reality, she’s changing into her Starling costume to go fight bad guys.

But lately, she’s been slacking on that, too. She procrastinates and shows up late to stop the bad guys. Rather than dutifully stop crime and hand the criminals over to the police, she’s started tuning into the hard luck stories that made the criminals turn to crime. Superheroes are supposed to be assertive, moralistic, and see things in black and white. Starling, on the other hand, pops Xanax before flying off to her next criminal encounter, often shows up looking disheveled, and sometimes even helps the bad guys! It all goes downhill from there when superhero life and real life collide.

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