Image is the cover of Tomboy by Liz Prince: a cartoon drawing of wood background and a blue rectangle similar to a bathroom sign, with the symbol of a female body and a frowning girl’s face. Underneath the symbol are the words “Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir by Liz Prince.”
I love graphic memoirs. I love reading them and I want to write one. I’m totally obsessed with getting my hands on any and all graphic memoirs I can find. Pat Grant, (whose graphic novel Blue I actually didn’t love all that much), has written beautifully on how comics are such a perfect medium for telling the stories of one’s childhood and adolescence – they evoke the language of that era of life, tapping straight into the feelings of youth in a visceral and immediate way. These are a few graphic memoirs that I have loved in the last few months.
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* Tomboy by Liz Prince. This is a delightful memoir that’s so funny and genuine and endearing that I just wanted to give it a big hug. Prince tells an edgy but sweet tale of growing up not feeling like other girls, but also not like a boy – she endures confusion, bullying, and lots of social awkwardness as she tries to find her place in the world and figure out who she really is. As she finds her niche in the world of zines and comic artists and finds other people who both defy gender roles and accept her as she is, she learns that gender is more complicated than just being a boy or a girl, and that’s a good thing. Though this may sound like heavy or academic fare, Prince’s gift is her ability to handle big questions with humor and a down to earth charm. Ultimately this book is just about feeling comfortable with being yourself.
* I Was a Child by Bruce Eric Kaplan. I admit I am stretching the boundaries of the term graphic memoir by including this – it really isn’t one. It’s a memoir with small cartoon illustrations on each page. But I feel like I can shoehorn it in because it’s about the kind of material that graphic memoirists use – the important images and scenes from the author’s childhood – and also because Kaplan is a cartoonist, better known as the New Yorker’s BEK. The stories in this book are incredibly stripped down, raw, visceral – as are the illustrations, which look like someone scribbled them in the dark on the inside of a paperback after waking from a vivid dream. It’s hilarious, it’s weird, it’s uncanny. Definitely my favorite of everything I’ve read so far this year.
* Smile by Raina Telgemeier. This graphic memoir geared toward the kid/tween age range is immensely popular, and it’s easy to see why. The drawings are super cute and the story manages to be both unique and highly relatable. In the beginning of the memoir, Raina falls and severely injures her two front teeth, which kicks off a very long series of awful, painful, and embarrassing dental work, right at the time when all kids are pretty much at their peak of self consciousness: middle school. I personally have an extreme fear of dentistry (don’t ask me when’s the last time I went), so this read like a horror novel for me, but the tone is so sweet and funny that it entertained even an odontophobe like me (yes I googled that).
* A Game for Swallowsby Zeina Abirached. In a memoir about life during the Lebanese civil war of the 1970s and 80s, Zeina relates the story of a day when her parents go out for a short visit to the other side of Beirut and don’t come home for hours – during that worrying time, her neighbors gather in her apartment to comfort her and her brother, and each other, during the bombing. The artwork and the setting are heavily reminiscent of Persepolis – it’s nearly impossible not to make the comparison immediately – but I think that the tone is markedly different, both in the drawings and the storytelling. Abirached has a style that is whimsical and fairy-tale-like, almost reminding me at times of Tomi de Paola’s children’s books. She gives you a feel for the warmth of Lebanese culture that makes you feel as the children must, cozy and cared for in a safe little nest away from the dangerous world outside.