Jill Norgren Reviews The Graphic Novel, Memoir and Biography
The subject matter of graphic novels stretches from the comic to the mundane but also includes many narratives that are deeply serious.
Can’t we talk about something more Pleasant? A Memoir
By Roz Chast
Published by Bloomsbury, 2014; 240pp., hardcover, paperback and Kindle
Our Lady of Birth Control: A Cartoonist’s Encounter with Margaret Sanger
By Sabrina Jones
Published by Soft Skull Press/Counterpoint, 2016; 160pp., paperback and Kindle
March (Volumes 1 - 3)
By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell (illustrator),
Published by Top Shelf Productions/IDW, 2013-2016, paperback and Kindle
The Arab of the Future: A Childhood in the Middle East, 1978-1987 (A trilogy)
By Riad Sattouf
Published by Metropolitan Books/Henry Holt, 2015-17, paperback and Kindle
By Jill Norgren
With the publication several years ago of Art Spiegelman's Maus: A Survivor’s Tale , Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood, and Alison Bechdel's Fun Home readers began to realize that something radical had happened in the world of comics. As a friend commented, the authors and illustrators of these new graphic novels were tackling topics beyond an older generation's expectation of what constituted graphics subject matter.
The genre has expanded. Stories of airborne Wham! Bam! Super Heroes now share bookstore and library shelf space with graphic biographies and memoir that explore culture, art and science, family relations, racism, sexual identity, politics, and a host of other serious and sometimes controversial topics. Spiegelman's Maus was awarded a Pulitzer prize in 1992; Satrapi's two volumes on life in Iran and Europe during and after the Islamic revolution won awards in Europe, was made into an animated film, and translated into several languages. Bechdel's highly regarded examination of sexual identity, published in 2006, created such a buzz that it became the basis of a play performed for several years on Broadway.
These books have achieved iconic stature but happily, it has not been a situation of once and done. Longtime readers of graphics know this. Devoted consumers of text, however, may want to discard their prejudices about this mixed-media genre. The rewards will be manyfold.
Sabrina Jones' work typifies the best of what is available in the graphic biography field. A longtime contributor to political comic publications, Jones has written and illustrated Isadora Duncan: A Graphic Biography and, in 2016, a fascinating 'encounter' with birth control activist Margaret Sanger titled Our Lady of Birth Control.
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