Work Title: Comics Verité: The Truth In Graphic Novels
Work Author(s): Jackie Estrada
Byline: Jackie Estrada
When you see the word "novel," you automatically think of fiction. So it may be surprising to learn that dozens of graphic "novels" are actually works of nonfiction. Whether autobiographical, journalistic, historical, or scientific, these books are out to tell true stories.
Last year's most lauded graphic novel---named the #1 best book of the year (of any kind) by Time magazine---falls in this category. Alison Bechdel's Fun Home: A Family Tragicomedy (Houghton Mifflin) examines the cartoonist's life growing up in a literary family and reveals how she learned her father was a closeted homosexual and how she discovered her own sexual identity.
If you aren't familiar with Bechdel (previously best known for her long-running alternative comic strip Dykes to Watch Out For), you've no doubt heard of Harvey Pekar. The movie American Splendor was based on his ongoing autobiographical comic book series well as the graphic novel Our Cancer Year, co-written with his wife, Joyce Brabner, and drawn by Frank Stack. In addition to the various American Splendor trade paperbacks and the follow-up to the film Our Movie Year (Ballantine), Pekar has written a graphic novel about his younger days growing up in Cleveland: The Quitter (Vertigo/DC), drawn by Dean Haspiel.
Many autobiographical graphic novels give insights into other times and places. Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis (two volumes published so far by Pantheon) describes what it was like to be a young girl in Iran during the revolution that ousted the Shah in 1979. Satrapi has made the book into an animated film that won the Jury Prize at the 2007 Cannes Film Festival. Going back further in time, Miriam Katin's We Are on Our Own (Drawn & Quarterly) describes the harrowing experiences that she (as a young girl) and her mother endured as Hungarian Jews hiding from the Nazis during World War II. And of course the best-known graphic novel about treatment of the Jews in World War II is Art Spiegelman's Pulitzer Prize--winning Maus (Pantheon).
Guy Delisle offers more current insights into other cultures with his two books about working for animation studios in North Korea (Pyongyang) and China (Schenzen). In both books readers learn much about what these societies are like today and how they treat outsiders. Meanwhile, longtime comics creator Eddie Campbell (who illustrated Alan Moore's From...