Crowdsourcing: Graphic novels! edition

Here’s the scoop: Despite the fact that I am sort of a cartoonist and “into” graphic art, I am, sadly, not totally on the up-and-up when it comes to comics and graphic novels! So, I need recommendations from you fine FWD commenters for a project that I will be starting on rather soon. I am mostly looking for autobiographical comic/graphic novels, comics/graphic novels having to do with illness or disability, race, and/or gender and sexuality (I prefer non-fiction for these categories),  and comics/graphic novels that cover awkward situations in childhood, adolescence, or young adulthood (fictional or not).  Also, how-to books (such as Eisner’s Comics and Sequential Art, which I already own and have dog-earred to infinity) are also welcome as suggestions, as I will definitely need inspiration.

Here’s a list of stuff I already have that is in one or more of the above categories: One! Hundred! Demons! (Barry, 2002); Fun Home (Bechdel, 2006); Funny Misshapen Body (Brown, 2002); The Spiral Cage (Davison, 1992); Cancer Made Me a Shallower Person (Engelberg, 2008); Jokes and the Unconscious (Gottleib and DiMassa, 2006) Stitches (Small, 2009), American Born Chinese (Yang, 2006) [thank you to my fellow blogger Anna for reminding me of this one].


[Cross-posted to ham blog in a slightly different form]

About Annaham

Annaham (they/them) is a feminist with several disabilities who occasionally updates their personal blog. They currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area with their partner, and an extremely spoiled Yorkie/Pom mix named Sushi. You can reach them by emailing hamdotblog AT gmail dot com.

39 thoughts on “Crowdsourcing: Graphic novels! edition

  1. (Not sure if this fits your critieria…) I wonder if you’ve seen some of Shaun Tan’s work? His wordless graphic novel, “The Arrival”, captures the transition stages of migration. I also liked his “Tales From Outer Suburbia”, which touches on childhood (though the memories are not awkward).

  2. As a graphic novel buff, I feel qualified to comment for the first time on this entry:

    Blankets, by Craig Thompson covers your awkward adolescence
    The Sandman series, by Neil Gaiman covers…a freaking lot
    Epileptic, by David B., is an autobiographical story about growing up with a brother who has epilepsy at a time when it was very untreatable
    Maus, by Art Spiegelman, is the story of the author’s writing the story of how his parents survived the Holocaust.
    Lost Girls, by Alan Moore, is smutty smut smut. It’s the story of Alice, Dorothy, and Wendy all meeting at a hotel at the start of WWI.

    Other favorites (that might not have to do with your requests: are Jeph Loeb and Tim Sale’s “The Long Halloween”, starring Batman; Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta and Watchmen, Bill Willingham’s Fables series, and anything by Marjane Satrapi (author of Persepolis).

  3. Comics are by far my favorite subject, so I thought I’d give you some recommendations on comics related to disabilities…

    — The vast majority of Marvel superheroes work as metaphors for disability. Daredevil is the most obvious because of his blindness ( though his other senses are hyper-enhanced so as to compensate ), but the X-Men work just as well as a metaphor for ablism as they do for any other minority. The Hulk can be seen as a borderline personality disorder in superhumanly destructive form. Captain America deals with pretty severe post-traumatic stress, especially the current Cap ( who also has a prosthetic cyborg arm ). Iron Man is the best example because his power is literally prosthetic, and created to compensate for a heart injury.

    — DC’s Doom Patrol is a comic about a team of superhumans who aren’t heroes so much as disfiguring accident survivors. The leader, the Chief, is a genius in a wheelchair. There’s Robotman ( a human brain in an entirely metal body ), Elasti-Girl ( an actress who gained the ability to shrink and grow, thus putting a permanent black mark on her reputation even though she could resume normal size ), and Negative Man ( a radioactive burn victim whose power– the Negative Spirit– renders him completely paralyzed when he uses it ). Other members, like the 52-personality Crazy Jane, take this even further.

    — Image’s Elephantmen is a vastly underrated sci-fi series about animalistic genetically engineered soldiers trying to cope with a post-war life, and is an utterly brutal metaphor for the post traumatic stress that veterans endure.

    — Not necessarily disability, but there’s a lot of really interesting neurological stuff in Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing stories. He starts by revealing that the character was never a human turned into a monster, but a collection of bacteria that absorbed the memories of a corpse and tricked itself into believing it was that person. He has the Swamp Thing get involved with a human woman, with a sex scene that involves her eating one of his fruits and experiencing his cognitive life. And he later learns to expand his consciousness, so he’s not a single planty humanoid, but an awareness continuing to expand across the world. I’m a big fan of neurologically-oriented sci-fi, so this is great.

    I’ll have to give you autobiographical stuff later.

  4. Oh, and while I apologize in advance if this is out of turn, my own webcomic Ruby’s World is explicitly disability-related science-fiction. Two of the characters are on the autism spectrum, the protagonist has a pretty obvious fantastical disability, and the villains are motivated by eugenics. Go to

  5. I’ve done reviews of a bunch of LGB comics on one of my blogs here: (mix of fiction and non fiction)

    Questionable Content is a web comic that deals with lots of mental health issues and sexuality stuff (review here:

    Incognegro deals with race (review here:

    It’s a Bird is autobiographical and is about an artist coming to terms with his father having Huntington’s Chorea (review here:

    Love Roma is an excellent manga dealing with the awkwardness of teenage dating, and I suspect the lead male character is somewhere on the autistic spectrum (review here:

    I hope that’s helpful!

  6. I second the recommendation Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi. It is about (among many other things) race and gender.

    I also second the Shaun Tan recommendation.

    Favourite how-to book? Probably Drawing from the right side of the brain which talks about “drawing how you see”. It’s by Betty Edwards. I found the drawing space exercises helpful and now draw parts of faces because of this book.

    This week I have spent a great deal of time at Nitz the Bloody. He is the author of Ruby’s World, which has been for 18 titles now.

    I also have enjoyed Darryl Cunningham in the recent past.

    And there is Liquid Comics.

    On Scribd I have enjoyed everything from Larry’s Cafe to Fred Seibert’s work. Seibert’s work is an interesting “how to” as well as “why to”.

    Political cartoons capture my attention. There is a LiveJournal about them. (It would be magnificent to have a feminist version).

    There was an illustrated version of Tale of Genji which I liked.

    Looked in the bookmarks, and saw Paul Gravett. He goes through a lot of the theory and practice of comics/graphic novels.

    Scott Lynn’s On the spectrum covers the disabilities + awkward situations criteria.

    Kleefield writes about Comic Book Fanthropology. You could get some references here. (He was a Fantastic Four fan).

    I did not look at the Irregular webcomic much. Lots of educational material + awkward situations. They are created out of Lego people.

    Lines and Colours has a comics category, with artists and recommendations.

  7. ditto Shaun Tan, Maus, and Persepolis. I also recommend “Skim” by Mariko and Jillian Tamaki — high school story involving sexuality and (to a lesser extent) race. Definitely awkward situations and very well-done.

  8. I haven’t been reading graphic novels much lately, but I used to, a lot. Turns out I have suggestions related to everything on your list but disability. I definitely look forward to seeing suggestions by others.

    –Understanding Comics – Scott McCloud–the first one I read. I adore it. He has others, too, but this one’s the best.
    –Drawing Words and Writing Pictures – Jessica Abel and Matt Madden (I haven’t read this one, but Abel is one of my all-time favorite creators. Her book, La Perdida, draws on her experiences as an American in Mexico, but is not autobiographical.)

    –Ariel Schrag made a series of graphic novels, one for each year of high school, which includes her coming out as a lesbian. And the first one is called “Awkward”, so it might fall under the a couple of your categories.
    –Stuck Rubber Baby by Howard Cruse is a fictionalized account of his experience growing up gay during the civil rights era.
    –Phoebe Gloeckner has some stuff that might fall under gender and sexuality? I don’t remember exactly what’s in it, beyond essentially childhood sex abuse–I don’t know if that falls under what you’re looking for (if so, also Debbie Drechsler’s Daddy’s Girl). Again, it’s officially fictional, but draws largely from the writer’s experience.
    –Some cancer-related books I haven’t actually read: Mom’s Cancer by Brian Fries, Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto, and Our Cancer Year by Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner and Frank Stack.
    –Pedro and Me by Judd Winick is another one I haven’t read, but definitely fits your requirements.

    And while I can’t claim to be impartial on this one, my brother’s book Leap Years (Ian Bennett) is all about getting through the awkwardness of high school (and dealing with a six-foot-tall frog only you can see? Definitely awkward). And recommended by people other than me, like for example Booklist!

  9. Mine Okubo’s “Citizen 13660” is a powerul autobiographical account of her time in Japanese internment camps in California and Utah during WWII.

  10. Comics’ treatment of disability is a big interest of mine, and something I’m also investigating work-wise. It’s good to see someone else connecting the categories you mention as linked areas of interest: you pretty much mapped out the kind of comics I most like to read. 🙂 Now the recs…


    Also by Alison Bechdel is Dykes to Watch out for, which is a regular comic strip that I think has been going on for decades, giving the ensemble of characters wonderful depth and richness. There’s a huge anthology available, but you can also read some online:

    How To Books:
    Look for Scott McCloud! He writes the most lucid, entertaining books on the medium, nature and storytelling of comics that you could wish for (and cites the Eisner book you mention as an influence): first there’s Understanding Comics, and then there’s other titles like Making Comics. Brilliant, illuminating stuff. Oh, and he has a blog too, I think.

    Health & Disability/Autobiography:
    Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Crohn’s Disease, by Tom Humberstone. This is awesome. It was created for a 24-hour comic marathon and can be read on his website, though Forbidden Planet also has it as a book.

    Autobiography: Politics/Instability + Race & Identity + Childhood Emigration:
    Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi. Look for the edition of the book that includes both the first and second volumes of the story. I got into this through the recent animated film adaptation, which is also very good.

    Awkward situations in childhood/young adulthood:

    – Black Hole by Charles Burns. It’s about what happens when a ‘teen plague’ (actually an STI) causes teens to develop mutations. I found it interesting as a meditation on what it’s like to have a different body, and as an analog for visible disability, but I don’t know what the author’s intent was: he could just as easily have been thinking: “What if there were teen mutants, like in X-Men, but they didn’t have powers?” Either way, there’s a lot of young love and angst in the air.


    Health & Disability/Autobiography:

    Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story, by Frederik Peeters (about HIV)

    Cancer Vixen: A True Story, by Marisa Acocella Marchetto

  11. One from Japan: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, by Keiko Tobe (who, sadly, died in January of this year). I still have yet to read it myself (just haven’t had the chance to find a copy, though I really want to); however, I’ve read very good reviews of it from fellow autistics in my online communities.

    It’s fictional, but it’s realistic fiction, and from what I’ve heard, it is extremely well researched– more so, even, than a good deal of American material about autism.

  12. I’d like to second the recommendation of “Blankets” by Craig Thompson and anything by Marjane Satrapi.

  13. I’m going to throw in Persepolis (a classic) which is an autobiographical Graphic Novel by Marjane Satrapi (I believe that’s the spelling) about growing up in Iran, and being a girl in a newly created theocracy.

    About Sandman, I’ll just say that it has some major transphobia.

  14. There’s also Pedro And Me by Judd Winick, for the categories of autobiographical, gender/sexuality, and illness. (The author, Winick, the “Me” of the title, is heterosexual and healthy; Pedro is gay and dies of AIDS during the story.)

  15. (I mean to say “and race,” as Pedro as also non-white. It’s been a long time since I read it, and I was not very up on thinking about issues of disability or othering as I am now. The subtitle of “Pedro And Me” is “Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned.” I don’t *remember* Pedro being positioned as an “other” or brave little sufferer whose purpose in life was to heroically “overcome” his illness until he died, and to teach all the straight white healthy people valuable life lessons — but the title and the reviews of the book certainly seem to position him that way. I wonder how much of that is in the text, too, and it’s just that I’m not remembering it because I was a healthy-ish white reader myself. Will have to reread, because my *memories* have it as a very genuine and sincere story of friendship — but that subtitle, ugh!)

  16. Forget Sorrow by Belle Yang is pretty recent and nonfiction, it’s about a Chinese-American woman escaping an abusive boyfriend and exploring her parents’ history.

    I second Blankets by Craig Thompson, which also has a character with Down’s Syndrome, though I can’t remember how the story plays out.

    I’m not sure how non-fiction-y it really is, as it’s been several years since I’ve read it, but It’s A Bird by Steven T Seagle is about dealing with illness and death as well as being a meditation on the role of heroes in our society.

    Making Comics by Scott McCloud is pretty good as far as the how-tos are concerned.

    It’s not non-fiction, but Jeremy Love’s Bayou is really interesting in terms of race, and afaik it’s all available to read online at the zuda comics site

  17. I’m totally on a comic book devouring jag this summer (dissertation? what dissertation?), so am totally eating up these recs!

    Things I’ve read recently (not all of which meet your criteria):

    Cairo, by G. Willow Wilson (fictional (but influenced by Wilson’s own experiences) story of a group of people meeting in Cairo, and having supernatural adventures; includes white American, Arab-American, Egyptian, and Israeli characters, and does pretty well on its ID politics)
    Marvel 1602 by Neil Gaiman (All the Marvel superheroes…but in 1602! Kind of awesome if you’re into the Marvel mythology at all. Some problematic race issues, which get resolved weirdly. And all the weird disability politics of Daredevil and the X-Men.)
    Arab in America by Toufic El Rassi (autobiographical essay/story of being Arab in pre and post 9/11 USA; also includes a lot of historical material. I don’t particularly like El Rassi’s drawing style, but I like the book enough that, if I ever again teach Arab American studies, I’m likely to use it as an assigned text)
    Embroideries, by Marjane Satrapi (what’s the graphic-novel equivalent of a short story collection? a series of stories of gender relations and sex recounted by a women’s gathering at Satrapi’s aunt’s house. Witty and worth reading if you like her style in general.)

    I also have Joss Whedon’s Fray sitting on my bookshelf; my wife just read it and loved it, but I haven’t gotten to it yet. But I’m a Buffyverse fangirl, so I’m anticipating enjoying it on some level.

  18. I’d recommend Ariel Schrag’s Awkward, Definition, Potential and Likewise, in that order. Each one chronicles a year of Schrag’s high school life and they get better and better with each volume as she deals with growing up and her sexuality.

  19. Seconding “With The Light”, about raising a boy with autism in Japan.

    I think it has its problems, it ends up being overly sunny at times. All obstacles are overcome with hard work and cooperation. But the author did do the homework, and many of the events in the book are taken from real life stories. The problems that come up for Hikaru and his family feel very real and the book highlights that a lot of these problems come from people not understanding or wanting to take time to understand Hikaru’s needs. His parents are sometimes overwhelmed and can’t find the right resources for their son and don’t get the support they need for him. Hikaru is very sympathetic even when he’s doing things that don’t make sense from an “abled” perspective, and the book emphasizes that he is not a “bad” kid, but he operates differently in the world from most people and he deserves to be part of the community like anyone else.

    Anyway, I was impressed with this book, and I’d be curious to see what you think of it.

  20. I’ll echo the Alison BechdeI suggestion. She has dealt with a variety of disabilities, serious illnesses, and chronic conditions over the years in the Dykes to Watch Out For books.

    Also, I couldn’t tell if you are only looking for graphic novels/comic BOOKS, or if you are also interested in individual or series of comics on disability. If so, I used to draw a series called Sick Humor, which were all extremely autobiographical, about life w/chronic illness/disability. A bunch of them are up at (my very outdated site).

    I’m not doing this to make money or anything like that. If you want, I’ll send you paper copies (free, I mean) of the ones not up there, cuz I don’t have a scanner. I don’t consider myself a cartoonist. It was just something I did for a while because I couldn’t think of any other way to make things real to others.

  21. oh another one for race: the 99. superheroes in the arabic world. you can download the first issue for free here:,ckl

    and then you can buy and download the other issues. It’s notable because it’s set in the arabic world, written by arabic people, based around arabic mythology and features arabic people. such a refreshing change to the whitewashed american comics.

  22. oh, got another one: dar, a supergirly top secret comic diary. it;s autbiograhical, deals with sexuality (the writer is a lesbian with a boyfriend) and mental health (trichotilimania and depression). but there’s one comic which is pretty transphobic.
    anyway as a webcomic it;s all online, here:

  23. Sarah Leavitt has a book coming out soon about her mother and Alzheimers. I think it’s called Tangles. You can see some samples now on her facebook fanpage (I can’t link cuz I’m on my phone, sorry).

  24. Great list, great question. I’d love to see a compilation of the ones you find helpful – a bibliography for these issues would be very cool.

    My suggestions:

    Smile! – by raina telgemeier. I just read this last week. She tells the traumatic/dramatic story of falling as a kid and messing up her front teeth, and years of dental work that followed. Sounds awful? It’s really well done, as a personal odyssey she comes through, with humor, her family, friends (some not the best), good and bad dentists, it’s really quite great. She mentions that it’s a story she’s told over and over to friends: “But wait, there’s more!” and it reads as polished, heartfelt, and personal.

    Incognegro is great, though I missed the disability angle, I’ll have to look again.

    Phoebe Gloeckner. I’ve found her in the young-adult comics section next to kids’ comics. Probably shouldn’t be there without some guidance for less experienced young people (or adults). Might save some troubled kid’s life though. Serious “trigger” tag on this one. Her incredibly powerful and distressingly well crafted work deals with being abused as a kid at home and then while living on the street. She survived and teaches now as a medical illustrator. Some of her anatomic illustrations of abuse are intimate, distant and terrifying. She met many of the “underground” comix folks in the ’70’s, and embarrasses any of them with her truth.

    Gregory Blackstock from Seattle published a book of illustrations, not really comics. It’s called, “Drawings of an Artistic Savant.” He’s autistic and draws collections of objects, (40 kinds of crows are on the cover). It’s good to see a disabled guy producing his own stuff and able to sell it. Interesting. I don’t think it’s exploitative, since he was doing it before he got “discovered,” and he’s getting paid. I’d be curious what others think.

    In Gilbert Hernandez’ looong-running Palomar series, one character Vincente was badly burned on most of one side of his body as a kid. In the comic he’s just one of the people who live in the village of Palomar. Many eventually leave town, but all along it’s pretty obvious that he’s accepted and it’s not a big deal. I remember once when they leave town somebody beats up a stranger who’s rude to Vincente, and it took me a minute to figure out what he was reacting to. He’s actually one of the more “handsome” guys in town.
    Those are great comics, published as part of the Love and Rockets books together with his brother Jaime’s comics.

    Thinking of “gender,” leads back to Krazy Kat in the 1920’s – perhaps the greatest newspaper comic ever. (People argue, but Krazy’s always in the argument.) Beginning in 1913, Krazy Kat ran until the 1940’s. And in all that time, Krazy had no fixed gender. In my favorite example, from March 20, 1921, the characteristic commentary describes Krazy Kat: “Kuriosity has led our heroine thus far – But seeing what he sees, ‘Kuriosity’ no longer impels her – He is now actuated with a sweltering suffusion of benevolence.”
    Krazy changes gender four times in one paragraph! Genius.

    Lastly, I can’t find which book it’s in, but David Collier has stories about his peanut allergy and how he’s lived with it. His comics read like, “Here’s some stuff that I’ve been interested in, maybe you will be too.” They’re really good, including one where kids in his school learn how he could die from his allergy and it was important to be careful, so they immediately start chasing him around with peanut-butter sandwiches yelling, “Let’s kill David!”
    I think that’s funny, maybe because they didn’t catch him. It’s probably in “Hamilton Sketchbook,”

  25. I haven’t read many graphic novels/comics, but I did want to echo the enthusiasm for both volumes of Persepolis and the Dykes to Watch Out For comics. I also liked _Stuck in the Middle: 17 Comics from an Unpleasant Age_ (edited by Ariel Schrag). Sherman Alexie’s _The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian_ is more of a young adult novel with a lot of graphic elements, but I loved enough that I thought it was worth mentioning.

    Thanks to all for this thread. It’d now bookmarked (and hopefully in a way that I can easily find it again in all my other FWD bookmarked pages).

  26. What an intriguing list we’re compiling! Another vote for Harvey & Joyce’s Our Cancer Year is a refreshing contrast to the pink-ribbon, isn’t he heroic? discourse in mainstream society.

    As far as making meaning and other meta-matters, Reading comics : how graphic novels work and what they mean by Douglas Wolk is art history + literary criticism. The first half is Theory & History and I couldn’t put it down. Though I did start with floppy Archie comics as a kidlet, I’ve been pretty much a graphic-novel snob for the past two decades. The context Wolk provides for the spandex world finally helps me get them for the first time. The second half are essays/reviews on twenty-one important comics producers (that darn Alan Moore again, prevents one from simply writing “artists”). Wolk cautions they’re not a 21 best, but 21 folks whose works sparked thoughts. There’s plenty I disagree with, but the essays are well-written, considered, and fun. I’m gobsmacked that lit-crit could be a page-turner, but then, it’s comics!

    Traumatic war stories through the eyes of young people:
    We Are On Our Own by Miriam Katin covers Hungary 1944 and 1956.
    Deogratias by Jean-Philippe Stassen deeply horrifying tone poem on Rwanda’s 1994 autogenocide.

  27. Seconding Skim (by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki) and Embroideries (by Satrapi) and anything Bechdel.

    Gender and sexuality: if you can still find it, the Morgan Calabrese collections by N. Leigh Dunlap — lovely art, brilliant 1980s political commentary that’s still frighteningly applicable today.

    Elizabeth Watasin’s Charm School. Cute, fluffy, adorable girls in love with each other. Including BUTCH girls.

    Megan Rose Gedris’ YU+ME — girls in love, girls trying to come out in high school, and more problems:

    Auto/biographical: We Are on Our Own: A Memoir by Miriam Katin. STRONGLY recommended. Partly autobio, partly biographical, it’s the story of how Katin’s mother managed to get both of them out of Nazi Germany.

  28. I know this post is from a while back but I noticed two missing from all these great recs that fall into a few of your categories:

    My New York Diary, by Julie Doucet, is an autobiographical account of her late teens in Montreal and New York, with a just brutal depiction of her insecurities and bad decisions and burgeoning sexuality and the whole process of growing up. It also fits into your illness or disability category, as there are a few sections depicting her epilepsy.

    The other (another autobiographical comic) is I Never Liked You, by Chester Brown, which I won’t attempt to summarize; Drawn & Quarterly describes it, “A self-absorbed teenager, Chester Brown strays into the difficult territory of friendship and early love while at home there is a slowly building crisis over his mother’s mental health. Emotionally intense, the story veers unsteadily between the extremes of eerie detachment and sudden desperate outbursts of need.”

    I found them both very difficult to read (especially Julie Doucet’s visual style) and the protagonists initially dislikable, but I also find myself reading them over and over.

  29. Hello and thanks to all; I learned a lot through all people’s informative suggestions here. To add one more autobiographics on disabled masculinity, I think Al Davison’s The Spiral Cage would be of value to such a research.

  30. Sarah Leavitt’s Tangles is now out. It’s her story about her mother’s early onset Alzheimer’s and her relationship with her family (both birth and chosen) as they navigate the disease. It’s an amazing book that is very intelligently written and drawn. I laughed and cried and cried. It’s very immediate in its use of simple drawings and language that is to the point. I think this book is brilliant.

    What a great list!

  31. Not sure if you’re still looking, but Barefoot Gen I only read the first of several voulumes so part of this is hearsay still [TW for pretty much everything if you read the book, violence and sexual assualt in the review] is a semi-autobiographical novel by a Hiroshima survivor that covers events leading up to during and after the bombing including some really nasty stuff happening to his sister and the long term effects of radiation poisoning.
    Riot Nrrd and Beyond the Veil are both fairly new webcomics with disabled leads. Riot Nrrd seems to have been explicitly created as a social justice comic. Beyond the Veil is a really interesting work of fiction that has the potential to explore both disability and trans issues but I don’t know how good a job it’s going to do.
    Venus envy is fiction but otherwise fits into both of the first two categories.

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