My Illustrated Life: 10 Great Graphic Memoirs

The growing popularity of graphic memoirs — autobiographical accounts of a person’s life, often illustrated by the subject themselves — are a great way for libraries to showcase their biography collections:

“In a graphic memoir, the story line is what tells me the big things. It’s the images that tell me all the little things, in addition to making the setting so easy to grasp. No need for lengthy descriptions! (I remember so well my younger self’s delight with dialogue and action, and my annoyance at having to slog through descriptions.) My enjoyment of books, whether illustrated storybooks or comics, also included endless poring over the images, checking details in the scenery or the outfits” (Sylvie Kantorovitz. “Graphic Memoirs: Why We Read Them. Why We Need Them“. Horn Book Magazine, March/April 2022).

Below are 10 outstanding examples of this unique type of nonfiction.

Pro tip: You can use the CA Library catalog to find even more graphic memoirs – use the search terms “comic memoir”.

Ay, Mija! : my bilingual summer in Mexico ¡Ay, Mija! : My Bilingual Summer in Mexico by Christine Suggs — In this bilingual, inventive, and heartfelt debut, graphic novel talent Christine Suggs explores a trip they took to Mexico to visit family, embracing and rebelling against their heritage and finding a sense of belonging. “A warm and honest coming-of-age story about self-love and self-discovery” (Booklist).

Family style : memories of an American from Vietnam Family Style: Memories of an American from Vietnam by Thien Pham — Told through the lens of meaningful food and meals, this graphic memoir chronicles the author’s life, beginning with his childhood immigration to America, where food takes on new meaning as he and his family search for belonging, for happiness and for the American dream. “A nuanced and hopeful graphic memoir depicting moments of hardship and joy with sincerity” (Horn Book Magazine).

Fine : a comic about gender Fine: A Comic About Gender by Rhea Ewing — As graphic artist Rhea Ewing neared college graduation in 2012, they became consumed by the question: What is gender? This obsession sparked a quest in which they eagerly approached both friends and strangers in their quiet Midwest town for interviews to turn into comics. A decade later, this project exploded into a sweeping portrait of the intricacies of gender expression with interviewees from all over the country. “Recommended for everyone who cares about better understanding the complicated, varied, gorgeous mess that is gender” (Booklist).

Improve : how I discovered improv and conquered social anxiety Improve: How I Discovered Improv and Conquered Social Anxiety by Alex Graudins — Alex has crippling social anxiety. All day long, she is trapped in a web of negative thoughts and paralyzing fear. To pull herself free of this endless cycle, Alex does something truly terrifying: she signs up for an improv comedy class, and ultimately faces her greatest fear by performing onstage for all to see. “With a bevy of improv exercise examples (and an appendix with more!) and excerpts from texts on the form, this graphic memoir is a love letter to the theatrical practice that helped Graudins grow” (School Library Journal Xpress).

The keeper : soccer, me, and the law that changed women's lives The Keeper: Soccer, Me, and the Law That Changed Women’s Lives by Kelcey Ervick — A beautifully illustrated coming-of-age graphic memoir chronicling how sports shaped one young girl’s life and changed women’s history forever. Full of 1980s nostalgia and heart, The Keeper is a celebration of how far we have come and a reminder of how far we have to go. “[Ervick] weaves in historical context in graceful and necessary ways, allowing readers to understand the origins of Title IX and some other influences in her life” (New York Times).

Layers : a memoir Layers: A Memoir by Pénélope Bagieu and Montana Kane — Pénélope Bagieu never thought she’d publish a graphic memoir. But when she dusted off her old diaries (no, really―this book is based on her actual diaries), she found cringe-worthy, hilarious, and heartbreaking stories begging to be drawn. “Rife with intimate charm, Bagieu nimbly transforms the memories of ‘that weird, awkward girl, filled with complexes and insecurities’ into proof she’s grown up to be ‘so, so brave'” (Booklist).

Numb to this : memoir of a mass shooting Numb to This: Memoir of a Mass Shooting by Kindra Neely — This searing graphic memoir portrays the impact of gun violence through a fresh lens with urgency, humanity, and a very personal hope. Kindra Neely never expected it to happen to her. No one does. And then, one day, it happened: a mass shooting shattered her college campus. Over the span of a few minutes, on October 1, 2015, eight students and a professor lost their lives. And suddenly, Kindra became a survivor. “While the subject matter may cause discomfort for some readers, by joining Neely on her journey, teens share both in the emotional weight of personhood and in a celebration of hope, community, and interconnectedness” (School Library Journal Xpress).

Victory. Stand! : raising my fist for justice Victory. Stand!: Raising My Fist for Justice by Tommie Smith, Derrick Barnes and Dawud Anyabwile — On October 16, 1968, during the medal ceremony at the Mexico City Olympics, Tommie Smith, the gold medal winner in the 200-meter sprint, and John Carlos, the bronze medal winner, stood on the podium in black socks and raised their black-gloved fists to protest racial injustice inflicted upon African Americans. In his first-ever memoir for young readers, Tommie Smith looks back on his childhood growing up in rural Texas through to his stellar athletic career, culminating in his historic victory and Olympic podium protest. “With vivid black-and-white artwork that emphasizes Smith’s athleticism and powerful messages about allyship, conviction, family, and resistance, this is a compelling and engaging account of an iconic moment and an important period in U.S. history” (Booklist).

Wake : the hidden history of women-led slave revolts Wake: The Hidden History of Women-Led Slave Revolts by Rebecca Hall, illustrated by Hugo Martinez — Part graphic novel, part memoir, Wake is an imaginative tour-de-force that tells the powerful story of women-led slave revolts and chronicles scholar Rebecca Hall’s efforts to uncover the truth about these women warriors who, until now, have been left out of the historical record. “Highly recommended for educators and for all adults and teens concerned about the United States’ promise, past, and future for its diverse peoples” (Library Journal).

Worm : a Cuban American odyssey Worm: A Cuban American Odyssey by Edel Rodriguez — From “America’s illustrator in chief” (Fast Company), a stunning graphic memoir of a childhood in Cuba, coming to America on the Mariel boatlift, and a defense of democracy, here and there. Through vivid, stirring art, Worm tells a story of a boyhood in the midst of the Cold War, a family’s displacement in exile, and their tenacious longing for those they left behind. “A sharply observed document of totalitarianism and its discontents — this gifted artist in particular” (Kirkus Reviews).



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *