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And Now For Something Completely Serious: Biographical Comics

2014 March 7
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Baby's in BlackLately, I’ve been wanting to branch out from my superhero reads into something a little more serious.  Don’t get me wrong, there are some super serious superheroes out there (my fave right now – Nathan Edmondson and Mitch Gerads’s run on the Punisher, but I digress), but for the sake of my family and friends, I thought I would branch out and read some brand new nonfiction comics so that I could add more to the conversation than just “Did you know that the Punisher has a coyote now?”  Lucky for me and other interested readers, nonfiction comics have just been getting better and better.

In fact, there are so many for me to choose from, it was hard for me to get it down to my top 5 for this post, so I narrowed my search to just books of a personal interest and biographical stories.  For fans of true crime, professional wrestling or The Beatles, there’s something on this list for everyone.  I hope to open it up to a broader nonfiction list later on, since I found so many great reads these past few weeks that will appeal to readers who prefer the true as opposed to the fiction.  And, trust me, I was trying to think of any way possible to get something in about Batman in this, my list of favorite biographical comics, but, alas, I could not.  Oh, well.  We’ll get back to Batty in the weeks to come.

My Friend Dahmer by Derf Backderf:  Okay, so this book isn’t exactly brand new, as I had promised in that opening, but this is seriously my favorite nonfiction comic of recent years, so that’s how it goes.  A perfect book for older teens and adult readers interested in true crime and history, My Friend Dahmer brings readers the story of the early life of Jeffrey Dahmer, the horrific serial killer.  Derf grew up with and went to Middle & High School with Jeffrey in the 1970s.  And, this book is neither sensationalistic nor opportunistic.  It’s a story of sadness – Derf, in his narration, often wonders what, if anything, could have been done that would have prevented what happened.  The black and white line drawings that Derf provides gives readers some distance from the subject matter, and his research is meticulous and documented in the bibliography at the end.  (a 2013 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection)

Andre the Giant by Box BrownAndre the Giant:  Life and Legend by Box Brown:  This soon-to-be-released biography of wrestling superstar, Andre the Giant, is a melancholy look at the man who was a beloved and gentle man, but who lived in a world that didn’t understand him or his disability.  From his life in France to wrestling engagements all over the world to The Princess Bride movie to his untimely death at the age of 46 (doctors said he actually wouldn’t live past 40), Box Brown does a wonderful job of bringing to life a complicated and complex human story with simple black and white line drawings that complement the dialogue perfectly.  Perfect for readers like me who grew up watching Andre wrestle, as well as those wanting to read a touching and interesting story of a larger-than-life man.

Baby’s in Black:  Astrid Kirchherr, Stuart Sutcliffe, and The Beatles by Arne Bellstorf:  With this being the 50th anniversary of The Beatles’ appearance on the Ed Sullivan show, what a perfect book to give those interested in a little more information on the Fab 4 and their early beginnings.  This beautiful book of black and white line drawings with grey shading tells the story of the fifth Beatle, Stuart Sutcliffe, and his friendship and eventual romantic relationship with German photographer Astrid Kirchherr.  Astrid put the Beatles on the map; she styled them and photographed them during their time in Hamburg.  This story of love and loss will touch your heart and leave you wanting to immediately turn on the music that is also heavily featured in the story.

The Lives of Sacco and Vanzetti:  A Treasury of XXth Century Murder by Rick Geary:  I love Rick Geary’s treasuries (XXth Century Murder, Victorian Murder) so much, I actually wasn’t sure which book I wanted to include on this list.  He’s done beautifully illustrated and researched graphic novels on the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby as well as on the weird and complicated murder investigations of people I’ve never heard of.  But every time, I’m drawn in and totally engaged in his stories that usually involve deceit, romance, mistaken assailants and money (and usually all four), among many other things.  In this particular volume, Geary tells us the story of Italian immigrants, Bartolomeo Vanzetti and Nicola Sacco, who were ultimately executed for the murder of two men in Massachusetts – a crime that many believe they are innocent of.  A great story with Rick’s distinctive black and white meticulous line drawings that will definitely keep readers on the edge of their seats until the bitter end.  (a 2012 Great Graphic Novels for Teens selection)

Woman RebelWoman Rebel:  The Margaret Sanger Story by Peter Bagge:  Of all of the books on my list, this is the only one rendered in full color, and what a colorful story it is (literally and figuratively).  Famous cartoonist, Peter Bagge, brings Margaret Sanger to interested readers in this story of the woman who tirelessly fought for the idea of “family limitation” her entire life.  There are a lot of conflicting stories about Margaret, and Peter does a great job of doing solid research- separating fact from fiction and putting it all together in a story that is engaging and interesting.  He in no way erases the mistakes and faults of Margaret’s actions or personality, but instead portrays her as a real human being who had some very radical ideas that we now take for granted.  For older teen and adult readers interested in the plight of women in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Well, that’s it – my list of some fascinating and thought-provoking biographical comics that will keep readers engaged throughout.  That’s the thing about great nonfiction – when you’re reading a really well written (and in this case, well-illustrated, as well) book, you end up learning something when you weren’t even noticing.  How awesome is that?!

– Traci Glass, currently reading Batman:  Mad Love and Other Stories by Paul Dini & Bruce Timm (I did end up getting a Batman reference in here!  Yes!)

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2 Responses leave one →
  1. March 8, 2014

    I totally agree with you about My Friend Dahmer being my favorite. I also really liked The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln by Noah Van Sciver. Both were for older teen and adult readers. Great post, thanks!

  2. Mel permalink
    March 13, 2014

    Definitely take a look at the works of Jim Ottaviani and associates at his G.T. Labs site
    http://www.gt-labs.com/books.html

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