11 Graphic Novels For the Womanerd

by Kathleen Culliton

You know who you are. You wear Warby Parker glasses, you have waxed poetic on your love of carbohydrates, and Rachel Maddow doesn't know she's your best friend. You're a lady nerd. And you’re great. All you're missing to achieve supreme nerdiness, nerdiness that surpasses gender, is the ability to retell, in great detail, the plot of your favorite graphic novel.

Here’s the problem. You love the idea of the graphic novel. But as a Warby Parker-wearing, carb-loving, worshipper in the house of Maddow, the porny element drives you insane. Me too. People say that Sandman is an indictment of modern society and Tank Girl is a feminist icon — but if that is true, why do those books keep shoving boobs in our faces? I have nothing against boobs (I even own a pair myself) but do we really need our heroines to be super-stacked to root for them? What size bra did Elizabeth Bennett wear? Did Tess Durbeyfield have great cleavage? Did Catherine Earnshaw’s breasts giver her back problems? These are questions no one has asked, ever.

Fortunately, there has recent been a boom of talented artists writing graphic novels that are smart, funny, and totally easy to nerd-out over. And the best part: They don’t need to be stashed under the mattress. Unless that’s where you keep your books, in which case you and I need to have a conversation about shelves.

How to Be Happy by Eleanor Davis

Spoiler: This is a collection of illustrated short stories with no answers about how to be happy. (Unless schadenfreude is your thing, in which case these stories will make you happy — they are full of miserable people to feel better than.) The miserable people in question have one thing in common: they are looking for the magic answer to happiness. Davis’ pictures are magical, her characters are all too human.

An Age of License by Lucy Knisley

This book is written by and for a specific kind of womanerd ­— the “I studied abroad, it changed me, we’re going to talk about it for the next 45 minutes” nerd. (By the way, I studied abroad in Italy and it changed me — I got fatter.) An Age of License follows Knisley across Europe as she struggles with the question that every pushing-30 Millennial struggles with: Should I grow up? I’m on the fence, myself. So is Knisley, which makes the book more energetic and engaging than my soliloquy on the many different kinds of pasta.

Lena Finkle’s Magic Barrel by Anya Ulinich

I’m recommending this book on the basis of one line. One line that is so true, that as a Brooklynite and a journalist I know in my heart to be true. One line that makes me love the protagonist of this book (a novelist, mother, and ex-wife who's dating in NYC). You ready? Here it is; “How many rugged war photographers faint at the sight of a fat lady!” I don’t know what it is, that line just makes me want Lena Finkle as a friend.

The House that Groaned by Karrie Fransman

This book is for anyone who has ever looked at her body in the mirror and said "Uck." The inhabitants of the house that groans are men and women with really wrong ideas about about body images. Upstairs is the gorger who's growing fatter and fatter. Downstairs are the women who's life work is avoiding carbs. In the middle, is Barbara, lost and a little lonely without an extreme to use as an identity.

Unterzakhn by Leela Corman

History nerd, here is your book. Unterzakhn (which means 'underthings' in Yiddish — how’s that for a double entendre?) is the story of two sisters in New York City at the turn of the century. They look like vamps, live in tenements, and have wild adventures. I’m about to pen a bold statement — as far as escapism goes, I’ll take this over Downton Abbey any day. OK, maybe these ladies can’t kill Turks with their sexualité, but they’re pretty damn baller.

The Influencing Machine: Brooke Gladstone on the Media Illustrated by Josh Neufeld

The premise of this book is grim: We get the media we deserve. Think about every morning talk show you've ever seen. Think about pundits yelling at each other. Think about Glenn Beck. We deserve that. The Influencing Machine is a history of the media and an interpretation of how it works today. Brooke Gladstone should know — she's the voice of NPR's On The Media. The Rachel Maddow nerd in you will want to read this one twice. Let her. Here's an interview with Brooke Gladstone about the book on NPR, of course.

Polina by Bastien Vives

You probably don’t need much convincing on this point, but Slavs are more intense than we are. But when it comes to old men teaching little girls how to be graceful, they are WAY MORE INTENSE. Bela Karolyi, anyone? This is the story of a Russian ballet teacher, who is much less despicable than Karolyi, but equally demanding. And the young woman who must decide if dancing her own way is a victory or a defeat.

Hark! A Vagrant by Kate Beaton

Do you see fodder for jokes in Benedict Arnold's invasion of Quebec in 1775? How about the fact that the Easter Rising run by Irish poets? Do you not understand how Elizabeth I was taken seriously in her enormous neck ruff? This comic book is the one for you. It's a collection of the best cartoons from Kate Beaton's hilarious website with the same name. And might I add, the word 'hark' in and of itself is fantastic?

This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki

I remember being about 12 years old and sensing that adolescence was about to strike the same way an enormous tidal wave pulls at the shoreline. It felt terrifying but also exciting (then the acne, frizzy hair, and extra 30 pounds hit and I was just terrifyingly unattractive). This is a subtly told graphic novel about people negotiating that time between childhood and awful, ugly, feelings time. It's lovelier than puberty could ever be.

Syllabus by Lynda Barry

Lynda Barry is the supportive hippie professor that you kinda wished/thought was your mom in college. If she was your supportive hippie mom, she would totally get all your weird dreams. And she wouldn't mind if you smoked pot in your room. Hell, she'd probably lend you her records. But she's not your mom. So read this book of her advice on how to write. She'll nurture the inner author.

Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh

I like Allie Brosh alot. Her drawings and story lines look juvenile at first, but if you look closer you find real skill there. She also is completely unsentimental, which is rare in a write who writes about childhood. This book is a collection of the best comics from the Hyperbole and a Half website. Be sure to find the one about cake and the one about dead fish. Don't worry, there's no dead fish cake.

Image: Fotolia