Activist Graphic Novels That Everyone Should Read

by Charlotte Ahlin

Activism through comics is nothing new. Superman was a Jewish immigrant and Captain America once socked Hitler in the mouth. As long as sequential art has existed, it's been used to fight against the forces of hate and prejudice. But, as the U.S. continues to devolve into a Hunger Games-style political nightmare, it might be time to revisit some of the most poignant activist comics out there. At this point, we need all the artistic inspiration we can get. Here are a few graphic novels and memoirs with clear activist messages, to fuel your politics in 2017.

I mean, sure, every story arc of the X-Men is a heavy handed allegory about bigotry (except for maybe when they fight dinosaurs in Antarctica or whatever). But even beyond all those grand stories about men wearing capes, comics have a long history of tackling questions of justice. These graphic novels and collections reflect the real life activists who fight for civil rights, social justice, and a healthy planet. Through beautiful art and true stories, these books give remind us of all the invaluable work that's been done, and all the work there is left to do.

Now more than ever, it's time to give these graphic novels a read:


'March' by John Lewis and Andrew Aydin, art by Nate Powell

The March trilogy is already being hailed as a classic of the graphic novel medium. Following the life of activist and Congressman John Lewis, March is a nuanced account of the civil rights movement from someone who lived through it. The first volume starts with Lewis's youth in Alabama, his first meeting with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., the Nashville Student Movement, and the battle to end segregation through nonviolent protest, culminating in a confrontation on the steps of City Hall.

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'Love is Love' edited by Marc Andreyko

Love is love, in case anyone needed a reminder. This collection brings together some of the greatest talents in the comics industry today, to celebrate the LGBTQ+ community and honor the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting. It's an unapologetic celebration of love in all its forms, and all proceeds go towards helping the survivors and victims' families in Orlando.

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'Maus' by Art Spiegelman

Look, if you've somehow never read Maus, it's not too late. It lives up to its reputation. Maus is, quite simply, a masterpiece. Yes, it's a story about the Holocaust starring mice, but Spiegelman manages to use those adorable mice to capture existential horror and survivor's guilt in a way that no history book ever could.

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'Citizen 13660' by Mine Okubo

Citizen 13660 lives somewhere in the realm between comic and illustrated memoir. But however you want to categorize it, Citizen 13660 is the heartbreaking, candid story of Mine Okubo's imprisonment and survival during the Japanese internment in America. Okubo recounts her experience with poignancy and a surprising amount of humor.

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'Climate Changed' by Philippe Squarzoni

For anyone who's still fuzzy on the very real science behind climate change, Climate Changed is part-memoir, part-documentary, taking readers through the science of Earth's climate step by step. Squarzoni manages to make the harrowing scientific reality that we're facing both understandable and engrossing (if a little terrifying).

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'Incognegro' by Mat Johnson, art by Warren Pleece

Incognegro tells the story of Zane Pinchback, a New York reporter who must hide his race and identity and venture south to investigate his own brother's arrest. Mat Johnson has crafted a powerful mystery that explores race, justice, and identity in America — much of it still all-too relevant today.

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'The Rime of the Modern Mariner' by Nick Hayes

Modeled on The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, this comic updates the poem with a modern environmental theme. Through striking art and verse, The Rime of the Modern Mariner is both a lament and a call to action for all those who appreciate the beauty of nature.

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'Strange Fruit' by Joel Christian Gill

Joel Christian Gill collects the stories of unsung heroes from African-American history in this unique graphic anthology: Henry "Box" Brown, who escaping slavery by mailing himself to Philadelphia, Old West lawman Bass Reeves, and Marshall "Major" Taylor, a.k.a. the Black Cyclone, to name a few.

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'La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico' by Jon Sack and Adam Shapiro

La Lucha dives into the city of Juárez, where 97% of murders go unsolved. This is the true story of lawyer and organizer Lucha Castro who, along with several other human rights advocates and a community of protesters, fought to stop the violence, find the killers, and change the system that enabled them.

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'The Complete Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi

Marjane Satrapi's graphic memoir is one of the most well-known in the genre, and for good reason. Satrapi tells her own story with unflinching humor and heart, but she also has a keen eye for observation and critique when it comes to history, shifting regimes, and the way women are treated.

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