7 Graphic Novels Written By Women If You Want To Get Into Them But Don't Know Where To Start
This week, a graphic novel made the Man Booker longlist for the first time — Sabrina, by Nick Drnaso, a brilliantly disconcerting depiction of trauma and truth in the internet age. Too often, graphic novels are perceived as exclusively the domain of homogeneous white men; in reality, women, people of colour, LGBTQIA+ people, and members of other marginalised groups are responsible for some of the most innovative, enchanting books in the comic scene. If the Booker buzz has encouraged you to get into the genre, here's a list of seven incredible graphic novels written by women to get you going.
The issue of diversity in the graphic novel industry remains a pressing one. In 2016, the Angoulême Festival nominated 30 authors for its Grand Prix award — but not a single woman made the cut, as the Independent reported. Wired, meanwhile, covered the persistent absence of people of colour in the creative teams behind many graphic novels and comics, even as publishers purport to diversify the titles they produce.
A chart compiled by Comics Beat proves that audiences are hungry for graphic novels created by diverse creative teams, many of which topped the genre's 2017 bestseller list. So if you're looking to see yourself represented in graphic novels, if you want to support diverse creators, and if you want to plunge into the best of the genre, start with one of the acutely talented women listed below.
1. 'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi
There are two books guaranteed to appear on absolutely any list of graphic novels written by women; the first is Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis, initially published in French in 2000 before its 2003 English language debut. It's a memoir in comic form, tracing the experience of clever, witty, idealistic Marji, the daughter of Iranian Marxist parents. As her country — and subsequently her life —transforms after the 1979 Iranian revolution, Persepolis follows Marji through the Iran-Iraq War, her move to Europe, and her efforts to return to Tehran. Her ideals, sense of identity, and relationships develop throughout her complicated evolution into adulthood. It's poignant, unflinching, and deeply funny all at once, and its monochrome visuals will print themselves indelibly onto your brain.
2. 'Fun Home' by Alison Bechdel
The second book featured on every list of graphic novels written by women? Alison Bechdel's Fun Home (2006), which is now a Tony-winning Broadway musical. Fun Home is a deeply personal, often painful story of a young lesbian woman's difficult relationship with her closeted father. Both language and imagery are richly descriptive, forming a powerfully human novel that I'd happily deem required reading.
3. 'Through the Woods' by Emily Carroll
A sharp turn away from graphic memoir, now, with Emily Carroll's Through the Woods, a collection of gothic horror stories as visually and lyrically beautiful as they are gut-twistingly horrific. The Guardian writes that "the mood of these stories is Brothers Grimm by way of Patricia Highsmith or Stephen King, while her drawings, so fluidly lavish and atmospheric, seem to channel Edward Gorey" — but out of these prominent influences, Carroll extracts something entirely original, using horror to discuss trauma, guilt, and isolation.
4. 'Bingo Love' by Tee Franklin, Jenn St. Onge, and Joy San
"I always pitch Bingo Love as Moonlight meets Black Mirror’s 'San Junipero,'" Bingo Love author Tee Franklin told the Hollywood Reporter. The novel begins in 1963, where two young black girls — Hazel Johnson and Mari McCray — meet at church bingo. Though they ultimately fall in love, they're separated by homophobic relatives and each coerced into loveless marriages to men — until, 50 years later, their paths cross at bingo once again. Funded via Kickstarter, the campaign reached its goal in just five days; as Franklin explained: "So many times we’ve seen LGBTQ lives cut short to further the main character’s story. It’s played out and we’re tired of it, so when a story like Bingo Love comes around where they actually achieve a happily-ever-after, folks are shoving their money towards it feverishly." Read Bingo Love, and come out the other end with a warmer, larger heart.
5. 'This One Summer' by Jillian & Mariko Tamaki
Beautifully rendered in shades of purple, Jillian and Mariko Tamaki's This One Summer is a coming-of-age novel that captures all the thrill and tragedy of adolescence through sensitive narration and intricate, evocative illustration. Rose and Windy are best friends for the summer holidays, each grappling with first crushes, family troubles, and all the accompanying emotional turmoil of growing up. The novel is subtle, empathetic, and both visually and narratively gorgeous; it's one to buy for your teenage cousin, then secretly nick for yourself.
6. 'The One Hundred Nights of Hero' by Isabel Greenberg
There isn't a page in Isabel Greenberg's The One Hundred Nights of Hero that you couldn't cut out and frame for your bedroom wall. In Greenberg's take, Hero — maid and secret love of Cherry — tells stories to distract a friend of Cherry's husband from his efforts to seduce Cherry. The One Hundred Nights of Hero is witty and mesmeric — and delivers a vindicating blow to the patriarchy.
7. 'The Best We Could Do' by Thi Bui
Looking at the profoundly expressive imagery in The Best We Could Do, you’ll find it nigh-on unbelievable that before writing the graphic memoir, author Thi Bui had never drawn a single comic, according to NBC. Her debut book follows her parents as they migrate to the US in the midst of the Vietnam War; she attempts to make sense of the chaos and the trauma inflicted upon generations of her family, cast into sharper relief after she became a mother herself. Bui writes that she is “seeking an origin story that will set everything right”; what she finds is occupation, dispossession, hunger, and unfathomable endurance. “This political discourse around immigration is so divisive,” Bui told NBC. “I’m hoping that this story and where it was made from will remind people just to empathise.”