October 3, 2012

Graphic Memoirs

Felice and I were discussing a genre of memoirs that is relatively new: graphic memoirs. The elements of this type of storytelling are similar to those of traditional storytelling, with the major exception being that they are rendered in sequential art that is typically associated with comic books.

The powerful thing about this type of storytelling is that the reader mentally fills in the action that occurs between each panel. Much as with the working principle of film, sequential art is taken in one frame at a time. The difference here is that a reader is allowed to remain on a single frame for as long as he or she wishes, and even to quickly return to a previous frame to replay the events that are unfolding. This works in a way that is distinct from reading because drawn images are often much more accessible symbolically than the descriptions and metaphors rendered in words. So this art form is far more unique than it has often been given credit for.

The last couple of decades has changed that, of course. Graphic novels have gained much more respect and cultural relevance since Frank Miller epitomized the superhero in Batman: The Dark Knight Returns (1986), and Alan Moore almost made superheroes obsolete by looking beyond their meaning in Watchmen (1987). Superhero comics are still popular, of course. But much of the vital work in recent sequential art has come from storytellers who chose to tell their own stories instead of myths clad in tights.

You have probably heard of Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi(above). It was made into a film a few years ago, and the story is a captivating one: a young Iranian girl coming of age in Tehran during the Islamic revolution. Pictured at the top of this post is a frame from another coming of age story from the Midwest; Blankets (2003) by Craig Thompson.

The stories are as varied as holocaust survival, reclaiming a disintegrating family history, and even growing up with an epileptic brother. One recent graphic memoir is Stitches (2009), the story of artist David Small who lost his voice as a child because of a routine throat surgery gone awry, and his subsequent redemption by breaking into the world of art.

The reason why these books are either winners (or in the running to be winners) of an "Eisner award" is because Will Eisner himself was the first to begin telling his own stories in long graphic form back in 1978. This was way before there was much of a market for graphic novels, and much less graphic memoirs. Eisner wrote and drew a slew of these books concerning his life in New York City on the side while toiling on popular pulp comics like The Spirit.

We at Memoirs Ink are wondering what our readers' interest level is in this type of memoir. Do any of you have any favorites that you are familiar with? And even more intriguing; have any of you every attempted one of your own? Also, links to any online examples would be much loved!

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