When I was a child, I would ride my bike to the library every week and check out a biography to read. I would go straight to the section and pick a book based on the cover. I often had not even heard of the subject, but my reasoning was that if somebody had a book written about them, he or she must be interesting. My more cynical adult brain doesn’t believe that, but I do still enjoy biographies of all kinds, including graphic memoirs.
“Persepolis” and “Maus” are probably the most famous graphic novel memoirs, and they are the first ones that I read. “Persepolis” is Marjane Satrapi’s account of growing up in Iran during the fall of the monarchy and the Islamic Revolution. “Persepolis” was later adapted into an acclaimed animated documentary. “Maus,” written and drawn by Art Spiegelman, is a more unusual memoir. Spiegelman uses animals to represent humans in his story of his father’s experience as a Holocaust survivor in this two-part series. The recently published “Metamaus” explores Spiegelman’s process in the composition of his Pulitzer-Prize winning graphic novel.
Alison Bechdel’s companion memoirs “Fun Home” and “Are You My Mother?” are about her relationship with her father and mother, respectively. These are not simply straightforward recounting. They also incorporate literary criticism and psychoanalytical history into a metanarrative. Bechdel’s memoirs are great for those who think that comics can’t be serious.
A memoir isn’t always a comprehensive life story. One of my favorite authors of comics is Guy Delisle, who writes and draws about his travels. He has an eye for details that travel guides would ignore, and he has lived in countries where access by tourists is limited, such as North Korea or Myanmar. His latest book is “Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City.” His interest is less historical and more focused on the day-to-day peculiarities of life in a city that is important to three major world religions.