What I find most jaw-droppingly impressive and inspiring about graphic novelists is how multi-talented they are – they can draw and write – it’s not fair! (I also feel like this about J Lo – she can sing, dance, act, model etc. – is there anything she can’t do? It’s just greedy.) With female graphic novelists it’s even more relevant because the stories they’re telling resonate even more with me - I recognise the experiences and emotions so skilfully depicted in pen and ink.
So here are five fantastic graphic novels by women. It's by no means a definitive list, just my personal favourites - and I would love to know yours!
Marjane Satrapi, Embroideries
Satrapi is famous worldwide for her graphic novel, Persepolis, which was turned into a beautiful animated film, but much as I love it, it’s Embroideries which had me laughing out loud on the Tube and tearing up a little too. The reader is invited to eavesdrop on the regular get-togethers of a group of Iranian women – aunts, cousins, neighbours and grandmothers - where they gossip candidly about sex, relationships and life over tea and debate (often bawdily) the pursuit of love.
Alison Bechdel, Fun Home
I read this in parallel to Embroideries and the two novels share many themes, being semi-autobiographical tales recounting the teenage angst and growing pains of the authors. Fun Home tells the story of the author’s adolescence which was spent in the family’s funeral home. In beautifully evocative illustrations accompanied by spare, perceptive prose, she recounts her experiences as a teenager coming to terms with her sexuality and the discovery of her father’s secret life.
Karrie Fransman, The House that Groaned
Karrie is a talented graphic artist whose work has appeared in the Guardian and The House that Groaned is her first book. She describes it as ‘a feminist book all about bodily anxieties, hungry women and sexuality’ to which we would add it’s a fine depiction of urban alienation with a dark, surreal sense of humour.
Posy Simmonds, Gemma Bovery
No-one pokes fun at the British intelligentsia more acutely than Posy Simmonds. Her gently barbed satires on middle class life have appeared in the Guardian and her Tamara Drewe series was turned into a film starring Gemma Arterton. Gemma Bovery is a clever retelling of Flaubert’s Madame Bovary which follows an English couple's doomed attempt to live the expat dream in rural France. Simmonds ruthlessly holds a mirror up to her squirming readership showing them the less attractive characteristics of gentrification.
Nicola Streeten, Billy, Me & You
Nicola Streeten is the co-founder of Laydeez do Comics, a graphic novel forum that focuses on the new wave of ‘everyday’ comic work (‘more domestic than superheroes’). Her graphic novel, Billy, Me & You, was inspired by the diary she wrote 13 years ago when her two-year-old son, Billy, died following heart surgery. Heart breaking and at times very funny, this graphic memoir charts the everyday reality – and occasional absurdity - of the grieving process and our reactions to trauma.
I don’t know much about comic books at all (apart from an encyclopaedic knowledge of Asterix dating back to my bookwormish childhood) so the adult graphic novels genre is totally new to me. Which are your favourites and what should I read next?