While superhero comics and mythological tales might be the most popular kinds of graphic novels, the form isn’t limited to these plots and tropes alone. Though the illustrations may lead to the illusion that the genre is meant for children, many works deal with themes that are better suited to adult readers. The use of two media, text and pictures, in conjunction, allows for a new kind of storytelling that isn’t confined by the limitations of either medium. Here are some recommendations on graphic novels from around the world.
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
This autobiographical novel looks at the life of Marjane Satrapi, who lived as a young girl in Iran during the Revolution in the 1970s. The story takes a reader through her childhood during volatile times in Iran, her experience of culture shock as she moves to Europe, and eventually, her return to her homeland. The search for freedom, happiness, and identity typical of every young woman is set against the backdrop of political unrest and social upheaval. Originally published in French, Persepolis tells the story not only of coming of age, but also of what follows.
Trust no Aunty by Maria Qamar
Maria Qamar’s novel takes a critical look at South Asian society, while celebrating desi culture at the same time. The book’s pop-art style evokes more traditional comic books, and yet Qamar’s perspective is anything but traditional. She draws on her own experience as a young Pakistani-Canadian girl for this handbook, useful to any young South Asian growing up in a desi immigrant subculture. While it is witty and comedic, the novel also tackles social issues, making for a well-rounded, enjoyable read.
Freedom Hospital by Hamid Sulaiman
Another novel that is set in the context of political tumult is Freedom Hospital: A Syrain Story by Hamid Sulaiman. The plot follows Yasmin, a woman who has set up a secret hospital in her northern Syrian town during the country’s Civil War. The situation begins to deteriorate with time, and the town descends into unrest and violence. Told in balck and white, the novel brings a much-needed perspective to the forefront, and provides an insight into the complicated state of Syria.
Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, Damian Duffy and John Jennings
This book is an adaptation of Octavia E. Butler’s fictional novel by the name name. Butler’s protagonist, Dana, is a black woman who is suddenly transported through time and space to the pre-civil war era in America. In the course of the novel, Butler brings up important questions about what it means to be black in the United States. Adapted to a graphic novel by Damian Duffy and John Jennings in 2017, the illustrated version provides an equally interesting inquiry into the grim history of slavery from a modern perspective.
Pyongyang by Guy Delisle
Named after the North Korean capital, this graphic novel is a memoir by Guy Delisle, a cartoonist, describing his time in the notoriously secretive country. Through the book, Delisle gives a reader access to the interior of North Korea, though even this is limited considering he was accompanied in his travels by a translator and a guide. Still, Delisle succeeds in illustrating life and culture in and around Pyongyang, allowing a reader to witness things through his eyes.
Unterzakhn by Leela Corman
With this graphic novel, Leela Corman tells the story of two girls living in New York in the early twentieth century. The protagonists, a set of Russian-Jewish twins, are followed as they grow up on the Lower East Side in a community of immigrants. The lives of the two sisters, Fanya and Esther, are intertwined, although they diverge and take different paths at times. The illustration style is inspired by Russian folk art, and it brings the touching story of the sisters to life.
Aya of Yop City by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie
This graphic novel by Marguerite Abouet and Clément Oubrerie is set in Côte d’Ivoire, and follows Aya, a woman who lives in Yop City. The novel, set in the 1970s, deals with the quotidian lives of its characters, exploring the routine of Aya and her community. To contest the mainstream view of African countries as poverty-stricken and war-ridden, this book provides a different perspective: that of an Ivorian woman herself. Aya of Yop City is the first of a series of French graphic novels about the life of Aya, all of which have been translated into English.
Delhi Calm by Vishwajyoti Ghosh
Almost like an Indian version of 1984, Delhi Calm illustrates a dystopian version of India in the 1970s in which the government has total control over citizens and free will is a myth. Against this backdrop, the book follows three young men with vastly different ideologies. Though the novel is speculative, the author, Vishwajyoti Ghosh refers to and incorporates real events from Indian history into the plot. Ever pertinent in light of recent governmental overreach, the book considers the impact of suspended rights and individual freedom at the hand of the state.
Graphic novels employ a range of thematic elements, narrative sequences and design styles, and the fact that they are quicker and easier to read than prose novels contributes to their popularity. Useful as both a means of amusement and a tool for representation, empowerment and political discussion, these books have a lot more to offer than readers might imagine.
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