Table of Contents
Comics lists for Women’s History Month typically contain graphic novels (read: fiction) created by and about women. That’s cool… but what about women’s history in graphic form?
Happily, graphic women’s history is out there! It falls into 3 main types: biography, collection of women’s stories, and graphic memoir. I’m indebted to two helpful starting points, a list from Goodreads and one from Book Riot.
From there, I selected a cross-section of works covering diverse themes. Commemorate the month with some great reads, and see how graphic historians are documenting women’s stories in inventive, powerful, and approachable ways!
1. Colored: The Unsung Life of Claudette Colvin
In Colored, creator Émilie Plateau uses spare art, simple colors, and carefully chosen words to guide us through the experience of Claudette Colvin, who did not give up her seat on a segregated bus… before Rosa Parks. It contributes to the conversation on making change and who writes history.
2. Photographic: The Life of Graciela Iturbide
Photographic, written by Isabel Quintero and drawn by Zeke Peña, is a lush, dreamlike journey through some of photographer Graciela Iturbide’s formative moments, punctuated by her own photographs. Culturally Rich looks at Mexico, the US, and beyond, and an insightful meditation on living as an artist.
3. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
In Woman Rebel, author and artist Peter Bagge takes us on a wackily illustrated, humorous, whirlwind take on the life of birth control advocate Margaret Sanger. Those unfamiliar with her story (like I was) may find it a good starting point for her cause, philosophies, and milestones.
4. Calamity Jane: The Calamitous Life of Martha Jane Cannary, 1852-1903
Christian Perrissen and Matthieu Blanchin showcase a mysterious, independent, hard-drinking frontierswoman of the American West in Calamity Jane. The tale is action-packed rather than a distanced history lesson, with textured washes from Blanchin, and gives a fascinating account of her life and survival in a challenging era.
5. Anne Frank’s Diary: The Graphic Adaptation
This adaptation of Anne Frank’s diary by Ari Folman and David Polonsky, authorized by the Anne Frank Foundation, brings one of the world’s most recognizable faces of World War II to vivid life. The team’s skillful art and sensitive portrayal immerse us in the experiences of the Annex and Anne’s active mind, making her story all the more personal and haunting.
6. Brazen: Rebel Ladies Who Rocked the World
Pénélope Bagieu distilled and drew the stories of 30 remarkable women across history for Brazen, from a bearded lady to an astronaut. Bagieu’s lively illustrations, humor, and often lesser-known stories make this a great collection to get an inspired sampling of women’s lives and perspectives.
7. Femme Magnifique: 50 Magnificent Women Who Changed the World
Over 100 creators contributed to Femme Magnifique, an anthology featuring women’s history from Hatshepsut to Harriet Tubman, edited by Shelly Bond. Each story is different stylistically—though all are limited to 3 pages—and each notable woman was chosen for her influence on the historians of the tale, lending a special intensity to the tellings.
8. Astronauts: Women on the Final Frontier
In Astronauts, Jim Ottaviani and Maris Wicks share the struggles and triumphs of the earliest female astronauts, like Sally Ride and Valentina Tereshkova, with a closer look at Mary Cleave’s story. Colorful art and an upbeat tone overall make this one of the lighter reads on this list. (Note: Check out Ottaviani’s works Primates [also with Wicks] and Dignifying Science for other graphic collections of female scientists.)
9. Drawing Power: Women’s Stories of Sexual Violence, Harassment, and Survival
The Eisner-winning Drawing Power, edited by Diane Noomin, is a tough but worthwhile read. Within, many women creators share their own stories of facing or coping with rape, assault, and other awful situations, depicted at times with harsh realism and at others symbolically or poetically.
10. La Lucha: The Story of Lucha Castro and Human Rights in Mexico
John Sack and Adam Shapiro take an unflinching look at brutal stories of femicide and human rights violations in Mexico in La Lucha. Sack’s almost surgically precise artwork and the team’s journalistic portrayal of Lucha Castro and her organization’s fight—and sacrifices—for justice and truth against all odds, make this a stunning and important work.
11. The Best We Could Do
In her acclaimed memoir The Best We Could Do, Thi Bui delves into her parents’ history centering around their escape from Vietnam in the 1970s, and its ripple effects on both them and her. Bui’s evocative paint strokes and lyrical storytelling showcases (most satisfyingly) the complexity of family relations, trauma, and the immigrant experience.
12. Taking Turns: Stories from HIV/AIDS Care Unit 371
In Taking Turns, MK Czerwiec shares her experiences as a nurse in an AIDS care unit, as part of the Graphic Medicine series. It’s a moving testament to the caregiver experience and the relationships formed between patient and provider, as well as an educational look at HIV/AIDs medicine.
13. Lighter Than My Shadow
Katie Green takes a compassionate look at her gradual descent into an eating disorder—and ultimate recovery—in Lighter Than My Shadow. It’s the little moments as we follow alongside her, hearing a casual comment on her body or her profound guilt in taking a single treat, that make this a truly thought-provoking work on an often taboo subject.
If you haven’t already read the gripping, multi-award-winning Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi, capturing her coming of age in Iran and Europe, do. It’s an important portrayal of the fight against extremism within Iran and the human cost of oppression, interspersed with lighter stories like smuggling rock music posters and witty comebacks that Satrapi pulled off.
15. Tomboy: A Graphic Memoir
Liz Prince explores her experience growing up and rejecting a traditionally female role and presentation in Tomboy. Prince tells it with humor and empathy for her younger self, and in the process explores numerous facets of what it means to be a woman.
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