The best graphic auto-fiction, from memoir to magic realism

Stan Mack Author Of Janet & Me: An Illustrated Story of Love and Loss
By Stan Mack

Who am I?

When I was starting out as an illustrator, I stumbled into two art director jobs, first at the innovative New York Herald Tribune and then at The New York Times. Working with great journalists gave me the startling idea that a comic strip could have no better subject matter than real life. This led me to create my popular comic strip “Stan Mack’s Real Life Funnies,” which ran in The Village Voice and reported on the rowdy New York city of the '70s and ‘80s. Back then, I was alone in combining real-life stories with comics; today many artist-writers use the comic strip format to tell complex and multilayered true stories of the human experience.


I wrote...

Janet & Me: An Illustrated Story of Love and Loss

By Stan Mack,

Book cover of Janet & Me: An Illustrated Story of Love and Loss

What is my book about?

Janet Bode and I lived and worked side by side. She wrote non-fiction books for teens, my comic strips covered real life in every way I could. When Janet got breast cancer, I was her caregiver. And when she died, I told our story the way I always did: through words and drawings. It was my way to grieve and celebrate a woman who fought her cancer the way she lived her life—with courage, humor, and a charming screw-you spirit. I also wanted to offer support to caregivers, especially male caregivers. For those who wonder if it’s too sad a read, author Barbara Ehrenreich wrote that Janet & Me taught her "a new trick, how to giggle and cry at the same time."

The books I picked & why

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The Contract with God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue

By Will Eisner,

Book cover of The Contract with God Trilogy: Life on Dropsie Avenue

Why this book?

In my comic strips, all my people, streets, and buildings look real because I walked those New York streets and sketched from life. Eisner’s fictional stories are also jam-packed with reality. But his people, Bronx streets, and buildings were already stored in his memory banks, ready to be released onto the page through his bold and expressive ink lines. Hang on, because Eisner will take you by the sleeve—or, more often, the throat—saying, “Look at this world, at these people, listen to them, this is life!” and you sense that it’s also his life he’s talking, and drawing, about.


Ethel & Ernest

By Raymond Briggs,

Book cover of Ethel & Ernest

Why this book?

I was beginning my memoir when I first read Ethel & Ernest. Through richly detailed paintings and dialogue that could only have been created by the couple's son, Briggs brilliantly captures the lives of his working-class parents in their London home from the 1930s to the ‘70s. With everyday humdrum, affectionate, sometimes jokey, sometimes testy banter, they build a bulwark against the waves of history that wash up at their door. As I wrote and sketched about the life with cancer that Janet and I were forced into, Ethel & Ernest were never far from my mind. In his telling, Briggs wears his heart on his sleeve. It was something for me to aim for.


Sevenoaks

By Kevin Sacco,

Book cover of Sevenoaks

Why this book?

I met Kevin Sacco when he was an advertising storyboard artist. Kevin knew how to sell the story of an ad simply and dramatically in a series of graphic panels with an economy of words. In Sevenoaks, I see the same brain at work. His book is based on his life: a ‘60s-era New York City high school kid sent to an elite private school outside London. Sacco’s distinctive elongated and restrained figures, beautifully drawn geometric and airy cityscapes, and genial pace can lull one into a sense of calm, so that his moments of high and even magical drama slice more deeply into the emotions. One might be surprised to discover an unexpected tear.


El Deafo

By Cece Bell,

Book cover of El Deafo

Why this book?

My wife, a teacher to the deaf and hard of hearing, brought home a graphic children’s book, El Deafo, which she and her kids loved. Based on Bell's own life, it’s about a young girl coming to grips with her sudden deafness. As a graphic artist who specializes in adult works, I was not initially drawn to this young girl’s story, nor to Bell’s colorful cartoony panels. But one day, I picked up my wife’s copy and discovered a charming story that swept me along, the art surprisingly sophisticated and effective. As different as my graphic memoir is from Bell’s, my memoir is also about coping with adversity, and I hope it’s as compelling as El Deafo


New Kid

By Jerry Craft,

Book cover of New Kid

Why this book?

When I interviewed Jerry Craft in 1994, he was a young cartoonist trying to sell his first comic strip, “Mama’s Boyz,”  a humorous look at the everyday life of a middle-class black family. All the major syndicates turned it down—too black. Today, his graphic novel New Kid is hugely popular and honored for its story of a middle-class black kid caught between two worlds. Race is central to his story, but Craft hasn’t written an angry book. With his easy and natural way with dialogue and lively and warm drawing style, he’s written a kind of middle school Our Gang comedy. Yet, almost 30 years after my interview, a Texas town tried to pull New Kid off the school library shelves for having harmful racist content. 


5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in magical realism, comics, and New York City?

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And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

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