The best memoir-based graphic novels

Conrad Wesselhoeft Author Of Adios, Nirvana
By Conrad Wesselhoeft

Who am I?

I’ve worked as a tugboat hand in Singapore and Peace Corps Volunteer in Polynesia. I’ve served on the editorial staffs of five newspapers, from a small-town daily in New Mexico to The New York Times. I’m also the author of contemporary novels for young adults. Like the writers of these five great graphic novels, I choose themes that are important to me. Foremost are hope, healing, family, and friendship. These are themes I’d like my own children to embrace. Life can be hard, so as a writer I choose to send out that “ripple of hope” on the chance it may be heard or felt, and so make a difference.

I wrote...

Adios, Nirvana

By Conrad Wesselhoeft,

Book cover of Adios, Nirvana

What is my book about?

Adios, Nirvana is about Jonathan, a talented teenage poet and guitar player coping with the recent death of his much-loved and -lauded twin brother, Telly. Now a walking zombie on the verge of failing his junior year of high school, Jonathan gets a chance to redeem himself by helping a blind WWII Navy veteran write a memoir about his own loss and salvation. 

The books I picked & why

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The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

By Thi Bui,

Book cover of The Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir

Why this book?

This is a superb personal memoir about the Vietnam War and its impact on four generations of one South Vietnamese family. Unlike the legion of memoirs told from the U.S. perspective, Vietnam-born American author Thi Bui gives us the harrowing local view. By compressing her sprawling story into a tight, gripping, intimate tale, she demonstrates the storytelling power of the graphic-novel form. Here hope triumphs and tragedy is merely a runner-up. 

Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

By Art Spiegelman,

Book cover of Maus I: A Survivor's Tale: My Father Bleeds History

Why this book?

Variations of the Holocaust story have been told countless times, but Spiegelman’s tale about how his father survived the Nazi terror is as fresh and important as any. I especially love how he captures his father's Polish-English accent. With the mangling of syntax is born a new kind of poetry. This is widely—and justifiably—regarded as one of the greatest graphic novels ever written. 

March: Book One

By John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell (illustrator)

Book cover of March: Book One

Why this book?

This is the stunning opening salvo of John Lewis’ brilliant trilogy tracking his lifelong struggle for civil and human rights. We follow Lewis’ upbringing in rural Alabama during which young John honed his preaching skills before an audience of barnyard chickens, his transformative meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr., and the birth of the Nashville Student Movement. In shedding light on our country’s racist history, Lewis rakes you raw, holds no punches, and yet offers hope. 

Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned

By Judd Winick,

Book cover of Pedro and Me: Friendship, Loss, and What I Learned

Why this book?

I loved this story of the extraordinary friendship between a young, gay, HIV-positive Cuban American activist and a young, struggling Jewish cartoonist who became roommates on an MTV reality show called The Real World. For good reason, UCLA chose Pedro & Me as its 2013-2014 "Common Book" with the goal of providing incoming freshmen with a "platform to discuss relationships, sexual orientation, health education, loss, love, and other topics." Winick’s story is timeless in its themes of friendship, loss, and hope.

Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

By Guy Delisle, Helge Dascher (translator),

Book cover of Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea

Why this book?

The Canadian animator offers a revealing account of his two-month trip to North Korea to oversee a cartooning project. In deceptively simple words and drawings, Delisle gives us a front-row view of this complex, enigmatic totalitarian society. Everyday life in Pyongyang is rich fodder for this hilariously grumpy author. What’s it really like living in North Korea? Read this book and weep—and laugh. 

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