The best graphic books that merge art with personal history

Why am I passionate about this?

I had been an exhibiting painter and an editorial cartoonist for years, but never a graphic book artist. Not until A Revolution in Three Acts. I was fortunate to have great guidance: my buddy David Hajdu (Positively Fourth Street, Lush Life, The Ten Cent Plague) wrote the words, did the research, and created the blueprint of every page and panel. My job was to lock myself up in my studio and draw, draw, draw. I think David and I did justice to three amazing figures of the American stage who dealt with the shifting societal forces of race, femininity, and gender: Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge.  


I drew...

A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge

By David Hajdu, John Carey,

Book cover of A Revolution in Three Acts: The Radical Vaudeville of Bert Williams, Eva Tanguay, and Julian Eltinge

What is my book about?

A Revolution in Three Acts is a graphic nonfiction work that explores how the vaudeville stars, Bert Williams — the first Black American star, Eva Tanguay—“The Queen of Vaudeville,” and female impersonator Julian Eltinge defied the standards of their time to change how audiences thought and felt about what it meant to be American, to be Black, to be a woman or a man.

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The books I picked & why

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

John Carey Why did I love this book?

One of the great books of the 20th century.

An utterly original, powerful work of comics and nonfiction which deals with Art Spiegelman interviewing his father about his experiences as a Polish Jew in the Holocaust and a prisoner in Auschwitz.

The book—with people depicted in animal cartoon form — is the father’s story, the son’s story, and the world’s story. A work—like much profound art—that changes with each encounter.

By Art Spiegelman,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Maus I as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The bestselling first installment of the graphic novel acclaimed as “the most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust” (Wall Street Journal) and “the first masterpiece in comic book history” (The New Yorker) • PULITZER PRIZE WINNER • One of Variety’s “Banned and Challenged Books Everyone Should Read”

A brutally moving work of art—widely hailed as the greatest graphic novel ever written—Maus recounts the chilling experiences of the author’s father during the Holocaust, with Jews drawn as wide-eyed mice and Nazis as menacing cats.

Maus is a haunting tale within a tale, weaving the author’s account of his…


Book cover of MetaMaus

John Carey Why did I love this book?

This is the backstory of Spiegelman’s two-volume masterpiece.

What was the impetus for MAUS? How did comic creatures find their way into a Holocaust narrative?  What were the reactions to such a unique merging of cartoons and historical horror? How has Spiegelman dealt with the book’s tremendous reception?

The book answers these questions with many interviews, photos, explanations, and reflections. Even agent and publisher rejection letters are included.

By Art Spiegelman,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked MetaMaus as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

NATIONAL JEWISH BOOK AWARD WINNER • Visually and emotionally rich, MetaMaus is as groundbreaking as the masterpiece whose creation it reveals.

In the pages of MetaMaus, Art Spiegelman re-enters the Pulitzer prize–winning Maus, the modern classic that has altered how we see literature, comics, and the Holocaust ever since it was first published twenty-five years ago.
 
He probes the questions that Maus most often evokes—Why the Holocaust? Why mice? Why comics?—and gives us a new and essential work about the creative process.
 
Compelling and intimate, MetaMaus is poised to become a classic in its own right.


Book cover of Up Front

John Carey Why did I love this book?

This is Bill Mauldin’s illustrated, autobiographical account of his experiences documenting the foot soldier in Europe in WWII. The cartoons were initially published in the military newspaper, Stars and Stripes.

The drawings are gorgeous examples of brush and ink—fluid, lyrical, and gritty. Patton hated Mauldin’s depictions of two scruffy, unshaved infantrymen—Willie and Joe—and told Mauldin to clean his characters up. Mauldin (and Ike) knew better.  

A book I look at all the time.

By Bill Mauldin,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Up Front as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

"The real war," said Walt Whitman, "will never get in the books." During World War II, the truest glimpse most Americans got of the "real war" came through the flashing black lines of twenty-two-year-old infantry sergeant Bill Mauldin. Week after week, Mauldin defied army censors, German artillery, and Patton's pledge to "throw his ass in jail" to deliver his wildly popular cartoon, "Up Front," to the pages of Stars and Stripes. "Up Front" featured the wise-cracking Willie and Joe, whose stooped shoulders, mud-soaked uniforms, and pidgin of army slang and slum dialect bore eloquent witness to the world of combat…


Book cover of Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic

John Carey Why did I love this book?

This Eisner Award-winning memoir explores personal and family complexities, as well as the love of literature.

Bechdel navigates the trials of growing up in a mortuary with an idiosyncratic family.

Two themes predominate: a father with a secret, and her own sexuality. Time magazine smartly ranked Fun Home at the top of its "Best Books of 2006" list.

By Alison Bechdel,

Why should I read it?

13 authors picked Fun Home as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

DISCOVER the BESTSELLING GRAPHIC MEMOIR behind the Olivier Award nominated musical.

'A sapphic graphic treat' The Times

A moving and darkly humorous family tale, pitch-perfectly illustrated with Alison Bechdel's gothic drawings. If you liked Marjane Satrapi's Persepolis you'll love this.

Meet Alison's father, a historic preservation expert and obsessive restorer of the family's Victorian home, a third-generation funeral home director, a high-school English teacher, an icily distant parent, and a closeted homosexual who, as it turns out, is involved with his male students and the family babysitter. When Alison comes out as homosexual herself in late adolescence, the denouement is…


Book cover of Browse at Your Own Risk

John Carey Why did I love this book?

George Price drew cartoons for The New Yorker for nearly six decades. Browse At Your Own Risk is an anthology of his later cartoons.

Who was Price? Find out here.

The wacky characters in this book paired with Price’s later angular work are a combination that proves to be the best document to answering that question. Price was eccentric and exact, peculiar and profound.

The more you study this collection’s geometries and pared-down sensibilities, the more beautifully abstract and complex the drawings become; negative and positive spaces fluctuate, contour lines merge with lines used as form.

In addition to all this complex, cool stuff, Price is funny!

By George Price,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Browse at Your Own Risk as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Price, George, Browse At Your Own Risk


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Book cover of Beautiful and Terrible Things

S. M. Stevens

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What is my book about?

Charley Byrne isn’t really living. She hunkers down in her apartment above the bookstore she manages, until quirky activist Xander Wallace lures her out of social exile with the prospect of friendship and romance. Charley joins Xander’s circle of diverse friends and thrives, even leaving her comfort zone to join protests in a city struggling with social justice ills.

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Beautiful and Terrible Things

By S. M. Stevens,

What is this book about?

"A beautifully crafted story of friendship and self-discovery set amidst the harsh realities of today's world. Superb!" -Eileen O'Finlan, author of Erin's Children

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But the…


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