Know what’s awesome? True stories, and learning stuff!
Know what else is awesome? Comics and graphic novels!
Know what’s awesomerest? Putting those all together!
Here are ten of my favorite non-fiction graphic novels. (Well, more than ten, because I’m a cheater. A filthy stinkin’ cheater.):
This comic talks about all sorts of science-denial movements, like that the moon landing was faked, or people who insist climate change is a myth. It presents the arguments behind them, and the arguments against them, in really easy-to-digest snippets.
Jeffrey Dahmer was one of the most infamous serial killers of the late 20th century, and Derf Backderf was the closest thing he had to a friend in high school. In this comic, he tells about Dahmer’s broken home life, drinking problem, and role as the weird dude at school. It gives a really unique insight into a warped and disturbed mind, but also performs the odd and difficult feat of actually making you feel some sympathy for a brutal serial killer.
Joe Sacco writes the incredibly unique genre of comic journalism. He goes into war-torn regions like Palestine or Bosnia, and documents the difficult situations found there in graphic novel form. It makes the brutalities he encounters a bit easier to digest and understand, while you also realize that there are very real people behind these drawings.
One of the great things about non-fiction comics is their ability to make really complex and intricate things much easier to understand and digest, and nothing does that better than Action Philosophers. This comic series takes famous philosophers, from Plato to Nietzsche to Spinoza to Freud, and treats them like comic superheroes. You get the basics of their life, how it shaped their philosophies, and how their ideas helped shape the world, all in a fun and funny package.
Speaking of insanely confusing and complex, have you met the American economic system? Economix uses goofy cartoons, like an anthropomorphized factory to represent “big business” or a giant-headed version of Karl Marx, to boil down huge ideas into easily digestible chunks. What would otherwise be really dull and dry becomes both amusing and understandable.
5. Green River Killer by Jeff Jensen
As you can tell by some of the above entries, I’m kind of fascinated by serial killers. (Pretty sure I’m not alone in this.) This graphic novel was written by the son of Tom Jensen, the man who caught the Green River Killer, a murderer from Washington state. This book tells the story of when Jensen spent months interviewing Ridgway after he was caught using DNA evidence, trying to find some of his secrets.
4. Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud
I’ve learned more about how art works, and how the human brain interprets images, from this book than from entire art or psychology classes. This graphic novel shows you why artists make certain choices, and how the comics medium is both similar and different from other mediums like film. You’ll never read comics, or even look at a picture, the same way again.
Larry Gonick writes comics about huge issues. He’s explored chemistry
, and even world history
, and he does it all with incredible research and a snappy sense of humor. He’s also incredibly influential in comics; the above-mentioned Economix
even dedicates the book to him!
2. Graphic memoirs & biographies: Maus
by Art Spiegelman, Persepolis
by Marjane Satrapi, Fun Home
by Alison Bechdel, Blankets
by Craig Thompson, & tons more
Like I said above, there’s a lot of cheating here. These graphic memoirs & biographies show so many diverse lives, from a Holocaust survivor to a young girl growing up during the Iranian revolution to a story of first love in Wisconsin to countless others. Comics allow for such unique and idiosyncratic ways to both show a person’s history and their inner lives, it makes each individual memoir stand out in ways that simple written biographies often don’t.
As you may guess from some of the above entries, I am endlessly fascinated by true crime and by history. Rick Geary’s Treasury of Vicorian/XXth Century Murder series shows that those two great tastes taste great together, especially when served up on a beautiful plate of comics. (I feel like this metaphor may have gotten away from me…) Each comic is a beautiful piece of artwork, almost resembling classic woodcuts, and tells the story of one famous true crime from the late 1800s or early 20th century. Sometimes the crimes are totally famous (Assassination of Abraham Lincoln), sometimes I knew nothing about them (The Bloody Benders). Sometimes the killer is well-known (Assassination of President Garfield), and sometimes it’s still a mystery (Jack the Ripper, the Borden tragedy). Either way, Geary illustrates the people and events surrounding each murder so clearly and succinctly, that you can fully understand what happened, or at least play amateur detective to decide which of the likely (or unlikely!) suspects did the deed. Published at about the pace of once a year, it’s like comic book Christmas every time one comes out!