Autobiographical comics

Autobiographical comics

Autobiographical comics (often referred to in the comics field as simply "autobio") are autobiography in the form of comic books or comic strips. The form first became popular in the underground comics movement and has since become more widespread. It is currently most popular in Canadian, American and French comics; all artists listed below are from the US unless otherwise specified.


* Justin Green is generally acknowledged to have pioneered the genre (in English-language comics, at least) in his "Binky Brown" stories, notably the 1972 comic book "Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary", an extremely personal work dealing with Green's Catholic and Jewish background and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

* Also in 1972, Japanese manga artist Keiji Nakazawa created the story "Ore wa Mita" ("I Saw It"), which told of his firsthand experience of the bombing of Hiroshima. This was followed by a longer, fictionalized work, "Hadashi no Gen" "(Barefoot Gen)", which was later adapted into three films.

* In 1976 Harvey Pekar began his long-running self-published series "American Splendor", which collected short stories written by Pekar, usually about his daily life as a file clerk, and illustrated by a variety of artists. The series led to Pekar meeting his wife Joyce Brabner, who later co-wrote their graphic novel "Our Cancer Year" about his brush with lymphoma.

* In the late 1970s Jim Valentino began his career with autobiographical comics which sprung out from him having literally sold pages laid out on the sidewalk as he'd sit there leaned against a store front. The series was called "Valentino". Later most of these were repackaged into a trade paper back through Image Comics called "Vignettes". Also, through Image Comics Jim created a semi-autobiographical series called A Touch of Silver about a boy coming of age and comics in the 1960s, but he stopped work on the series as it became too personal. Valentino is revisitng his autobiographical roots with a new book called "Drawing from Life", due out in May 2007.

* Throughout the 1970s, autobiographical writing was prominent in the work of many female underground cartoonists, in anthologies such as "Wimmen's Comix", ranging from comical anecdotes to feminist commentary based on the artists' lives.


* Art Spiegelman combined biography and autobiography in his Pulitzer Prize-winning "Maus", about his father's Holocaust experiences, his own relationship with his father, and the process of interviewing him for the book. This work had a major effect on the reception of comics in general upon the world of mainstream prose literature, awakening many to the potential of comics as a medium for stories other than adventure fantasy.

* Eddie Campbell's "Alec" stories (collected in "The King Canute Crowd", "Three Piece Suit", and other books) started with the Scottish/Australian artist as a young man drifting through life with his friends, and followed him through marriage, parenthood, and a successful artistic career.

* Campbell's English colleague Glenn Dakin created the "Abraham Rat" stories (collected in "Abe: Wrong for All the Right Reasons"), which began as fantasy and became more contemplative and autobiographical.

* Spain Rodriguez drew a number of stories, collected in "My True Story", about being a motorcycle gang member in the 1950s.

* Underground legend Robert Crumb focused increasingly on autobiography in his 1980s stories in "Weirdo". Many other autobiographical shorts would appear in "Weirdo" by other artists, including his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Phoebe Gloeckner (more about whom, see below in 1990's section), and Dori Seda.

* Jim Woodring's unusual "autojournal" "Jim" combined dream art with occasional episodes of realistic autobiography.

* In 1988, Jacques Boivin began to adapt in comic form the life story of exotic dancer Sylvie Rancourt under the title "Melody" for Kitchen Sink Press. Rancourt had herself drawn the art for a previous mini-comic version three year earlier.

* David Collier, a Canadian ex-soldier, published autobiographical and historical comics in "Weirdo" and later in his series "Collier's".

* In the late 1980s, DC Comics' "Wasteland" featured, unusually for a mainstream title, as well as more conventional forms of black comedy and horror, semi-autobiographical stories based on the life of co-writer Del Close. One of the stories also parodied the autobiographical stories of Harvey Pekar, portraying a version of Pekar's famous appearance on the "Late Night with David Letterman", in which Pekar's vehement critque of General Electric had earned him a longtime ban from the program.


Autobiographical work took the alternative comics scene by storm during this period. The autobiographical genre had turned into English-speaking alternative comics subculture's "signature genre" in much the way that superhero stories dominated the American mainstream comic books, the stereotypical example recounting the awkward moment which followed when, the cartoonist sitting alone in a coffee shop when their ex-girlfriend walks in. However many artists pursued broader themes.

* Maltese-American Joe Sacco appeared as a character in his journalistic comics, beginning with "Yahoo" (collected in "Notes from a Defeatist") and "Palestine".

* Howard Cruse's graphic novel "Stuck Rubber Baby" told a fictionalized version of Cruse's young adulthood as a gay man in the South during civil rights conflicts.

* In the anthology series "Real Stuff", Dennis Eichhorn followed Pekar's example of writing true stories for others to illustrate, but unlike Pekar, emphasized unlikely tales of sex and violence. Many of the Real Stuff stories took place in Eichhorn's native state of Idaho. In 1993, Eichhorn received an Eisner Award nomination for Best Writer and his Real Stuff series received nominations for both Best Continuing Series and Best Anthology. In 1994, Real Stuff again received a Eisner Award nomination for Best Anthology.

* One of the most popular self-published mini-comics of the 1990s in America, "Silly Daddy", depicted Joe Chiappetta's parenthood and divorce, sometimes realistically and sometimes in a parallel fantasy story.

* Julie Doucet's series "Dirty Plotte", from Canada, began as a mix of outlandish fantasy and dream comics, but moved toward autobiography in what was later collected as "My New York Diary".

* A trio of Canadian friends, Seth "(Palookaville)", Chester Brown "(Yummy Fur, The Playboy, I Never Liked You)", and Joe Matt ("Peepshow"), gained rapid renown in North America for their different approaches to autobiography. Brown and Matt were also notorious for depicting embarrassing personal moments such as masturbation and nose-picking. Seth created some controversy by presenting realistic fictional stories as if they had actually happened, not as a ploy to fool writers but as a literary technique. However some readers did get fooled.

* Phoebe Gloeckner created a series of semi-autobiographical stories drawing on her adolescent experiences with sex and drugs in San Francisco, collected in "A Child's Life". She later revisited similar material in her 2004 illustrated novel "The Diary of a Teenage Girl".

* "Seven Miles a Second", written by painter David Wojnarowicz and illustrated by James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook, was based on Wojnarowicz's life and his response to the AIDS epidemic.

* The graphic novel "David Chelsea in Love" described the eponymous author's romantic difficulties in New York City and Portland.

* Rick Veitch told the story of his twenties entirely through a dream diary in the "Crypto Zoo" volume of "Rare Bit Fiends".

* Ariel Schrag's tetralogy "Awkward", "Definition", "Potential", and "Likewise", about discovering her sexual identity in high school, was unusual in having been mostly completed "while" in high school.

* A rare instance of a mainstream comics artist entering this field, Jim Valentino's "A Touch of Silver" portrayed his unhappy youth in the 1960s.

* English artist Raymond Briggs, best known for his children's books, told the story of his parents' marriage in "Ethel and Ernest".

* James Kochalka started to turn his daily life into a daily four-panel strip starting in 1998, collected in "Sketchbook Diaries", and later in the webcomic, "American Elf".

1990s in France

This period also saw a rapid expansion of the French small-press comics scene, including a new emphasis on autobiographical work:

* Fabrice Neaud's acclaimed "Journal" was the first lengthy autobiographical series in French comics.

* David B., another artist who had first published fantasy comics stories, produced the graphic novel "L'ascension du haut mal" (published in English as "Epileptic") applied B.'s distinctive non-realistic style to the story of his equally unusual upbringing, in which his family moved to a macrobiotic commune and sought many other cure's for B.'s brother's " grand mal" seizures.

* Lewis Trondheim portrayed himself and his friends, albeit with animal heads, in "Approximative continuum comics", some of which was later published in English as "The Nimrod".

* Much of Edmond Baudoin's later work is based on his personal and family history.


* Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi created the multi-volume "Persepolis", originally published as a newspaper serial in France, about her childhood during the Iranian Revolution.

* "The Spiral Cage", by English artist Al Davison, is about Davison's experience of living with spina bifida.

* Jeffrey Brown's "Clumsy" and "Unlikely" told the story of two failed relationships using hundreds of single-page stories.

* Art Spiegelman wrote "In the Shadow of No Towers" (2004), an oversize graphic memoir about his experiences during the 9/11 attacks.

* Joe Kubert wrote "Yossel April 14, 1943" (2005), a "fake autobiographical graphic novel" about what would have happened if his parents hadn't moved from Poland to the US and they would have been there during the Holocaust.

* Xeric Award-winner Steve Peters wrote and illustrated "Chemistry" (2005) about a failed relationship. He drew one panel a day for a year; the entire comic is 32 pages long with a total of 365 panels. Each panel's date is hidden somewhere inside it. "Chemistry" won the 2006 Howard Eugene Day Memorial Prize.

* Alison Bechdel wrote and illustrated "Fun Home" (2006), about her relationship with her father, and it was named by Time magazine as number one of its "10 Best Books of the Year." [cite news |first=Tom |last=Gatti |title=The 10 best books of 2006: number 10 — Fun Home |url=,,923-2504697,00.html |work=The Times |date=2006-12-16 |accessdate=2006-12-18 ]

* Martin Lemelman wrote "Mendel's Daughter" (2006), based on his mother's recorded confessions of her life during the Holocaust. He inserts a lot of family pictures as well.

* Miriam Katin wrote "We Are on Our Own: A Memoir" (2006), a graphic memoir about her survival, with her mother, during the Holocaust.

* Danny Gregory wrote "Everyday Matters", after he taught himself to draw following a traumatic moment in his life: his wife was hit by a train and became paralyzed. He keeps an online diary at [] .

* Aline Kominsky-Crumb published "Need More Love: A Graphic Memoir" (2007), her life story, with inserted photographs.


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