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Committed: My Top 10 Weird Biographical Comics

by  in Comic News Comment


1. Buddha
By Osamu Tezuka
Published by Vertical Inc.
In this adorably affectionate biography, Tezuka turns his talent for story telling to the tale of the Buddha. While he may not be a Buddhist, Tezuka own body of literature has proven him to be a great explorer of the interior world and an aficionado of human transformation and growth. Over the course of eight beautiful volumes, Tezuka takes us on the fantastical journey of Buddha’s life, lending it his characteristic almost Disney-esque flair, complete with enchanted animals and gorgeous scenery. Using every elegant permutation of panel layout and his mutable style, the transformative adventures of Buddha are dramatized with flair and joy. Absolutely enthralling, this has to be one of the most entertaining depictions of an enlightened being the world has ever seen.

2. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
By Peter Bagge
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
After decades of creating flawed-but-lovable characters in his signature rubbery style, Bagge turns his critical observational eye to revolutionary proponent of a woman’s right to choose whether to have children (or not); Margaret Sanger. Researching every aspect of her life in order to present a complex, rich history of her childhood as one of 10, to a wildly liberated woman in her time, Bagge’s view is unflinching. His ability to depict her passion with humor and affection shines through on every panel creating a very human hero for our contemporary world. In addition to this book, Bagge supplements his visual shorthand with a large addendum which compiles his research and findings as a rich resource for those who find they come away with even more questions about Sanger’s life, her beliefs, and her experiences.


3. Our Cancer Year
Written by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner
Art by Frank Stack
Published by Four Walls Eight Windows
While Harvey Pekar’s comic books were always about his day-to-day existence, this is the book where we’re invited even deeper into Pekar’s life to learn about a substantial, transformative slice of his life. From the first discovery (and vehement denial) of a lump, through all of the fear and pain of the disease and treatment, as readers we are allowed to accompany Pekar. Stack’s rough hewn art is a perfect accompaniment to the raw emotion of the story, drawing us into Pekar and Brabner’s world. The very human clumsiness of this unplanned detour in their lives is perfectly depicted and conveyed in this style. Difficult and painful, Pekar and Brabner’s willingness to expose such a time is engaging, and speaks to the strength he draws on to heal and survive.

4. Paying For It
By Chester Brown
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
In this chunky little volume, Chester Brown presents us with his own research into a life where prostitution acts as a total replacement for an adult, intimate relationship. In many ways Brown has done the research that not many people want to do (and those that do, are rarely interested in sharing their findings). Surprisingly dry, considering that this is a book about visiting prostitutes, Brown simply charts his experiences in the most methodical and almost dour way. Although for the author this is a book about discovering something that works for him, his experiences seem somewhat dull as his approach to sex is less about desire and more about simple physical exigency. His tightly drawn panel grid and simple, diagrammatic approach to the book emphasize the evolving hypothesis the book explores.


5. Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama
By Alison Bechdel
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Through the analysis of her mother, and the relationship between them as mother and daughter in the past and present, Alison Bechdel examines her own life and the psychology of what makes her who she is. Following up from the devastatingly intense book “Fun Home”, in which she explored the secrets of her father’s life during her childhood, this is a slightly more connected glimpse into a parental relationship. Supplemented heavily by her own experiences in analysis, Bechdel acts as a kind of archeologist and detective of her mother’s passionately creative life.

Go to the next page for #6-10!

6. The Fifth Beatle – The Brian Epstein Story
Written by Vivek J. Tiwary
Art by Andrew C. Robinson with Kyle Baker
Published by DarkHorse
A story of Brian Epstein’s journey with the Beatles, and his drive to share them with the world. Covering both the man and his work, this massive tome rewrites pop music history and gives us another hero. Sumptuous art by Robinson and Baker creates an expressive mood throughout this revealing book. As Tiwary reveals Epstein’s story we’re drawn into his world and enveloped by the strange experiences which unfold.


7. 566 Frames
By Dennis Wojda
Published by Borderline Press
In 2010 Wojda created an experiment to document his life in the space of one year, drawing one frame a day in a kind of stream of consciousness. As the story developed it encompassed far more than a single year, expanding to 566 frames, (hence the title). Combining familial anecdotes with his own fractured memories creates a wonderfully organic glimpse directly into narrators life, and those of his ancestors too. Darting back and forth across time and space the book is rich with emotionally communicative imagery. Wojda’s story is delightfully warm and alive, sweeping the reader along in his dreamlike tales spanning decades and traveling to Russia, Poland, and Sweden.


8. Persepolis: The Story of a Childhood
By Marjane Satrapi
Published by Pantheon Books
Documenting a young girl’s life in Iran as the war with Iraq impacted every aspect of her life, Marjane Satrapi offers a rare first-person perspective of a civilian growing up during a war. From the time when she first begins to observe the changing laws which are increasingly impacting her life, to her day-to-day experiences of the Islamic revolution, Persepolis is a disarmingly revealing portrait of a small child’s life with her family in a time of war. The stark, boldly drawn black and white art offers a strength and solidity which is the core of this little girls’ experiences, as the world outside her attempts to draw her into this monochrome view of right and wrong. Intelligent and brave, Satrapi is a witness, allowing us a wealth of insights and experiences we would otherwise never be privy to.

9. Freud – An Illustrated Biography
Written by Corinne Maier
Art by Anne Simon
Published by NoBrow Ltd
A concise, slim volume, this book cuts right to the heart of the matter without any hesitation (much like the man himself). Using a first person narrative to tell Freud’s oddball story with humor and affection, psychoanalyst; Corinne Maier presents his initial inspirations, discoveries, and journey of discovery. The indispensable illustrations of Anne Simon allow humorous insights into the strangely surreal inner world of Freud’s narrative. Documenting the many struggles to establish his revolutionary theories, we’re allowed a very human glimpse into the life of a founder of modern psychoanalysis. Deftly told, Maier and Simon play endlessly with the medium in a very restrained way, allowing the idiosyncrasies of Freud’s life to dominate.


10. Island of Memory (Wild Man – The Natural History of Georg Wilhelm Steller. Volume One)
By T Edward Bak
Published by Floating World Comics
The eerie and evocative tale of a Bavarian naturalist who traveled from imperial St Petersberg through Siberia across the North Pacific to Alaska in the 18th century. Volume one of his odd memoirs is an intriguing mixture of the terrible, frozen conditions of his mission, interspersed with his own escape into the comforting memories of his dramatic, civilized life in St Petersberg. Bak uses black and white to depict Stallar’s brutal, frozen journey, contrasting it with rich color pages to convey the lush exuberance of his life in St Petersburg and the botanical discoveries which reveal themselves like gems in the harsh wilderness. The art dominates the story, in a style reminiscent of classic German expressionist woodcuts, which seems radically appropriate to the mood of Stellar’s journey into darkness. As volume one of a story which presents the seeds of something wild, I can’t wait to see where Bak takes us next.