Top five: Autobiographical graphic novels

If ever proof were needed that pictures can pack as great a punch as the written word, it can be found in abundance in the collection of graphic novels on our bookshelves. A studio of visual storytellers, we find the graphic memoir section of our library to be a particularly rich seam of inspiration when it comes to research, whether we're designing a new rich picture, storyboarding a new animation, or just seeking new ways to put people at the heart of a story. So, we asked our visualiser, Stef, to select the top five autobiographical graphic novels that have shaped her approach to visual storytelling.


'Palestine' by Joe Sacco

Joe Sacco is a Maltese-American journalist and comic book artist. On travelling to Palestine, he decided to diarise his experiences on the West Bank and in Gaza between 1992 and 1993. Each page is beautifully crafted, and his unrelenting pen captures the people, conversations and landscapes in a dizzying detail. While I had previously struggled to get to grips with Middle Eastern politics, Sacco's visual story did a brilliant job of giving me an entry point to this notoriously thorny and complicated story.


'Persepolis' by Marjane Satrapi

Persepolis is a coming-of-age memoir documenting Marjane Satrapi's childhood, as a little girl growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. She is the daughter of bohemian leftists, whose lives of free-thought, equality and liberty become unrecognisable under the Shah's regime. Her account is emotionally and politically charged, as we see Satrapi struggle to adjust to the world around her. What struck me most as I read this, was the extraordinary power of simple, black and white drawings to convey this very complex story. There was a very successful film adaptation of Persepolis in 2008.


'Ethel and Ernest' by Raymond Briggs

Ethel and Ernest is a heartwarming and funny homage to the life of Raymond Briggs' parents. Briggs includes everything from their chance-meeting as milkman and housemaid, to the arrival of Raymond into the world and his acceptance to art college. The attention to everyday detail is truly charming, and a real celebration of unsung working-class families during a time of great historical importance, from the invention of television and radio, to the Great Depression and the Second World War.


'Maus' by Art Spiegelman

Maus is the only graphic novel in history to be crowned with a Pulitzer Prize. It's a raw and disturbing documentation of suffering and loss, as Art's father shares his painful experiences as a Jew in Poland during the Second World War. Each race is rendered as a different animal, which I think brilliantly re-enforces the inhumanity of such a tragic period in history.


'Stitches' by David Small

Somehow it is hard to believe that Stitches, by David Small, really is an autobiographical work, so unbelievably haunting is the story at its heart. When the author was a young boy, his father, a doctor, took it into his own hands to cure his respiratory problems by repeatedly exposing him to high doses of radiation. Believing he was doing his best for his son, it transpired that he was, in fact, doing the opposite when a tumour forms in David's throat. Unaware of the truth of his potentially fatal condition, young David underwent surgery that left him mute. Clearly, Small found his voice through his work, and the strength of his storytelling lies in his ink and wash drawings, which perfectly capture this nightmarish tale.