Autobiographical comics  

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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.
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Train wreck at Montparnasse (October 22, 1895) by Studio Lévy and Sons.

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.

Contents

1970s

  • Shinji Nagashima created "Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari" (Cruel Tale of a Cartoonist) in 1961
  • 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.

1980s

  • 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.
  • 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.

1990s

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.
  • 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.
  • 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.

2000s

  • Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy and Unlikely told the story of two failed relationships using hundreds of single-page stories.
  • Josh Neufeld published his Xeric Award-winning A Few Perfect Hours (2004), documenting his backpacking adventures through Southeast Asia, Central Europe, and Turkey.
  • 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."
  • 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, of 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 www.dannygregory.com.
  • Aline Kominsky-Crumb published Need More Love: A Graphic Memoir (2007), her life story, with inserted photographs.
  • Carol Lay wrote and illustrated The Big Skinny (2008) about her experiences with weight loss.




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Autobiographical comics" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on original research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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