Autobiographical comics were my second comics love. Obviously, superheroes came first, and just like the iFanboy trinity I can still remember those one or two ’1st’ issues of comics that I read until the staples fell out that have stuck with me throughout the years, but when I finally branched out into all that comics had to offer, it was the autobiographical books that opened my eyes to sequential potential.
This came to mind recently when I sent my mom a copy of Blankets for her birthday. Blankets is a hefty tome but once I started reading it I couldn’t put it down. It affected me in way few books ever have then or since. The story struck so close to home, especially for a guy still getting used to living in northern California, far outside the cultural shelter of West Virginia. Soon after finishing that book I read an interview with Craig Thompson wherein he admitted that the X-Men were of his earliest comic influences. While I didn’t doubt it, this statement provided concrete confirmation that a person could like superheroes and still explore outside their confines.
Blankets opened the floodgate and soon after that I devoured Persepolis, In The Shadow of No Towers, Autobiographix, Same Difference and Other Stories, American Born Chinese and more. There was just something so visceral and powerful that spoke to me in a way that superhero comics hadn’t. To be fair, at the same I was getting back into superheroes in a way that has yet to wane, but every comic fan is expected to have some superhero connection, whereas I felt like I was part of a much smaller clique of autobiographical nerds. I would daydream of turning boring monotonous lab work into some indie mag, somehow hoping the addition of panels would turn the mundane into meaningful. That maybe my own life held the spark of the epic just waiting for a decent artist to render (which completely ignores that almost all of the above books are written AND drawn by the same person).
Since that initial fervor I haven’t been as committed to seeking out every autobiographical book that I can, likely to my detriment. I read Fun Home, fell in love alongside Tom Beland in True Story, Swear to God, picked up the occasional Jeffery Brown, and marveled (pun intended) at the early artistic ambitions of folks like Brian Michael Bendis (Fortune and Glory) and Ed Brubaker (A Complete Lowlife).
I think even outside of strict autobio books I’m still drawn, as I imagine most are, to works that seem to have a strong personal connection for the author. Rick Remender seems the current master of inserting himself into a story, not actually as a character, or even in an overt way, but every book he writes seems to have something personal from him just under the surface. Likewise, Jeph Loeb on his good days always aimed straight for the heart to great effect, I can’t imagine pulling that off without having some personal stake at play. I’m sure there are a myriad other creators who do the same thing every time they type a script. If anything I imagine the insertion of self is more common than not (write what you know, after all), but this column is already running the risk of becoming a list so I’ll avoid continued examples.
Besides sending my mom Blankets, my other inspiration to write this column came when looking at my to-read bookshelf (yes, a bookshelf, I agree it’s out of hand) and I saw Alec: The Years Have Pants by Eddie Campbell, untouched and possibly never even opened. I don’t remember when I bought it, probably during a Top Shelf sale sometime in 2010, but what really disturbed me was how I had come to this place. What happened between my halcyon days of 2006 (when my autobio fire was ignited) and now when I didn’t bother to crack open a seminal volume by a master of the form? Maybe it’s just intimidation at a book so massive, but this isn’t even the only unread autobio book I have lying around. I still haven’t worked my way through The Complete K Chronicles, another Jeffery Brown book, Spiegelman’s Breakdowns, and likely some stuff on Graphic.ly I don’t even remember buying.
So why the lack of excitement these days? It’s not like my life suddenly became so interesting it wasn’t worth seeing the lives of others. If anything, it’s the opposite, but maybe that’s just it. I’m a bit more tied down, domesticated, and adult than I was when I first started reading those books. Perhaps it’s like forcing kids in high school to read The Great Gatsby, when it has little-to-no relevance, as opposed to the end of college when reading about 20-somethings not knowing what to do with their lives might mean a whole lot more. I think just writing this will help relight some of that fire. I’m not really in to any particular book right now, so it may be the best time to start reading through one of these unread autobiographical graphic novels. And of course, I might want to reread Blanketsboth as a reminder and so that I can kick myself for sending it to my mother.
And what about you, dear iFanbase? Do you share my passion for true life tales? If not, what non-superheroic sub-genre gets you the most excited? Let everyone know in the comments!