By Mary Rockcastle – Graphic novels were my gateway into comic books. When I was young I felt a thick stigma surrounding the comic book world during the time when I actually cared what my peers thought of me.
I remember scurrying back and forth between the Comics section of my local bookstore and the aisle behind it, darting away whenever anyone else would notice me there. My hopeless curiosity got to me, and I quickly became hooked on the graphic novel medium.
I am by no means an expert, but these graphic novels are some of the best for women both young and old. Graphic novels, especially graphic memoirs, tend to fall into the category of “men-who-reflect-on-the-manic-pixie-dream-girl-who-dumped-them,” and once you’ve read one, you’ve really read them all. That’s why we need to support female driven graphic novels with rich stories and lady protagonists.
Here are the nine I think every girl should read in her lifetime:
Written & illustrated by Daniel Clowes
The perfect graphic novel for the angry teenage punk in all of us. Ghost World follows the mundane day-to-day lives of two recent high school grads Enid and Rebecca. First published in 1997, the book was adapted into a critically acclaimed film in 2001. However, where the movie tries to defy the line between cynically intellectual and box office darling, the book is rich in genuine angst and the relatable emotions that come with life changes. Ghost World is a vital read for all ladies, reformed and current punks especially.
Written & illustrated by Ellen Forney
Ellen Forney is one of the women who reaffirm my quest to become an illustrator. Marbles is the memoir of Ellen’s life with bipolar disorder, through the intense highs of mania and the unbearable lows of depression. I have to admit I’m slightly biased including this book on the list as a woman with bipolar disorder, but the book is relatable and honest in a way I’ve never seen before in the format.
Written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Another autobiographical graphic novel, Persepolis is a coming of age story set in the author’s home country of Iran during the Islamic revolution. The story comes in two parts, one depicting her childhood and the other focuses on coming into adulthood. Heralded as one of the best graphic novels of all time, this book is a vital read for every woman, even if the setting seems too dark or politically charged. Lead image from Persepolis
Written & illustrated by Vera Brosgol
This award-winning spooky supernatural graphic novel for all ages is one of the loveliest books I’ve picked up in the past five years. The illustrations are creepy but inviting, and the story slowly reveals itself as a girl named Anya who falls into a hole in the forest one day. Underneath it’s fantasy base, Anya’s Ghost focuses on real issues about immigrant children and self esteem.
This One Summer
Written by Mariko Tamaki, illustrated by Jillian Tamaki
Tied with another book on this list for my favorite graphic novel of 2014, This One Summer is not only beautiful to look at, but beautiful to experience. The book is subtle, following Rose and her friend Windy as they vacation together with their families during early adolescence. The story is soft like a memory but thick and foggy with intense exploration of relationship dynamics.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Written & illustrated by Alison Bechdel
Perhaps you’ve heard of the Bechdel Test, the simple test used to verify if a movie has multidimensional female characters in it? This book is written and illustrated by the same Bechdel who invented that test, along with the famous comic series Dykes to Watch out For. Fun Home is her personal memoir about her relationship with her father, a funeral director and English teacher. The book revolves around many themes: death, literature, and sexual orientation, and spent multiple weeks on the New York Times bestseller list.
Written & illustrated by Linda Medley
This Eisner Award winning graphic novel is a hybrid of old-fashioned storytelling and modern themes. The book focuses on a cast of characters who live together in a castle, telling both their day-to-day lives and their rich backstories. I discovered Castle Waiting by reading a list of feminist-friendly graphic novels and was not disappointed by the underlying themes of gender and sexuality.
Written & illustrated by Marjane Satrapi
Another novel by Satrapi that couldn’t be left off this list is Embroideries, a short book about Marjane and her female family members experiences with romance and sex. The book takes place over tea at her grandmother’s house and is told by each of her family members. Readers can see themselves in at least one of the many rich stories told by the Iranian women in the book.
Through the Woods,
Written & illustrated by Emily Carroll
Tied with This One Summer as my favorite graphic novel of 2014, Through the Woods is a girl-centric compilation of short horror stories. An important read for anyone interested in horror comics or even the graphic novel as a storytelling tool, Through the Woods is thrilling, terrifying, and beautiful.
About the contributor
I’m an illustrator and Crafty Lady living in Brooklyn. I like petting people’s dogs, feminist activism, and the smell of laundry.
My website is www.maryrockcastle.com.