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Diversity in Graphic Novels

Updated: Apr 29, 2021

Ahead of a panel reuniting thriving comic book artists to discuss the lack of diversity in the artform, we have selected a few comics which we believe address these questions.

Marjane Satrapi (Persepolis), Riad Sattouf (The Arab of the Future), Marguerite Abouet (Aya de Yopougon) are pioneers and they used comics to tell their journeys and did not hesitate to touch upon themes such as violence, war, politics and biculturalism. Yet, other artists, perhaps lesser known, also carved their way and their stories need to be heard too. From the Vietnam war to a generation of girls rebelling against their father because of his old conceptions, there is plenty to discover!

Les coquelicots d'Irak by Brigitte Findakly and Lewis Trondheim

For this four-handed comic book, Lewis Trondheim abandons his anthropomorphized animals and draws real human beings to tell the story of his wife. Born in Iraq, to ​​an Iraqi father and a French mother at the start of the 1960s, the book traces her childhood spent in Mosul, a city in northern Iraq, at a time marked by successive coups d'état and military dictatorships. Unrolling the thread of her memories, we discover a family life affected by the aberrations of the dictatorship and their repercussions until the ineluctable exile to France in the early 1970s is decided. An arrival in France she also found difficult, a migratory experience made up of administrative, social and cultural hassles.

In this story, Lewis Trondheim and Brigitte Findakly paint in powerful sketches a singular trajectory punctuated with photos and parentheses on customs, Iraqi culture and the memories of Brigitte. We share with her the nostalgia of those who left behind their country of origin and the fleeting links that remain.

Available in French at la Médiathèque

Baume du Tigre by Lucie Quéméner

Ald, an Asian immigrant, leads his family with authority. When his eldest granddaughter, Edda, announces that she wants to be a doctor rather than working in the family restaurant, he gets furious. Determined to live the life she chose for herself, Edda decides to run away from home with her sisters Wilma, Isa and Etta.

This wonderfully detailed graphite illustrations and work tackles the subjects of identity, culture and emancipation. It is a deeply moving coming-of-age and coming-to-term tale.

Lucie Quéméner is a young and proactive author. Baume du Tigre is her first graphic novel. It was awarded by France Culture “Student prize for graphic novels” and is selected for the 2021 Angoulême International Comics Festival.

Available in French at la Médiathèque

Peyi an nou by Jessica Oublié and Marie-Ange Rousseau

The comic tells the story of the exile of the inhabitants of the French West Indies (les Antilles) to mainland France in the 1950s and 1960s. At that time, there was work in France and little in the West Indies and this is why the government paid one-way trips to Paris. It was also beleived that this migration could help resolve local political contestation issues. Yet, on arrival, the people were often disappointed: a meager salary, unpleasant living conditions, a non-existent career plan... Inspired by her grand-father stories, Jessica Oublié went to Guadeloupe to better understand what happened and carry out her own investigations.

At the end of the comic, historian Pap Ndiaye and psychoanalyst Yolande Govindama present the contemporary consequences of past migrations. Political Scientist Françoise Vergès also shows that the conception of the West Indies in France remains ethnic and centered on France.

Finally, this comic strip is a tribute to all those who left their country.

Available in French at la Médiathèque

Une si jolie petite guerre : Saigon 1961-63 by Marcelino Truong

This riveting, beautifully produced graphic memoir tells the story of the early years of the Vietnam war as seen through the eyes of a young boy named Marco, the son of a Vietnamese diplomat and his French wife. The book opens in America, where the boy's father works for the South Vietnam embassy; there the boy is made to feel self-conscious about his otherness thanks to schoolmates who play war games against the so-called "Commies." The family is called back to Saigon in 1961, where the father becomes Prime Minister Ngo Dinh Diem's personal interpreter; as the growing conflict between North and South intensifies, so does turmoil within Marco's family, as his mother struggles to grapple with bipolar disorder.

Visually powerful and emotionally potent, Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63 is both a large-scale and intimate study of the Vietnam war as seen through the eyes of the Vietnamese: a turbulent national history intertwined with an equally traumatic familial one.

In the sequel Saigon Calling: London 1963-75, young Marcelino and his family move from Saigon to London in order to escape the war following the assassination of South Vietnamese President Diem, for whom Marcelino's diplomat father was a personal interpreter.

Available in French at la Médiathèque

Available in English from Arsenal Pulp Press

L'année du lièvre: Volume 1 - Au revoir Phnom Penh by Tian

In 1975, the Khmer Rouge seizes power in the capital city of Phnom Penh. Immediately after declaring victory in the war, they set about evacuating the country’s major cities. Like all the inhabitants, Lina and her family found themselves exiled to the barren countryside, with the brutal ruthlessness and disregard for humanity that characterized the regime ultimately responsible for the deaths of one million citizens.

Cartoonist Tian Veasna was born just three days after the Khmer Rouge takeover, as his family set forth on the chaotic mass exodus from Phnom Penh. Based on firsthand accounts, Year of the Rabbit tells the true story of a family’s desperate struggle to survive. Tian Veasna depicts the rising terror of the Khmer Rouge years, showing both horror and humanity. Perfectly drawn and documented, Year of the Rabbit is a striking and moving testimony to one of the twentieth century’s greatest tragedies.

Available in French at la Médiathèque

Available in English from Drawn & Quarterly

Check our full selection on the online library catalogue.

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