Sunday Salon: 3 Graphic Memoirs

 For this week's Sunday Salon, I am going to write about three memoirs that I recently read- all graphic- and all similarly themed.  All three are about family, and although they are different in many ways, I think they are easily approached together.

Title: French Milk
Author: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: Touchstone Books (Simon and Schuster)
Date: 2007
Genre: Graphic Memoir, Travel

194 pages.
Where I got it: Paperback Swap
Challenges: 2011 Non-Fiction Challenge; Graphic Novels Challenge

Title: Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic
Author: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Houghton Mifflin
Date: 2006
Genre: Graphic Memoir

232 pages.
Where I got it: The public library, but I liked it so much I bought my own copy as well.
Challenges: Graphic Novels Challenge

Title: Stitches: A Memoir
Author: David Small
Publisher: W.W. Norton & Company
Date: 2009
Genre: Graphic Memoir

329 pages.
Where I got it: The public library
Challenges: Graphic Novels Challenge ; Gothic Reading Challenge

All three of these graphic memoirs deal with family relationships and with growing up.  French Milk tells the story of Lucy Knisley's summer spent in France with her mother; Fun Home is Alison Bechdel's tale of growing up different in a strange home where echoes of Augusten Burroughs abound; Stitches is a harrowing nightmare of a lie that David Small's parents tell him and his journey to overcome it.  All three are illustrated in colorless panels, and all three tell touching stories.  That may be where the similarities end.

Knisley's book is a light romp through Paris.  She excels in her descriptions of the food that they eat each day, and she poignantly captures the moment when a young girl is just a about to grow up.  The Lucy in the story is graduating from college and hanging in the limbo of what to do next with her life.  She is bohemian and lovely, and her desires are for sensual experiences, and yet she still squabbles with her mother on the streets of Paris, and has days where she just wants to stay in bed.  The book is illustrated with complex, single-panel pages, filled with text and small sketches.  Intermittently, she includes photographs from the actual trip.  Although Knisley is a far more talented graphic artist than she is a photographer, the snapshots are a reminder of the experience of traveling abroad for a girl of Lucy's age.  Although the Paris of French Milk is beautiful and sensuous, a place that many of us (especially young bohemian girls) dream of visiting, Knisley never lets us readers forget the allure of home, which is what any good travel, or travel narrative, should do.

Fun Home is a place strange, quirky and miss-able, but also stifling.  Bechdel's illustrations are more cartoonish than Knisley's (they remind me of Daniel Clowes) and so is her setting.  Bechdel's father spends his time decorating their Victorian house, perfecting it as a replica of an original  and turning it in to a museum.  It is this remarkable house that provides the backdrop for the story of Alison's coming out and the developing relationship between her and her father.  Fun Home is, like French Milk, a coming-of-age story.  Bechdel is growing up and beginning to gain the strange understanding that her parents are people, with secrets, and with whom she might have more in common than she could have imagined.  Bechdel is brilliant, and her book is littered with references to literature and history and philosophy, which set the scene as well.  I can't wait to read it again.

Then there is David Small's Stitches.  David's parents have secrets too, that bear heavily on the young author.  One day, he wakes up with a lump on his neck and his parents delay taking him to the doctor, trying, as always, to pinch their pennies.  Eventually he has the growth removed, and after two surgeries, wakes unable to speak.  In many ways, this is a horror story, peopled with Gothic and grotesque characters.  The drawings represent the frightening nature of Small's childhood, with their violent, rapid strokes, shadowed faces and looming panels.  Eventually, David grows up in his story too, and finds a place that is less frightening, a home.  In his adulthood, he too comes to understand his family better, perhaps through drawing this book.


  1. How very cool! Graphic memoirs. Thanks for sharing the review.

  2. Wow! What incredible-sounding stories...the graphic part seems quite unique for these themes.


  3. Hmmm...I love the biography/memoir genre, but I have never tried a graphic memoir. However, your post makes me really want to!

  4. These three are all wonderful. May I suggest two more? White Rapids by Pascal Blanchet and Burma Chronicles by Guy DeLisle

  5. I am going to check out French Milk. Thanks! I look forward to coming back next Sunday,

  6. I have French Milk on my to-read list. I'll have to check out the other two. Have you read The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman? That was my introduction to graphic memoirs, and I loved it.

  7. I have read both Fun Home and Stitches and thought they were really interesting.

    French Milk has been on my radar, I just haven't picked it up. I really enjoy the medium, though, so I need to start seeking them out.

  8. Interesting comparisons -- I've grown to really like graphic memoirs, but of these three I've only read French Milk. I've been meaning to pick up Stitches too.


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