Clothes: A post inspired by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton’s anthology Women in Clothes


(Me, snapped by my partner)

Women in Clothes is a diverse collection of stories, musings, and memories, about how clothes shape women’s lives and views of the world, and it also includes lovely photographic taxonomies of women’s personal clothing and accessory collections. Inspired by Sheila Heti, Heidi Julavits, and Leanne Shapton’s anthology Women in Clothes, I decided to write a spontaneous post about my sometimes embarrassing sometimes empowering relationship to clothing (using a few past Instagram selfies).

Images courtesy of:,

On Clothes

I grew up poor, the poorest kid in my class. My mom, who went to school for dance and art, never became an artist. She married my dad, who also went to art school (for sculpture and jewelry design), had three kids, separated from and eventually divorced my dad (when I was 5), went back to school in her 40s, and eventually became a successful massage therapist and ran her own business. We lived with my mom, and my dad was unable to contribute to our lives financially, although he was supportive in other ways.

I knew I was the poorest kid in my class. I would frequently sleep over at my wealthier friends’ houses, stuffing a garbage bag full of clothes and toys to bring with me, but the few times I had a friend over, a girl who lived in a mansion in the suburbs, I would tell her we were renovating the top floors of our house, even though there were separate entrances to the other units and it was very obviously a duplex. My mom slept on a pullout bed in the living room. I would covet and borrow my friends’ clothes, and they would constantly give me makeovers, putting butterfly clips in my hair and letting me wear their designer brand name clothes.

My wardrobe for many years was a mix of my brother’s and sister’s hand-me-downs, since I was the youngest, or else finds from Value Village. When I was very young I wore frilly dresses and was chubby. Later, in the upper grades of elementary school, I was skinny, gawky, and looked like a tomboy for a year or two, but I don’t remember if this was by choice or because of the resources at hand. Clothing did not mean much to me up until grades 5 or 6 when I began to notice how much nicer my classmates’ clothes were than mine.

When I was 11 -12, I sometimes wore “sexy” clothes to elementary school. I remember one bright red cinched spandex tube top that I wore with fashionably ripped jeans and Sketchers. I don’t even think it was meant to be a shirt. A few teachers told me that this was inappropriate, and they gave me a large crumpled t-shirt from the lost and found to wear for the rest of the day. I felt I could harness a power in these “sexy” clothes, but I had zero clue as to what that power was, and I felt so ashamed when they forbid me from wearing them. The tube top looked something like this:

cinched red top

Image courtesy of:

I had this black Nike hoodie from Value Village that said “Just Do It” in bright orange writing. My mom bought it for me sometime in elementary school, and I loved it. I would hide in it and feel so safe; then kids started laughing at me and I didn’t understand why. Later, I realized with horror that “it” to a bunch of preteens was obviously a reference to sex, and I never wore it again.

For summer camp one year, I wore a t-shirt that had a tiny man, a convict I think, with a slingshot and the writing “It’s Always Funny Until Someone Loses an Eye”; I thought it was so cool and wore it on the bus, but then I remember kids looking at me like I was a freak, and I changed on the bus and stopped wearing it that summer. My mom had purchased it at Value Village for me. I wore it on the camp bus that day with an oversized faded blue denim baseball cap that fell over my eyes.

When I was a kid I also had an oversized Peewee Herman t-shirt that I couldn’t care less about (maybe a hand-me-down), and now I am heartbroken about that indifference. I don’t wear t-shirts very often anymore, except for big vintage t-shirt sometimes to sleep in the winter time. I like dresses now, and high wasted blue jeans with simple or vintage tops and eclectic accessories; I often experiment with different looks, and I don’t think that I have great taste in clothing.

Over the past two years I have changed my hair colour so frequently (it has been red, black, blue, pink, blond, purple, and now light brown again), that my hair is probably my main accessory; there is a power in changing your hair colour, taking control of your appearance in that way. I love colour too, so I appreciate seeing people who aren’t afraid to experiment, that stand out from a crowd. I have never felt comfortable with my hair, so I am always open to experiment. Whenever I shave my head or have a pixie cut, I feel lighter, but then I do notice people react to me differently and make assumptions about who I am, and I have felt like I have to find other ways to compensate, to bring certain qualities of myself back out again, like wearing large earrings, or wearing very cute dresses.


During my later years of elementary school, I began stealing clothes from my older sister. She was working at her first part time jobs, at a restaurant and Dairy Queen, I think, and that meant she was able to spend money on clothes at the mall. Stealing from her was not so difficult, as she usually ran track early in the morning, and we shared a bedroom and a closet until I was thirteen. I felt anxious at school sometimes though, worried about returning the clothing exactly where it was in the closet before she noticed, or she would kill me. We fought all the time.

Then when I was 12, my Safta (grandmother on my dad’s side) who lived overseas sent me some money for my bat mitzvah. I never had a bat mitzvah because it was too expensive, and it seemed to only be socially unacceptable if the boy in the family did not have his. Also, we weren’t very religious. My grandmother sent money anyways, to treat all of her grandchildren as equals. She sent me more money than I had seen in my entire life. I always wonder if she knew how crazy that was.

I spent it all in less than three months. My parents gave me complete control. I went with my wealthy friend to the mall half a dozen times, and I impressed her by spending almost a hundred dollars each time. I imagined that she was jealous of me. I had beautiful clothes for about a year, and then I went through puberty and outgrew everything.

I remember from this time period:  a long-sleeved polyester stretchy shirt with blue sky, clouds, and rainbows, and a velvet purple shirt with long flared sleeves, and tight dark denim jeans with shiny silk threading, all from Le Chateau. I felt like a princess that year. I felt so beautiful. Although it was like a wasted wish a genie had granted me, it was also a year of masquerade and magical thinking. So maybe it was worth it. The long-sleeve cloud shirt looked like this:

cloud and rainbow shirt

When I was in high school my mom worked really hard to make sure we had new clothes, and every Hanukkah my sister and I would go with her to the shopping mall or Winners to pick out a few new outfits; the summertime before camp was also a time of surplus clothing, a few items extra that we didn’t really need. When I was sixteen I landed my first job as a cashier and “customer service representative” at Value Village, and I grew to love thrifting and discovering those rare articles of clothing that become treasures (or you never ever wore, but they reminded you of a person you would like to be).  I remember some of the regular customers were so endearing. I helped an older woman buy gifts for her dozens of grandchildren every few months, and another man, who wore a Power Puff Girls backpack, regularly came for toys and would often ask to see the “treasures” locked inside the glass case at the front of the store. We were not allowed to purchase anything during our shift, store policy, so I often hid the things I discovered and coveted, until the end of my shift. There were many older women who worked there, who had extremely difficult lives, and had to deal with health problems and unbearably perky younger managers. I remember I wore a dark green velvet shirt to work one day, an Elvin sort-of-cloak thing, that did up in the front with two ancient looking bronze clasps, had long sleeves, and dipped way down in the back; one of the older ladies admired my shirt and pulled me aside to tell me that if I ever wanted to attract a man in life, that was the way to dress, in long flowing velvet. An ex-boyfriend always made fun of me for that cloak and called me a magician. Velvet does give me confidence though, although it is, I acknowledge, a ridiculous fabric. When I sold prints of my drawings in front of the liquor mart when I was 19, I wore blue velvet. There’s so many cultural allusions and mythologies attached to velvet—David Lynch’s seedy Blue Velvet (1986), for example; it’s fun to play with.

2011. Blue Velvet

My mom often gives me accessories and clothing that belonged to her when she was younger, or my grandmother, or my great grandmother. She says this is because I don’t lose things; I am the family archivist in this way. I have my Great Granny Annie’s black Persian lamb fur coat, complete with a rabbit collar. I would never buy a new fur coat, and I have only worn this once, but it makes me feel connected to my elegant great grandmother, who once ran a ladies’ fashion department. One day I know I will have the right occasion to wear it again, and it makes me feel glamorous knowing that I can. I also have several delicate embroidered leather gloves that belonged to my mother’s mother. I have an evil-looking costume ring that belonged to her as well that I call my magician’s ring.


Visiting home in Winnipeg for a friend’s wedding, trying on my great grandmother’s fur coat two winters ago, bringing it back to Toronto with me

People notice your clothes and make assumptions about you, and this is both frustrating and exhilarating; it is a relief in a way, if you are shy or have social anxiety, to be able to express who you are without having to speak or be in the spotlight. A few years ago, I bought a ridiculous Michael Kors maxi dress at a second-hand store; it is extremely long, with a lime green geometric pattern, tie-up sash at the waste, and gold collar. Not once have I worn this dress, but I feel powerful with it in my closet, like a weapon. I want to become the woman who is confident enough to wear this dress, and it makes me hopeful for this future.

As I write this, I am wearing a dark red velvet summer dress, vintage from the 1990s, while working at one of my library jobs.  I purchased it a few days ago at Black Market in Toronto, where everything in the entire store, including vintage jackets, is $10 or less!


A Halloween look (Lydia Deetz, Beetlejuice) that would maybe be my ideal way to dress

I would love to read posts about other women’s clothing memories if you would like to join in?



Fairy Tales

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The following is a script for a presentation I gave as part of an MI group project to create a contemporary reference article on a subject of our choice; we chose Fairy Tales. Part of the assignment was to critique modern reference articles and look for bias and ways they can be improved, since reference articles are meant to be objective and fact-based and be tailored to meet the information needs of wide audiences.

Reference Articles critiqued:

Hahn, Daniel, Humphrey Carpenter, Mari Prichard, and Michael Morpurgo. “Fairy Stories (Fairy Tales).” The Oxford Companion to Children’s Literature. , 2015. Print.

Robinson, Elizabeth. “Fairy Tales.” The Literary Encyclopedia 20 Dec. 2007. Web. 17 Sept. 2015.

I began the presentation by reading a fairy tale out loud to my class, initially without providing any context; “The Story of Grandmother” Paul Delarue via Jack Zipes, from Trials and Tribulations of Little Red Riding Hood.


There was a woman who had made some bread. She said to her daughter:
“Go carry this hot loaf and bottle of milk to your granny.”
So the little girl departed. At the crossway she met bzou, the werewolf, who said to her:
“Where are you going?”
“I’m taking this hot loaf and bottle of milk to my granny.”
“What path are you taking.” said the werewolf, “the path of needles or the path of pins?”
“The path of needles,” the little girl said.
“All right, then I’ll take the path of pins.”
The little girl entertained herself by gathering needles.
Meanwhile the werewolf arrived at the grandmother’s house, killed her, and put some of her meat in the cupboard and a bottle of her blood on the shelf. The little girl arrived and knocked at the door.
“Push the door,” said the werewolf, “It’s barred by a piece of wet straw.”
“Good day, granny. I’ve brought you a hot loaf of bread and a bottle of milk.”
“Put it in the cupboard, my child. Take some of the meat which is inside and the bottle of wine on the shelf.”
After she had eaten, there was a little cat which said:
“Phooey!… A slut is she who eats the flesh and drinks the blood of her granny.”
“Undress yourself, my child,” the werewolf said, “And come lie down beside me.”
“Where should I put my apron?”
“Throw it into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing it any more.”
And each time she asked where she should put all her other clothes, the bodice, the dress, the petticoat, the long stockings, the wolf responded:
“Throw them into the fire, my child, you won’t be needing them anymore.”
When she laid herself down in the bed, the little girl said:
“Oh granny, how hairy you are!”
“The better to keep myself warm, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big nails you have!”
“The better to scratch me with, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big shoulders you have!”
“The better to carry the firewood, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big ears you have!”
“The better to hear you with, my child!”
“Oh granny, what big nostrils you have!”
“The better to snuff my tobacco with, my child!”
“Oh granny, what a big mouth you have!”
“The better to eat you with, my child!”
“Oh granny, I have to go badly. Let me go outside.”
“Do it in the bed, my child!”
“Oh no, granny, I want to go outside.”
“All right, but make it quick.”
The werewolf attached a woolen rope to her foot and let her go outside.
When the little girl was outside, she tied the end of the rope to a plum tree in the courtyard. The werewolf became impatient and said: “Are you making a load out there? Are you making a load?”
When he realized that nobody was answering him, he jumped out of bed and saw that the little girl had escaped. He followed her but arrived at her house just at the moment she entered 


That was a folktale from the tenth century, told out loud by the fireside in French peasant cottages; the writer is unknown, and versions of the tale are slightly tailored for a Western audience. For example, the word “Bzou” for the French werewolf is replaced by half human. As we describe in our article, fairy tales evolved from preliterate folktales, drawing from their structure, patterns, themes, archetypes, and even alliteration. We decided that in addition to writing about French peasant folktales we would also include information about preliterate narratives from other cultures around the world; those stories were told out loud before writing was accessible and popularized, harkening back to the early medieval period and even beyond in religious mythology. Themes in fairy tales have drawn from these narratives and relate to these narratives in interesting ways.

One of our concerns about the two reference articles we chose to critique is their superficial treatment of folklore narratives. The Oxford Companion article even suggests, among other generalizations, that authentic oral stories deal with “the hope of transformation and happy ending”—but this is not always the truth, fairy tales and folk tales can be grim and grotesque, like the one I began this presentation with. Robinson’s article also implies that fairy tales must fit within that same framework, and though many fairy tales do, many also do not.

Some of the first written records of fairy tales are also grotesque and disturbing, with no placating “happily ever after”; not intended for children:  In Giambattista Basile’s Pentameron from 1634, there is a version of  “Sleeping Beauty” where the prince climbs into bed with the sleeping princess and enjoys “the first fruits of love”, and then deserts her and then leaves her pregnant and still sleeping; eventually one of the twins she gives birth to gets hungry, sucks the enchanted flax that kept her sleeping and wakes her up (Nodelman 304-5).

Just to give you an idea of the variety of folklore and fairy tale narratives from around the world: Folklorists Antti Aarne and Stith Thompson created a scheme to classify the varieties of tale types, using a scientific folklore approach- and this covers all varieties of Indo-European folktales (Nodelman 304). In this scheme there are apx. 2,499 distinct types from oral sources around the world.

*Note: Indo-European languages relates to the family of languages spoken over the greater part of Europe and Asia as far as northern India.

One example: “Cinderella” is 510A: “a sub-type of 510: the story of a girl mistreated by members of her family who receives magical help to get out of trouble and gain the attention of marriageable male” (Nodelman 304).  Tales from 510 include versions from North America, Japan, and the well-known European stories told to children.

We quickly learned that creating a reference article about fairy tales when they contain so many different themes and tale types is very difficult. However, we thought the two reference articles we chose generalized those themes and presented too narrow a view of fairy tales; this might discourage a reader from wanting to know more about the subject and limit their understanding of fairy tales and broader cultural issues intrinsic to the tales.

We believe that a contemporary researcher, be it for a high school project, or a parent debating whether or not to expose their children to fairy tales, or a teacher deciding what to include in the curriculum, should know and would want to know more about the subject than these articles can offer.


Though fairy tales can be immensely enjoyable, we wanted our article to demonstrate that they are very diverse in scope and contain so much more than the two words fairy tale suggest.

When we began the process of this assignment, we thought of possible negative concerns a parent, teacher, or researcher might have regarding fairy tales before they read the article, that perhaps lead them to want to research and consult a reference source.

These were:

  • Fairy tales provoke false hope for an unrealistic Utopia and lead to a poor understanding of the world and its social structures
  • Encourage female docility and patriarchal social structures
  • Perpetuate ideologies such as consumerism (the attainment of wealth and things) and binary gender roles
  • Can be used as tools for censoring and tailoring children’s beliefs and desires
  • That children are vulnerable and should be kept away from scarier fairy tale themes such as monsters, death, pain, the body, blood, sexuality, and other dark and disturbing ideas
  • Or that some of their binary ideas of good and evil might reflect prejudice and racism and perpetuate ideas of the exotic “other” or orientalist attitudes
  • Or that they might impose a certain religious worldview on the reader who might then in turn be influenced by that unique view or feel alienated
  • Or that their values are too outdated and modern children might be confused or adopt these bad attitudes

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We thought of that, and then we realized that we had to set aside our personal opinions,  because this is a reference article and our task is to present facts and other people’s ideas, and not just present our own. Immediately we wanted to argue the case of fairy tales, to convince that teacher, parent, or researcher that fairy tales are important and should be read by children and adults and investigated and even rewritten and adapted, and then we thought of questions like: can fairy tales even be rewritten to reflect contemporary ideologies or become feminist fairy tales, when in their very nature, from the bones and cells of their story structures, themes and archetypes, they are unable to escape those ideological views and experiences born into them? Can’t contemporary fairy tales then be read as historical and even romantic artifacts documenting and capturing the many shifts and changes in the dance routines of human ideologies and experiences?


We had to put aside these ideas for essay theses we might have written in previous years because this was not that kind of essay, and we had to collaborate to attempt to avoid bias and personal opinions, and although we did make a thesis of how to construct the entry to best present information and ideas, we could not present a central theme or concentrate on one unique aspect of fairy tales, and this was really hard.

Neither reference article we critiqued presents broader ideas about fairy tales that would connect a contemporary reader to the reference article. We are not suggesting that a reference article should present one specific complex argument (which can lead to bias and a narrower view of the subject), but by presenting several relevant ideas of scholars and other writers, we thought we could create a toolkit of frameworks that readers can pick and choose from in order to best understand fairy tales. Instead of doing this, the two articles we critiqued present historical events and facts, limited information and perspective, and we think too narrow a scope. We wanted our article to be able to enable its reader to reach their own conclusions about complex and difficult questions surrounding fairy tales such as: Why do fairy tales even end in happily ever after? Why should a parent allow their child to read fairy tales? What do fairy tales do? And perhaps most importantly we wanted to tackle the questions: What do fairy tales now mean? How can we best define them, filtered through our contemporary perspective, to suit the information demands and needs of people now? Shouldn’t that type of question be addressed in a modern reference article? Then, how often should reference articles be updated?

We included details about the possible moral lessons in fairy tales that we might view as problematic, but we also specify that this is a contemporary and subjective understanding. For example: Madame de Beaumont’s version of “Beauty and the Beast” was published in Magasin des enfans (in 1756) for “young ladies of quality”; the publication is set up as a dialogue between a governess who is speaking to her pupils. So, “Beauty and the Beast” might have been written as a behavioral guide to console timid young brides by reassuring them that the wealthy beasts they were forced to marry, if they were lucky enough and behaved a certain way, could be tamed and they could live happily ever after, perpetuating gender and class norms of the time (Nodelman 306).

In the two reference articles we chose, little is mentioned about how Charles Perrault in the 1700’s, or later Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm in the 1800’s, who were influenced by Perrault, tailored the older peasant folktales to suit their religious and moral beliefs and experiences, and to cater to popular cultural ideals. For example, Perrault’s fairy tales emphasize the dangers of ignorance, that children should already know about evil and, like the Puritans believed, needed to be educated to resist sin— and their tales were also meant to be entertaining. The Grimms considered themselves to be scholars and folklorists, but—and neither of the reference articles expand on this—they tailored their stories fit their own definition of authenticity and suit their middle class Christian values, combining the best features from different narratives; the Grimms accepted the stories they were told as authentic, though they heard them from literate middle class sources who claimed to have heard them from less literate peasants (Nodelman 307). In the Grimms original recordings of “Hansel and Gretel” and “Snow White”, the evil stepmothers were in fact the birth mothers—but quickly the Grimms disguised this detail.

In the Grimms’ versions, the child fails because they do not listen to the adult’s warnings and conform to social norms. In the Grimms “Little Red Cap” the young girl ignores her mother’s numerous warnings and because she is disobedient she gets eaten by the wolf, but in this version she also gets a second chance because her problem was her disobedience, not her lack of knowledge , and she learns her lesson (Nodelman 306-307); for the Grimms, children are naïve and only need to know how much they don’t know and accept adult wisdom, while for Perrault, and reflected in attitudes towards children of the time, children should already know about evil. For the Grimms, children are innately naïve and innocent.


We decided to write about how cultural understanding of childhood have changed throughout the development of fairy tales, from medieval times to Victorian times, to contemporary times. We mentioned industries built on the fantasy of “childhood” such as Disney, who market and tailor their products according to contemporary trends and practices of how we understand childhood. We also focused on gender roles in fairy tales, historical and contemporary; for example, we included a section about modern feminist revisions of fairy tales. We felt it was important to provide context to the way fairy tales have transformed, and to demonstrate that, contrary to popular belief, they were not always written for children.

*Note: German tales> tone of terror and fantasy; French Tales> humor and domesticity (ogres and faeries); “cunning takes the place of pietism in the German” (54)


I will bring up one more question that this assignment provoked, and that is: can it even be possible to write a reference article free from bias and subjective information? In the writing of the article, we choose whose opinions to include, and although we tried to use a variety of sources and cover a diverse range of subtopics, we still left out many possible topics. Someone could argue that we strayed too far away from fairy tales when we wrote about Indigenous mythology or medieval romances, and I have some background in those subject areas as well, which made me want to include them, but we did all agree that this range and contextualizing of fairy tales and folklore was worthwhile and that a reader would gain a better understanding, not only of fairy tales as an aesthetic style, but of social structures, cultural ideologies, and other interesting ideas that fairy tales have been built from and inspire.


I will leave you with a few sentences from British author Angela Carter’s modern feminist retelling of “little red riding hood” called “The Company of Wolves”; this is from her collection called The Bloody Chamber, originally published in 1979 and then republished in 1993. Carter also rewrote— and wrote about—many different fairy tales. Feel free to interpret it as you like, and try to recognize certain ideas that the narration inspires, and ways that her version reflects contemporary experiences.

“The Company of Wolves”:

What big teeth you have!

She saw how his jaw began to slaver and the room was full of the clamour of the forest’s Liebestod, but the wise child never flinched, even when he answered:

All the better to eat you with.

The girl burst out laughing; she knew she was nobody’s meat. She laughed at him full in the face, ripped off his shirt for him and flung it into the fire, in the fiery wake of her own discarded clothing. The flames danced like dead souls on Walpurgisnacht and the old bones under the bed set up a terrible clattering, but she did not pay them any heed.

Carnivore incarnate, only immaculate flesh appeases him.

She will lay his fearful head on her lap and she will pick out the lice from his pelt and perhaps she will put the lice into her own mouth and eat them, as he will bid her, as she would do in a savage marriage ceremony.

The blizzard will die down.

The blizzard died down, leaving the mountains as randomly covered with snow as if a blind woman had thrown a sheet over them, the upper branches of the forest pines limed, creaking, swollen with the fall.

Sunlight, moonlight, a confusion of pawprints.

All silent, all still.

Midnight, the clock strikes. It is Christmas Day, the werewolves’ birthday; the door of the solstice stands wide open; let them all sink through.

See! Sweet and sound she sleeps in granny’s bed, between the paws of the tender wolf.


Reading List

For your interest, these are the sources we consulted to write a new reference article, and research fairy tales:

Bettelheim, Bruno. The Uses of Enchantment: The Meaning and Importance of Fairy Tales. New York: Knopf, 1976. Print.

Brewer, D.S. “The Ideal of Feminine Beauty in Medieval Literature, Especially ‘Harley Lyrics’, Chaucer, and Some Elizabethans.” The Modern Language Review 50.3 (July1, 1955): 257-269. Print.

Darcy, Jane. “The Disneyfication of the European Fairy Tale.” Issues in Americanisation and Culture. Edinburgh University Press, 2004. 181–196. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

Darnton, Robert. “Peasants Tell Tales: The Meaning of Mother Goose” in The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes of French Cultural History (New York: Basic Books, 1984), 8-72. Print.

DeGraff, Amy. “The Fairy Tale and Women’s Studies: An Annotated Bibliography.” Merveilles & contes 1.1 (1987):6–82. Web. 20 Sept. 2015.

Dégh, Linda. Folktales and Society: Story-telling in a Hungarian Peasant Community: Expanded Edition with a New Afterword. Indiana UP, 1989. Print.

Goldberg, Harriet. “‘Cinderella’.” The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Ed. Jack Zipes. : Oxford University Press, 2002.Oxford Reference. 2005. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.

Haase, Donald. “Feminist Fairy-Tale Scholarship: A Critical Survey and Bibliography.” Marvels & Tales 14.1(2000): 15–63. Web. 19 Sept. 2015.

Lewis, C. S. The Discarded Image: An Introduction to Medieval and Renaissance Literature. 1964. Reprint.Cambridge: Cambridge U.P, 2012. Print.

Marzolph, Ulrich, Richard Van Leeuwen, and Hassan Wassouf. The Arabian Nights Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. ABC-CLIO, 2004. Print.

Nikolajeva, Maria. “Andersen, Hans Christian.” The Oxford Companion to Fairy Tales. Ed. Jack Zipes. : Oxford University Press, 2002. Oxford Reference. 2005. Web. 30 Sep. 2015.

Nodelman, Perry, and Mavis Reimer. The Pleasures of Children’s Literature. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 2003. Print.

Tatar, Maria. The Classic Fairy Tales: Texts, Criticism. New York: W.W. Norton, 1999. Print.

Taylor, Drew Hayden. Me Sexy: An Exploration of Native Sex and Sexuality. Douglas & McIntyre, 2008. Print.

Zipes, Jack. Breaking the Magic Spell: Politics and the Fairy Tale. New German Critique, 1975. Print.

Zipes, Jack. Fairy Tales and the Art of Subversion: The Classical Genre for Children and the Process of Civilization.2nd ed. New York: Taylor and Francis Group, 2006. Print.

Zipes, Jack. “The Contamination of the Fairy Tale, or The Changing Nature of the Grimms’ Fairy Tales.” Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts 11.1 (41) (2000): 77–93. Web. 18 September 2015.

Zipes, Jack. The Great Fairy Tale Tradition: From Straparola and Basile to the Brothers Grimm: Texts, Criticism. New York:W.W. Norton, 2001. Print.


😍 A Comprehensive Beginner’s Guide to Autobiographical Comics! 😍


Image from the Introduction to Lynda Barry’s One Hundred Demons!

A Comprehensive Beginners Guide to Autobiographical Comics!

Introduction to Graphic Novels

Graphic novels use any combination of text and illustrations to convey a story. Contrary to popular misconception, they are for any and all age and reading levels. Some graphic novels are more text heavy while others rely completely on imagery to tell a story or communicate an idea; sometimes they are composed of text that takes on illustration characteristics 

They are difficult to define, but it is helpful to think of graphic novels or comics as an adaptable medium for many different narratives, rather than an all-encompassing genre.

Many graphic novels resemble comic books, and the material is often collected from comics, however graphic novels are generally sturdier than comic books, for example hard-bound, or with soft bindings that are more durable than comics.

This guide focuses on graphic novels that are life narratives at least partially written as autobiographies by the authors. However, graphic life narratives do not have to be autobiographical, or even biographical, and often even autobiographical graphic novels contain elements of fantasy or surrealism, to convey a different sort of truth— to capture an emotion, experience, or memory, for example. Graphic novels generally can be fictional, non-fictional, or a combination of both.

Each comic may fit within more than one subject area. As such, this guide aims to place them within the categories that will benefit those interested in specific subject areas. Please consider this while browsing the bibliographic reading lists. Additionally, please consider that the bibliographical reading lists in this guide serve as a thorough introduction to the genre—but by no means are they a complete list of contemporary graphic autobiography! Also, this guide is from 2016!

This guide is intended to be a portal to enable anyone to explore their interest in the rewarding genre of graphic autobiographies, a place where you will find resources that aid in thinking and writing critically about this ever-evolving genre. This guide will also provide resources on zines and diary writing as this guide’s author believes they are also important themes in graphic autobiography 🙂

I created this originally for University of Toronto students and researchers, but I have adapted it to be accessible to wider readerships.

Please contact me if you would like to suggest a resource!

Researching Graphic Novels

Finding Graphic Novels in the Library by Shelf Browsing

Graphic novels are often shelved in PN6700-6790; the Library of Congress Classification defines this section as “Comic books, strips, etc.”. So, if you would like to generally peruse graphic novels (not necessarily autobiographical), browsing the shelves in this section is a good way to go about it!

However, there are also graphic novels shelved elsewhere, for example in art (N), and graphic novels that are non-fiction, such as memoirs and biographies, might also be shelved in sections that relate to their subject matter, depending on how a particular library catalogues these books. For example, Chester Brown’s biography on Louis Riel could be shelved in Canadian History (FC), or Al Davison’s graphic memoir about severe spina bfida might be shelved in Medicine (R).

Library of Congress Subject Headings

The University of Toronto Library System and many other libraries are organized by the Library of Congress Subject Headings. When selecting a subject heading attached to a source within a library record, library members can find all of the sources within the library that are associated to that subject heading. Below are the key subject headings when searching for material on graphic autobiographies.

The most commonly used Library of Congress Subjects for graphic novels are:

  • Graphic novels
  • Comic books, strips, etc.

Below are links to two “customized” Catalogue searches that will take you to lots of graphic novels at U of T. The results of the two searches overlap somewhat but each contains unique results.

This customized search finds all books shelved in PN6700-PN6790, at all U of T libraries.
You can refine your search to a specific library such as Robarts or Victoria (Pratt) or University College.

This customized search finds all books with a relevant Subject (graphic novels OR comic books OR cartoons OR humor pictorial OR cartoonists), at any U of T library. 
You can also refine this search to one library such as Robarts or Victoria (Pratt) or University College.

When searching for graphic autobiographical comics by subject:

  • Graphic novels about specific subjects are sometimes hard to find in a library catalogue. There are some subject headings and terms that are often used in addition to the generic Graphic Novels and Comic Books, Strips, Etc. For example, common subjects and terms used for sexual diversity-related material include: Gay Men, Gays, Lesbians, Transgender people, Bisexual. 
  • For autobiographical comics generally, you can try searching “personal narratives or graphic novels” as well, or use a similar combination of desired search terms; if you would like to read a graphic autobiography on a particular subject, you can begin with a broad search, and then narrow it down by desired subject and then call number using the menu on the left of the U of T catalogue search page, keeping in mind the popular call number for graphic novels is PN.

When searching for critical writing on autobiographical comics, or reference monographs:

  • In the general U of T library catalogue search, type in “Comic books, strips, etc.–History and criticism”.
  • For graphic autobiography, go to menu on left, and try narrowing the subject to: “Autobiographical Comic Books, Strips, Etc.”;  “Autobiography In Literature”; “graphic novels”, etc.
  • Look on the menu on the left, and then narrow your search by: library, subject, call number, format, author, etc. to best fit what you are searching for.

Tip: Start with a broader search and narrow it down using the subject menu on the left of the page, especially if you are unsure of what it is exactly that you are looking for!

A Selection of Reference and Critical Reading on Graphic Life Narratives

Most of these works situate women’s comics as a responsive movement to male-dominated underground comix that included artists such as Robert Crumb and Harvey Kurtzman, and do not trace women’s graphic life narratives to diary writing and independent publishing (for example the suffragette press); because of this (and maybe my own bias), I have included diary and zine resources as well in this guide.

This reading list draws from monographs published in the past five years, all available through the University of Toronto Libraries’ online catalogue (UTCat). This list links to the University of Toronto Library Catalogue. Title summaries can be found below this list:

On the Graphic Novel – Santiago García; Bruce Campbell

Disaster Drawn: Visual Witness, Comics, and Documentary Form – Hilary L. Chute

Graphic Subjects – Michael A. Chaney

Graphic Women – Hillary L. Chute

Drawing New Color Lines – Monica Chiu

Autobiographical Comics – Elisabeth El Refaie

Projections – Jared Gardner

Graphic Justice – Thomas Giddens

Contemporary Comics Storytelling – Karin Kukkonen

Studying Comics and Graphic Novels – Karin Kukkonen

Graphic Details – Sarah Lightman

How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses? – Tahneer Oksman

The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel – Stephen E. Tabachnick

Drawing from Life – Jane Tolmie


On the Graphic Novel by Santiago García; Bruce Campbell (Translator)

ISBN: 9781628464818

Publication Date: 2015-06-10

A noted comics artist himself, Santiago García follows the history of the graphic novel from early nineteenth-century European sequential art, through the development of newspaper strips in the United States, to the development of the twentieth-century comic book and its subsequent crisis. He considers the aesthetic and entrepreneurial innovations that established the conditions for the rise of the graphic novel all over the world. García not only treats the formal components of the art, but also examines the cultural position of comics in various formats as a popular medium. Typically associated with children, often viewed as unedifying and even at times as a threat to moral character, comics art has come a long way. With such examples from around the world as Spain, France, Germany, and Japan, García illustrates how the graphic novel, with its increasingly global and aesthetically sophisticated profile, represents a new model for graphic narrative production that empowers authors and challenges longstanding social prejudices against comics and what they can achieve.


Disaster Drawn by Hillary L. Chute

ISBN: 9780674504516

Publication Date: 2016-01-12

In hard-hitting accounts of Auschwitz, Bosnia, Palestine, and Hiroshimaâe(tm)s Ground Zero, comics display a stunning capacity to bear witness to trauma. Investigating how hand-drawn comics has come of age as a serious medium for engaging history, Disaster Drawn explores the ways graphic narratives by diverse artists, including Jacques Callot, Francisco Goya, Keiji Nakazawa, Art Spiegelman, and Joe Sacco, document the disasters of war. Hillary L. Chute traces how comics inherited graphic print traditions and innovations from the seventeenth century and later, pointing out that at every turn new forms of visual-verbal representation have arisen in response to the turmoil of war. Modern nonfiction comics emerged from the shattering experience of World War II, developing in the 1970s with Art Spiegelmanâe(tm)s first âeoeMausâe story about his immigrant familyâe(tm)s survival of Nazi death camps and with Hiroshima survivor Keiji Nakazawaâe(tm)s inaugural work of âeoeatomic bomb manga,âe the comic book Ore Wa Mita (âeoeI Saw Itâe)âe”a title that alludes to Goyaâe(tm)s famous Disasters of War etchings. Chute explains how the form of comicsâe”its collection of framesâe”lends itself to historical narrative. By interlacing multiple temporalities over the space of the page or panel, comics can place pressure on conventional notions of causality. Aggregating and accumulating frames of information, comics calls attention to itself as evidence. Disaster Drawn demonstrates why, even in the era of photography and film, people understand hand-drawn images to be among the most powerful forms of historical witness.


Graphic Subjects by Michael A. Chaney

ISBN: 9780299251048

Publication Date: 2011-03-01

Some of the most noteworthy graphic novels and comic books of recent years have been entirely autobiographical. In Graphic Subjects, Michael A. Chaney brings together a lively mix of scholars to examine the use of autobiography within graphic novels, including such critically acclaimed examples as Art Spiegelman’s Maus, David Beauchard’s Epileptic, Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alan Moore’s Watchmen, and Gene Yang’s American Born Chinese.             These essays, accompanied by visual examples, illuminate the new horizons that illustrated autobiographical narrative creates. The volume insightfully highlights the ways that graphic novelists and literary cartoonists have incorporated history, experience, and life stories into their work. The result is a challenging and innovative collection that reveals the combined power of autobiography and the graphic novel.


Graphic Women by Hillary L. Chute

ISBN: 9780231150637

Publication Date: 2010-11-16

Some of the most acclaimed books of the twenty-first century are autobiographical comics by women. Aline Kominsky-Crumb is a pioneer of the autobiographical form, showing women’s everyday lives, especially through the lens of the body. Phoebe Gloeckner places teenage sexuality at the center of her work, while Lynda Barry uses collage and the empty spaces between frames to capture the process of memory. Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis experiments with visual witness to frame her personal and historical narrative, and Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home meticulously incorporates family documents by hand to re-present the author’s past. These five cartoonists move the art of autobiography and graphic storytelling in new directions, particularly through the depiction of sex, gender, and lived experience. Hillary L. Chute explores their verbal and visual techniques, which have transformed autobiographical narrative and contemporary comics. Through the interplay of words and images, and the counterpoint of presence and absence, they express difficult, even traumatic stories while engaging with the workings of memory. Intertwining aesthetics and politics, these women both rewrite and redesign the parameters of acceptable discourse.


Drawing New Color Lines by Monica Chiu

ISBN: 9789888139385

Publication Date: 2015-03-31

The global circulation of comics, manga, and other such visual mediums between North America and Asia produces transnational meanings no longer rooted in a separation between “Asian” and “American.” Drawing New Color Lines explores the culture, production, and history of contemporary graphic narratives that depict Asian Americans and Asians. It examines how Japanese manga and Asian popular culture have influenced Asian American comics; how these comics and Asian American graphic narratives depict the “look” of race; and how these various representations are interpreted in nations not of their production. By focusing on what graphic narratives mean for audiences in North America and those in Asia, the collection discusses how Western theories about the ways in which graphic narratives might successfully overturn derogatory caricatures are themselves based on contested assumptions; and illustrates that the so-called odorless images featured in Japanese manga might nevertheless elicit interpretations about race in transnational contexts. With contributions from experts based in North America and Asia, Drawing New Color Lines will be of interest to scholars in a variety of disciplines, including Asian American studies, cultural and literary studies, comics and visual studies.


Autobiographical Comics by Elisabeth El Refaie

ISBN: 9781617036132

Publication Date: 2012-10-24

A troubled childhood in Iran. Living with a disability. Grieving for a dead child. Over the last forty years the comic book has become an increasingly popular way of telling personal stories of considerable complexity and depth. In Autobiographical Comics: Life Writing in Pictures, Elisabeth El Refaie offers a long overdue assessment of the key conventions, formal properties, and narrative patterns of this fascinating genre. The book considers eighty-five works of North American and European provenance, works that cover a broad range of subject matters and employ many different artistic styles. Drawing on concepts from several disciplinary fields–including semiotics, literary and narrative theory, art history, and psychology–El Refaie shows that the traditions and formal features of comics provide new possibilities for autobiographical storytelling. For example, the requirement to produce multiple drawn versions of one’s self necessarily involves an intense engagement with physical aspects of identity, as well as with the cultural models that underpin body image. The comics medium also offers memoirists unique ways of representing their experience of time, their memories of past events, and their hopes and dreams for the future. Furthermore, autobiographical comics creators are able to draw on the close association in contemporary Western culture between seeing and believing in order to persuade readers of the authentic nature of their stories.


Projections by Jared Gardner

ISBN: 9780804771467

Publication Date: 2012-01-11

When Art Spiegelman’s Maus won the Pulitzer Prize in 1992, it marked a new era for comics. Comics are now taken seriously by the same academic and cultural institutions that long dismissed the form. And the visibility of comics continues to increase, with alternative cartoonists now published by major presses and more comics-based films arriving on the screen each year. Projections argues that the seemingly sudden visibility of comics is no accident. Beginning with the parallel development of narrative comics at the turn of the 20th century, comics have long been a form that invites–indeed requires–readers to help shape the stories being told. Today, with the rise of interactive media, the creative techniques and the reading practices comics have been experimenting with for a century are now in universal demand. Recounting the history of comics from the nineteenth-century rise of sequential comics to the newspaper strip, through comic books and underground comix, to the graphic novel and webcomics, Gardner shows why they offer the best models for rethinking storytelling in the twenty-first century. In the process, he reminds us of some beloved characters from our past and present, including Happy Hooligan, Krazy Kat, Crypt Keeper, and Mr. Natural.


Graphic Justice by Thomas Giddens (Editor)

ISBN: 9781138787995

Publication Date: 2015-04-10

Establishing the medium of graphic fiction as a critical resource for interdisciplinary legal studies, this collection is the first to address the intersection of comics and law. Graphic fiction has gained enormous cultural capital and academic interest over recent years. Comics-inspired films fill our cinemas and superhero merchandise fills the shelves of supermarkets. In short, our culture is suffused with a comic-book aesthetic: as, for example, the ‘Occupy’ movement appropriates the mask of ‘V’, from the comic work V for Vendetta; and, tragically, as James Holmes’s murderous rampage through a Colorado movie theatre, seemingly sees him styling himself after Batman’s arch-nemesis, the Joker. From mass entertainment and consumerism to political activism and violence, we are surrounded by emanations of graphic storytelling. Meanwhile, the rise of academic disciplines such as comics studies demonstrates that the medium contains much more depth than the common assumption of its simplicity and juvenility might suggest. Against this background, comics offer an important resource for making sense of the contemporary place and role of law. Whether in their representations of lawyers and the legal system, their dystopian imaginations, their treatment of issues of justice and social order, or in their superheroic investment in the protection of the innocent and the punishment or capture of those who would harm them, like other narrative forms – literature, film, theatre – graphic fiction explores and expresses human life in all its social, moral and legal complexity. In the context of a now well-established interest in cultural legal studies, this book showcases the critical potential of comics and graphic fiction as a resource for interdisciplinary legal studies and legal theory.


Contemporary Comics Storytelling by Karin Kukkonen

ISBN: 9780803246379

Publication Date: 2013-10-01

What if fairy-tale characters lived in New York City? What if a superhero knew he was a fictional character? What if you could dispense your own justice with one hundred untraceable bullets? These are the questions asked and answered in the course of the challenging storytelling in Fables, Tom Strong, and 100 Bullets, the three twenty-first-century comics series that Karin Kukkonen considers in depth in her exploration of how and why the storytelling in comics is more than merely entertaining. Applying a cognitive approach to reading comics in all their narrative richness and intricacy, Contemporary Comics Storytelling opens an intriguing perspective on how these works engage the legacy of postmodernism–its subversion, self-reflexivity, and moral contingency. Its three case studies trace how contemporary comics tie into deep traditions of visual and verbal storytelling, how they reevaluate their own status as fiction, and how the fictional minds of their characters generate complex ethical thought experiments. At a time when the medium is taken more and more seriously as intricate and compelling literary art, this book lays the groundwork for an analysis of the ways in which comics challenge and engage readers’ minds. It brings together comics studies with narratology and literary criticism and, in so doing, provides a new set of tools for evaluating the graphic novel as an emergent literary form.


Studying Comics and Graphic Novels by Karin Kukkonen

ISBN: 9781118499924

Publication Date: 2013-09-10

This introduction to studying comics and graphic novels is a structured guide to a popular topic. It deploys new cognitive methods of textual analysis and features activities and exercises throughout. Deploys novel cognitive approaches to analyze the importance of psychological and physical aspects of reader experience Carefully structured to build a sequenced, rounded introduction to the subject Includes study activities, writing exercises, and essay topics throughout Dedicated chapters cover popular sub-genres such as autobiography and literary adaptation


Graphic Details by Sarah Lightman (Editor)

ISBN: 9780786465538

Publication Date: 2014-08-08

The comics within capture in intimate, often awkward, but always relatable detail the tribulations and triumphs of life. In particular, the lives of 18 Jewish women artists who bare all in their work, which appeared in the internationally acclaimed exhibition Graphic Details: Confessional Comics by Jewish Women. The comics are enhanced by original essays and interviews with the artists that provide further insight into the creation of autobiographical comics that resonate beyond self, beyond gender, and beyond ethnicity.


How Come Boys Get to Keep Their Noses? by Tahneer Oksman

ISBN: 9780231540780

Publication Date: 2016-02-02

American comics reflect the distinct sensibilities and experiences of the Jewish American men who played an outsized role in creating them, but what about the contributions of Jewish women? Focusing on the visionary work of seven contemporary female Jewish cartoonists, Tahneer Oksman draws a remarkable connection between innovations in modes of graphic storytelling and the unstable, contradictory, and ambiguous figurations of the Jewish self in the postmodern era. Oksman isolates the dynamic Jewishness that connects each frame in the autobiographical comics of Aline Kominsky Crumb, Vanessa Davis, Miss Lasko-Gross, Lauren Weinstein, Sarah Glidden, Miriam Libicki, and Liana Finck. Rooted in a conception of identity based as much on rebellion as identification and belonging, these artists’ representations of Jewishness take shape in the spaces between how we see ourselves and how others see us. They experiment with different representations and affiliations without forgetting that identity ties the self to others. Stemming from Kominsky Crumb’s iconic 1989 comic “Nose Job,” in which her alter ego refuses to assimilate through cosmetic surgery, Oksman’s study is an arresting exploration of invention in the face of the pressure to disappear.


The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel by Stephen E. Tabachnick

ISBN: 9780817318215

Publication Date: 2014-06-30

Many Jewish artists and writers contributed to the creation of popular comics and graphic novels, and in The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel, Stephen E. Tabachnick takes readers on an engaging tour of graphic novels that explore themes of Jewish identity and belief. The creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), Batman (Bob Kane and Bill Finger), and the Marvel superheroes (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), were Jewish, as was the founding editor of Mad magazine (Harvey Kurtzman). They often adapted Jewish folktales (like the Golem) or religious stories (such as the origin of Moses) for their comics, depicting characters wrestling with supernatural people and events. Likewise, some of the most significant graphic novels by Jews or about Jewish subject matter deal with questions of religious belief and Jewish identity. Their characters wrestle with belief#151;or nonbelief#151;in God, as well as with their own relationship to the Jews, the historical role of the Jewish people, the politics of Israel, and other issues related to Jewish identity. In The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel, Stephen E. Tabachnick delves into the vivid kaleidoscope of Jewish beliefs and identities, ranging from Orthodox belief to complete atheism, and a spectrum of feelings about identification with other Jews. He explores graphic novels at the highest echelon of the genre by more than thirty artists and writers, among them Harvey Pekar (American Splendor), Will Eisner (A Contract with God), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Miriam Katin (We Are On Our Own), Art Spiegelman (Maus), J. T. Waldman (Megillat Esther), Aline Kominsky Crumb (Need More Love), James Sturm (The Golem’s Mighty Swing), Leela Corman (Unterzakhn), Ari Folman and David Polonsky (Waltz with Bashir), David Mairowitz and Robert Crumb’s biography of Kafka, and many more. He also examines the work of a select few non-Jewish artists, such as Robert Crumb and Basil Wolverton, both of whom have created graphic adaptations of parts of the Hebrew Bible. Among the topics he discusses are graphic novel adaptations of the Bible; the Holocaust graphic novel; graphic novels about the Jews in Eastern and Western Europe and Africa, and the American Jewish immigrant experience; graphic novels about the lives of Jewish women; the Israel-centered graphic novel; and the Orthodox graphic novel. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography. No study of Jewish literature and art today can be complete without a survey of the graphic novel, and scholars, students, and graphic novel fans alike will delight in Tabachnick’s guide to this world of thought, sensibility, and artfulness.


Drawing from Life by Jane Tolmie (Editor)

ISBN: 9781617039058

Publication Date: 2013-11-01

Autobiography has seen enormous expansions and challenges over the past decades. One of these expansions has been in comics, and it is an expansion that pushes back against any postmodern notion of the death of the author/subject, while also demanding new approaches from critics. Drawing from Life: Memory and Subjectivity in Comic Art is a collection of essays about autobiography, semiautobiography, fictionalized autobiography, memory, and self-narration in sequential art, or comics. Contributors come from a range of academic backgrounds including English, American studies, comparative literature, gender studies, art history, and cultural studies. The book engages with well-known figures such as Art Spiegelman, Marjane Satrapi, and Alison Bechdel; with cult-status figures such as Martin Vaughn-James; and with lesser-known works by artists such as Frédéric Boilet. Negotiations between artist/writer/body and drawn/written/text raise questions of how comics construct identity, and are read and perceived, requiring a critical turn towards theorizing the comics’ viewer. At stake in comic memoir and semi-autobiography is embodiment. Remembering a scene with the intent of rendering it in sequential art requires nonlinear thinking and engagement with physicality. Who was in the room and where? What was worn? Who spoke first? What images dominated the encounter? Did anybody smile? Man or mouse? Unhinged from the summary paragraph, the comics artist must confront the fact of the flesh, or the corporeal world, and they do so with fascinating results.

Understanding Comics

This list links to the University of Toronto Library Catalogue. Title summaries can be found below this list:

Alternative Comics

Comics: a global history, 1968 to the present

Comics As a Nexus of Cultures

Graphic Novels: Everything you need to know

Reinventing Comics

Understanding Comics


Alternative Comics by Charles Hatfield

ISBN: 9781578067190

Publication Date: 2005-08-03

In the 1980s, a sea change occurred in comics. Fueled by Art Spiegel- man and Françoise Mouly’s avant-garde anthology Raw and the launch of the Love & Rockets series by Gilbert, Jaime, and Mario Hernandez, the decade saw a deluge of comics that were more autobiographical, emotionally realistic, and experimental than anything seen before. These alternative comics were not the scatological satires of the 1960s underground, nor were they brightly colored newspaper strips or superhero comic books. In Alternative Comics: An Emerging Literature, Charles Hatfield establishes the parameters of alternative comics by closely examining long-form comics, in particular the graphic novel. He argues that these are fundamentally a literary form and offers an extensive critical study of them both as a literary genre and as a cultural phenomenon. Combining sharp-eyed readings and illustrations from particular texts with a larger understanding of the comics as an art form, this book discusses the development of specific genres, such as autobiography and history. Alternative Comics analyzes such seminal works as Spiegelman’s Maus, Gilbert Hernandez’s Palomar: The Heartbreak Soup Stories, and Justin Green’s Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary. Hatfield explores how issues outside of cartooning-the marketplace, production demands, work schedules-can affect the final work. Using Hernandez’s Palomar as an example, he shows how serialization may determine the way a cartoonist structures a narrative. In a close look at Maus, Binky Brown, and Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor, Hatfield teases out the complications of creating biography and autobiography in a substantially visual medium, and shows how creators approach these issues in radically different ways. Charles Hatfield, Canyon Country, California, is an assistant professor of English at California State University, Northridge. His work has been published in ImageTexT, Inks: Cartoon and Comic Art Studies, Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, the Comics Journal, and other periodicals. See the author’s Web site at


Comics by Dan Mazur; Alexander Danner

ISBN: 9780500290965

Publication Date: 2014-06-17

Comics, manga, bandes dessinées, fumetti, tebeo, historietas… no matter the name, they have been a powerful medium across four continents for decades. This is the history of comics around the world from the late 1960s to the dawn of the 21st century. Comics is a richly illustrated narrative of extraordinary scope. Examples from all over the world include everything from Crumb and Kirby to RAW; from Metal Hurlant to Marjane Satrapi to nouvelle manga; from both the American mainstream and underground to the evolving and influential British scene. The images here are bright and colorful, dark and brooding, arresting and pleasant, all at the same time. An unprecedented collection includes around 260 expertly chosen illustrations, many reproduced in full-page format for more sophisticated analysis. The authors, two uniquely positioned and knowledgeable authorities, are the first to write a broadly comprehensive history of this most accessible, democratic, and occasionally subversive modern popular art form, displaying an intimate familiarity with schools and styles, writers, artists, and companies across countries and generations. In showing us both post-apocalyptic dreamscapes and portraits of the everyday, Comics looks at this thirty-plus year period through a very unique lens.


Comics As a Nexus of Cultures by Mark Berninger; Jochen Ecke (Editor); Gideon Haberkorn (Editor); Donald E. Palumbo (Editor); C. W. Sullivan III (Editor)

ISBN: 9780786439874

Publication Date: 2010-04-06

These essays from various critical disciplines examine how comic books and graphic narratives move between various media, while merging youth and adult cultures and popular and high art. The articles feature international perspectives on comics and graphic novels published in the U.S., Canada, Great Britain, Portugal, Germany, Turkey, India, and Japan. Topics range from film adaptation, to journalism in comics, to the current manga boom.


Graphic Novels by Paul Gravett

ISBN: 9780060824259

Publication Date: 2005-11-01

Graphic novels, long stories told in comics format, have enjoyed the fastest-growing sales of any category of book in the U.S. over the last four years. This modern renaissance of comics has produced a library of substantial works, whose subjects are not confined to superheroes or fantasy but are as varied and sophisticated as the best films and literature. Graphic Novels presents an accessible, entertaining, and highly illustrated guide to the diversity of contemporary comics in book form. Featuring striking graphics and explanatory extracts from a wide range of graphic novels, the book examines the specific language of the comics medium; the history and pioneers of the form; recent masterpieces from Art Spiegelman’s Maus to Chris Ware’s Jimmy Corrigan; the impact of Japanese manga and European albums translated into English; how artists have overcome prejudices towards the genre; and the ambitious range of themes and issues artists are addressing, including childhood, war and survival, politics, the future, sexuality, and the supernatural.


Reinventing Comics by Scott McCloud

ISBN: 9780060953508

Publication Date: 2000-07-25

In 1993, Scott McCloud tore down the wall between high and low culture with the acclaimed international hit Understanding Comics, a massive comic book that explored the inner workings of the worlds most misunderstood art form. Now, McCloud takes comics to te next leavle, charting twelve different revolutions in how comics are created, read, and preceived today, and how they’re poised to conquer the new millennium. Part One of this fascinating and in-depth book includes: The life of comics as an art form and as literture The battle for creators’ rights Reinventing the business of comics The volatile and shifting public percptions of comics Sexual and ethnic representation on comics Then in Part Two, McCloud paints a brethtaling picture of comics’ digital revolutions, including: The intricacies of digital production The exploding world of online delivery The ultimate challenges of the infinite digital canvas


Understanding Comics by Scott McCloud

ISBN: 9780060976255

Publication Date: 1994-04-27

Praised throughout the cartoon industry by such luminaries as Art Spiegelman, Matt Groening, and Will Eisner, this innovative comic book provides a detailed look at the history, meaning, and art of comics and cartooning.

Graphic Autobiographies by Women


Below are links to a selection of graphic autobiographies written by women that you will find at the University of Toronto Libraries:

Abouet, M., Oubrerie, C., & Dascher, D. (2008). Aya: Of Yop City. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Barry, L. (2002). One hundred demons. Berkeley, Calif.: Distributed by Publishers Group West.

Barry, L., & Kawula, K. (2010). Picture this. Montréal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly.

Barry, L. (2008). What it is. Montréal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly.

Bechdel, A. (2006). Fun home: A family tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Bell, G. (2006). Lucky. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly Books.

Bell, G., Seitchik, D., & Kaczynski, T. (2012). The voyeurs. Minneapolis, Minn: Uncivilized Books.

Chast, R. (2014). Can’t we talk about something more pleasant?.

Doucet, J. (2006). My most secret desire. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly.

Fitzgerald, Meags. (2015). Long Red Hair. Wolfville, Nova Scotia: Conundrum Press, 2015.

Gloeckner, P., & Crumb, R. (2000). A child’s life and other stories.

Gloeckner, P. (2015).  The diary of a teenage girl: an account in words and pictures. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Kominsky-Crumb, A. (2007). Need more love. London: MQ.

Knisley, L. (2008). Radiator days. Place of publication not identified: Lucy Knisley.

Obomsawin, D. (2014). On loving women. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly.           

Pond, M. (2014). Over easy

Prince, L. (2008). Delayed replays. New York: Top Shelf.

Rancourt, S. (2015). Melody. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis.

Tyler, C. (2015). Soldier’s heart: the campaign to understand my WWll veteran father: a daughter’s memoir. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics Books.


Newlevant, H., & Ostertag, M. (2015). Chainmail bikini: The anthology of women gamers.      

Graphic Autobiographies by Men


Below are links to a selection of graphic autobiographies written by men that you will find at the University of Toronto Libraries:

Backderf, D. (2012). My friend Dahmer: a graphic novel. New York: Abrams Comic Arts.

Brown, C. (2007). I never liked you: A comic-strip narrative. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Brown, C. (2011). Paying for it. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly.

Brown, C. (2006). The little man: Short strips, 1980-1995. Montréal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly.

Brown, C. (2013). The playboy: a comic-strip memoir. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly.

Brown, J. (2006). Clumsy: A novel. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.

Brown, J. (2009). Funny misshapen body. New York: Touchstone.

Crumb, R. (2013). The Weirdo years: 1981-’93.

Link to documentary about R. Crumb available digitally:

Delisle, G., & Dascher, H. (2013). A user’s guide to neglectful parenting.

Haspiel, D. (2015). Beef with tomato.

Hornschemeier, P. (2007). The three paradoxes. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics.

Kochalka, J. (2004). American Elf: The collected sketchbook diaries of James Kochalka. Marietta, Georgia: Top Shelf Productions.

Matt, J. (2002). Fair weather. Montreal: Drawn and Quarterly.

Matt, J. (2003). Peepshow: The cartoon diary of Joe Matt. Montréal: Drawn and Quarterly.

Nakazawa, K. (1990). Barefoot Gen: The day after : a cartoon story of Hiroshima. Penguin.

Nilsen, A., & In Thompson, K. (2013). The end.

Pekar, H., Brown, K., & Budgett, G. (2003). American splendor: The life and times of Harvey Pekar : stories. New York: Ballantine Books.

American Splendor: electronic resource

Seth. (1996). It’s a good life, if you don’t weaken: [a picture-novella. Montreal, Quebec: Drawn & Quarterly Publications.

Spiegelman, A. (2003). Maus: A survivor’s tale. London: Penguin.

Spiegelman, A. (2011). MetaMaus. New York: Pantheon Books

Tomine, A. (1995). Optic nerve. Montreal, Que: Drawn & Quarterly Publications.

Thompson, C. (2015). Blankets: A graphic novel.

Bibliographies: Additional Reading Lists by Popular Themes in Graphic Autobiography

Graphic Autobiographies on Childhood and Adolescence


Below are links to a selection of graphic autobiographies written about childhood that you will find at the University of Toronto:

Backderf, D. (2012). My friend Dahmer: a graphic novel. New York: Abrams Comic Arts.

Barry, L. (2002). One hundred demons. Berkeley, Calif.: Distributed by Publishers Group West.

Bechdel, A. (2006). Fun home: A family tragicomic. Boston: Houghton Mifflin.

Bell, C., Lasky, D., & Amulet Books,. (2014). El Deafo.

Brown, C. (2007). I never liked you: A comic-strip narrative. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Brown, C. (1992). The playboy: A comic book. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Brown, J. (2003). Unlikely: A true love story. Marietta, GA: Top Shelf Productions.

Gloeckner, P., & Crumb, R. (2000). A child’s life and other stories.

Gloeckner, P. (2015).  The diary of a teenage girl: an account in words and pictures. Berkley, CA: North Atlantic Books.

Gownley, J. (2014). The dumbest idea ever.  New York: Graphix.

Nakazawa, K. (1990). Barefoot Gen: The day after : a cartoon story of Hiroshima. Penguin.

Prince, L. (2014). Tomboy: a graphic memoir. California: Zest Books.

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis.

Small, D. (2009). Stitches: A memoir. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart.

Thompson, C. (2015). Blankets: A graphic novel.

Not yet in U of T catalogue:

Thrash, M. (2015). Honor girl: a graphic memoir.

Tolstikova, D. (2015). A Year Without Mom. Groundwood Books.

Graphic Life Narratives For Young Adults


Below are links to a selection of YA graphic life narratives that you will find at the University of Toronto:

Bell, C., Lasky, D., & Amulet Books,. (2014). El Deafo.

Brown, C. (2007). I never liked you: A comic-strip narrative. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Prince, L. (2014). Tomboy: a graphic memoir. California: Zest Books.

Tamaki, M., Tamaki, J. (2008). Skim. Toronto: Groundwood Books.

Tamaki, M., Tamaki, J. (2014). This One Summer. Toronto: Groundwood Books.


Graphic Travel Autobiographies/ Journalism/ Travelogue/ Ethnographic Diaries


Delisle, G., & Dascher, H. (2012). Jerusalem: Chronicles from the Holy City. Montréal: Drawn & Quarterly.

Delisle, G., & Dascher, H. (2007). Pyongyang: A journey in North Korea.

Knisley, L. (2014). An age of license.

Knisley, L. (2008). French milk.

Neufeld, J. (2009). A.D.: New Orleans after the deluge. New York: Pantheon Books.

Sacco, J. (2009). Footnotes in Gaza. New York: Metropolitan Books.

Sacco, J. (2005). Palestine. Seattle, Wash: Fantagraphics.

Graphic Autobiographies on Physical and Mental Illness, Including Trauma and Grief


Below are links to a selection of graphic autobiographies about physical and mental illness that you will find at the University of Toronto Libraries, alphabetical by author’s last name.

B, D. (2006). Epileptic. New York: Pantheon Books.

Barry, L. (2002). One hundred demons. Berkeley, Calif.: Distributed by Publishers Group West. (Trauma; sexual abuse)

Bell, C., Lasky, D., & Amulet Books,. (2014). El Deafo. (Hearing impairment)

Brabner, J., Pekar, H., & Stack, F. (1994). Our cancer year. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press.

Cunningham, D. (2011). Psychiatric tales: Eleven graphic stories about mental illness. New York: Bloomsbury.

Davidson, A. (2003). The Spiral Cage: diary of an astral gypsy. Los Angeles: CA. (Severe spina bifida)

Dunlap-Shohl, P. (2015). My degeneration: a journey through Parkinson’s. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.

Engelberg, M. (2006). Cancer made me a shallower person: A memoir in comics. New York: Harper.

Farmer, J. (2014). Special exits: A graphic memoir. (Aging; adult children with older parents; family relationships)

Fies, B. (2008). Mom’s cancer.

Forney, Ellen. (2012). Marbles: mania, depression, Michelangelo, and me: a graphic memoir. New York: Gothem Books.

Freedman, M. (2014). Relatively indolent but relentless: a cancer treatment journal. New york: Seven Stories Press.

Green, K. (2013). Lighter than my shadow. (Eating disorders)

Hart, T. Lightning, R., & Corman, L. (2016). Rosalie Lightning. New York: St. Martin’s Press. (Grieving)

Hayden, J. (2015). The story of my tits. (Breast neoplasms; breast cancer; mastectomy)

Leavitt, S. (2010). Tangles: A story about Alzheimer’s, my mother, and me. Calgary: Freehand Books.

Nakazawa, K. (1990). Barefoot Gen: The day after : a cartoon story of Hiroshima. Penguin.

Nilsen, A. (2012). Don’t go where I can’t follow. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly. (Partner’s battle with cancer)

Porcellino, J. (2014). The hospital suite. (Anxiety; illness)

Potts, P. (2010). Good eggs: a memoir. New York, NY: Harper. (Infertility; pregnancy)

Marchetto, M. A. (2006). Cancer vixen: a true story. New York: Pantheon Books

Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis. (Depression; trauma)

Small, D. (2009). Stitches: A memoir. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. (Trauma; abuse; anxiety; depression)

Streeten, N. (2011). Billy, me, & you: a memoir of grief and recovery. Brighten, England: Myriad Editions.

Tristram, M. (2014). Probably nothing: a diary of not-your-average nine months. London: Viking. (Cancer and pregnancy)

Will, E.M. (2013). Look straight ahead: a graphic novel. Saskatchewan: Cuckoo’s Nest Press. (Anxiety; depression; mental health)

(2013)The Storyteller’s eye: Comics about illness & caregiving, science & medicine, by students in the biomedical communications graduate program, University of Toronto.  Compiled by Shelley L. Wall. Toronto: BMC.

Woollcott, T. (2009). Mirror mind. Toronto, Ont: T. Woollcott. (Dyslexia)

Links to webcomics, tumblrs, zines, and blogs with graphic autobiographical work on mental and physical illness

I Do Not Have an Eating Disorder by Khale McHurst  (only available on Facebook, I believe)

Jason Bradshaw:

Jenn Woodall (anxiety):

Sarafin; “mad pride” (experience being in the psychiatric system):

Sylvia Reuter:

Other Themes in Graphic Autobiography

All books listed below are available through the University of Toronto Library Catalogue.



The Diary of a Teenage Girl by Phoebe Gloeckner

ISBN: 9781623170349

Publication Date: 2015-07-21

First released in 2002, this provocative, critically acclaimed novel is now a major motion picture starring Bel Powley, Kristen Wiig, and Alexander Skarsgård.   “I don’t remember being born. I was a very ugly child. My appearance has not improved so I guess it was a lucky break when he was attracted by my youthfulness.” So begins the wrenching diary of Minnie Goetze, a fifteen-year-old girl longing for love and acceptance and struggling with her own precocious sexuality. After losing her virginity to her mother’s boyfriend, Minnie pursues a string of sexual encounters (with both boys and girls) while experimenting with drugs and developing her talents as an artist. Unsupervised and unguided by her aloof and narcissistic mother, Minnie plunges into a defenseless, yet fearless adolescence.   While set in the libertine atmosphere of 1970s San Francisco, Minnie’s journey to understand herself and her world is universal: this is the story of a young woman troubled by the discontinuity between what she thinks and feels and what she observes in those around her. Acclaimed cartoonist and author Phoebe Gloeckner serves up a deft blend of visual and verbal narrative in her complex presentation of a pivotal year in a girl’s life, recounted in diary pages and illustrations, with full narrative sequences in comics form. The Diary of a Teenage Girl offers a searing comment on adult society as seen though the eyes of a young woman on the verge of joining it.   This edition has been updated by the author with an introduction reflecting on the book’s critical reception and value as diary or novel, historical document or work of art. Also included in this revised edition are supplementary photographs and illustrations from the author’s childhood, including some of her own diary entries. “Phoebe Gloeckner… is creating some of the edgiest work about young women’s lives in any medium.”–The New York Times   “One of the most brutally honest, shocking, tender and beautiful portrayals of growing up female in America.”–Salon   “It’s the most honest depiction of sexuality in a long, long time; as a meditation on adolescence, it picks up a literary ball that’s been only fitfully carried after Salinger.”–

Childhood Narratives and Nostalgia


ISBN: 9781894994958

Sexuality, Queerness, Gender, and Identity


On Loving Women by Diane Obomsawin; Helge Dascher (Translator)

ISBN: 9781770461406

Publication Date: 2014-02-18

“On Loving Women is in turns wistful, sexy, goofy, bittersweet, frank, and adorable. Diane Obomsawin’s deceptively simple lifework and straightforward writing style capture the breathless sweetness of holding another girl’s hand for the first time, and the happy, lusty intimacy of a virginity-ending, drunken threesome. Delightful.”–Ellen Forney, author ofMarbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me Intimate vignettes of women coming out On Loving Womenis a new collection of stories about coming out, first love, and sexual identity by the animator Diane Obomsawin. With this work, Obomsawin brings her gaze to bear on subjects closer to home–her friends’ and lovers’ personal accounts of realizing they’re gay or first finding love with another woman. Each story is a master class in reaching the emotional truth of a situation with the simplest means possible. Her stripped-down pages use the bare minimum of linework to expressively reveal heartbreak, joy, irritation, and fear. On Loving Women focuses primarily on adolescence–crushes on high school teachers, awkwardness on first dates–but also addresses much deeper-seated difficulties of being out: fears of rejection and of not being who others want one to be. Within these pages, Obomsawin has forged a poignant, powerful narrative that speaks to the difficulties of coming out and the joys of being loved. Her first English-language work,Kaspar–a retelling of the life of Kaspar Hauser, the mysterious German youth who was raised in isolation and murdered just a few years after emerging from his imprisonment–was critically lauded for its simple but expressive storytelling, and for the way it portrayed traumatic material compassionately but without self-indulgence.

 Diary Narratives

Link to U of T catalogue for resources on diary narratives and life writing:

Diary narratives

Bunkers, S. L., & Huff, C. A. (1996). Inscribing the daily: Critical essays on women’s diaries. Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press.

Johnson, A. (1997). The hidden writer: Diaries and the creative life. New York: Doubleday

Kagle, S. E. (1979). American diary literature, 1620-1799. Boston: Twayne Publishers.


The Hidden Writer by Alexandra Johnson

ISBN: 0385478291

Publication Date: 1997-04-14

In October, 1928 Virginia Woolf sat at her trestle writing table, a notebook open before her, and wrote, “Whom do I tell when I tell a blank page? ” It’s a question that generations of readers and writers searching to map a creative life have also asked of their own diaries. No other document quite compares with the intimacies and yearnings, the confessions and desires as those revealed in the pages of a diary.The Hidden Writeris the first book to focus on how each generation of writers has used the diary to independently solve a common set of creative and life questions. Organized chronologically, the book traces the creative arc of seven writers from age seven to seventy, showing how the diary, as catalyst, helped shape the work and life. Presenting seven portraits of literary and creative lives, Alexandra Johnson illuminates the secret world of writers and their diaries. A time-lapse study of confidence,The Hidden Writershows how seven very different writers all used the diary to negotiate the obstacle course of silence and ambition, envy, voice and fame. Sofia Tolstoy’s diary describes the conflict between love and vocation; in Katherine Mansfield’s and Virginia Woolf’s friendship and writings, the nettle of rivalry among equals is pursued, and in Alice James’ diary, started at age 40, the feelings of competition within a creative family are elaborated. Winner of the PEN /Jerard Fund Award Special Citation for a non-fiction work in progress,The Hidden Writeris essential for anyone interested in the connection between diaries and creative life. “

Postcolonialism, and Critical Race Studies


Black Comix by John Jennings; Keith Knight (Introduction by); Damian Duffy

ISBN: 9780984190652

Publication Date: 2010-07-27

The immense popularity of comics and graphic novels cannot be ignored. But in light of the comics boom that has taken place over the past 10 years, the artists, writers and publishers that make up the vibrant African American independent comics community have remained relatively unknown -nbsp;until now. Black Comix brings together an unprecedented collection of largely unheard of, and undeniably masterful, comics art while also framing the work of these men and women in a broader historical and cultural context. With a foreword by Keith Knight and over 50 contributors, including Phonzie Davis, Jan-Michael Franklin, Frances Liddell, Kenjji Marshall, Lance Tooks, Rob Stull, Ashley A. Woods and many, more, the cross section of comics genres represented includes manga, superheroes, humor, history, science fiction and fantasy. This book is a must-have for comics readers.


Multicultural Comics by Frederick Luis Aldama (Editor); Derek Parker Royal (Foreword by)

ISBN: 9780292722811

Publication Date: 2010-09-15

Multicultural Comics: From Zap to Blue Beetle is the first comprehensive look at comic books by and about race and ethnicity. The thirteen essays tease out for the general reader the nuances of how such multicultural comics skillfully combine visual and verbal elements to tell richly compelling stories that gravitate around issues of race, ethnicity, gender, and sexuality within and outside the U.S. comic book industry. Among the explorations of mainstream and independent comic books are discussions of the work of Adrian Tomine, Grant Morrison, and Jessica Abel as well as Marv Wolfman and Gene Colan’s The Tomb of Dracula; Native American Anishinaabe-related comics; mixed-media forms such as Kerry James Marshall’s comic-book/community performance; DJ Spooky’s visual remix of classic film; the role of comics in India; and race in the early Underground Comix movement. The collection includes a “one-stop shop” for multicultural comic book resources, such as archives, websites, and scholarly books. Each of the essays shows in a systematic, clear, and precise way how multicultural comic books work in and of themselves and also how they are interconnected with a worldwide tradition of comic-book storytelling.


Postcolonial Comics by Binita Mehta (Editor); Pia Mukherji (Editor)

ISBN: 9780415738132

Publication Date: 2015-05-20

This collection examines new comic-book cultures, graphic writing, and bande dessinée texts as they relate to postcolonialism in contemporary Anglophone and Francophone settings. The individual chapters are framed within a larger enquiry that considers definitive aspects of the postcolonial condition in twenty-first-century (con)texts. The authors demonstrate that the fields of comic-book production and circulation in various regional histories introduce new postcolonial vocabularies, reconstitute conventional “image-functions” in established social texts and political systems, and present competing narratives of resistance and rights. In this sense, postcolonial comic cultures are of particular significance in the context of a newly global and politically recomposed landscape. This volume introduces a timely intervention within current comic-book-area studies that remain firmly situated within the “U.S.-European and Japanese manga paradigms” and their reading publics. It will be of great interest to a wide variety of disciplines including postcolonial studies, comics-area studies, cultural studies, and gender studies.


Drawing New Color Lines by Monica Chiu

ISBN: 9789888139385

Publication Date: 2015-03-31

The global circulation of comics, manga, and other such visual mediums between North America and Asia produces transnational meanings no longer rooted in a separation between “Asian” and “American.” Drawing New Color Lines explores the culture, production, and history of contemporary graphic narratives that depict Asian Americans and Asians. It examines how Japanese manga and Asian popular culture have influenced Asian American comics; how these comics and Asian American graphic narratives depict the “look” of race; and how these various representations are interpreted in nations not of their production. By focusing on what graphic narratives mean for audiences in North America and those in Asia, the collection discusses how Western theories about the ways in which graphic narratives might successfully overturn derogatory caricatures are themselves based on contested assumptions; and illustrates that the so-called odorless images featured in Japanese manga might nevertheless elicit interpretations about race in transnational contexts. With contributions from experts based in North America and Asia, Drawing New Color Lines will be of interest to scholars in a variety of disciplines, including Asian American studies, cultural and literary studies, comics and visual studies.


Black Women in Sequence by Deborah Elizabeth Whaley

ISBN: 9780295994963

Publication Date: 2015-11-01

Black Women in Sequence takes readers on a search for women of African descent in comics subculture. From the 1971 appearance of the Skywald Publications character “the Butterfly” – the first Black female superheroine in a comic book – to contemporary comic books, graphic novels, film, manga, and video gaming, a growing number of Black women are becoming producers, viewers, and subjects of sequential art. As the first detailed investigation of Black women’s participation in comic art, Black Women in Sequence examines the representation, production, and transnational circulation of women of African descent in the sequential art world. In this groundbreaking study, which includes interviews with artists and writers, Deborah Whaley suggests that the treatment of the Black female subject in sequential art says much about the place of people of African descent in national ideology in the United States and abroad. For more information visit the author’s website:!black-women-in-sequence/c65q

Religious and Ethnic Identities

The exploration of religion and ethnicity in relation to identity is an important trend within the graphic life narrative.


The Complete MAUS by Art Spiegelman

ISBN: 0141014083

Publication Date: 2003-10-02

The Complete Maus by Art Spiegelman – the Pulitzer prize-winning Holocaust survivor story ‘The most affecting and successful narrative ever done about the Holocaust’ Wall Street Journal ‘The first masterpiece in comic book history’ The New Yorker The Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus tells the story of Vladek Spiegelman, a Jewish survivor of Hitler’s Europe, and his son, a cartoonist coming to terms with his father’s story. Maus approaches the unspeakable through the diminutive. Its form, the cartoon (the Nazis are cats, the Jews mice), shocks us out of any lingering sense of familiarity and succeeds in ‘drawing us closer to the bleak heart of the Holocaust’ (The New York Times). Maus is a haunting tale within a tale. Vladek’s harrowing story of survival is woven into the author’s account of his tortured relationship with his aging father. Against the backdrop of guilt brought by survival, they stage a normal life of small arguments and unhappy visits. This astonishing retelling of our century’s grisliest news is a story of survival, not only of Vladek but of the children who survive even the survivors. Maus studies the bloody pawprints of history and tracks its meaning for all of us. This combined, definitive edition includes Maus I: A Survivor’s Tale and Maus II. Art Spiegelman is a contributing editor and artist for the New Yorker. His drawings and prints have been exhibited in museums and galleries around the world. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Maus, and a Guggenheim fellowship. It was also nominated for the National Book Critics Award. His other books include: Breakdowns: From Maus to Now, an Anthology of Strips; The Wild Party; Open Me, I’m A Dog; Jack Cole and Plastic Man: Forms Stretched to Their Limits; In the Shadow of No Towers; Breakdowns: Portrait of the Artist as a Young %@&*!; Be a Nose; Jack and the Box and MetaMaus. He lives in New York.


Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi

ISBN: 9780375714573

Publication Date: 2004-06-01

A New York Times Notable Book A Time Magazine “Best Comix of the Year” A San Francisco Chronicle and Los Angeles Times Best-seller Wise, funny, and heartbreaking, Persepolis is Marjane Satrapi’s memoir of growing up in Iran during the Islamic Revolution. In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country. Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love.


The Jewish Graphic Novel by Samantha Baskind (Contribution by, Editor); Miriam Libicki (Contribution by); Cheryl Malcolm (Contribution by); Erin McGlothlin (Contribution by); Lisa Mulman (Contribution by); Brad Praeger (Contribution by); Alon Raab (Contribution by); Laurence Roth (Contribution by); J. Waldman (Foreword by); Ranen Omer-Sherman (Contribution by, Editor); Jeremy Dauber (Contribution by); Paul Eisenstein (Contribution by); Roxanne Harde (Contribution by); Marla Harris (Contribution by); Miriam Harris (Contribution by); Ariel Kahn (Contribution by); Josh Lambert (Contribution by)

ISBN: 9780813543673

Publication Date: 2008-10-29

In the 1970s and 1980s Jewish cartoonists such as Will Eisner were some of the first artists to use the graphic novel as a way to explore their ethnicity. Although similar to their pop culture counterpart, the comic book, graphic novels presented weightier subject matter in more expensive packaging, which appealed to an adult audience and gained them credibility as a genre. The Jewish Graphic Novel is a lively, interdisciplinary collection of essays that addresses critically acclaimed works in this subgenre of Jewish literary and artistic culture. Featuring insightful discussions of notable figures in the industryùsuch as Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, and Joann Sfarùthe essays focus on the how graphic novels are increasingly being used in Holocaust memoir and fiction, and to portray Jewish identity in America and abroad Featuring more than 85 illustrations, this collection is a compelling representation of a major postmodern ethnic and artistic achievement.


The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel by Stephen E. Tabachnick

ISBN: 9780817318215

Publication Date: 2014-06-30

Many Jewish artists and writers contributed to the creation of popular comics and graphic novels, and in The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel, Stephen E. Tabachnick takes readers on an engaging tour of graphic novels that explore themes of Jewish identity and belief. The creators of Superman (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster), Batman (Bob Kane and Bill Finger), and the Marvel superheroes (Stan Lee and Jack Kirby), were Jewish, as was the founding editor of Mad magazine (Harvey Kurtzman). They often adapted Jewish folktales (like the Golem) or religious stories (such as the origin of Moses) for their comics, depicting characters wrestling with supernatural people and events. Likewise, some of the most significant graphic novels by Jews or about Jewish subject matter deal with questions of religious belief and Jewish identity. Their characters wrestle with belief#151;or nonbelief#151;in God, as well as with their own relationship to the Jews, the historical role of the Jewish people, the politics of Israel, and other issues related to Jewish identity. In The Quest for Jewish Belief and Identity in the Graphic Novel, Stephen E. Tabachnick delves into the vivid kaleidoscope of Jewish beliefs and identities, ranging from Orthodox belief to complete atheism, and a spectrum of feelings about identification with other Jews. He explores graphic novels at the highest echelon of the genre by more than thirty artists and writers, among them Harvey Pekar (American Splendor), Will Eisner (A Contract with God), Joann Sfar (The Rabbi’s Cat), Miriam Katin (We Are On Our Own), Art Spiegelman (Maus), J. T. Waldman (Megillat Esther), Aline Kominsky Crumb (Need More Love), James Sturm (The Golem’s Mighty Swing), Leela Corman (Unterzakhn), Ari Folman and David Polonsky (Waltz with Bashir), David Mairowitz and Robert Crumb’s biography of Kafka, and many more. He also examines the work of a select few non-Jewish artists, such as Robert Crumb and Basil Wolverton, both of whom have created graphic adaptations of parts of the Hebrew Bible. Among the topics he discusses are graphic novel adaptations of the Bible; the Holocaust graphic novel; graphic novels about the Jews in Eastern and Western Europe and Africa, and the American Jewish immigrant experience; graphic novels about the lives of Jewish women; the Israel-centered graphic novel; and the Orthodox graphic novel. The book concludes with an extensive bibliography. No study of Jewish literature and art today can be complete without a survey of the graphic novel, and scholars, students, and graphic novel fans alike will delight in Tabachnick’s guide to this world of thought, sensibility, and artfulness.

More themes:

Witnessing and Memory

Mental and Physical Health

Ethics and Privacy Issues

Zines and Women’s Graphic Autobiographies

The following is adapted from my first blog post on women’s autobiographical writing:

Women’s graphic life narratives are also rooted in zine culture and self-publication, and zines have their origins in print activism, politically motivated leaflets and pamphlets that were self-published in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and later the Suffragette printing press (1900 Golding press, pamphlets).  Zines also have roots in “fanzines” which have been around hundreds of years, for example science fiction fan zines in the 1930’s, and also Dada and avant garde art pamphlets, and beat poet chapbooks. Zines now especially seem to draw from the DIY aesthetics of the feminist punk movement (such as Riot grrrl in the 1990’s) which started in Washington, and spread to the greater Pacific Northwest, including bands like Bakini Kill headed by Kathleen Hanna—and the list goes on (Bartel, 2004, p. 5-9). Zines are a subversive genre because they are uncensored, and often not reviewed, unlike mainstream publications. The content of zines, especially perzines with personal narratives, or political zines, can be subversive and potentially offend some readers, but as zine librarian Julie Bartel suggests, they absolutely accord with the American Library Association’s Library Bill of Rights, in the policy that states, “books and other library resources should be provided for the interest, information, and enlightenment for all people of the community the library serves”; and also in the statement, “libraries should provide materials and information providing all points of view on current and historical issues” (Bartel, 2004, p. 27). As a genre, zines also provoke participation; as Julie Bartel suggests, creating a zine “implies a longing for that ‘I’m not the only one’ moment where people connect and realize they share some of the same experiences and emotions” (2004, p. 20). Many zinesters are also believers in DIY lifestyle practices, including making and teachingothers how to make (Bartel, 2004, p. 21). Comics share in this reader/writer comeraderie.

Graphic autobiographies, like zines, also build diverse communities of readerships and makers, however they do so through publication and mainstream distribution. Lynda Barry privileges the reader/writer camaraderie through incorporating DIY tutorials into her now mainstream comics. In her autobiographical comics, Barry includes colouring templates, craft-making instructions, art supply tips, and even paper dolls, compelling readers to participate in the form, create, play, and produce their own narratives; at the end of her book What It Is, Barry offers the reader painting tips, and even shares where she purchases her art supplies (2008). In their very nature, graphic autobiographies and comics rely on a collaborative process between reader and writer. As comic theorist Scott McCloud points out, comics are “a medium where the audience is a willing and conscious collaborator and closure is the agent of change, time, and motion” (Understanding Comics 65); the reader must participate in creating meaning from complex layered narration.


Bartel, J. (2004). From A to zine: Building a winning zine collection in your library. Chicago: American Library Association.

From A to Zine: Building a Winning Zine Collection in Your Library by Julie Bartel is an excellent guide for public librarians on the history or zines and advice for building and justifying a collection. This book also includes other useful resources such as: a list of review zines, online printing resources, contact information for a wide variety of zine publications, e-zines, blogs about zines, chat lists, distros (distributors), zine fairs, existing zine libraries, and stores that carry zines. However, this book focuses on the United States.

Toronto Zine and Autobiographical Comic Resources

Comic and Zine Festivals

Both events below are free!

TCAF, The Toronto Comic Arts Festival:

“TCAF is The Toronto Comic Arts Festival. It is a week long celebration of comics and graphic novels and their creators, which culminates in a two-day exhibition and vendor fair featuring hundreds of comics creators from around the world. Other Festival events include readings, interviews, panels, workshops, gallery shows, art installations, and much more. Since 2009, TCAF has been held at Toronto Reference Library in Toronto, Canada, and presented by Toronto Public Library.”

Link to TCAF website for more information on festival

Canzine, Festival of Zines and Underground Culture:

2015: “Canada’s largest festival of zines and underground culture comes to the Art Gallery of Ontario this fall. Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2015, Canzine is the place to check out zines and small press works from over 200 vendors.”

Link to Art Gallery of Ontario website for more information about the 2015 Canzine festival

Link to Broken Pencil Magaizne website for more information about the 2017 Canzine festival

Special Collections Outside of the University of Toronto

OCAD U Zine Library

“The OCAD U Zine Library is an ever-growing collection of self-published and handmade objects located in the Learning Zone at OCAD University. The collection was created to inspire, educate and entertain, to encourage collaboration between OCAD U students and to open up the world of zines for readers and creators everywhere!”

Note: The OCAD Zine Library is located in the OCAD Learning Zone building at 100 McCaul Street, Toronto, ON. 

“Members of the public are welcome to visit the zine library any time the Learning Zone is open. Please refer to the Learning Zone hours before your visit. The Learning Zone is a secured space, requiring card swipe access. Members of the public may simply knock on the door and indicate to the staff that they would like to view the zine collection to gain access.”

Their zines are now available to the public online through Artstor’s Shared Shelf Commons: Link

Link to Dorothy H. Hoover Library website for more information about the Zine Library and Learning Zone 

Links to other zine resources, taken from the OCAD Zine Library Website:

Toronto Zine Library

“The Toronto Zine Library is run by a collective of zine readers, zine makers and librarians who are looking to make zines more accessible in Toronto. The Toronto Zine Library can be found on the second floor of the Tranzac Club, 292 Brunswick Avenue.”

Arrow Archive

“Arrow Archive originally opened in The Steel City (Hamilton, Ontario) as The Hamilton Zine Library. HZL opened in fall 2007 at the Sky Dragon Center based on a small personal collection. The HZL made a reluctant but needed move in fall 2010. The Arrow Archive now lives and thrives in Guelph, Ontario. The Arrow has now grown to over 900 titles and is still growing.”

Anchor Archive Zine Library

“Located in Halifax, the Anchor Archive Zine Library has a collection over over 4000 zines that can be browsed and borrowed.”

Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP)

 “The Queer Zine Archive Project (QZAP) is an online archive which works to preserve queer zines and make them available to other queers, researchers, historians, punks, and anyone else who has an interest DIY publishing and underground queer communities.”

Graphic Autobiographies: Adaptations and Documentaries

Film Adaptation of Harvey Pekar’s American Splendor (1994)

Film Adaptation of American Splendor directed by Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini (2003)

This film features Harvey Pekar as himself, as well as Paul Giamatti playing Harvey Pekar (and Paul Giamatti as himself).

Documentary on R. Crumb by Terry Zwiigoff (1994)

Documentary on Crumb by Terry Zwigoff

Documentary on Art Spiegleman’s Maus

YouTube: BBC documentary in which cartoonist Art Spiegelman and his partner Françoise Mouly go back to Poland to continue the inquiries into the Holocaust first presented in his book MAUS.

Film Adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis (2007)

Film Adaptation of Marjane Satrapi’s graphic memoir Persepolis

Websites of Interest

Comics in General

The Grand Comics Database Project:

  • A volunteer run and searchable database of comics, great for primary material, and for historical information regarding comics.

Comics Research:

  • Includes an annotated bibliography for various aspects of comics research, and is regularly updated.


That’s it!

I would be happy to answer any questions! Please let me know if there is something I should add or clarify.


💖 Women Who Draw: an open directory of female illustrators, artists, and cartoonists

Women Who Draw is an open directory of female illustrators, artists, and cartoonists created by two women artists, Julia Rothman and Wendy MacNaughton, in an effort to increase visibility of women, women of color, LBTQ , trans, and gender non-conforming artists in all fields.

via Women Who Draw — Discover

Also (from their website):

On Collecting Books, and How Objects Haunt Us and Piece Us Together


I have been a collector for a very long time, taking pleasure in the way objects are arranged around me in the various rooms of houses and apartments where I have lived. When I was a child I would intricately arrange objects along the shelves and ledges of my bedroom and curate new arrangements every few weeks as if I worked in a museum—the Bonnebell diamond lip glosses, Claire’s accessories and tchotchkes, Sailor Moon cards, seashells, Madeleine L’Engle and Kit Pearson novels, post cards, Aqua CDs, and other assorted items were specimens of utmost importance.

A home is not a home, I believe, without a few book piles waiting to be read, or curated to remind you of certain things such as memories, or people you have met, or important characters that teach you something about the world and yourself. My old apartments were likely fire hazards, with their combination of book piles, oil lamps, candles, and for a few years my roommate’s chubby unpredictable demon-possessed cuddly bitey helplessly mollycoddled cat named Spaz.

Books remind me of where I have been and where I would like to go, and memories surrounding the moment of discovering the book.

I wonder if digital culture can ever offer something like the second hand book’s trace of human presence— ephemera like grocery lists, old photographs, and post cards? Is there an E-book or MP3 equivalent to the second hand? There are hidden codes online that signify human action, tracing the development of web pages and activity, but you really have to dig to decode those stories; you have to become a detective. Those little clones of  information, like the MP3 or E-book, may take their first breath at our fingertips and then be deleted forever.

Sometimes it seems as though we are hoarders of information in the digital age. With virtual collections, we can forget what we own. We can consume and collect far more than we can meaningfully interact with, and since we forget what we have, we gather more—and more is always shoved in our faces. This is in part thanks to ads that are sometimes creepily tailored to our online activities, and sometimes our activities that are not online. We are bombarded with news stories every few seconds, or information rather than news, so much so that it is difficult for many people to distinguish fact from fiction, sense from nonsense.

Walter Benjamin wrote about how in the pre Internet era we already had more information and culture than one individual could digest, but it was not within a clicks reach; quantity smothers quality sometimes (agrees the collector), and yet the abundance and globalization of information means greater accessibility, and inadequate access to information is a huge barrier for wellness, education—and online communities of people can combat loneliness, or the feeling of isolation, or the feeling of being a freak (because the Internet has shown us that we are all freaky)—but then communities of like-minded people are sometimes prejudiced, or  spread hate, or bully, and so on. There is so much good about the Internet, and there is so much bad, and I can go on and on and become very anxious and hide beneath my covers, or I can take a deep breath and return to a comforting topic, like my book collection.

In pursuit of books while traveling, I stroll used bookstores. In Toronto if you are lucky enough to live downtown and be able to walk everywhere you can come across books gently placed on sidewalks in front of old character houses downtown; sometimes just in time to rescue them before it rains. Otherwise, I spend far too long looking at books at BMV (where you can disappear) and Ten Editions (one of those mythological used bookstores with ladders that slide across the shelves and piles of ephemera everywhere like in an eclectic relative’s ancient attic, that will likely close and disappear sadly any day now).

Most people do not come across books in this wandering way anymore; instead book purchasing has turned into a finger click on an Amazon page or other website; there are virtual cities you can only wander by staring at the screen. What will happen to those poor overlooked and abandoned creatures if the book becomes obsolete? I wonder what will happen to us? Maybe I am being a bit hyperbolic—but there is something special about the book as a physical artifact and the way we can interact with it and see hints of other peoples’ lives and the provenance of the object. And it feels so nice in our hands.

Digital collections are easier for me to forget; it is easier for me to accrue more and more online or digitally without meaningfully engaging with the information; because of this, everything attached to an online media, even the experience of reading an ebook or searching for and listening to music files, feels less significant, and I feel like I am somehow less.

Plus, there is something nice about showing off your collections and aesthetic choices to a friend, like wearing a funny cute bright outfit that speaks about who you are in a way that can be difficult to articulate otherwise. How will people know who I am—this is is a fear I sometimes have—when I can’t show off the objects I covet? Facebook and blogs enable us to curate our lives with online photo albums and display pages of our likes and interests, but I am always skeptical of the sincerity of this information. Objects can act as mirrors, that reflect how we desire to be seen; objects help us organize our world into a more manageable size, allow us to feel control over our environment; they are good luck, they are placebos, and they are talismans.

Collections also leave us wanting more—they are never complete. They give us something special to live for, including the communities, stories, and mythologies surrounding our objects. Most collectors have a constant craving for that missing piece, or if their collection is miraculously complete, they move on to the next one.

Collecting is also a history lesson, a way to connect the past to the present and in doing so find significance and meaning in objects and in life. Our archives shape our future, who we are, and one collection leads to an offshoot collection, and together they map out our identities and experiences. Books visibly and physically are filled with more history and weight than digital collections. Objects in our collections speak to each other and tell a story of their period, region, craftsmanship, and owners. Collections make me feel so small in this way, like staring up at the night sky filled with thousands of other planets and stars—because objects are ours for such a brief period of time and then they move on to a new fate.

Objects are a disguise, another layer of performance we shroud ourselves in like a cozy protective blanket; we are ephemeral, not the objects. To me ghosts are little notes and drawings in books calling out; they are stories we create and encounter that spark our imagination and haunt us so that we think about the past.

However, there is something liberating in traveling, with only a novella or two, or without any of my objects, and feeling free to be anyone and let people guess about who I am; and of course, we are more than our objects, and objects sometimes give us a false sense of security, purpose, or power, and we often fall into the trap of consumerism, capitalism, hermit tendencies (I am guilty of this too often), and so on—but I love the feeling of being a collector and the moment of discovery, and I would not give this up for anything. My collection of books also offers me the security, or illusion, of remembering who I am, a defense against forgetfulness and the vanishing of important memories. Books offer a reliable future and adventures; I can’t possibly die soon, because I have entirely too much to read.

There is also something powerful about creating objects that have some sort of permanence in the world, like clay dolls or drawings, even if they end up in your neighbor’s garbage or in a box in the back of your great aunt’s closet—maybe they will mean something to someone, maybe they will provoke a mystery or fill some void of longing in someone’s life. I enjoyed the feeling of looking like a mad scientist when I frantically made clay dolls several years ago; my roommate would come home from work to walk in the kitchen and see cookie sheets filled with fresh clay body parts, or Styrofoam blocks with metal interiors of legs and arms sticking up—and I felt like a character in a book.


Leonora Carrington’s The Hearing Trumpet, several Lynda Barry books, Diane Arbus’s An Aperture Monograph, and Pablo Holmberg’S Eden are current talismans in my living room within view to remind me: to be happy with my lot (there is a crack in everything. That’s how the light gets in as Leonard Cohen sang), to not be afraid of ageing (because I get to be blunt and not have to worry about being sweet and looking pretty and young), to be kind to myself and confront my demons and flaws, to try to be sympathetic and embrace the absurdity that is life, and to maintain a childlike sense of playfulness.


Here are my favorites from vintage picture books in my collection. I have not been able to let go of these yet to give to my niece:

A Special Trick by Mercer Mayer (1976); a Ten Editions find

special trick 1

special trick 2

special trick 3

Hag Head by Susan Musgrave and Carol Evans (1989); a Ten Editions find

hag head 1

hag head 2

The GhostEye Tree by Bill Martin, John Archambault, Ted Rand (1988); a Ten Editions find that I remember vividly from childhood

the ghost eye tree

Anna and the Echo-Catcher by Adam John Munthe and Elizabeth Falconer (1981); I purchased at Sellers & Newel in Toronto

anna and the echo catcher 1

anna and the echo catcher 2

The Old Lady Who Ate People: Frightening Stories by Francisco Hinojosa and Leonel Macie (1984); a Ten Editions find

the old lady who ate people

Pink Lemonade by Henrietta Ten Harmsel (1992); this whimsical and vibrant beauty was a Ten Editions find

pink lemonade

Garbage Delight (1977)/Alligator Pie (1974); I’ve had these since childhood

garbage delight

alligator pie

Outside Over There by Maurice Sendak (1989); Red River Books


outside over there 2

The Magic Circus by Wayne Anderson (1979); found at Red River Books in Winnipeg. I’ve seen so many instances of the artwork torn out of this book and sold online as individual prints.

magic circus 1

magic circus 2

magic circus 3

The Mouse and His Child is a picture novel by Russell Hoban first published in 1967, which I purchased at Balfour Books in Toronto; the animated film, based on the book, is terrifying and beautiful

the mouse and his child 1

The Night the City Sang by Peter Desbarats (1977); I do not celebrate Christmas, but it’s gorgeous!

the night the city sang, use this one

Nicholas Knock and Other People by Dennis Lee (1976); this one I found on a sidewalk in Toronto down my street!

nicholas knock and other people

The Thief and the Blue Rose by Ursula Schaeffler (1967); this was given to me by a friend

thief and the blue rose 1

thief and the blue rose 2

On Cat Mountain by Fracoise Richard (1994); I found this one at BMV in Toronto and was immediately drawn to the textured collage-like illustrations

On Cat Mountain

*Most of the books I found at Ten Editions were between $3-$5. Also, I did not take these photos, but if there is a demand to see more of the artwork, I can take a few photos and post them!

Why Grownups (and Everyone) Should Read YA and Children’s Literature

this one summer intro

Well, to begin with, YA literature consists of some of the most wonderful storytelling in the universe, and a true and decent YA writer does not talk down to children and writes for both children and adult audiences, knowing full well that adults are just overgrown children even more stubbornly set in their ways.

YA literature covers a diverse range of topics from the astute serious to the utmost ridiculous and fantastical. Fantasy books are not to be taken for granted though, as they along with Science Fiction can reveal more about humanity, our desires and fears, than other non-fiction books.

Some of the most truthful life narratives are YA stories, many of which expose the ridiculousness of the adult world and its rituals, such as the tales of Roald Dahl, in which adults do very silly things and are rightfully to blame for many woes and miseries in the world.

In good children’s literature girls are every bit as capable as boys; they are just as intellectual and imaginative, just as likely to be explorers and learn about the rest of the world, or sometimes just as shy and anxious as boys. Girls are not just fragile and delicate creatures—they can be just as disgusting, vulgar, and wild as boys. Boys and girls can be friends. Homosexuality, bisexuality, and genderqueer characters exist. Boys and girls do not have to ascribe to gender binaries. For example, not all boys need to be interested in activities such as sports and games involving wizards. In good YA literature not all protagonists are white, and not all non-white protagonists go through the exact same experiences.

Bad children’s literature assumes that it is not enough to be born a boy or a girl, but that a boy must adhere to certain social rules in order to be successful and normal, and the same goes for girls. Many narratives that follow this reasoning are likely rooted in the author’s nostalgia for their romanticized childhood or for the North American patriarchal family structure; this would appeal to an older adult reader who perhaps longs for an imagined wholesome childhood for themselves or their child, not to an actual child living in contemporary society.

Reading as a shy child made me feel a little less lonely and strange, and I really do believe that reading about other peoples’ experiences and views of the world (familiar or new), at any age, helps us connect to each other and deconstruct harmful binaries within society, allowing for more diverse ways of being.

Reading from a young age helped me create my own stories, and acknowledge certain parts of myself and difficult experiences I have had. As the mantra of every hardcore book reader goes, books have always felt like friends. I read a lot as a child and would spend hours in the tree house-like children’s section of McNally Robinson Booksellers, looking for a book as if we had to have some kind of a spiritual connection before I would take it home with me.

I may add to this post in the future, but this is as far as I will venture today. This post was made with so much love and reading memories tumbling back into my thoughts, that it is a bit embarrassing. I will have to stop myself from rambling on and on.

Here is a list of some of my favorite YA and children’s literature reads and a sentence or two on why I believe they should be read—but there is so much more amazing diverse YA stuff out there today than when I was a kid.

The Twits

  • The Twits by Roald Dahl; featuring a nasty older couple who are always trying to make each other and the local wildlife miserable, much to our amusement; a biting and somehow loving commentary on the institution of marriage, as well as a warning on the danger of letting your inner ugliness thrive.


The Phantom Tollbooth

  • The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster; a funny and punny adventure that should make anyone fall in love with the English language and reading, with lovely intuitive illustrations by Jules Feiffer; they are my favorite children’s book illustrations; shockingly, Feiffer wasn’t crazy about them.



  • Skim by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki; Gorgeous illustrations capturing a queer coming of age narrative, featuring Wiccan aesthetics, and themes such as unrequited love, depression; a realistic narrative about high school friendship. I am such a fan of their work, I cannot recommend them enough!


The Thirteen Clocks

  • The Thirteen Clocks by James Thurber; featuring alluring alliteration, illustrious illustrations, and a queer quest. This is extremely fun and challenging to read out loud.


This One Summer

  • This One Summer, also by the Tamaki cousins; also another book that has been challenged in schools and libraries for language and adult themes related to sexuality, gender, identity; these books consider the emotional intelligence of YA readers and combat cultural myths about a safe, sheltered and idealized childhood.


The Book of Lost Things

  • The Book of Lost Things by John Connolly; a chilling fantasy and horror narrative, best read around Halloween, which also deals with the subject of death, depression, and being kind to yourself.


The Graveyard Book

  • The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman; best read around Halloween, preferably out loud, and very simply put is about a boy raised in a graveyard, his deceased companions, and the mystery of his circumstances; bonus, illustrations by Dave McKean! Coraline by Neil Gaiman is also a fantastic read.


Moomin 2

  • Moomin comic strips by Tove Jansson (her adult literature is also quite wonderful, particularly The Summer Book); chronicles the misadventures of a family of hippo-like creatures and their various anthropomorphic friends and neighbors; beautifully drawn by Jansson and later her son. These stories are brimming with deceptively simple and cute-looking narratives about every day life and heartbreaks. The narratives are also philosophical in nature; somehow they are optimistic, yet they can also serve as wry social commentaries—but above all else they are so very sweet and charming.

Moomin 1


A wrinkle in time

  • A Wrinkle in Time series by Madeline L’Engle; one of my favorites from childhood; features a close-knit family of intellectuals and social misfits and an interdimensional rescue mission and adventure that begins several years after the father goes missing.



  • The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-exupéry; Cartoonist Joan Sfar also adapted this into a lovely graphic novel. A nice parable about the silliness and seriousness of adults and the sweetness of the world.


Watership Down

  • Watership Down by Richard Adams, a heartbreaking and unputdownable read about a cast of rabbits and their culture and mythologies; it may serve as an allegory for so many issues, from wildlife habitat destruction to fascism—but above all else it is a beautifully written and engaging read.


The Last Unicorn

  • The Last Unicorn by Peter S Beagle; a most perfect fairy tale.



  • The Halfworld series by Hiromi Goto; with imperfect complex characters and darkly fantastical and frightening situations, I am in awe of Hiromi Goto’s imagination and talent. Bonus, illustrations by Jillian Tamaki 🙂



Magic for beginners

  • Tithe by Holly Black was my favorite fantasy novel as a teenager; a love story with a strong imperfect protagonist and an unconventional premise, where the protagonist is the monster and all is not how it seems; also features queer characters. Black is clearly well-versed in fairy tale, folklore, and diverse cultural mythologies, and is a fantastic storyteller.  If you like Holly Black, you will may also enjoy Kelly Link (her short story collections Pretty Monsters and Magic for Beginners are so much fun).


Charmed Life

  • Charmed Life, and well any book by the word sorceress Diana Wynne Jones.


weetzie bat

  • Francesca Lia Block; her work was a favorite when I was much younger, and really opened up the possibilities of reading for fun. Her descriptions of objects and possessions are captivating as she imbues them with unique mythologies and power like talismans. Her storytelling aesthetics are peculiar and addictive to say the least. Her narratives also often feature queer and unconventional characters.



  • Richard Sala’s work is perfectly campy, and often features strong female protagonists in b movie scenarios (although his works can be haunting and linger in your mind, such as Delphine).


A monster calls 2

A monster calls

  • A Monster Calls; deals with the theme of death in a beautiful and suitably spooky way, and is told alongside dark, whimsical, and affecting illustrations.


Awake and Dreaming

  • Awake and Dreaming by Kit Pearson; this was a book that haunted me when I first read it, and lives up to that feeling to this day; before this book, I would never have believed that a book could linger and resonate in that way. I loved the protagonist, and I felt thereafter that she was a part of me.


Black Hole2

Black Hole

Ghost World

  • Black Hole by Charles Burns and Ghost World by Daniel Clowes; these are essential reads for older teens, dealing with loneliness, the strangeness of aging, the awkwardness and frustrations of being a teenager, sex, the body, depression, anxiety, and so many other important topics.


The Wind in the Willows

  • The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; a charming read with animal characters that lovingly embody the quirks of both adults and children.


One Hundred Demons 1

one hundred demons 2

  • One Hundred Demons (and everything by Lynda Barry); her body of work is like a love song about the importance of playing, maintaining a sense of wonder and humour about the world, and making artwork. Barry uses girly scrapbook aesthetics to narrate difficult and traumatic experiences, and she draws and brings back the feeling of being a child better and more painfully than any other author or artist I have encountered.



the absolutely true diary of a part time indian

  • The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian by Sherman Alexie; a hilarious and harrowing coming of age story told through comic narration and diary entries by sensitive 14-year-old Indiginous artist “Junior” (Arnold Spirit Jr.) who lives on a reservation in the United States and begins to attend an all-white public high school off-reservation. This book has been challenged for language, frank discussion of sex, homosexuality, mental illness, and the occurence of death; these are things that exist in the world and children sometimes have to deal with. This is a beautiful and ultimately optomistic read and I suggest you go find yourself a copy right now.


Mermaid in Chelsea Creek

  • A Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea; a dark fantasy featuring flawed and deeply realistic teenagers and adults.


Anna and Froga

  • Anna and Froga by Anouk Ricard; features a deeply flawed and lovable cast of friends, and chronicles their misadventures; you may experience the similar immersive bewitchment of childhood Saturday morning cartoons (at least I did). These comics bring me joy.


And a few picture books that I am quite enamored with:

Norbert Nipkin

  • Norbert Nipkin by Robert McConnell; a beautifully illustrated narrative built of poignant rhymes that (without preaching) teaches us to be open minded about people who seem different than ourselves and feel empathy; it is an optimistic book about the possibilities of friendship that can allow us to shape the world in positive ways.


Moon Man 3

tomi ungerer 2

Tomi Ungerer 1

  • Moon Man by Tomi Ungerer; much of Ungerer’s work is quite subversive and contains some very dark humor and visual gags, so before sharing his work with your young acquaintances maybe have a look through—although in my experience children will often of their own volition put down a book if they are not quite ready for it. Ungerer’s children’s books were banned in North America until fairly recently when they were republished by Phaidon, as Ungerer notoriously also has a large body of adult erotic artwork and books ;). His dark visual gags include decapitated body parts in a Where’s Waldo-like mob vignette, a hobo with a bloody toe in his rucksack, and so much more that waits gleefully to be discovered.





  • Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch; another book that deals with mortality very well is Cry, Heart, but Never Break; in both books, Death, a subject that is seldom talked about in everyday life, is personified, naturalized, and made less frightening.

cry heart but never break


jane the fox and me 2

jane the fox and me 1

  • Jane, the Fox, and Me by Isabelle Arsenault; a large format graphic narrative for all ages about the difficulty of making friends, being kind to yourself, and fitting in.



The Lion and the bird

  • The Lion and the Bird by Marianne Dubuc; a story about an unconventional and cozy friendship, was published by Enchanted Lion Books, and it is very hard to go wrong with books published by this small independent publishing house based in Brooklyn; Ghosts by Marc Boutavant is another clever beauty:





Alice in wonderland 3

Alice in wonderland 2

Alice in wonderland 1

  • Alice in Wonderland by English mathematician Charles Lutwidge Dodgson under the pseudonym Lewis Carroll; with so many different versions of illustrations to accompany the original text, it is hard to choose a favorite; lately Ralph Steadman’s illustrations have been a treasure to me, a birthday gift to myself this year. The classic version is also beautiful.

elsa and the night 2

Elsa and the Night

  • Elsa and the Night by Jons Mellgren; an unconventional narrative featuring a very strange friendship, that can also be understood as a story about agoraphobia, social anxiety, loneliness, and depression.



  • Jelly Belly, Alligator Pie, and Garbage Delight by Dennis Lee, illustrated by Juan Wijngaard and Frank Newfeld (the last 2); fantastic Canadian children’s literature that kids will delight in! The poems and artwork are grotesque, whimsical, sometimes frightening, and a whole lot of fun.


The Giving Tree

  • The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein; about a boy and a tree and how the expectations of the world sometimes get in the way of friendships, our relationship with nature, and our understanding of ourselves; Silverstein’s poetry books are also a delight, such as Where the Sidewalk Ends; similar to Ungerer, he has illustrated erotic and more mature themed picture books for adults, which I discovered with glee and embarrassment at my grandparents’ apartment when I was a child.


I would love some recommendations! Especially regarding diverse narratives, queer narratives, and unconventional fantasy narratives.

(Image at the beginning of the post is from This One Summer by Jillian and Mariko Tamaki)

On Angela Carter


Angela Carter was born Angela Olive Stalker on May 7th, 1940, in South London. Her father was a Scottish journalist who shared his love of cinema with his daughter (Yule 145). Her stories, displaying dramatic visual language, reflect her interest in the glamour of theatre, with surreal architecture and dramatic settings. Her protagonists are detached from the reader, much as movie stars are detached from the audience, uncanny and never quite sympathetic. Carter has stated that she relies on movies for imagery and plot elements (Yule 145). Her writing seems to borrow psychological elements of surrealism, science fiction and fantasy, mixed with a believable reality; realism mixes with extravagant fantasy “nightmarish dislocation, and Gothic horror” to produce magical realism (Schlueter 91). Carter experiments with the psychological anxieties that are attached to societal norms. She believed that fiction has the ability to “interpret everyday reality through imagery derived from our unconscious, from subterranean areas behind everyday experiences” (Yule 145).

My first encounter with Carter was reading Nights and the Circus, and then The Magic Toy Shop a few days later. Her language is almost encyclopedic yet sensuous and decadent. Reading her work feels like eating a very rich dessert, a dark bitter chocolate with nuggets of something vaguely familiar and too sweet, both disturbing and captivating. In Nights and the Circus, the boisterous, winged Fevvers entices the narrator. The narrator, a reporter, is male and much weaker both physically and personality-wise than Fevvers, so she becomes a fascinating subversion of all that he knows. The aggressive and physically large Fevvers is seemingly magical, but I wonder if this is because of her “wings” or her distinctly masculine characteristics. Carter subverts gender roles so they become defamiliarized for the reader, creating a consciousness of the way that patriarchal roles are imposed in contemporary society.

In The Magic Toy Shop, the protagonist’s uncle dominates over her family, oppressing each member in strange and cruel ways. He is a patriarchal monster, a devil-like presence in the sublime atmosphere of the toy store/ house where the protagonist transforms from indulgent, romantic child to a more pragmatic woman.

Carter’s fairytales deconstruct societal “norms” such as ingrained patriarchal structures within family and politics. Through her writing she “hopes to strip away the artifice and return us to our animal natures” (Shattock 83). In “The Tiger’s Bride” the protagonist is outwardly docile, but her narrative voice reveals her frustration with patriarchal society, and in the end gender roles are subverted when she abandons the restrictive “skin” of her prescribed docile role. As Carter intended, we are forced to strip away our own artifice and confront the idea of ourselves as animals, whose “differences” are mostly constructed and constraining.

Though Carter’s stories are decadent and dream-like, almost beautiful like intricate jewelry, they are also disturbing because they destabilize comfortable or at least familiar ideologies. (Not to mention her vulgarity!) Readers are defamiliarized with violence Carter describes in sensuous prose, and she uses psychological undertones to emotionally provoke the reader; Carter admires William S. Burroughs for his ability to “hit you with an image and let the image act for itself” (Yule 148). She explores feelings and emotions instead of offering a blunt critique of supposedly objective truths. In an interview, she explains that she wants to figure out what “configurations of imagery in our culture really stand for, underneath the kind of semi-religious coating” (Katsavos 11). Having read some of her work, I feel like her stories do bravely attempt to confront and question narratives that we as a culture trust without questioning what they really mean. Carter’s stories are able to create “alternatives to the stultifying sameness of conventional reality” (Bradfield 90); she allows marginalized protagonists to succeed through the power of the imagination. In my research I came across an interview in which she discusses the vulgarity of British popular art, “the absolute filth of it, the total depravity of the English popular imagination” (Katsavos 11). She is clearly fascinated with contemporary culture’s cloak of morality and ideologies of propriety and is not afraid to introduce this hypocrisy of vulgarity into her work. Her Beauty is bitter and conscious that she is a sexualized commodity, and the quirky older protagonists in Wise Children are grotesque, dressing far too young for their ages, wearing layer upon layer of pancake makeup, belching, and lusting. Her protagonists transform from male to female, or female to male, innocent to guilty, or guilty to innocent.

I found the bibliographic information and catalogue research of her work to be helpful, especially learning about her interest in movie plot and structure, and her interest in mythology and folklore motivated by her time studying medieval literature at Bristol University in the 1960’s.  Most medieval romances are so ideologically bent and immersed in their romanticized fantasies of chivalry and morality that they fail to be critical of their societal flaws. I think Carter, unlike medieval writers, attempts to question popular ideologies, and deconstruct cultural ideals—trying to understand what ideologies contemporary society is immersed in. Carter does not promote a “right” way of thinking, but instead critiques those who claim to know objective truths.

Works Cited

Bradfield, Scott. “Remembering Angela Carter.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall 1994.

Katsavos, Anna. “An Interview with Angela Carter.” Review of Contemporary Fiction, Fall1994.

Schlueter, Paul, and June Schlueter. An Encyclopedia of British women writers. New York: Garland, 1988.

Shattock, Joanne. The Oxford Guide to British Women Writers. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Yule, Jeffrey V. “Angela Carter.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vol. 261 (2002): 144-157.