by Lauren Moon
AFO Guest Writer
Lauren is a lover of comics and a third generation Korean American queer feminist writer based in Los Angeles. She is the founding editor of RAINCOAT//Mag, a screenwriting MFA at USC, and a social media participant on Instagram, twitter, and tumblr.
As a young, third generation Korean-American teen, the access I had to books written by women of color, especially those who looked like myself, was not spectacular. One fine day, my mom brought home a copy of Miracle Girls, a manga by Nami Akimoto. It was volume 4 of the series, and I truly had no idea what was going on plot-wise, but I was hooked. Onto these images of magical girls, I was able to project myself. As comics scholar Scott McCloud states in his groundbreaking text Understanding Comics:
When you look at a photo or realistic drawing of a face, you see it as the face of another. But when you enter the world of the cartoon, you see yourself. The cartoon is a vacuum into which our identity and awareness are pulled, an empty shell that we inhabit which enables us to travel in another realm. We don’t just observe the cartoon, we become it!
That small, handheld copy of Miracle Girls Vol. 4 became the start of a lifelong fascination with comics and graphic novels. In college, I began to deviate from story-based shoujo (romance) manga and lean towards autobiographical comic works, finding that the medium had a way to tell and express personal experience with incredibly complexity, depth, and poignancy. And of course, the graphic novels which were especially special to me were those by women of color, those with experiences that spoke directly to my soul.
Below I have listed six graphic novels by women of color that have deeply touched me, ones that I continue to return to many times a year. The listed six are very API-author heavy, and I am always working on exploring works by women cartoonists of color (check out this database organized by MariNaomi!) But in the meantime, I urge you to curl up on the couch with a favorite blanket with one of the following:
6. Dragon’s Breath by MariNaomi
Whether describing the time she met Duran Duran or a her stint as a bank teller, self-identified half-Japanese author MariNaomi’s collection of short autobiographical works show so clearly the thin line between humor and darkness, laughter and pain.
5. Forget Sorrow by Belle Yang
In her mid-20s, Taiwanese-American author and artist Belle Yang was forced to hide out in her parents’ home because of an abusive boyfriend’s stalking. While there, her father told her stories of her family history in China which she recounts with exquisite detail in Forget Sorrow, a history that narrows the space she feels between herself and her ancestors.
4. Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa
Though not long enough to be considered a “graphic novel” I couldn’t not include Sakugawa’s comic about a Japanese American art student’s larger than life “performance” of her own piece of performance art which takes her through the city and to the sea.
3. Ranma 1/2 by Rumiko Takahashi
Japanese manga artist Rumiko Takahashi is the best selling female comics artist in history. She has twice won the hyper-prestigious Shogakukan Manga Award and is the author of my favorite manga series of all time, Ranma ½, which revolves around a teenage martial artist named Ranma Saotome, who becomes a “girl” when splashed with cold water while hot water changes him back into a “boy.” As a teen who did not really identify as a man or a woman, watching Ranma’s ability to slip back and forth into both genders with ease was a dream come true.
2. In Real Life by Jen Wang (and Cory Doctorow)
Co-founder and organizer for Los Angeles based comics festival Comic Arts LA Jen Wang has partnered with author Cory Doctorow to create a beautiful all-color work in which our heroine Anda explores online gaming, adolescence, poverty, and culture clash.
1. The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
No list on graphic novels would be complete without Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis. The Iranian-born French graphic novelist/film director/children’s book author’s autobiographical masterpiece has captured the hearts and eyes of readers all over the world, and you can see why as she leads you through her childhood and adolescence in post-Islamic revolution Iran.