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By Osamu Tezuka
Published by Vertical Inc.
In this adorably affectionate biography, Tezuka turns his talent for story telling to the tale of the Buddha. While he may not be a Buddhist, Tezuka own body of literature has proven him to be a great explorer of the interior world and an aficionado of human transformation and growth. Over the course of eight beautiful volumes, Tezuka takes us on the fantastical journey of Buddha’s life, lending it his characteristic almost Disney-esque flair, complete with enchanted animals and gorgeous scenery. Using every elegant permutation of panel layout and his mutable style, the transformative adventures of Buddha are dramatized with flair and joy. Absolutely enthralling, this has to be one of the most entertaining depictions of an enlightened being the world has ever seen.
2. Woman Rebel: The Margaret Sanger Story
By Peter Bagge
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
After decades of creating flawed-but-lovable characters in his signature rubbery style, Bagge turns his critical observational eye to revolutionary proponent of a woman’s right to choose whether to have children (or not); Margaret Sanger. Researching every aspect of her life in order to present a complex, rich history of her childhood as one of 10, to a wildly liberated woman in her time, Bagge’s view is unflinching. His ability to depict her passion with humor and affection shines through on every panel creating a very human hero for our contemporary world. In addition to this book, Bagge supplements his visual shorthand with a large addendum which compiles his research and findings as a rich resource for those who find they come away with even more questions about Sanger’s life, her beliefs, and her experiences.
3. Our Cancer Year
Written by Harvey Pekar and Joyce Brabner
Art by Frank Stack
Published by Four Walls Eight Windows
While Harvey Pekar’s comic books were always about his day-to-day existence, this is the book where we’re invited even deeper into Pekar’s life to learn about a substantial, transformative slice of his life. From the first discovery (and vehement denial) of a lump, through all of the fear and pain of the disease and treatment, as readers we are allowed to accompany Pekar. Stack’s rough hewn art is a perfect accompaniment to the raw emotion of the story, drawing us into Pekar and Brabner’s world. The very human clumsiness of this unplanned detour in their lives is perfectly depicted and conveyed in this style. Difficult and painful, Pekar and Brabner’s willingness to expose such a time is engaging, and speaks to the strength he draws on to heal and survive.
4. Paying For It
By Chester Brown
Published by Drawn & Quarterly
In this chunky little volume, Chester Brown presents us with his own research into a life where prostitution acts as a total replacement for an adult, intimate relationship. In many ways Brown has done the research that not many people want to do (and those that do, are rarely interested in sharing their findings). Surprisingly dry, considering that this is a book about visiting prostitutes, Brown simply charts his experiences in the most methodical and almost dour way. Although for the author this is a book about discovering something that works for him, his experiences seem somewhat dull as his approach to sex is less about desire and more about simple physical exigency. His tightly drawn panel grid and simple, diagrammatic approach to the book emphasize the evolving hypothesis the book explores.
5. Are You My Mother: A Comic Drama
By Alison Bechdel
Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt
Through the analysis of her mother, and the relationship between them as mother and daughter in the past and present, Alison Bechdel examines her own life and the psychology of what makes her who she is. Following up from the devastatingly intense book “Fun Home”, in which she explored the secrets of her father’s life during her childhood, this is a slightly more connected glimpse into a parental relationship. Supplemented heavily by her own experiences in analysis, Bechdel acts as a kind of archeologist and detective of her mother’s passionately creative life.
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