Canada Reads: Non Fiction Graphic Novels in 2012!

Dear Reader,

Below you’ll find our recommendations for non-fiction graphic novels that should be considered for The CBC’s Canada Reads 2012 Event. Our main five recommendations went live on The Canada Reads site today, but we had a huge list of great Canadian non-fiction graphic novels that we wanted to make you aware of, and if someone else had a chance to recommend them over at the CBC, well, that’d be just lovely. 

First and foremost, please head to The CBC Canada Reads Page and vote for your favourite graphic novel (about 2/3 of the way down the page). Then return and check out our full recommendations below.

We here at The Beguiling campaigned hard for Jeff Lemire’s ESSEX COUNTY to win Canada Reads 2011, and we feel with good reason. Graphic novels are no longer an emerging medium, but a fully formed one capable of telling any type of story, and telling it very well indeed. How fortunate for us, and for all Canadians, that Canada Reads 2012 will focus on non-fiction as some of the most noted recent graphic novels have been true stories.  Many of the graphic novels that people respond to the most strongly consist of history, reportage, and especially memoir. Who hasn’t heard of Art Spiegelman’s MAUS, Alison Bechdel’s FUN HOME, or Marjane Satrapi’s PERSEPOLIS? These are all excellent, internationally celebrated pieces of personal and public history, and we look forward to recommending the following Canadian non-fiction titles to join their ranks.

Our Dream List

Louis Riel, by Chester Brown: It seems that this breakthrough work by arguably Canada’s most famous cartoonist, Chester Brown, is already being championed by his publisher and by the public. It’s not hard to see why–this gripping portrait of the controversial Canadian anti-hero makes Canadian history (often thought to be ‘boring’) compelling and immediate. It also echoes the themes of Chester’s other, more personal works, touching on religion, mental disorders, and iconoclasm. [Buy it in The Beguiling Store]

Two Generals, by Scott Chantler: It’s very difficult to do actual historical non-fiction in comics–the medium is expected to be strongly narrative and dialogue-driven, but Scott Chantler pulls it off with his graphic novel Two Generals. Heavily researched, it is the story of his grandfather and grandfather’s best friends, both officers in The Highland Light Infantry of Canada, and the devestating Battle of Buron. With a minimum of dramatization, pulled entirely from letters home, interviews, and the official war diary of the regiment, it is an historical record made real, and an endearing tribute from Chantler to his grandfather. [Beguiling Store]

Pyong Yang, by Guy Delisle: Delisle’s works are difficult to classify, being partly memoir, partly travelogue, and partly reportage. Ultimately, these works are the comics diaries of someone travelling to some of the most fascinating places on earth. We’ve chosen PYONG YANG, his journey behind the world’s last communist iron curtain into the heart of North Korea, for three reasons: 1. It’s illumination into this world that most of us will never see, 2. what it doesn’t tell us–can’t tell us–about being there, and 3. it’s idiosyncratic and highly personal (and somewhat subjective) view of events. It’s also beautifully drawn and engaging, and that doesn’t hurt a bit. [Beguiling Store]

My New York Diary, by Julie Doucet: This raw, unflinching, and utterly captivating look at a young Montrealer packing up her life and heading to New York City is something of a ‘lost classic’ of Canadian cartooning, coming as it did before the breakout of comics into the mass market… but don’t let that dissuade you. Dealing with alcoholism and drugs, a jealous boyfriend, worsening epilepsy, and a loss of faith in her own talent to tell her story, the work is darkly funny, always surprising, and perhaps more relevant today than when it was written. We’d specifically recommend it to fans of David B.’s epileptic not only for its treatment of mental illness, but for the chunky, graphic storytelling. [Beguiling Store]

Reunion, by Pascal Girard: This deeply personal reflection on a man’s impending high-school reunion if hilarious, if often cringe-inducing. Pascal the character ultimately becomes obsessed with who was a winner and who was a loser at school, and needing to be seen as the former at the reuinon. It’s a comedy of errors from this point on, made all the more enjoyable–and painful–by the knowledge that this really happened. While the author describes this work as “semi-autobiographical”, we feel after discussing it with him that it more than meets the qualifications of being entered into this event. [Beguiling Store]

I Can’t Believe we had to leave off…
But wait, there’s more! We hate that we had to recommend only five works of non-fiction, and while our top 5 are all worthy we hope that you will consider these other excellent titles.

I Never Liked YouThe Playboy and Paying for It, by Chester Brown: While it’s Louis Riel that is Chester’s most ‘friendly’ work to suggest every Canadian should pick up and read, it is his deeply personal memoirs that leave the strongest impression. [Beguiling Store]

Complete works, by David Collier: David Collier is a cartoonist who has worked entirely in a non-fiction mode, be it biography, history, or memoir. His newest, CHIMO, is the story of him returning to the Canadian armed forces in his late 40s to again begin service, but I’d personally recommend his biography of David Millgard, SURVIVING SASKATOON contained in PORTRAITS FROM LIFE, to remind our ‘tough on crime’ conservative government of the danger of punishing the innocent. [Beguiling Store]
Hello Me Pretty, by Line Gamache: The autobiographical story of the author and her mentally disabled sister, and their life growing up in the suburbs of Montreal. Integrating Expo ’67, the FLQ crisis, and changing social attitudes towards disability. [Beguiling Store]

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, by Gord Hill: The story of aboriginal life since the arrival of Europeans in 1492, and their immense struggles. A direct, well-told, and engaging look at the history of the native peoples of Americas. [Beguiling Store]

Drop In, by David Lapp: This frank, autobiographical effort by Lapp chronicles his work as an art-instructor in one of Toronto’s poorest urban neighbourhoods. Compelling and illuminating. [Beguiling Store]
Kenk: A Graphic Portrait, by Poplak, Jansen, Gilmore, Marinkovich: A 300 page journalistic portrait of Ivor Kenk, “The world’s most prolific bicycle thief.” Built from found footage and interviews, illustrations and archive material, this cutting edge work is truly unique in style and presentation. [Beguiling Store]
Intended For Younger Readers, of value to adults
These graphic novels are intended for a middlegrade or young adult audience, but their expertise, insight, and skill make them excellent reads for adults.

Four Pictures by Emily Carr, by Nicolas Debon: This short graphic biography of the trailblazing and incredibly giften painter Emily Carr is, itself, gorgeously painted and smartly told by Nicolas Debon. Formatted and intended for younger readers.  [Beguiling Store]

Tyranny, by Lesley Fairfield: Informed by her real life experiences, TYRANNY chronicles the life of a young girl, Anna, and her descent into anorexia and bulimia. A shocking, difficult, and ultimately redemptive read. [Beguiling Store]
Mirror Mind, by Tory Woollcott: A biography of a young woman’s struggles with dyslexia, told skillfully and passionately. An excellent read. [Beguiling Store
Books we would totally put forward if we weren’t convinced some philistine would vote it off for not having enough (any) words:
Seriously. Seriously. Not enough words? A gross criticism.

White Rapids, by Pascal Blanchet: This gorgeous cartoon-modern telling of the creation and abandonment of a small town in North Quebec, it “sings”, with a fantastic rhythm that transports you to a different time and place.  [Beguiling Store]

Southern Cross, by Lawrence Hyde: A stunning wordless woodcut novel about the atomic bomb testing by the United States in the south pacific following World War II. [Beguiling Store]

Books that seem they should fit for non-fiction but have just enough fiction in them to bump them out

These are great graphic novels and worth your time, often informed by real-life events and history. Unfortunately, by the author’s own admission the bulk of the material is made up or significantly dramatized, to the point where they should be eligible in future years of Canada Reads, but perhaps not this one for non-fiction.

Mid-Life, by Joe Ollman: A humourous and fictionalized piece of autobiography about the author’s mid-life crisis and the chaos that ensued.  [Beguiling Store]

Paul Goes Fishing, by Michel Rabagliati: A fantastic cartoonist and storyteller, Rabagliati chooses to filter his life experiences and observations through Paul, an affable everyman character living with his wife and children in Quebec. In this last volume to have been translated into English (another is coming soon!), Paul reflects on his life and childhood as he and his wife try to conceive a child, and their vacation to rural Quebec that acts as a turning point in their lives. All of the Paul books are gorgeously illustrated and utterly charming, and we highly recommend them. [Beguiling Store]

It’s a Good Life if You don’t Weaken, by Seth: Cartoonist/illustrator Seth’s seemingly autobiographical hunt for an obscure and forgotten New Yorker cartoonist who lived in Canada… [Beguiling Store]
The Klondike, by Zach Worton: Rich with detail and populated with the real characters of the Yukon gold rush, this fantastic graphic novel is a stirring piece of historical fiction, and beautifully illustrated vistas, informed by research and folklore. [Beguiling Store]

– Chris @ The Beguiling