Autobiographical comics

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Autobiographical comics

Autobiographical comics (often referred to in the comics field as simply autobio) are autobiography in the form of comic books or comic strips. The form first became popular in the underground comics movement and has since become more widespread. It is currently most popular in Canadian, American and French comics; all artists listed below are from the US unless otherwise specified.


  • Rafael Bordalo Pinheiro (1846–1905) "made an attempt of an autobiographical comics exercise"[1] in his 1881 graphic reportage book No Lazareto de Lisboa ("The Lazaretto of Lisbon"), by including himself and personal thoughts. Some of Bordalo Pinheiro's panels and strips were also autobiographical, such as self-caricatures of personal anecdotes from his travel in Brazil.


"Cartoonist's Confessional", a 1918 autobio strip by Fay King. Second-to-last cartoon refers to her widely-covered 1916 divorce from boxer Oscar "Battling" Nelson.
  • Fay King (1910s–1930s newspaper cartoonist) drew herself as a character later used as Olive Oyl in autobiographical strips portraying her reportages, opinions, and personal life.


  • Carlos Botelho (1899–1982) had a weekly comic page in a "style that mixed up chronicle, autobiography, journalism, and satire"[1] running from 1928 to 1950 in the Portuguese magazine Sempre Fixe.


  • Henry (Yoshitaka) Kiyama's The Four Immigrants Manga (drawn 1924–1927, exhibited 1927 in San Francisco, self-published 1931). These 52 two-page strips drew from the experiences of Kiyama and three friends, mostly as Japanese student immigrants to San Francisco between 1904 and 1907, plus material up to 1924.


  • The artist Taro Yashima (born Atsushi Iwamatsu) published his autobiographical graphic works The New Sun in 1943 and The New Horizon in 1947 (both written in English). The first book describes his early life as well his as his wife Mitsu Yashima's imprisonment and brutalization by the Tokkō (special higher police) in response to their antiwar, anti-Imperialist, and anti-militarist stance in the 1930s. The second book describes their post-prison life in Japan under militarist rule up until the time they emigrated to the United States in 1939.


  • Shinji Nagashima created "Mangaka Zankoku Monogatari" (Cruel Tale of a Cartoonist) in 1961.
  • Yoshiharu Tsuge (born 1937) published in 1966 his autobiographical story "Chiko"[2] ("Chiko, the Java sparrow"), depicting his daily life as a struggling manga artist living with a bar hostess making most of their money. Published in the seminal magazine Garo, it started the movement of Watakushi manga ("I manga", or "comics about me"). These short graphic nonfictions (including memoirs, chronicles, travel or dream diaries) were also represented by Yu Takita, Tadao Tsuge, and Shinichi Abe (see below).
  • Yu Takita (1932–1990) started in 1968 his Terajima-cho stories ("Terajima neighborhood mystery tales"). They were series of vignettes about 1930s life in this Tokyo district where his parents ran a tavern.[3]
  • Tadao Tsuge [ja] (born 1941) started in 1968 his personal stories, later collected in Trash Market.


  • Sam Glanzman started in April 1970 his U.S.S. Stevens autobio stories (1970–1977) about his war service, as 4-pagers in DC Comics's title Our Army at War. Beside memoirs of war actions he witnessed, many are personal vignettes of embarrassing moments, including as an artist. As comics historian John B. Cooke noted, those "autobiographical tales about the sometimes mundane, frequently horrifying experiences aboard a Fletcher-class U.S. navy destroyer during World War II were beginning to appear regularly, debuting two years before Binky Brown."[4]
  • Shinichi Abe (born 1950) started in 1971[5] his autobiographical series Miyoko Asagaya kibun ("The Miyoko Asagaya feeling" or "Miyoko, Asagaya's feeling") for Garo magazine. It chronicled his 1970s bohemian life with his model girlfriend Miyoko in the Asagaya district of Tokyo. (The manga was adapted into the 2009 film Miyoko.)
  • Justin Green, though not the first author of autobio comics, is generally acknowledged to have pioneered the confessional genre in English-language comics, because of the immediate influence of his "highly personal autobiographical comics"[6] on other creators (Kominski, Crumb, Spiegelman, Pekar, see below). This was done through the veiled autobio of his alter ego's "Binky Brown" stories, notably the March 1972 comic book Binky Brown Meets the Holy Virgin Mary, an extremely personal work dealing with Green's Catholic and Jewish background and obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • In October 1972, Japanese manga artist Keiji Nakazawa created the 48-page story "I Saw It" ("Ore wa Mita"), which told of his firsthand experience of the bombing of Hiroshima. (This was followed by the longer, fictionalized work Barefoot Gen (Hadashi no Gen), later adapted into three films.)
  • Aline Kominsky followed Green in November 1972 with her veiled autobio 5-pager "Goldie, a Neurotic Woman"[7] (in Wimmen's Comix #1).
  • Art Spiegelman followed Green in 1973 with his 4-page "Prisoner on the Hell Planet"[8] (in Short Order Comix #1), about his feelings after the suicide of his Holocaust-survivor mother (a strip later included in Maus, see below).
  • Robert Crumb and Aline Kominsky released in 1974 Dirty Laundry Comics #1, a joint confessional comic book documenting their budding romance, though depicted aboard a fantasy spaceship.
  • In 1976, Harvey Pekar began his long-running self-published series American Splendor, which collected short stories written by Pekar, usually about his daily life as a file clerk, and illustrated by a variety of artists. The series led to Pekar meeting his wife Joyce Brabner, who later co-wrote their graphic novel Our Cancer Year about his brush with lymphoma.
  • In 1977, the Italian magazine Alter Alter starts publishing Andrea Pazienza's Le straordinarie avventure di Pentothal (Pentothal's Extraordinary Adventures), in which the author details in a stream of consciousness his own experiences with drugs, arts, politics, counterculture, and the Movement of 1977, through a thinly veiled alter ego.
  • In 1978, Eddie Campbell started his autobio strip "In the Days of the Ace Rock 'n' Roll Club" (March 1978 – March 1979). (This led to his Alec stories, see below.)
  • In 1979, Malaysian cartoonist Lat published his childhood memoir The Kampung Boy (drawn 1977–1978).
  • In the late 1970s, Jim Valentino began his career with some autobio minicomics, released in the early 1980s.[9][10] In 1985, he published his autobio series Valentino (later collected in Vignettes). In 1997, he created the semi-autobio series A Touch of Silver about a boy coming of age in the 1960s. In 2007, he revisited autobio with Drawings from Life (also collected in Vignettes).
  • Throughout the 1970s, autobiographical writing was prominent in the work of many female underground cartoonists, in anthologies such as Wimmen's Comix, ranging from comical anecdotes to feminist commentary based on the artists' lives.


  • In 1980, Art Spiegelman combined biography and autobiography in his Pulitzer Prize-winning Maus (serialized 1980–1991), about his father's Holocaust experiences, his own relationship with his father, and the process of interviewing him for the book. This work had a major effect on the reception of comics in general upon the world of mainstream prose literature, awakening many to the potential of comics as a medium for stories other than adventure fantasy.
  • In 1982, Eddie Campbell's Alec stories started with the Scottish/Australian artist as a young man drifting through life with his friends, and followed him through marriage, parenthood, and a successful artistic career. (They were later collected in The King Canute Crowd, Three Piece Suit, and other books.)
  • Campbell's English colleague Glenn Dakin created the Abraham Rat stories (collected in Abe: Wrong for All the Right Reasons), which began as fantasy and became more contemplative and autobiographical.
  • Spain Rodriguez drew a number of stories, collected in My True Story, about being a motorcycle gang member in the 1950s.
  • Underground legend Robert Crumb focused increasingly on autobiography in his 1980s stories in Weirdo magazine. Many other autobiographical shorts would appear in Weirdo by other artists, including his wife, Aline Kominsky-Crumb, Phoebe Gloeckner (see below in 1990s section), and Dori Seda.
  • In 1987, Sam Glanzman released his WWII graphic memoir A Sailor's Story (Marvel Comics), a more personal extension of his 1970s U.S.S. Stevens war stories.
  • In 1988, Andrea Pazienza releases Pompeo, his last graphic novel, depicting the gradual downfall of a heroin addict (a largely autobiographical character), up to his eventual suicide.
  • Jim Woodring's unusual "autojournal" Jim combined dream art with occasional episodes of realistic autobiography.
  • David Collier, a Canadian ex-soldier, published autobiographical and historical comics in Weirdo and later in his series Collier's.
  • In 1987, DC Comics' anthology Wasteland (1987–1989) featured, unusually for a mainstream title, as well as more conventional forms of black comedy and horror, semi-autobiographical stories based on the life of co-writer Del Close. One of the stories also parodied the autobiographical stories of Harvey Pekar, portraying a version of Pekar's famous appearance on Late Night with David Letterman, in which Pekar's vehement critique of General Electric had earned him a longtime ban from the program.
  • In 1989, John Porcellino started in his long-running autobio series King-Cat Comics (still ongoing).


Autobiographical work took the alternative comics scene by storm during this period. The autobiographical genre had turned into English-speaking alternative comics subculture's "signature genre" in much the way that superhero stories dominated the American mainstream comic books, the stereotypical example recounting the awkward moment which followed when, the cartoonist sitting alone in a coffee shop when their ex-girlfriend walks in. However many artists pursued broader themes.

  • Maltese-American Joe Sacco appeared as a character in his journalistic comics, beginning with Yahoo (collected in Notes from a Defeatist) and Palestine.
  • Howard Cruse's graphic novel Stuck Rubber Baby told a fictionalized version of Cruse's young adulthood as a gay man in the South during civil rights conflicts.
  • In the anthology series Real Stuff, Dennis Eichhorn followed Pekar's example of writing true stories for others to illustrate, but unlike Pekar, emphasized unlikely tales of sex and violence. Many of the Real Stuff stories took place in Eichhorn's native state of Idaho. In 1993, Eichhorn received an Eisner Award nomination for Best Writer and his Real Stuff series received nominations for both Best Continuing Series and Best Anthology. In 1994, Real Stuff again received an Eisner Award nomination for Best Anthology.
  • One of the most popular self-published mini-comics of the 1990s in America, Silly Daddy, depicted Joe Chiappetta's parenthood and divorce, sometimes realistically and sometimes in a parallel fantasy story. The story continued in trade paperbacks and as a webcomic.
  • Julie Doucet's series Dirty Plotte, from Canada, began as a mix of outlandish fantasy and dream comics, but moved toward autobiography in what was later collected as My New York Diary.
  • A trio of Canadian friends, Seth (Palookaville), Chester Brown (Yummy Fur, The Playboy, I Never Liked You), and Joe Matt (Peepshow), gained rapid renown in North America for their different approaches to autobiography. Brown and Matt were also notorious for depicting embarrassing personal moments such as masturbation and nose-picking. Seth created some controversy by presenting realistic fictional stories as if they had actually happened, not as a ploy to fool writers but as a literary technique. However some readers did get fooled.
  • Phoebe Gloeckner created a series of semi-autobiographical stories drawing on her adolescent experiences with sex and drugs in San Francisco, collected in A Child's Life and Other Stories. She later revisited similar material in her 2004 illustrated novel The Diary of a Teenage Girl: An Account in Words and Pictures.
  • Seven Miles a Second, written by painter David Wojnarowicz and illustrated by James Romberger and Marguerite Van Cook, was based on Wojnarowicz's life and his response to the AIDS epidemic.
  • The graphic novel David Chelsea in Love described the eponymous author's romantic difficulties in New York City and Portland.
  • Rick Veitch told the story of his twenties entirely through a dream diary in the Crypto Zoo volume of Rare Bit Fiends.
  • Ariel Schrag's tetralogy Awkward, Definition, Potential, and Likewise, about discovering her sexual identity in high school, was unusual in having been mostly completed while in high school.
  • Jim Valentino's A Touch of Silver portrayed his unhappy youth in the 1960s.
  • English artist Raymond Briggs, best known for his children's books, told the story of his parents' marriage in Ethel and Ernest.
  • James Kochalka started to turn his daily life into a daily four-panel strip starting in 1998, collected in Sketchbook Diaries, and later in the webcomic, American Elf.

1990s in France[edit]

This period also saw a rapid expansion of the French small-press comics scene, including a new emphasis on autobiographical work:

  • Fabrice Neaud's acclaimed Journal was the first lengthy autobiographical series in French comics.
  • David B., another artist who had first published fantasy comics stories, produced the graphic novel L'ascension du haut mal (published in English as Epileptic) applied B.'s distinctive non-realistic style to the story of his equally unusual upbringing, in which his family moved to a macrobiotic commune and sought many other cure's for B.'s brother's grand mal seizures.
  • Lewis Trondheim portrayed himself and his friends, albeit with animal heads, in Approximative continuum comics, some of which was later published in English as The Nimrod.
  • Much of Edmond Baudoin's later work is based on his personal and family history.
  • Dupuy and Berberain's "Journal d'un album" and Jean-Christophe Menu's "Livre de Phamille" also had a significant influence on the French autobiographic graphic novel scene.


  • Iranian exile Marjane Satrapi created the multi-volume Persepolis, originally published as a newspaper serial in France, about her childhood during the Iranian Revolution.
  • Canadian animator Guy Delisle published several travelogues such as Shenzhen, Pyongyang, Burma Chronicles and Jerusalem
  • The Spiral Cage, by English artist Al Davison, is about Davison's experience of living with spina bifida.
  • Jeffrey Brown's Clumsy (2001) and Unlikely (2003) told the story of two failed relationships using hundreds of single-page stories.
  • Craig Thompson releases Blankets, an award-winning graphic memoir of first love, religious identity, and coming of age.
  • Marzena Sowa wrote Marzi, a series of comics about her childhood in 1980s-era Poland.
  • Art Spiegelman wrote In the Shadow of No Towers (2004), an oversize graphic memoir about his experiences during the 9/11 attacks.
  • Josh Neufeld published his Xeric Award-winning A Few Perfect Hours (2004), documenting his backpacking adventures through Southeast Asia, Central Europe, and Turkey.
  • Joe Kubert wrote Yossel April 14, 1943 (2005), a "fake autobiographical graphic novel" about what would have happened if his parents hadn't moved from Poland to the US and they would have been there during the Holocaust.
  • Italian comic book artist Gipi releases several graphic novels inspired by his own life experiences: Appunti per una storia di guerra (Notes for a War Story, 2005), S. (2006, about his father), La mia vita disegnata male (My Life Badly Drawn, 2008).
  • Xeric Award-winner Steve Peters wrote and illustrated Chemistry (2005) about a failed relationship. He drew one panel a day for a year; the entire comic is 32 pages long with a total of 365 panels. Each panel's date is hidden somewhere inside it. Chemistry won the 2006 Howard Eugene Day Memorial Prize.
  • Alison Bechdel wrote and illustrated Fun Home (2006), about her relationship with her father, and it was named by Time magazine as number one of its "10 Best Books of the Year."[11]
  • Martin Lemelman wrote Mendel's Daughter (2006), based on his mother's recorded confessions of her life during the Holocaust. He inserts a lot of family pictures as well.
  • Miriam Katin wrote We Are on Our Own: A Memoir (2006), a graphic memoir about her survival, with her mother, of the Holocaust.
  • Danny Gregory wrote Everyday Matters, after he taught himself to draw following a traumatic moment in his life: his wife was hit by a train and became paralyzed.[12]
  • In April 2007, nl:Ype Driessen, a Dutch comic artist, published the first autobiographical photo comic called Ype+Willem. With photos he showed everyday happenings in his life with his former boyfriend Willem. He still publishes his comic at [1] (NL).
  • Aline Kominsky-Crumb published Need More Love: A Graphic Memoir (2007), her life story, with inserted photographs.
  • Carol Lay wrote and illustrated The Big Skinny (2008) about her experiences with weight loss.


  • Alison Bechdel published Are You My Mother? (2012), an autobiographical graphic memoir that examines Bechdel's relationship with her mother through the lens of psychoanalysis.
  • Congressman and civil rights leader John Lewis releases March: Book One (2013), the first volume of an autobiographical graphic novel trilogy, co-written by Andrew Aydin and drawn by Nate Powell.
  • Actor and activist George Takei published They Called Us Enemy (2019), an autobiographical graphic novel co-written with Justin Eisinger and Steven Scott and illustrated by Harmony Becker.


  1. ^ a b Marcos Farrajota, "Desassossego" (reprinting his article of introduction to Portuguese comics for Š! magazine)
  2. ^ "‘Chiko,’ ‘A View of the Seaside,’ and ‘Mister Ben of the Igloo’: Visual and Verbal Narrative Technique in Three Classic Manga by Yoshiharu Tsuge", by Tom Gill, Hooded Utilitarian, June 9, 2014
  3. ^ Yu Takita at Lambiek Comiclopedia
  4. ^ John B. Cooke, "Introduction: A Sailor's History, the Life and Art of Sam J. Glanzman", in U.S.S. Stevens: The Collected Stories (2016, Dover), p. xi.
  5. ^ "Garo 88", Three Steps Over Japan, February 20, 2011.
  6. ^ Robert Crumb, on the backcover of Justin Green's Binky Brown Sampler, Last Gasp, 1995.
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^ Jim Valentino at Lambiek Comiclopedia
  10. ^ "A Touch of Image: An interview with Jim Valentino",, February 1st, 2002
  11. ^ Gatti, Tom (2006-12-16). "The 10 best books of 2006: number 10 — Fun Home". The Times. London. Retrieved 2006-12-18.
  12. ^ Gregory, Danny. "All About Danny". Retrieved 2016-04-03.