Suggest Non-Memoir Graphic Novels for Adult Women

This is intended to be an open discussion, because I hope readers can add to this list. I was asked on Twitter last night

That’s a good question. So many of the non-genre graphic novels aimed at adults, particularly women, are autobiographical these days. This was a challenge to answer, but here’s what I came up with.

First, josei manga immediately came to mind, although many of those books are now out of print here. This genre fits all the requirements, except some are serialized (so not all are self-contained).

From the UK, the work of Posy Simmonds fits the bill, particularly Tamara Drewe and Gemma Bovery.

In the US, the long-running comic strip (now ended) Dykes to Watch Out For is a terrific soap opera about all kinds of women. More recently, I enjoyed discovering Picket Line, a fiction work of a character’s self-discovery.

There are genre works that fit the bill, too:

Of course, there’s an extensive list of works by women here on the site, but many of them are memoir or co-created with men.

How would you answer this question? Are there other works you recommend by and for adult women?

26 Responses to “Suggest Non-Memoir Graphic Novels for Adult Women”

  1. Alexa (Ladies Making Comics) Says:

    I’ve tried to answer this question for my mom, but since she’s not into fantasy or sci-fi either, memoirs are about all we’ve got left (she did like American Widow and Persepolis). I gave her Tamara Drewe, but I don’t know if she ever read it. Unterzakhn is probably a good idea for me to try next. And maybe there will be some hidden gems at MoCCA this weekend.

  2. Kat Kan Says:

    Would Faith Erin Hicks’ The Adventures of Superhero Girl count? Or is it too genre, being her fun take on superheroes?

  3. Switchbreak Says:

    I’d recommend Exit Wounds by Rutu Modan

  4. Blue Says:

    The historical fiction of Kaoru Mori might be really appealing to non-scif/fnatasy fans. Her debut comic Emma is great for Anglophiles and Victorian enthusiasts, and her most recent work A Bride’s Story is an exquisitely-drawn story about a young woman’s life in 19th century Central Asia.

  5. Leigh Walton Says:

    It is true that autobio is the box that people expect female cartoonists to work in — or really “serious graphic novelists” of any gender, but the expectations is less strict for men.

    There are of course teen books like SKIM and the work of Faith Erin Hicks & Raina Telgemeier.

    Genre cartoonists like Colleen Doran, and her hundreds of modern-day descendants who are cranking out fantasy comics (often with manga influence) on the web.

    If Eric is looking for a comics equivalent of the female literary novelist, or even “chick lit,” the pickings are sparser.

    the French cartoonist Margaux Motin is mostly autobiographical as far as I can tell, but I think her recent projects are fiction.

    Colleen Coover often works with writers, but not always.

    Rutu Modan

    Simone Lia

    Hope Larson

    Lilli Carré

    Renee French

    But even those are not often “about post-college women.”

  6. Alexa (Ladies Making Comics) Says:

    Of course, I’m an idiot who forgot that I have an Amazon aStore with a “Fiction” section ( It’s only got about half of what the memoir section has, but here’s what hasn’t been mentioned yet, not co-created with men (though there are some great ones of those too):

    -La Perdida by Jessica Abel (also her short story collections)
    -Fish and Chocolate by Kate Brown
    -Miss Remarkable and Her Career
    by Joanna Rubin Dranger
    -Tyranny by Lesley Fairfield
    -Undertow by Ellen Lindner
    -Kari by Amruta Patil
    -When David Lost His Voice by Judith Vanistendael

  7. Johanna Says:

    Kat, Leigh, I suspect the “post-college women” part is because there are a number of stories about young people in school and finding their way, while the next phase of life is rarely covered — unless in autobio. (Like Dirt Candy, which just sprang to mind.)

    Blue, Mori is an excellent suggestion — if someone wants to sign on for the serialization. Great, great stories, though.

    Alexa, I haven’t heard of most of those! Surprising, and neat to have titles to research.

  8. Jenn Says:

    Sakuran by Moyoko Anno
    Utsubora by Asumiko Nakamua will be out soon as well.

  9. MK Reed Says:

    Can I name drop my book that’s coming out in November? The Cute Girl Network.

    Othwise, Leela Corman & Ellen Linder have some older books to track down besides their most recent, Marion Churchland’s Beast I think qualifies, and I think some of Gabrielle Bell’s work technically qualifies (Cecil & Jordan?) but perhaps not as strictly as it’s sort of combined together.

  10. Alexa (Ladies Making Comics) Says:

    Johanna, I think I got most of out of Paul Gravett’s “1001 Comics You Should Read” book. Also, the Prix Artemisia is also a great source of more adult comics by women to read, although only a fraction of each year’s list are available in English.

    *sigh* One of these days I’m going to start a publisher that specifically targets grown women, and translate all the great work coming out of Europe.

  11. Johanna Says:

    MK, feel free! I look forward to whatever you do next.

    Alexa, I share your dream. What a terrific idea that wouldn’t be supported by the market! :)

  12. Eric Says:

    Thank you all for your suggestions! Many of these, or works by the same authors, are already on our bookshelf.

    Leigh – “comics equivalent of the female literary novelist” is probably more what I should have said. I wrote and re-wrote my request to fit in Twitter. We have numerous YA-oriented books like those by Raina Telgemeier, and I think she in particular is a comics superstar, but the only lit-fic comics I found on our shelves about adult women I could think of were the Posy Simmonds books (your comments also reminded me of Motu Rodan, Jessica Abel and Lilli Carré). My wife especially tends to not be absorbed by genre works, so I was trying to find more options for her without resorting to buying Marvel adaptations of Jane Austen, as I bet many husbands have done.

    MK — Glad to be aware of your new work. Americus is one of the books already on my shelf!

    Alexa — “Start a publisher that specifically targets grown women, and translate all the great work coming out of Europe.” I think you would find success with this. I’d be first in line to buy your publications.

  13. Eric Says:

    “What a terrific idea that wouldn’t be supported by the market!”

    Aw. You know the market better than me. I feel it could be successful if a reader base outside of comics was sought, as the YA books have found success through Scholastic and others, maybe?

  14. Johanna Says:

    The problem, as I see it, is that much publishing of the “good stuff” (however you define it) is subsidized by the forgettable genre paperback, and I’m just not sure that there’s enough of that aimed at women being created in comics. Troublemaker, which I mentioned above, is a good example of the kind of thing I’m thinking of, and the readers of Janet Evanovich’s other novels SAVAGED that for being in comic form.

  15. Katie Says:

    I read mostly scifi/horror/fantasy graphic novels so I don’t often think about if it’s been aimed at me. (Though I do notice when it’s an obvious bro-GN.) I liked Alabaster:Wolves for example. The protagonist is female as is the creator.

    But if we’re talking strictly general realistic fiction, I second MK Reed on the recommendation of Cute Girl Network. I enjoyed the galley copy I read.

  16. Alexa (Ladies Making Comics) Says:

    Johanna, I have no illusions about the hurdles, but it’s a nice dream. Though what keeps Fantagraphics and D&Q afloat? I can’t think of any “forgettable genre” in their catalogs.

    Anyway, best-worst case scenario, I trick some investors into giving me money and get a few dozen solid books out before we go under. If one of those includes a Shary Flenniken/Trots and Bonnie collection, I’d consider the entire endeavor a triumph!

  17. Johanna Says:

    Fantagraphics has a porn imprint that for years funded its more artistic aspirations. Lately, I suspect that the classic comic line (particularly Peanuts) is also a reliable income generator.

    D&Q, I believe, makes good use of Canadian cultural grants and other art-related funding.

    But ha! I like your scheme!

  18. Tara Tallan Says:

    I’m a bit late to the party here, but what about Carla Speed McNeil? Her Finder graphic novels may be sci-fi genre, but I do consider her stories thought-provoking in the best literary way.

    And thank you for the mention, Johanna!

  19. Tara Tallan Says:

    Oh, and also: Dylan Meconis’ Family Man. I suppose it starts out more about the male protagonist Luther, but Ariana is also a lead character. It’s lushly historical (18th C), but a few fantastical elements are creeping in.

  20. Johanna Says:

    I did think about Carla — but the stories of hers I recall best aren’t focused on women, but on girls (Talisman) or Jaeger himself (King of the Cats, Five Crazy Women). Thanks for the pointers!

  21. Rob Says:

    The most recent Finder book (Voice) is about Rachel (the oldest of the Grosvenor siblings) going through her clan audition. I’d put her in her early-mid 20s in the story, so she’s young, but still an adult.

    (Although, thinking about your response #7, what she’s doing is similar to defending a graduate thesis, so it may fall just on the wrong side of the post-college line.)

  22. Johanna Says:

    Mmmm, good point — and while I adore Finder, I’d want to be sure that a reader was good with oddness and uncertainty before recommending it. Particularly that story, with the gender fluidity.

  23. Eric Says:

    Finder and Family Man are some more books that we already have, but thank you for reminding me to check for updates on Meconis’ site! Also, hopefully this thread will be useful for other folks than just me, so I recommend Family Man as well.

  24. Kibbles ‘n’ Bits 4/9/13: from profitability to prison rape Says:

    […] The other day, Johanna Draper Carlson was asking for suggestions on building a list of Non-Memoir Graphic Novels for Adult Women—I guess that’s what they call adult fiction and there isn’t much of it, as the […]

  25. Tili Says:

    What exactly does “self-contained” mean here? Does it mean “not part of a larger narrative universe”, i.e. cutting out mainstream superhero comics? Or “not serialized”? If the latter, I’m not sure Family Man counts (although it does seem to be intended to have an overall novel-like narrative structure, it’s not done yet). Anyway, if ongoing serial comics are okay, Girls With Slingshots comes immediately to mind.

  26. Johanna Says:

    I took it to mean “a complete story in one volume”, which leaves out serialized works, such as manga. A collection of comic strips, such as Girls With Slingshots, is generally a satisfying read in one book, though.




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