Graphic Format Memoirs: Illustration Showcase

A few months ago, we put the finishing touches on our Graphic Format Memoirs Core Collection list, combing through hundreds of life stories, all told via a combination of text and illustration, to find those that are both essential to the genre and reflective of the diversity of our community. We read every single book on the final list—and now we want to draw attention to the spectrum of illustration techniques we came upon during our research. There’s a flavor here for every palate!

What makes the graphic format so special, of course, is its use of visual language, which adds a rich new dimension to the experience of reading written text. Illustrated storytelling invites us to tap back into our childhood selves, back into the imagery-based intelligence that picture books reinforce. And because visual vocabularies are so varied, this sort of reading is far from simple: Differences in illustration style have the power to communicate wildly different messages, and in the same way readers may feel more engaged by one writing style than by another, readers of graphic novels and graphic nonfiction may also prefer certain illustration styles over others.

NoveList, the library’s partner in developing reading recommendations, offers a glossary that outlines this assortment of illustration styles. Included terms (p. 27-29) run the gamut from “cartoony” to “lavish,” “dark” to “delicate,” “muted” to “surreal.” Each of these terms can evoke a wide range of moods, and some bear the weight of certain kinds of storylines more naturally than others. Maus, for example, would have a much different feel if it were illustrated in full color.

Take a look below at the myriad styles we have represented in the Graphic Format Memoirs Core Collection. We empower you to pick your next read based on your current visual craving!









minimally colored






If you have a favorite to add, drop us a line in the Comments area below!

Written by Lainie on September 1, 2021


<span>Bruce Mason</span> on December 29, 2021


Hi, This is wonderful! Another excellent and unique graphic novel that was published recently is "Power Born of Dreams: My Story is Palestine" by Mohammad Sabaaneh.

In 2013 Israeli authorities detained Sabaaneh on the grounds of being linked to a terrorist group. He was held in Israeli prison for five months including two weeks of solitary confinement before being acquitted and released. The experience profoundly changed Sabaaneh and how he depicts Palestinian prisoners in his cartoons. "Most of the cartoonists and artists in the Arab world want to show Palestinian martyrs and prisoners like a hero, like a superman. I did not feel like superman inside the prison.”

Mohammad Sabaaneh did not draw the pages of Power Born of Dreams but instead used linocut printing. In the preface of the book he writes, “I was unable to carve my name onto the walls of my prison cell. I’ve long wondered how prisoners are able to carve their names into those rough prison walls. For this reason I’ve decided to carve their stories and share them with the world.”

Thank you and cheers!

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