Comic books are an extremely versatile medium. While they are probably best known as a tool for escapism, comics are also an ideal platform for stories rooted in reality. From current affairs to historical period pieces, there are some really amazing true-life comic books out there and personally, I’m a real sucker for a good biography!
Written and illustrated by the celebrated English author, Raymond Briggs, Ethel And Ernest is a story distinguished by its insignificance. Unlike many biographical pieces, Ethel And Ernest is not the story of anybody particularly influential nor infamous. Based on the lives of Raymond Briggs’ own parents, it is the story of an extraordinarily ordinary couple.
Drawn in the iconic Briggs art style made familiar to many by books such as The Snowman, The Bear and Father Christmas, Ethel & Ernest is an intimate, slow-burn comic that places a warming spotlight on the little things in life. From the petty nothing-fights and the humour we all use to get through the day, all the way to subtle yet hard-hitting explorations of love, grief, family and commitment, Briggs explores all of life’s little nooks and crannies. You would be well-advised to keep a box of tissues nearby as Ethel And Ernest is sure to have you laughing one minute and crying the next.
The harrowing story of a serial killer’s childhood, My Friend Dahmer was written and illustrated by Derf Backderf, an old school friend of one of America’s most savagely cruel and perverse serial killers of the twentieth century; Jeffrey Dahmer.
My Friend Dahmer details Backderf’s teenage friendship with Jeffery Dahmer, on which Backderf reflects on memories ranging from the mundane to the down-right strange. Filled with rueful recollections on red flags and missed signs, My Friend Dahmer is a chilling cautionary tale on the dangers of emotional repression and turning the other cheek on troubled individuals.
Written by Vivek Tiwary and illustrated by Kyle Baker and A. G Robinson, The Fifth Beatle is a historical homage to the unsung hero of rock n’roll; Brian Epstein. He is known, if at all, for his management of The Beatles, one of the most legendary and influential rock/ pop groups in history. Tiwary, alongside the colourful visual splendour of Baker and Robinson, details the compelling story of both Epstein’s professional and personal life. This standalone graphic novel treats its readers to a uniquely detailed view of how Epstein rose The Beatles from a juvenile Cavern Club band to the global phenomenon they’re known as today, all the while dealing with fragile subjects such as sexuality, antisemitism, substance abuse and mental health.
Written and illustrated by Kate Evans, Red Rosa is the dramatic biography of Rosa Luxemburg; a German revolutionary of the early 1900s and a highly influential figure of the political left. Red Rosa details Luxemburg’s journey into politics and the challenges she faced not only in distinguishing herself as a strong-willed woman but also as a Jewish woman in a time when antisemitism was on an alarmingly rapid incline. In amongst the major issues, Evans provides a visually stunning view into Luxemburg’s troubled day-to-day; her loves, her friendships, her passions, her thoughts.
A slice of life with a generous helping of added spice, Red Rosa is a bitter-sweet account that charms its reader just as much as it keeps them on their toes.
A three-volume series written and illustrated by You Higuri, Ludwig II focuses on the life of the Bavarian King of the same name. Crowned King at 18, King Ludwig ruled over Bavaria from 1864 until his death in 1886. A story of a controversial reign, Ludwig II explores the backlash faced by King Lugwig due to his failure to produce a successor, a failure that occurred as a result of his repressed homosexuality. Higuri provides an intimate window into King Ludwig’s succession of “male friendships” and the effects that the weight of secrecy can have on an individual, particularly for those placed in a dangerously high-stakes setting. Alongside the visual charm of Higuri’s shojo manga style, Ludwig II is a delicate depiction of love, loneliness, fear and the ongoing battle of cultural conflict faced within the LGBTQ+ community.
Do you have a favourite comic, manga or graphic novel based on real-life? Is there one you love that wasn’t listed? Let us know in the comments!