Photo: Jess Sanson

Karrie Fransman’s Eight Graphic Novelists

Open a graphic novel, and you’ll look down on a page filled with little windows into the artist’s world: worlds of painted mythology, inky noir or scratchy penned autobiography. They say that comics are the primal language, painted on walls by cavemen and scribbled by children with crayons. They are visual stories that can be understood and shared by people regardless of their age, education or nationality, allowing us to see through the eyes of people who are different from us. This list celebrates the imagined worlds of women from all over the world—India, Nepal, Lebanon, Malta, the U.S. and a few of my fellow Brits. I hope some of these graphic novelists find their way into your worlds as they have into mine.

1. Amruta Patil

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Amruta Patil is famous for being “India’s first female graphic novelist” but she is so much more than that. Her graphic novels read like poetry, laying bare the wise soul within her. Her first book, Kari, came to me serendipitously as I strolled past a second-hand book shop window and saw it starting out at me. I was due to meet and give a talk with Patil in Dundee with Scottish PEN and so bought it, read it and fell instantly in love. Her writing was some of the best I’d seen in the graphic novel world and the story vibrated in my bones. The book opens with Kari and her lover Ruth jumping from a building in a joint suicide bid and the story does not get any less interesting. Patril followed Kari with Adi Parva, an interwoven retelling of the Sanskrit epic The Mahabharata and the religious Hindu text Vishnu Purana, using bold paint strokes and collage to bring the myths to life.

 2. Simone Lia

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Take just a quick glance at Simone Lia’s beautiful cartoons and you’d be forgiven for mistaking them as cute. But, trust me, British-born Maltese Lia is a force to be reckoned with. Yes, her first, hugely popular graphic novel, Fluffy, is a book about a cute bunny who thinks a man named Michael is its dad (despite Michael’s protests). But it is also a book about identity and belonging, and beautifully captures the ability of children to bring out honesty in adults. Lia’s hotly anticipated second Fluffy book will be due out soon. In the meantime, check out Please God Find Me a Husband!, which lures you in with playful pictures—cute dancing trees and God doing wheelies on his bike—and before you know it you’re questioning spirituality and love, joining Catholic Lia on an autobiographical quest to find answers.

3. Joumana Medlej

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I first came across Lebanese Joumana Medlej’s work at a talk she gave in London but was lucky enough to meet her properly when we were both guests at the Hay festival in Beirut. Her graphic novel, Malaak: Angel of Peace, introduces us to Lebanon’s first superhero, and merges this genre of comics with Lebanese politics and mythology. Her war-fighting superhero destroys snipers who are taking shots at children running to school, which is made all the more poignant when set against Medlej’s own childhood growing up in war-torn Lebanon. Today, Medlej focuses on creating beautiful geometric fine art inspired by the stories and ideas behind Arabic typography.

4. Hannah Berry


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Hannah Berry is one of the few examples of a graphic novelist who writes as well as she paints. And boy, can she paint. Her inky pictures, full of light and shadows, pull you into her noir-ish worlds, full of murders and mysteries—from the witty Britten and Brülightly to the unnerving Adamtine. Her newest graphic novel, LiveStock, is due to be published in 2016, and takes a slightly different path from her previous books. In it, Berry humorously explores a dystopian future and plays on today’s pop culture and politics. Wit is something Berry is very comfortable with, as anyone who has read her blog will attest. She was chosen as online writer-in-residence at the Book Trust, which is no surprise, as Berry’s blog will make you snort tea out of your nose. In a good way.

5. Kripa Joshi

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Kripa Joshi is an amazingly talented Nepalese comic artist who brought the fantastic curvaceous Miss Moti to life. ‘Moti’ in Nepali, Hindi and Urdu means “fatty” but pronounce it slightly differently and it can also mean “pearl.” Joshi self-publishes the wordless, extraordinary colourful Miss Moti and the Cotton Candy and Miss Moti and the Big Apple, in which the larger-than-life imagination of Miss Moti spills into the outside world. Currently Joshi is editing a collection of comics on the theme of “home” to raise funds to support education and art therapy for children affected by Nepal’s recent earthquake.

6. Nicola Streeten

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The formidable Nicola Streeten exploded onto the British comic scene with her scribbly and raw illustrations in her autobiographic graphic novel, Billy, Me & You: A Memoir of Grief and Recovery, which documents the loss of her two-year-old son during heart surgery. Rarely has a book been able to make me both laugh and cry in the same sitting, and it did that in public on a train journey home. These days Nicola is perhaps best known for running Laydeez Do Comicsthe thinking person’s comic event with talks from comic book artists and a refreshingly un-hierarchical platform for creators to showcase their work. There are lots of thought-provoking questions, people of all levels coming together and sharing their work and a good dose of home-made cake as social lubrication. The events now run in both the UK and the US. Currently, Streeten is working on her second graphic novel, Hymn, which focuses on the issue of abortion. I can’t wait to read it.

 7. MK Czerwiec

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I have been a die-hard MK Czerwiec (aka ‘Comic Nurse’) fan since I read her online comic, Representing AIDS at 30: An Illustrated Oral History of Unit 371, an earlier online version of her forthcoming graphic memoir Taking Turns. The comic details her experiences working as a nurse in Chicago, on one of the first HIV wards in the U.S., and the amazing way in which doctors, nurses, patients and their loved ones came together in the face of this horror. I’ve read many autobiographical comics that document harrowing real-life events and am always struck by how aware I am that I am seeing this reality through the eyes of the artist. Czerwiec is the first I graphic novelist I have seen incorporate her own autobiographical account with an oral history gathered through interviews. In doing so, Czerwiec gives the doctors, nurses and families of patients she worked with a voice of their own. She currently co-runs the amazing Graphic Medicine website, alongside Ian Williams.

 8. Isabel Greenberg

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Isabel Greenberg’s stories are seeped in mythology and storytelling, and draw inspiration from The Bible, Greek myths and Phillip Pullman. She has a wonderfully witty and conversational way of writing, set against a simple but beautiful illustrative style. I taught Greenberg after she was selected to take part in a Comics graduation programme at London Print Studio and she soon shot to fame after winning the Observer/Jonathan Cape Graphic Short Story Prize and publishing her comic The Encyclopedia of Early Earth. Today she continues to self-publish beautifully drawn and printed myths and stories, which you can pick up at conventions and via her website. Despite being the youngest graphic novelist on this list, Greenberg is one to watch.

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