Beyond March: 10 Other Graphic Novels That Confront Prejudice

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Beyond <i>March</i>: 10 Other Graphic Novels That Confront Prejudice

Over the weekend, President-Elect Donald Trump took to Twitter to criticize Georgia Congressman John Lewis after he stated that he would not attend the inauguration this Friday. Trump’s commentary ignored Lewis’ legacy of devotion to Civil Rights and racial equality. The congressman was a chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and he marched with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in the March from Selma to Montgomery, Alabama in 1965; two years previous, he spoke at the historic March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, his speech directly preceding Dr. King Jr’s iconic “I Have a Dream” declaration. As a result of the Twitter event, sales of March—Lewis’ autobiographic comic trilogy co-authored by Andrew Aydin and illustrated by Nate Powell— skyrocketed. March marks the first time a member of congress has produced a comic, and the third installment won the 2016 National Book Award as well as Paste’s best comic of 2016.

But while it may (rightly) receive these historical accolades, March isn’t the only comic to combat injustice. The medium supports a rich history of instruction and education on social discord and prejudice. For readers looking for additional material past the March trilogy, here are 10 comics destined for your to-read pile.

American Born Chinese

Writer/Artist: Gene Luen Yang
Publisher: First Second

The first comic book to earn a National Book Award nomination (March, incidentally, was the first comic to win), Gene Luen Yang's graphic novel navigates the complexity of Chinese-American immigrant identities. He addresses the emotions of men and women thrust into new cultures, and elucidates the misconceptions of how immigrants are perceived. Yang, who was recently awarded the MacArthur "genius" grant for his work, tackles his subject with equal parts humor and drama, and he devises a work perfect for adults and children alike. Though its subject is markedly different, it continues the initiative begun in Art Spiegelman's Maus—interrogating the complicated make-up of ethnic and national identities and the effect they have on the individual.


Writer: Marguerite Abouet
Artist: Clement Oubrerie
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly

A series of six French graphic novels, Aya revolves around a young woman navigating the world of the Ivory Coast in the '70s. Written by Marguerite Abouet and illustrated by Clement Oubrerie, the series wraps its political offerings in compelling slice-of-life drama. These stories are tied together by the titular character, but they address numerous aspects of daily life in the Ivory Coast and the minute struggles of its citizens. Overall, Abouet provides valuable insights into the gendered politics of the time, enabling readers to sample the pervasive affects of colonialism.

King: A Comics Biography

Writer/Artist: Ho Che Anderson
Publisher: Fantagraphics

Originally published in 1993, Ho Che Anderson's biography of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. departs from most depictions of the figure by looking at the man as a multifaceted individual, rather than a one-dimensional icon. Anderson illustrates his comic with an expressive, stark style and moving sequences. For some readers, the probing series may tread familiar ground, but for most, it offers a new image of King. Anderson captures a fearful, violent and pivotal moment in American history—a moment that current affairs tell us we have yet to move beyond.

Lighten Up

Writer/Artist: Ronald Wimberly
Publisher: The Nib

This essay turned heads when it was first published in 2015, but the issues Wimberly raise continue to be a pressing concern in both the comics industry and global cultures. In the comic, Wimberly recalls a moment when a Marvel editor insisted he lighten the skin of an Afro-Latina character. With superb aesthetic vision, wit and humor, the cartoonist unpacks the instance, using it as an opportunity to interrogate the ways that individuals can perpetuate and play party to systemic marginalization without knowing it. And placing the blame at the feet of the mechanisms of capitalism, Wimberly reminds us to see injustice—whether racial or economic—as a complex set of issues that cannot be easily separated from one another.


Writer/Artist: Art Spiegelman
Publisher: Pantheon Books

Long championed as one of the most exceptional examples of the comic book form, Art Spiegelman's magnum opus was the first comic book to win a Pulitzer Prize. In the two-volume epic, Spiegelman tells the story of his father Vladek, a Polish Jew who survived the Nazi concentration camps of WWII. The book reiterates the horrors that prejudicial and bigoted governments can wreak, while telling a humane and nuanced story. This allows readers to sympathize deeply with a foreign experience, and it demonstrates the ways in which trauma continues long after the initial pains have ended. Since its initial publication, the work has earned criticism for its use of animals to illustrate ethnic or national difference (most notably by American Splendor writer Harvey Pekar), and, more recently, Spiegelman's response to the 2015 Charlie Hebdo attack has further called the canonization of Maus into question. In spite of those issues, the book continues to be a valuable opportunity to explore historical injustices.

Message to Adolf

Writer/Artist: Osamu Tezuka
Publisher: Vertical Books

While Osamu Tezuka's history of racial caricature should be noted, this series, published in English as a pair of gargantuan hardcovers, does an exceptional job exploring the ways in which prejudice and propaganda can easily mold societal attitudes. The book concerns two young boys—the half-Japanese, half-German Adolf Kaufmann and the Jewish Adolf Kamil. It opens with the pair bonding, but as they come of age amidst WWII, their friendship bends and cracks under the pressure of a climate that insists everything Kaufmann knows about his friend Kamil is wrong. A conspiracy regarding Hitler's supposed Jewish ancestry runs throughout the book, but the real draw here is the way Tezuka explores the ease with which these two characters—once the best of friends—are pitted against one another in the face of systemic injustice.

Nat Turner

Writer/Artist: Kyle Baker
Publisher: Abrams

Originally self-published as a series of four pamphlet comics by Kyle Baker, this collection diagrams the story of Nat Turner and his 1831 slave rebellion. Beautifully rendered in Baker's fluid, ever-evolving style, the book merges fact and fiction, and incorporates excerpts from Turner's confessions into its drama. An expertly crafted comic, Nat Turner offers readers a powerful combination of text and image, and the effect is electric. Moved to anger and tears, we're reminded both of the horrors of slavery and just how little removed from those attitudes and practices we remain.


Writer/Artist: Marjane Satrapi
Publisher: Pantheon Books

Earning a sizable reputation in the US since its English translation in 2003, the two-volume Persepolis presents American readers with a glimpse into Iran beyond cable news dispatches. The series works as a memoir of author Marjane Satrapi artfully expounding upon her life in the country before she moves to France. It also introduces her family, neighbors and friends and these figures offer her (and us) a unique perspective into Iran's political history. Satrapi's journey allows readers to better understand some shared experiences of Muslim women—both in Iran and in France—and she urges us to see the global workings of misogyny and fear.

Stuck Rubber Baby

Writer/Artist: Howard Cruse
Publisher: DC Comics/Vertigo

Like many other books on this list, Howard Cruse's Stuck Rubber Baby is an autobiography, though an untraditional one. Cruse composes a fictionalized version of his own struggle with his identity as a gay man, and it draws heavily on his experiences with the black Civil Rights movement of the 1960s. Like Aya or Persepolis, Stuck Rubber Baby doesn't wear its politics on its sleeve—but it does find the political in the personal. Cruse uses the character of Toland Polk to tell his story, marking the outer bounds of life and the limits that racism and homophobia place on the human experience. Through Stuck Rubber Baby, audiences can understand the effect that these systems of marginalization have on their friends, neighbors and family members.

War of Streets and Houses

Writer/Artist: Sophie Yanow
Publisher: Uncivilized Books

The perfect book to close this list, Sophie Yanow's brief and energetic comic both examines an instance of oppression, but also investigates the ways that oppression can be repelled. Almost journalistic in tone, Yanow tells War of Streets and Houses from a personal, first-person perspective, revolving around her involvement with the 2011 Montreal University tuition strike. While explicating her story of the strike, Yanow also weaves in a history of urban protest and counter-protest, and it becomes a tool of praxis for those looking to organize and effectively protest. Drawn in Yanow's signature stripped-down style, War of Streets and Houses is an understated book that requires active engagement, but in the current political climates, it proves indispensable.