Comic Book Non-Fiction: Who Says Adults Can’t Read Comics?

I remember hearing that some non-fiction and semi-reference books were appearing in graphic form — you know, like the Bible and The Communist Manifesto — but now there are a whole lot more great non-fiction works coming to a graphic book near you. Many of these aren’t simply graphic interpretations of existing works either; these are adult reference books designed explicitly for the graphic form. The Brain Pickings site described a bunch of them a few days ago — Comic Books for Grown-Ups: 10 Masterpieces of Graphic Nonfiction.

Graphic novel - New Orleans After the Deluge Some of them are rather disturbing, as you can imagine from a title like A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge. Just a glimpse of a few of the drawings really sobers you up. But this is a forceful way of giving people even a remote idea of what it was actually like in New Orleans after Katrina — and helping to understand how the right-wing federal government itself caused much of the damage, both by not keeping up with repairs on the means of prevention, and by giving help only to certain approved people afterwards.

Graphic book - Edible SecretsBut you’ve got other books that deal with history, like The 14th Dalai Lama: A Manga Biography (isn’t that great??) or Burma Chronicles. But there are two that I particularly want. One is Edible Secrets: A Food Tour of Classified Us History, which describes how (you just can’t make up this stuff) governments have tried to use food to alter history and defeat enemies, even to the point of assassinating them with it.

And of course, as an editor, the graphic book I want most of all is The Elements of Style Illustrated. Unlike other editors, I don’t actually like the original book (I find something like Eats, Shoots and Leaves a much more coherent mini grammar and writing guide), yet I would squeal in glee if I got the illustrated version of the old Strunk & White book. It’s illustrated by Maira Kalman, and the few illustrations I’ve seen are delightful.

I’m a manga fan, though only a beginner, but I’m really enjoying the creativity of this new/old graphic form. These books look like they are packed full of great information, so they aren’t mere “picture books” substituting for books of substance. Imagine where they’re going to go next! Who says you can’t read comics as an adult??

Graphic book - The 14th Dalai Lama



    1. Stephanie says:

      There are a whole series of “Manga Guide to” different sciences and maths. I’ve been told they’re actually quite good at explaining complex concepts in an approachable way.

      • Phyl says:

        I had started hearing that too, around the time I heard about the Bible and the Communist Manifesto being put into manga. It’s a great idea. You know how hard it can get to try to explain something complex when you know that if you could just show people the thing, it would all come clear.

    2. Stephanie says:

      And we already know I read manga. A lot.

    3. Shakespeare says:

      My first “adult” graphic novel was MAUS. Won the pulitzer, and for good reason. Explains the Holocaust using animals. There’s a MAUS II, as well, though I don’t remember it as clearly.

      I really should get regular comics, too. I adore superhero movies, and I like manga, too, though I do not have the experience with it that Stephanie does.

      • Phyl says:

        A friend of mine has told me about MAUS, and urged me to read it. It’s high on my list, once I can start buying books etc again. I really want to read it.

        When I had my first “midlife crisis,” part of it involved buying a lot of comics. I’ve still got a big, long box crammed full of them, and many are probably pretty valuable by now. So I’ve always secretly been a big comic fan — but only those that have actually got good stories. It was the storyline that attracted me that very first day, when I picked up a comic from a friend’s coffee table and suddenly had to go out and buy that issue for myself.

        I love the manga I’ve read. I don’t know what’s so different about it, compared to North American comics. I think it may, again, be about the storylines. I’m not sure.

    4. Alice Audrey says:

      I don’t read many comic books, but I read a lot of manga.

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