Jillian Tamaki and Other Masters of Visual Storytelling: Emily’s Faves

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On this week’s episode, when Angie asked what I’d been reading, I talked about Jillian Tamaki’s SuperMutant Magic Academy, a collection of Tamaki’s award-winning webcomic that also features a bonus “afterschool special” that goes deeper into the lives of some of the one-pager’s characters.  The main joke of SuperMutant Magic Academy is that, even at a high school where some people have cat ears or can fly or are made of cheese or are aliens, the most important things are still typical teenager concerns, like crushes and crushing existential despair. Angie then revealed that the only comics she is familiar with are Garfield and Peanuts. While Peanuts and SMMA have, actually, a fair amount in common, I thought it might still be worth recommending a few reads for anyone who finds himself in Angie’s situation w/r/t comics literacy. C’mon! It’s 2015! How many iterations of the “graphic novels: not just for nerds!” trend piece have we all lived through at this point, like seven?  There’s no excuse not to get with the program.

1. Love and Rockets 

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Ok, suggesting a multi-volume saga that began in 1982 doesn’t exactly seem like a “for beginners” recommendation. But its publisher, Fantagraphics, has a handy “how to read” guide here that makes it crystal-clear how to start at the beginning, and if you don’t find yourself hooked on the series that a lot of people consider to be, in aggregate, one of the best novels (graphic or otherwise) of the last 30 years, you are missing out!  Alternatively – if starting an epic seems as daunting as beginning to bingewatch a new 7-season premium cable show — start with volume 7, The Death of Speedy Ortiz. It can stand alone, but it will suck you in and make you eager to catch up on what came before and find out what comes next for Maggie Chascarillo and Esperanza “Hopey” Glass.

2. Fun Home and Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel

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Alison Bechdel is so famous she has a test named after her that gets cited in every other movie or tv review and you still haven’t read her books? Come ON.  Read them and craving more? The collected Dykes To Watch Out For is addictive, hard not to consume all in one sitting as its characters’ lives intertwine.

3. Diary of A Teenage Girl

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Get a jump on the hotly anticipated movie by reading this acclaimed, heartbreaking book. People who have a hard time with unmitigated comics will find relief here in passages of plain text. Fans of visual storytelling will be in awe of Phoebe Gloeckner’s simple yet evocative images, which tell the story of a brilliant 15 year old girl who’s learning way too much about the fallibility of adults in 1970s San Francisco.

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