Graphic Memoirs to Pick Up After They Called Us Enemy

In November, Underbrush Book Club tackled They Called Us Enemy, George’s Takei’s moving graphic memoir detailing his childhood spent in an American concentration camp. Not only did we get to experience the graphic novel format for the first time since last November, we also dove head first into a piece of Arkansas history that is often wrongfully overlooked. For this blog, I wanted to introduce other graphic memoirs that you might enjoy if you liked They Called Us Enemy.

To start, Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi is one of my favorite graphic novels to date and possibly the most similar to Takei’s memoir. The novel follows Satrapi through her childhood and teenage years living in Iran amidst the Islamic Revolution. Satrapi pinpoints significant differences between her home life, school teachings, and social expectations. The novel is illustrated in black-and-white comic-style panes that have a similar effect to They Called Us Enemy. Even though the story is told from the perspective of a young girl, this novel may not be suitable for some audiences, as it does contain graphic violence, specifically dealing with war.

If you enjoyed the relationship dynamic between Takei and his parents, try Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel. Part coming-out story, part tragedy, part family drama, Fun Home follows Bechdel’s experience of grieving her father’s passing in the wake of him coming out as gay. Bechdel reflects on her childhood spent living above the family-owned funeral home to attempt to piece together a father that she was just beginning to know. Fun Home has been adapted into a play and was in production in Northwest Arkansas just a few years ago.

Along that same note, Maus by Art Spiegelman depicts Nazi Germany in a very unique way. Illustrating Nazis as cats and Jewish citizens as mice, Spiegelman focuses on portraying the fear and need for survival felt by many during World War Two, and in turn detailing how these emotions effect the children of survivors. Like Persepolis, Maus has multiple volumes and addresses multiple generations.

March by John Lewis chronicles another gruesome piece of American history - one that is still on-going and essential today. March details the height of the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, specifically the experiences of John Lewis, a Civil Rights activist and Georgia House representative until his death just last year. The first volume of the trilogy follows Lewis’s teenage years in Alabama and the experiences that led him to become one of the leading activists of his time.

Gender Queer by Maya Kobabe is a more recently challenged graphic novel, on both local and national levels. Gender Queer explores gender identity and dysphoria, pronouns, sexuality, queerness, coming out, and making friends during adolescent years. It is written as an aide for both teens needing encouragement and acceptance and parents struggling to understand. While Takei’s memoir shows us a bit of intersectionality as far as nationality and queerness, Gender Queer’s attempted banning proves that stories like Takei’s and Kobabe’s are more important and necessary than ever. 

Almost American Girl tells the story of Robin, a Korean-born girl who moves from Seoul to settle in Huntsville, Alabama. Her mother is getting married, so she enrolls in public school but understands little English. Robin is completely lost without her friends and her comic books, the only outlets she had before being whisked away to this new isolating life. When Robin finds a comic drawing class, her life begins falling back into place again. Much like Takei’s love of stage and screen acting, Robin Ha used her talent to help others understand and persevere through similar situations that they went through as a young adult.

Thank you so much for checking out these recommendations for They Called Us Enemy by George Takei. Be sure to tune in next month for a list of winter reads to escape into and satisfy your reading needs for the coziest season of the year.

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