10 Comics to Help You Escape (or Appreciate) Your Family this Holiday Season

From Thanksgiving to Christmas, Bury Your Nose in These Books

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10 Comics to Help You Escape (or Appreciate) Your Family this Holiday Season

The holidays can be fraught with different kinds of drama, most of it rooted in family. With Thanksgiving and the official start of the holiday season so soon after high-profile elections, it can be hard to escape the cavalcade of too-rich food, too much alcohol and too-raw emotions that seem to be a necessary part of any gathering this time of year. Whether you’re trying to avoid your family entirely or just find some evidence that you’re not alone in the struggle, check out our list of graphic novels to help you flee from (or better understand) your relatives as everyone settles in for their tryptophan-fueled naps.

batmandeathinthefamily.jpgBatman: Death in the Family
Writer: Jim Starlin
Artist: Jim Aparo
Publisher: DC Comics
There are plenty of blood-related families in the comics canon, from the Fantastic Four to the members of the House of El and all their clones and cyborg doppelgängers. But there’s nothing quite like the found family of Bruce Wayne, a broken little boy who keeps collecting other broken children in an attempt to save his corner of the world. Famously influenced by fans who called into a hotline and voted to kill of the second Robin, A Death in the Family is the story of how Jason Todd was killed by the Joker, and the ripple effect it had through the rest of the Bat-family. It’s not required reading for everyone, but Batman fans should probably check it out at least once, and as far as classic, era-defining comics go, it’s a decent example that’s aged fairly well in the last 30 years (even if Todd has since made a full recovery). Paired with 2012’s similarly named Batman: Death of the Family by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo, Death in the Family paints a remarkable portrait of just how vast and emotionally rich Batman’s family life really is, despite near-constant protests that he’s a loner. Besides, no matter how bad a holiday with your family is, it probably won’t end with a crowbar to the head. Caitlin Rosberg

bestwecoulddo.jpgThe Best We Could Do: An Illustrated Memoir
Writer/Artist: Thai Bui
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Tha Bui’s memoir is inexorably tied to not only her family’s legacy, but also global history. Born just months after the end of the Vietnam War, Bui moved to the United States as a child in 1978 along with the rest of her family. The book was by many accounts one of the best of 2017, weaving deeply personal stories together with the history and context required to fully understand them. The art is immersive, the lines expressive and the color palette deceptively muted. The Best We Could Do is a great example of a family made up of complicated, flawed people who are no less worthy of affection and love just because they aren’t perfect. It’s unique in showing the way that the outside world can impact a family, from geopolitics and warfare all the way down to individual decisions. Tales of Diaspora due to colonialism, capitalism and conflict aren’t totally uncommon, but Bui still did a remarkable job capturing her family’s story. Caitlin Rosberg

Writer/Artist: Craig Thompson
Publisher: Drawn & Quarterly
There are plenty of coming-of-age stories about young men, and plenty of those are memoirs like Craig Thompson’s Blankets. What sets this hefty tome apart is the gentleness with which he approaches each character and situation. Blankets won a slew of awards when it premiered and has remained one of the more popular graphic memoirs since then. Blankets tells the story of Thompson falling in and out of love in the middle of a snow-covered small town, all of it overshadowed by a fundamentalist Christian youth and overbearing demands of family. If it weren’t for Thompson’s honesty and the great care and sensitivity he shows in telling such a personal story, Blankets could have easily disappeared into the large number of graphic memoirs about young love and heartbreak. As Thompson and his girlfriend Raina struggle to create their own family under the influence of their existing relations, it becomes a story of families both biological and logical. For readers living in climates that get a lot of snow around the winter holidays, reading Blankets can be an especially emotional journey. The oppressive chill and heavy layer of snow that covers the majority of the story can be comforting, but it can also lend a sense of isolation that makes the book all the more evocative. Caitlin Rosberg

cantwetalkaboutsomething morepleasant.jpgCan’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?
Writer/Artist: Roz Chast
Publisher: Bloomsbury
The words “dark humor” are inescapable when it comes to Roz Chast’s autobiographical exploration of her aging parent’s final years. Her job as a cartoonist for The New Yorker prepared Chast for the kind of comics that would capture individual moments that string together into a larger story, easy to consume in individual bites or larger chunks. Though Chast and her parents are specific and unique characters, the story is universal. As her parents age and her mother slips into dementia, Chast has to deal with questions of where they’ll live, and eventually has to help them transition into a facility where they’ll get the kind of care that they need. Bodies sometimes fail faster than minds do, and Chast tackles those intimate and difficult changes with just the same humor and honesty as everything else. Readers who are starting to transition from children to caretakers of their own parents will find comfort in Chast’s work, and almost anyone can appreciate the pleas to talk about something more pleasant with your family. Caitlin Rosberg

coralinethanksgiving.jpgCoraline: The Graphic Novel
Writer: Neil Gaiman
Artist: P. Craig Russell
Publisher: HarperCollins
Coraline is a fan favorite from another fan favorite. Neil Gaiman’s story follows a young girl who finds a strange alternate reality after crawling through a hidden door in her new home. On the other side of the door are fantastical creatures and strange people who are just barely familiar—twisted versions of people back in her real life but with buttons for eyes. The differences between reality and this other world are most evident between her mom and Other Mother, who is attentive and kind and motherly, but with a sinister motive under her sweet appearance. Coraline struggles to contend with the contrast between these two different versions of her mother and figure out what she wants and needs out of her family, which is a story anyone can understand and relate to, button eyes or not. What makes Coraline a perfect holiday read is that it’s available in multiple formats, so all types of readers can enjoy the story together. Along with the graphic novel, there’s also the prose novel and the movie, making it a good way to encourage kids to pick up a book while they do their best to avoid grown-ups. Caitlin Rosberg

Writer/Artist: Lucy Knisley
Publisher: Fantagraphics
Like Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?, Displacement is a story of aging and struggling in a world that isn’t built to accommodate either. Lucy Knisley isn’t just discussing the future of her aging relatives, but accompanying her grandparents onto an ill-advised cruise vacation. Knisley is known for her autobiographical comics, many of them focused on her twin passions of travel and food. But Displacement feels in many ways far more personal than some of her other work. Knisley contemplates her grandparents’ failing health and the future of their lives. She thinks about the struggles that her grandparents’ children are having making decisions that are fair and healthy for them, all while wrangling and managing two confused older people who are in poor shape. It’s an intimate, emotional book, and Knisley’s soft watercolors and round lines make gentle what can be a difficult and ultimately confrontational book. She doesn’t shy away from how tough it is to contend with two generations of conflicting needs while also protecting yourself. This is a good book for the sandwiched generations and their children, trapped between babies on one end and elderly parents who have many of the same needs on the other. It’s worth reading with some of Knisley’s other work, particularly Something New, the story of her wedding, and the forthcoming Kid Gloves about the birth of her own first child.Caitlin Rosberg

funhomeholiday.jpgFun Home: A Family Tragicomic & Are You My Mother?: A Comic Drama
Writer/Artist: Alison Bechdel
Publisher: Mariner Books
Alison Bechdel is known for many things, lending her name to the Bechdel-Wallace test as well as her work on the long-running strip Dykes to Watch Out For. Fun Home and Are You My Mother? act as a diptych; though some may be more familiar with the former thanks to the Tony Award-winning musical based on it, they act as two halves of a whole story, independent memoirs that join together. Bechdel’s father was a funeral home director and a restorer of antiques, and also a closeted gay man. Fun Home is a remarkable story of a gay adult child reconciling her relationship with her father. Are You My Mother? adds much-needed depth and texture to Bechdel’s mother, sidelined in the previous book as Bechdel struggled to understand and get to know her father better. Unlike some of the other autobiographical books on this list, it also offers a peek into what growth and harmony can look like in real-time as Bechdel researched and made it. LGBTQ+ readers struggling to understand their parents and their complicated relationships will find comfort (or at least understanding) in Bechdel’s work. Caitlin Rosberg

sistersraina.jpgSmile & Sisters
Writer/Artist: Raina Telgemeier
Publisher: Scholastic Graphix
Raina Telgemeier is the reigning queen of middle-grade comics, dominating bestseller lists and acting as a go-to author for librarians and teachers alike. Her graphic novel adaptations of The Baby-Sitters Club books were wildly popular and it’s hard to overstate just how much her original work has changed the landscape of the comic book industry. Smile and Sisters are the books that started it all: autobiographical stories about struggling with braces, middle school and, of course, family. Telgemeier recently announced a third book in the series, Guts, due out in 2019, so this is the perfect time to dive in. Her art is bright and cheerful, but that shouldn’t lead anyone to believe that the books mollycoddle or sugarcoat anything. They’re honest about just how much being a kid can suck, especially when stuck with extensive orthodontia and a little sister. Though they’re filled with lessons about self-acceptance and love, fitting for books aimed at young readers, they don’t feel like afterschool specials or Very Special Episodes. Adults will find a lot of familiar elements in the books, and they’re prime material for reading together with kids. The best part is that Telgemeier’s library of work is big and keeps getting bigger. Drama and Ghosts are perfect additions to Smile and Sisters; the former is about a middle-school play, crushes and looking for community, the latter about family traditions and mourning those we’ve lost. Caitlin Rosberg

Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Artist: Fiona Staples
Publisher: Image Comics
A critical and popular success for going on seven years, Saga has been all over a ton of different best-of lists and award slates. One of the things that makes the story resonate with so many different people is that its heart is built around the idea of family. There is of course Alana and Marko, who against all odds chose each other and make a family with their little girl Hazel. There’s also Marko’s family who bust in to protect them all, and Robot Prince IV and his wife and son. At every turn there are people who are building their own families, structuring them how they want and embracing new members as the arrive, reshaping to be stronger and more full of love. Fiona Staples’ lush art and genius character design are a big part of Saga’s appeal, as she and writer Brian K. Vaughan construct families out of horned humanoids, ghosts, TV-headed creatures and a seal in yellow waders. It’s a broad, epic story full of intimate moments between loved ones as well as large battles and profound violence. Readers looking for escapism this holiday season can count on Saga, like Star Wars and Lord of the Rings before it, to give them sweeping cosmic struggle with the backdrop of familial drama. Caitlin Rosberg

Writer/Artist: Brenna Thummler
Publisher: Lion Forge
At first glance, Sheets might seem like a better fit for Halloween reading than family holidays: a story about a ghost who’s lost in the living world and struggling to understand how he ended up there. But this isn’t just Wendell’s story, it’s also Marjorie’s. Like a lot of the young girls in the books on this list, Marjorie feels removed from parts of her life, isolated from her peers and struggling to keep everything together. School is bad, but home is even worse in some ways, as she’s being counted on to run her family’s failing laundry business while the adults in her life abdicate their responsibility to her and her sibling. At just 13, she’s already dealing with some very grown-up issues, and then she meets an actual ghost. Sheets evokes many of the same emotions as Matilda, with a young girl combating a system that’s set up to punish her and coming face to face with dastardly villains who would take away everything she’s worked for. She and Wendell embrace each other and work hard for her family, leaving the book feeling hopeful and sweet, all while doing a great job of reminding readers that family doesn’t always look the way we think. Caitlin Rosberg

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