Reading Workout: Graphic Non-fiction

Flex those literary muscles and expand your reading horizons by picking up a book that you might normally shy away from. That’s the theme of our reading workouts, where we challenge you to step outside your reading comfort zone.

This month, we’re delving into the thriving graphic non-fiction scene. Where from moving memoirs to revealing journalism, comics creators are drawing on pencil and paintbrush to illustrate their stories. So whether you’re new to the graphic novel genre, or already consider yourself a comics fan, read on for some essential suggestions.

Anouk Recommends…

The Chagos Betrayal: How Britain Robbed an Island and Made its People Disappear
by Florian Grosset
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408672, p/b, £16.99)

This sobering graphic novel recounts the atrocities committed by the British against the Chagos Islanders, who were forcibly removed from their homeland by the state to make way for a US military airbase. In a gradually fading colour palette, Florian Grosset recounts the eviction and the injustices inflicted on the Chagossians after their displacement, while also looking back to the first generation of slaves who arrived on the archipelago. Urgent, unflinching and moving, this is a necessary book shedding light on the plight of displaced people and the present-day diaspora of Chagossians fighting for their right to return to their land.

Or support your local bookstore.

The Winter of the Cartoonist by Paco Roca & Translated by Andrea Rosenberg
(Fantagraphics, 9781683963240, h/b, £19.99)

Against a background of 50s Francoist Spain, Paco Roca recounts the history of five Spanish artists who protest against the exploitative practices of big publishing houses by founding their own comics magazine. Rendered in Roca’s customary subdued palette, this forgotten piece of cartooning history is at once factual and full of heart. Every key player gets their due, culminating in a series of mini-biographies and afterwords providing historical context. The Tío Vivo magazine didn’t last more than a year, but its story is eternal – still playing out today with questions of rights ownership, fair pay, and workplace protections for comics artists ever in the spotlight.

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The Secrets of Chocolate: A Gourmand’s Trip Through A Top Chef’s Atelier by Franckie Alarcon
(NBM, 9781681122786, h/b, £16.99)

If you’re not a (French) foodie you may not have heard the name Jacques Génin, but don’t worry, The Secrets of Chocolate is here to help. Creator Franckie Alarcon shadowed the famous French chocolate chef for a year, gaining unprecedented access to his (self-taught!) processes. Alarcon packs a surprising amount of information in his entertaining and dynamic drawings, so prepare to travel to the Parisian atelier where it all happens and learn everything there is to know about chocolate. From cocoa planting to recipe creation and final presentation, every step is discussed and explained. The best part? The book includes tips for making your very own chocolate, perfect for satisfying the cravings it will no doubt induce.

Or support your local bookstore.

Ben Recommends…

The Roles We Play by Sabba Khan
(Myriad Editions, 9781912408306, p/b, £18.99)

A debut entry into the flourishing world of graphic memoir, Sabba Khan’s The Roles We Play illuminates her experiences as a second-generation South Asian migrant growing up in East London. Here we see a series of short essays deftly woven into spare yet vivid illustrations of Sabba’s life, community and heritage. From the legacy of the India Partition to the ethnic bubbles of her own Newham borough, Sabba interrogates questions of race, gender and class through her own personal narrative. An insightful and moving read, The Roles We Play is a fantastic example of what the graphic memoir form has to offer today.

Or support your local bookstore.

Kimiko Does Cancer by Kimiko Tobimatsu
(Arsenal Pulp Press, 9781551528199, p/b, £14.99)

At the age of twenty-five, Kimiko Tobimatsu – a young, queer, mixed-race woman – had her world turned upside when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. In Kimiko Does Cancer, we see her unexpected cancer journey play out in graphic form. Upending the traditional, heteronormative image of the cancer experience – replete with pink ribbons and runs for the cure – Kimiko offers up a perspective from a decidedly queer lens. Both critiquing a cancer community where she felt herself being sidelined and offering up tender vignettes of how she found charted her own path.

Or support your local bookstore.

Urban Tails by Ilana Zeffren
(Soaring Penguin Press, 9781908030405, p/b, £16.99)

In Tel Aviv, Israel, a lesbian family and their cats potter about in these amusing autobiographical comic strips. Cat owners of all stripes will find something to relate to here (from midnight kibble snacks to unusual shoe obsessions), and these chatty cats (discussing everything from gay issues to reality tv) prove to be scene-stealing protagonists in their own right. But at its heart is a tender lesbian relationship presented as normative, and a warm insight into a distant culture that not so different from our own.

Or support your local bookstore.

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