Memoir Writing Tip: You Really Can Draw a Graphic Memoir

by Matilda Butler on July 20, 2011

catnav-interviews-active-3Post #57 – Women’s Memoirs, Author Conversations – Kendra Bonnett and Matilda Butler



Memoir Writers: You Should At Least Consider a Graphic Memoir

I know. The title of this post may make you roll your eyes. I’ve always said that I can’t even draw a stick figure. Yet after reading Barbara Slate’s book, You Can Do A Graphic Novel, I realized that I can probably create stick figures, which is all that it really takes. If you can do more than that, then you are well on your way to giving serious consider to a graphic memoir, in addition to or instead of a written memoir.

I was so impressed with Barbara’s book that I contacted her to see if she’d write a post for Women’s Memoirs. She graciously wrote a guest blog for us and included a graphic from one of her books.

Consider a Graphic Memoir

by Barbara Slate


I can’t remember when memoirs were so popular.

I recently attended a party for my 14 year old, graduating to the ninth grade, and sat beside an 88 year old woman who was writing a memoir about life in Iowa in the 1940’s. I’ve just returned from “Kids Read Comics” convention in Chelsea, Michigan. On the airplane ride home, I eavesdropped on a 45ish woman talking about writing a memoir focused on her twelve year political life in Albany. So when Matilda asked me if I was interested in writing a brief blog about how memoir writers can use the techniques of a graphic novel to tell their story, it didn’t take a moment for me to say “YES!”

Now if you are thinking, “Oh, I can’t draw,” then I want you to erase that ridiculous notion from your brain.

EVERYBODY CAN DRAW.

Do you remember being 2 years old, grasping that big red crayon and scribbling on paper, or the sidewalk, or on your parent’s wall? Do you remember the feeling of total joy and total abandonment, watching that red line take form? Art critic Rose Slivka wrote that when Jackson Pollock was throwing paint on canvas, it was Jackson trying to get back to being two years old. The first prehistoric artists told their stories using stick figures and writing on caves. The Diary of a Wimpy Kid is one of the best selling graphic novels and it is all drawn with stick figures.

Okay, now that you know you can draw, you might ask, “Why would I want to draw when I can tell my story with words?” I’m not suggesting you abandon your descriptive writing skills, but you might want to add drawings to advance your story. Close your eyes and visualize a setting from your story. If you are writing about life in Iowa in the 40’s, you might have a clear image of a farm, chickens pecking, cows grazing in the field, your favorite horse. Try drawing the scene. Don’t worry if the chickens look more like squirrels, or the cows look like hyenas. If the drawings are very rough, use your writing as an aid to describe the scene.

Adding art to your story, no matter how rough, breaks up the monotony of seeing words on a page. If it advances your story, then CONGRATULATIONS! You CAN do a graphic memoir.

memoir, memoir writing, graphic memoir, journaling, autobiography, lifewriting

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