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Autobiographical Comic Book Artists

Most artists –be they writers, painters, film makers or comic book artists– take inspiration from their own experiences. This top 5 deals with comic book artists that have built an entire oeuvre around autobiographical comics – artists whose names are synonymous with the genre. They are a character in their own comics, sharing their every day adventures with the reader and not shying away from getting really, really personal. By Michael Minneboo.

1. Robert Crumb (1943)

Robert Crumb is one of the godfathers of the American underground comics movement and one of the best examples of a comic artist who’s blatantly honest in his autobiographical stories. Crumb’s comic persona speaks directly to his readers. He lays bare his sexual habits and fetishes, his misadventures with women, and he dispels any myths about himself. When in ‘Memories Are Made Of This’ (1988) a potential one night stand asks Crumb if he’s a misogynist, he answers: ‘Misogynist?? Nah, ah… I hate everybody equally!!!’ Which tells a lot about his personality and his sense of humor.

Crumb draws his stories in a wonderfully cartoonish style, which makes his sexcapades all the funnier. In later years, Crumb makes stories together with his wife Aline about their lives called Dirty Laundry Comics. Personally, I find Aline not as skilled as a cartoonist as her husband. Her additions to Crumb’s art remind me of Yoko Ono singing on a John Lennon song – it just doesn’t match well. Crumb also created classic characters such as Fritz the Cat, Angelfood McSpade, and Mr. Natural, but that’s a different story.

2. Harvey Pekar (1939-2010)

Harvey Pekar (wikipedia) was an American comic book writer that made personal autobiographic stories about his every day life as a file clerk at the Cleveland’s Veteran’s Administration Hospital. In his famous comic ‘American Splendor’ Pekar, who could be described as a grumpy curmudgeon, tells slice-of-life tales about his job, about collecting jazz-records, and about his philosophies on life in general. Pekar showed us regular life can be complex stuff which can serve perfectly as a comic book story, especially when served with wry and caustic reflections. In 2003 ‘American Splendor’ was adapted into a motion picture.

As Pekar could not draw himself, artists like Robert Crumb, Gary Dumm, Greg Budgett, Spain Rodriguez and Joe Sacco illustrated the comics. In ‘Our Cancer Year’ (1994), Harvey relates the story of his struggle to overcome cancer, and mixes that with social commentary on the events of that year. The story was co-written by Pekar’s wife Joyce Brabner and illustrated by Frank Stack. Because of his comics, Pekar became somewhat of a media personality, although he stuck to his file clerk job until he retired in 2001.

3. Guy Delisle (1966)

Canadian animator and comic book artist Guy Delisle is best know for his personal travelogues, such as ‘Shenzhen’ (2000), ‘Pyongyang: A Journey in North Korea’ (2003), ‘Burma Chronicles’ (2007), and ‘Jerusalem’ (2011). Like Crumb and Pekar, Delisle is a character in his own stories. What I like about his diary-like comics is that, just like us, he’s an outsider in the places he travels to, making us see places such as Burma and Shenzhen through his eyes. Both author and reader slowly get to know the foreign country and its culture a little bit better. Delisle, who lives in France now, usually spends quite some time abroad. For example, he lived in Jerusalem for more that a year because of his wife’s work for Doctors Without Borders. In recent years he has also published a series of three books with short funny cartoons about being a parent, ‘A User’s Guide to Neglectful Parenting,’ which is also based on personal experiences.

4. Peter Pontiac (1951-2015)

Autobiography is a very common theme in the Dutch comic book world. A number of artists, such as Peter Pontiac, Maaike Hartjes, Gerard Leever, Floor de Goede and Barbara Stok have made a series of books about their everyday exploits. Earlier this year Dutch underground comic book artist and illustrator Peter Pontiac passed away, leaving his graphic novel on the subject of Death and his own illness unfinished.

Pontiac, who was partly inspired by Robert Crumb’s underground comix from the sixties, made socially critical comics and erotica, but he is known above all for his autobiographical stories about his drug use and love life. Often his stories are rather grim and not without self-pity, but this is counteracted by a healthy dose of self-deprecation and wry humor. ‘Kraut’ (2000) is Pontiac’s tour-de-force. Through this book he tried to come to terms with his father’s history, a German-collaborator and an SS war journalist on the Eastern front in WWII, who disappeared without a trace in later years.

5. Barbara Stok (1970)

Inspired by artists such as Robert Crumb, Aline Kominsky-Crumb and Peter Bagge, Dutch artist Barbara Stok started making autobiographical comics in the mid 1990s. In a very straightforward and recognizable drawing style Stok leaves nothing unmentioned, her first orgasm, the fun of driving slowly, performances with her band, her fear of death or her failed meditation attempts. She regularly treats the reader to her musings, like whether she is going to buy a pair of fair trade but ill-fitting trousers, or jeans that fit nicely but are probably made by kids.

What I like about Stok’s comics is that she presents her every day adventures with humor and a sense of perspective. Like Pekar, she shows that ordinary life makes for interesting stories. In other words, one doesn’t need to go to exotic places, have strange sexual fetishes or a drug addiction to make interesting comics. Stok’s graphic novel biography about Vincent van Gogh, simply called ‘Vincent,’ is an international bestseller. Submarine is adapting Stok’s graphic novel into an animated feature film.


Michael Minneboo is a comics expert, journalist and blogger. He has been a Spider-Man-fan for over 30 years. His book 'Mijn vriend Spider-Man: Superhelden, geeks en fancultuur' (My Buddy Spider-Man: Superheroes, geeks and fan culture) came out in 2017. He blogs and vlogs about comics and popular culture on Find him on Twitter @MichaelMinneboo


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