4 Graphic Novels That Remind Me of Indie Film

When I think of my favorite indie films, I think of intensely personal stories with small casts. Not to stereotype, because independent filmmakers can and do make all kinds of movies, including epics and spectacles. But these three graphic novels remind me of the smaller indie films that tell human-scale stories with compassion and artistry. Hope you find something here to read and enjoy.

Before we jump in:

  • All comics here can be bought as graphic novels/collections, not only as single issues. Your library may own many of these!
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  • If you need to know whether a book has certain content that would make it a bad fit for you, I’m happy to check!

Russian Olive to Red King (Amazon / Goodreads) By Kathryn and Stuart Immonen.

So, so beautiful and so, so sad. This graphic novel about love and loss just about knocked me over, and I couldn’t get it out of my mind for days after I read it. The story is tightly focused on a couple. The man, a writer, is creatively blocked and probably also depressed. The woman, a research scientist, takes a plane trip for her job, but the plane goes missing. He waits for news, losing hope every day. The final part of the book is his next essay, coupled with a series of visuals that just about broke my heart when I figured out what it was. The Immonens have created a powerful story here, and I can’t recommend it strongly enough.

Roughneck (Amazon/Kindle / Goodreads) By Jeff Lemire.

Derek Ouelette is a former hockey player whose career crashed and burned due to his violence. Now he lives in his small remote hometown, drinking and picking fights. His sister Beth, who he hasn’t seen in years, turns up to hide from an abusive boyfriend. Making matters worse, she’s an addict. Making matters even worse… well, I won’t spoil it for you, but let’s just say both Derek and Beth have to start making some hard choices about what kind of people they want to be. It’s a harrowing book, not just in terms of physical violence and suspense, but also in what each sibling has to face internally. It’s dark and minimalist in many ways, but I think that’s what makes it so emotionally powerful.

The past is in full color, the present is just pale blue and grey, because in many ways the past is more real until Derek and Beth start confronting their demons. This would translate SO well to film, with the past scenes well-lit and colorful, and the present ones all looking like bleak winter scenery.

Swallow Me Whole (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Nate Powell.

Ruth and Perry are a sister and brother who both have schizophrenia. (Unlike the popular misconception, schizophrenia is not multiple personality disorder. It’s a mental illness that results in becoming cut off from reality, often experiencing hallucinations.) It seems the siblings’ illness began manifesting in late elementary or middle school, but the bulk of this story takes place when they’re teenagers. Ruth receives some medication, Perry does not. Neither of them is really okay, though Perry is better able to cope. It’s a dark, disturbing book – not because Powell uses the characters to shock the reader, but because of the reality of their lives given that neither receives appropriate treatment. However, I appreciated how Ruth and Perry are not just their disorders. They go to school, have jobs, and date. But as Ruth’s illness progresses, it takes over. Not one to read for entertainment, but definitely well-crafted and worthwhile.

The Property (Amazon/Comixology / Goodreads) By Rutu Modan, translated by Jessica Cohen.

Mica has lost her father to cancer. She travels with her paternal grandmother, Regina, to Warsaw. Regina says the goal of the trip is to reclaim family property that was lost during World War II. But when they arrive in Warsaw, Regina starts acting strangely. She seems to have her mind on something else and she’s not sharing any details with Mica. Add to the mix a domineering family friend with his own agenda, a hot Polish tour guide, and an elderly writer… things are going to get complicated. I was frustrated with Regina at first, but as her story unfolded, my heart ached for her. Modan leads the characters so delicately through their individual realizations of the larger story. This is a lovely book.

That concludes today’s roundup of comics that I love and recommend! If you have any suggestions for me, please leave them in the comments – and thanks for sharing this post on social media or with friends.

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