Graphic Novels about Musicians

Staff PicksWoodridge Library

Graphic Novels about Musicians

I love music, and I love graphic novels. This was a fun list to make.
When I first read the graphic novel of Daniel Johnston, I knew I wanted to make this list. I thought more people should read about his struggles and the inspiring story of his successes. I put this list together from there. There are lots of interesting stories to tell, but I wanted to look at several genres of music, rather than just rock or pop. That forced me to make some decisions, like leaving off Nick Cave’s story, as well as one about Johnny Cash. I’m happy with this list, and if you enjoy it I hope you’ll keep looking for other good stories to read.

The Fifth Beatle: the Brian Epstein story by Vivek J. Tiwary
This graphic novel tells the story of Brian Epstein, who discovered the Beatles in 1961 and went on to become their invaluable manager. He worked tirelessly for the Beatles until his death in 1967 at the young age of 32. Many consider his death the beginning of the end of the Beatles.

Hip Hop Family Tree by Ed Piskor
This is a four volume history of hip hop, and I recommend all 4 volumes. Volume 1 covers the 1970s-1981; Volume 2 covers 1981-83; Volume 3 covers 1983-84; and Volume 4 covers 1984-85. Artists covered include Salt-N-Pepa, Run-D.M.C. and Dr. Dre. The illustration style is very old school and fitting for the story.

Love in vain : Robert Johnson, 1911-1938 by J.M. Dupont
Robert Johnson wrote some great songs, and died young (27). All the makings of a great story. He was loved by Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones -- and was rumored to have sold his soul to the devil. He recorded 29 songs in two sessions. Much of Johnson’s life is unknown, so the comic combines fact and fiction to great effect.

Billie Holiday by Jose Mũnoz & Carlos Sampayo 
Billie Holiday was born in 1915 and died at age 44. She was plagued by scandals of drugs, alcohol abuse and violence, and she was an amazing jazz singer. This graphic novel tells the story of a reporter on her trail; he is revisiting the memory of Billie and working to restore her good name.

Glenn Gould: A Life Off Tempo by Sandrine Revel
Glenn was a child genius who became a superstar in the world of classical music, based primarily on his interpretations of Bach. This comic works to understand the story of the artist and why he suddenly stopped performing. Rather than an omnipotent narrator, the story is told from the perspective of a fan.

The Incantations of Daniel Johnston by Ricardo Cavolo & Scott McClanahan
This graphic novel is the reason for this list. I love the story it tells and want more people to read it. It’s the story of cult artist Daniel Johnston. He’s a singer, songwriter and visual artist. Daniel has been diagnosed with schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. His songs can be childlike at times and are primarily recorded at home onto cassette. He spent time in mental institutions and struggled with medications and prejudices as well as a general confusion on why people are different than him. Through all these difficulties he persevered. The art style is amazing, and busy illustrations mimic an overactive mind.
California Dreamin' by Pénélope Bagieu
Ellen Cohen is a teenager from Baltimore. She’s got a great voice and dreams of stardom. She leaves home at age 19 and finds a group of like-minded misfits. Ellen becomes Mama Cass of the Mamas and Papas. Fame, love, drugs and music all happen fast, and Mama Cass struggles to keep her head above water. This is her story.

The Carter Family: don't forget this song by Frank M. Young and David Lasky
The First Family of Country Music gets the graphic novel treatment. Beginning with A.P. Carter, Sarah and Maybelle, the three learn an impressive catalog of local songs from friends and neighbors. The three recorded hundreds of songs and sold millions of records. Maybelle’s guitar playing was so distinctive, it was given a name of its own -- "the Carter Scratch" -- which was a way of playing lead and rhythm at the same time.