So Many Autobiographical Graphic Novels (A Mini-Review)

When I last visited Little Island Comics, it was with the intention of buying one, small book for my daughter and getting out of there. That wasn’t what actually happened: what actually happened was I stacked up books until I reached my carrying capacity. I had avoided visiting a comic shop of any kind for months because I am so very far behind on my reading, but all that meant was that there were months worth of books which had come out that I desperately, desperately needed to own. And this was just at the kid’s comic book shop. I couldn’t bring myself to look at the grown-up stuff.

My current graphic novel to-read pile.

I resolved when I got home to start ploughing through the pile. After all, even the densest, most literary graphic novel is still mostly pictures and reading one is actually only a commitment of, at the most, a day or two.

My first-pick was Kean Soo & Tory Woollcott‘s self-published Toronto to Tuscany: An Italian Adventure. This isn’t a book, per se; just a little 32-page mini-comic. But I like to pick my reads in part by serendipity. We’d met Tory the day before at Little Island (where she apparently works) and my daughter is currently going through a Jellaby phase. Toronto to Tuscany had been on my shelf since last year’s TCAF so, really, its turn had come.

Toronto to Tuscany is a collection Tory & Kean’s anecdotes about their 2010 Tuscan vacation together. It’s funny and cute, which is about all I could ask of sixteen folded-and-stapled pages of printer paper. If anything, it is remarkable for being so little and yet so worth owning. Tory & Kean’s trip is pretty much just like any European vacation taken by two quirky Canadian 20-or-30-somethings. They have transportation problems, use badly diced local languages in restaurants, see attractions and bicker. I’ve had this trip myself to different places with different people.


Autobiographies and anecdotes are a huge part of the graphic novel scene. There’s something about the medium that can turn a little story – “this one time I saw a naked dude in Manarola” – into comedy gold. Comic strips have been turning tiny observations into punchlines for years. A funny face, a fall in the water and a sideways glance convey laughs in a way text can’t. See Kate Beaton‘s Fat Pony for a perfect illustration. It’s just a pony. But oh my god that thing kills me. Nor do the pictures have to just play for laughs. Sadness, loneliness, anger, shock – in short, the wide spectrum of human emotions that we read daly in the faces of others can be illustrated by a good artist telling a story in pictures. Graphic novels solve the story teller’s “I guess you just had to be there” limitation, because they can bring you there.

There’s something more to it than just illustrating a good anecdote though, and I think it’s the added element of fandom. I bought Toronto to Tuscany because I like Kean Soo. We follow celebrities on Twitter or Facebook because somehow, what they ate for breakfast or what music they’re listening to brings us closer to them. If mainstream superhero comics and literary graphic novels have any crossover anymore (outside of sharing retail space) it’s in the obsession of their readers. Graphic novel devotees celebrate their creators almost cultishly. $5 for what you did last summer? Yes please!

In any case, Toronto to Tuscany succeeds in both ways. Funny scenarios are made funnier by Tory & Kean’s alternating illustrations of each others’ silliest moments. My fandom is satisfied by a little glimpse into the private lives of my comic-creating heroes. It’s the kind of little thing that makes comic collecting fun!

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