HEADS UP! This post has spoilers for every comic mentioned in it! Read it at your own risk!
I was asked on Instagram a while ago for recommendations for comics with happy endings. I was shocked by how difficult it was to compile a list; most of my comics are sad sack indie comics. I was genuinely surprised that most of the positive graphic novels I owned with happy endings were created by women (but I shouldn’t be, I will have a future post about how my taste has changed in the last few years, and how so much of the comics I used to love and now have no patience for are morose bullshit by sad white straight boys).
Here’s a list in no particular order:
This short book published by (my favorite publisher) Retrofit is my fave work by MariNaomi. It’s a short form comic told through a series of vignettes about a relationship that starts out antagonistically in childhood and then follows it as it transforms into a friendship over the course of 30 years. MariNaomi and her friend lose touch and then reconnect and the relationship starts to take on more significance. It ends with the two supporting each other. It’s a quiet story that is about one of my favorite topics: female friendships!
I have written about this book before here. This is a memoir where Marchetto battles and survives breast cancer. She learns (to a point) that her superficial priorities before cancer are fucked up and to have more empathy towards other women. It is a very good book by someone I would never want to hang out with. And, before you ask if every cancer memoir has a happy ending because they are all survival stories, the answer is no, they don’t.
I’m glad to see this book is in print again. It’s the story of how Arnoldi became pregnant via date rape, had the child, and the lengths she went through to provide for her kid and fulfill her dream of going to college. She deals with abuse, homelessness, and all sorts of other bullshit. She is unbelievably perseverant though, and never comprimises who she is. The most vivid scene for me is one where she works in a factory, moves up from working the floor to working in the main office, and discovers that the chemicals being used to make the factories products cause cancer. She tries to expose them but is ultimately fired and is literally dragged off the premises screaming. But, even through all that and more, she gets her degree and takes care of her kid.
So full disclosure, Ariel is my comics mentor. I chose her as my thesis advisor when I was at the Center For Cartoon Studies, and we have been close ever since. However, I chose her because I loved her work. When I wrote a guest week worth of reviews for Our Comics Ourselves , Ariel’s career was one of my first posts. Ariel Bordeaux was ahead of her time, and I 100% believe the only reason Ariel isn’t considered one of the premiere indie cartoonists of the ‘90s is just straight up sexism. She wrote stories that spoke to women. When she first did autobio in Deep Girl, it was super over the top and comedic. I love this work, but I totally see why men would appreciate it in a way they don’t appreciate her fiction. It’s like how every indie comic bro I know when asked about women cartoonists they like say Julie Doucet, where all of her autobio work is about crazy ass adventures and trauma told in a rock and roll way without really reflecting on it. Ariel’s fiction though (and later autobio work) are all about the way people interact with each other and how their dynamics work. The best comic in Deep Girl is about a pair of friends that are trying to stay together despite growing apart and how painful that is, along with a really honest look at rejection. Anyway, ‘90s indie guys don’t care about emotions unless it’s about how male authors are talking about being misanthropic.
OKAY RANT OVER FOR NOW (BECAUSE I PROMISE I WILL BE GETTING BACK TO IT IN A FUTURE POST)!
Anyway, No Love Lost is a story about a woman in a shitty relationship. He’s not a jerk or anything, they just do not fit well together. She is trying to make her relationship work at the expense of all of her friends. The two finally break up, and both parties are better off for it. The protagonist apologizes to her friends and they reconcile. It’s a great book that Drawn and Quarterly didn’t market properly or know what to do with when it was published because they were too busy promoting Joe Matt’s work where he gives his girlfriend a black eye and fetishizes women (but! like! he hates himself too! So it’s TOTALLY FUNNY AND COOL!).
This is part two of an autobiographical series by Lasko-Gross, the first being Escape From Special . The first book highlights her years in elementary school. In that book, she goes from being a happy kid to essentially getting more and more burdened with society’s expectations of her and the labels that come with those expectations. A Mess of Things follows her throughout high school. I haven’t read my copies of these books in years, but the part that stuck with me is when Lasko-Gross confronts her best friend about having an eating disorder (among other things) because she loves her, followed by her friend getting defensive and dropping Lasko-Gross completely. Lasko-Gross shows how painful that is, and she goes from feeling like an outcast with an ally to completely, utterly alone. The story turns around almost at the very end, where she moves to NYC and loves it because it’s full of eccentrics like her (which, I’m not gonna lie, I felt was a tired-ass trope when I read it middle school when I first got the book) and receives a letter from her best friend apologizing for the way she acted and asks for forgiveness, and tells Lasko-Gross how much she loves her. Lasko-Gross is moved and immediately forgives her.
Girls With Slingshots By Danielle Corsetto
My boyfriend talks about how much he hated American comics until the mid 2000s when women started dominating the scene and started telling a wide variety of stories. I will not repeat my GWS review, it can be found on my Tumblr here. But I will just say this printed omnibus is probably the most gorgeous designed books I own, minus the books I own designed by Seth or Chris Ware.
And now, surprisingly enough, are two of the few graphic novels with happy endings I own created by dudes:
Hicksville by Dylan Horrocks
Hicksville is a phenomenal piece of work but is also very niche. I generally am not a fan of a work of any art form that is a love letter to their type of art form (which is why so many Oscar-bait movies are, “meh” to me; I don’t need to see a movie about how great movies are and the only reason it gets nominated is because everyone that votes for the Oscars are in the movies business). There are multiple examples of comics that celebrate comics and the act of cartooning that I am lukewarm on at best. Hicksville is a rare exception to this because it not only celebrates comics but also points out the flaws in them.
The protagonist of this book is a reporter that goes to a small remote town where his cartoonist idol is from in order to do a story about him. When he arrives, he finds that the town is intricately linked with comics, and that his idol had stolen the a superhero character that launched his career from a secret work of another amazing but now dead cartoonist. His idol changed his superhero’s story from a one off into a series and had taken all the credit. He is disowned by the town for this act, but the reporter doesn’t know any of this so he is constantly pissing off the town’s inhabitants. When he discovers what his idol has done, he confronts him but doesn’t write a story about his plagerism because it will reveal and thus destroy the beauty of the town. The good guys grow and are happier for getting to know each other and move past this secret, and the bad guy gets confronted and while he will continue to hold good public standing the audience knows that an outsider of Hicksville knowing his fraudulent past eats away at him.
The best part of the ending is the fact that the reporter doesn’t go public with his idol’s misdoings. He realizes the town of Hicksville is so special that compromising it in any way isn’t worth the justice of calling out one prominent but shitty cartoonist.
Patience by Daniel Clowes
Before spoiling the ending to Patience, a quick word about Daniel Clowes. I was an angsty artist teen when I saw Ghost World (so I was doomed to be obsessed with it), so I give Clowes a pass when I don’t like some of his work for all the same reasons I hate other’ 90s indie boy comic stuff of the same ilk. I will say this: Clowes, while having a consistent feel and style to his large body of work, plays with mood, genre, and tone in a way most of his peers don’t. That is why, while I hate a few of his books (I don’t even think I could rant about David Boring because it doesn’t make a strong enough impression on me to hate it as much as it bummed me out for wasting my time reading it) I like the majority of his books (even some the really cynical dark ones). He is in the top tier of his generation of cartoonists for a reason, and I think he is one of the most relevant cartoonists that started in that era.
Patience is about a man who’s wife is murdered, and he travels through time to save her. He succeeds, and while the version of himself that saves her dissipates (she no longer gets murdered, so he can’t exist, because of time travel logic and blah blah blah), before becoming completely obliterated he gets to see the version of himself with his newly saved wife live a life together and feels contentment. While one could argue that this is a bittersweet ending because the protagonist that we follow doesn’t get to enjoy the fruits of his labor in the fact that he can’t spend the rest of his life with his wife, I think the relief that he feels from protecting the woman he loves from such a horrible death is more moving and an overall more uplifting way to end the book.
OK! COOL! These are the pretty much the only books on my bookshelf that I could find with happy endings. For reference, here are the books I chose from:
You would think this wouldn’t have been so hard! But yeah, indie comics value sad and negative emotions in my opinion, the audience thinks it adds more gravitas (just like how comedies don’t win Oscars). The cool thing is, after reading some of my books, particularly my anthologies, from the early 2000s vs the mid 2000s vs now, the sad sack indie comic is a dying trend. I will eventually do a blog post about those anthologies, but it’ll be a while.
Until next time, BYE!