Read Harder

Read Harder 2023 Task #18: Read a Comic or Graphic Novel that Features Disability Representation

Graphic and comic formats work so well for stories featuring disabled characters as both a visual manifestation of what it means to be disabled and a metaphor for how disability can affect mental and cognitive function. I am disabled; I have postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and a host of other chronic health conditions. While there are no graphic representations of POTS (which I am here for publishers and illustrators!), I love finding and reading comics featuring disability representation.

I’ve chosen nine of my favorites, but it was hard to narrow it down! I decided to choose a variety of disabilities, so no two books on this list have protagonists with the same disability. Some of these are graphic novels, some graphic memoirs, and I’ve even included a sexy nonfiction centering disability. All of these are accessible and enjoyable whether you read comics all the time or if this is your foray into the genre. Though more books with disability representation are being published, it’s still rare, and often depictions lean into ableism and stereotypes about what it means to be disabled. These books present a nuanced glimpse into disabled life, each one as different as can be from the last. I hope you find one you love!

Cover of Lighter Than My Shadow by Green

Lighter than My Shadow by Katie Green

*content warning: SA*

In this searing graphic memoir, illustrator Katie Green describes her relationship with food and how she developed an eating disorder. From childhood, Green became fixated on routine and order, needing to keep her food separated and counting to ensure she chewed food evenly on both sides of her mouth. In her teen years, this fixation turned into a need to control all aspects of her eating and body weight. Her combination of depression and anxiety led her to descend ever deeper into anorexia and later into binging after a trusted therapist sexually assaults her.

Cover of The Oracle Code by Nijkamp

The Oracle Code by Marieke Nijkamp, illustrated by Manuel Preitano

Despite my love for graphic and comic formats, I struggle to get into the superhero genre. The Oracle Code is a rare exception. It’s a really clever YA mystery. When Barbara Gordon, or Babs, is paralyzed after a gunshot wound, she enters the Arkham Center for Independence for rehabilitation. Babs initially pushes all friendship overtures away, but soon befriends another patient, Jana, who tells her sinister stories at night. When Jana disappears, Babs realizes something wrong is happening at the Arkham Center.

Cover of Invisible Differences by Dachez

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger’s, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color by Julie Dachez, illustrated by Mademoiselle Caroline

This contemporary graphic novel translated from French is based on the author’s experience with Asperger’s, a form of Autism. Marguerite has always struggled with social situations, and it hasn’t gotten any easier in her late twenties. She’s elated to finally receive an Asperger’s diagnosis; she finally has answers! But no one else seems to feel the same way. This fantastic story depicts the daily ableist microaggressions people on the spectrum experience.

Cover of Clementine Book One by Walden

Clementine, Book One by Tillie Walden

This is another graphic novel where I had zero frame of reference for, yet thoroughly enjoyed it. I have never read nor watched The Walking Dead, and I didn’t even realize this was based on the series until after I’d read it! *embarrassed face* Clementine, who is a leg amputee, navigates an apocalyptic future full of zombies in this entertaining YA graphic novel. Though she shuns friends, she nevertheless finds herself one, who leads her to the North, where three teen girls are attempting to rebuild a town and want their help.

Cover of A Quick and Easy Guide to Sex and Disability by A. Andrews

A Quick & Easy Guide to Sex & Disability by A. Andrews

At just 72 pages, this really is a quick and easy guide. Did you know disabled people have sex? I mean, this is such an obvious statement, but if you’re in any way shocked to learn this, you need to read this book. In addition to busting some myths about sex and disability, Andrews also gives tips for having sex with disabled folk. It’s queer-inclusive and a fun read.

Cover of Dear Scarlet by Wong

Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression by Teresa Wong

This intense graphic memoir chronicles Teresa Wong’s experience with postpartum depression. I also had PPD, which morphed into anxiety after a year or two, and I connected with Wong’s illustrations even as we had very different experiences with the mental illness. It’s a moving, slim read that I frequently recommend to people considering becoming parents.

Cover of Allergic by Lloyd

Allergic by Megan Wagner Lloyd, illustrated by Michelle Mee Nutter

This is one of my favorite 2022 middle grade reads. Maggie loves animals and dreams of becoming a vet. When her parents finally let her have a dog, she discovers she has severe pet allergies. This diagnosis affects so much in her life: her understanding of herself, her budding friendship with a new neighbor, and her experiences in a new classroom. I have severe pet allergies, and I really identified with Maggie.

Living with Viola cover

Living with Viola by Rosena Fung

Fung draws on her own experiences with anxiety and being the daughter of Chinese immigrants in this moving middle grade graphic novel. Livy has an alternate identity — Viola. Viola is a physical manifestation of Livy’s anxiety, and haunts her as Viola starts a new school. Livy is trying to make friends, but Viola undermines her every chance she gets.

Cover of Stargazing by Wang

Stargazing by Jen Wang

This charming middle grade graphic novel is about two Chinese-American friends — Moon and Christine — who could not be more different. Christine is a perfectionist, while Moon is spontaneous. When Moon’s behavior becomes ever more erratic, she winds up in the hospital. Will their friendship survive?

If you’d like to extend your disability reading beyond the Read Harder challenge, check out Rioter Kendra Winchester’s list of introductory books about disability (I love all of these), as well as my list of ableist disability tropes I’m tired of reading.

Click here for the full Read Harder 2023 task list, and for previous recommendations, click here.