Saturday, October 4, 2014

Medical Graphic Novels

You can learn a lot of things from graphic novels. Some people believe graphic novels are just to amuse people with funny characters or superheroes saving the day. Well, the following graphic novels can amuse, horrify and educate, and for some people they may save the day.

I found Psychiatric Tales by Darryl Cunningham very interesting. I have always been interested in what makes people tick. Cunningham draws (excuse the pun) on his years as a psychiatric nurse to bring a collection of tales from inside a psychiatric ward. Each chapter presents a different illness from Dementia to Depression. “I really wanted to do two things”, said Cunningham. “One: explain what it’s like working on the wards. What are the illnesses like? And two: to do something about undoing stigma, general stigma for these illnesses which have very bad press.” He does a wonderful job of showing both the sufferers of these disorders and those who help care for them.

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney is another wonderful biography. While I know people who are Bipolar, this book helped clarify the disease for me. Her art vividly shows the difference between her maniac stages and depressive stages. Forney was diagnosed before her 30th birthday, and she feared that taking medication would cause her to lose her passion and creativity. Forney presents examples of other artists and writers who suffered from mood disorders, including Vincent Van Gogh, Georgia O’Keefe, William Styron and Sylvia Plath. While this novel is not a clinical guide to Bipolar disorder; it was an eye-opener to me.

Are You My Mother by Alison Bechdel won the 2013 Judy Grahn Award and was short listed for the 2013 Lambda Literary Award. This memoir is a companion piece to her earlier work, Fun House, which deals with her relationship with her father. This work deals with her complicated relationship with her mother. It interweaves psychoanalysis and exploration of various literary works, particularly Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. I must admit that I did not enjoy this book as much as I did the others listed, but it is well worth a read.

Epileptic by David B is a dark disturbing look at the life of an epileptic and the effect that this disease has on a family; specifically the artist and his brother. His family searches for various medical solutions from mainstream to alternative medicine. One radical remedy they attempt included moving to a commune based on macrobiotic principles. The graphic style of the books changes as the disease progress in the story. The drawings present the children’s fantasy life, with dreams and fears and even epilepsy appearing as living creatures. Originally published in French in six volumes from 1996 to 2003, the forth volume won the 2000 Angouleme International Comics Festival Prize for Scenario and the artist won the 2005 Ignatz Award for Outstanding Artist.

Stitches by David Small really disturbed me. I am always shocked when people are cruel to children, but even more so when the cruelty is aimed at your own child. As a child, Small’s unloving father exposed him to x-rays in an attempt to cure his asthma and sinusitis. This exposure caused a cancerous lump on his neck. The removal of this lump caused him to be scarred and left him mute.

Another graphic novel about cancer is slightly more pleasant (as weird as that sounds). Cancer Vixen by Marisa Acocella Marchetto provides the answer to “What happens when a shoe-crazy, lipstick-obsessed, wine-swilling, pasta-slurping, fashion-fanatic, single-forever, about to get married big-city girl cartoonist with a fabulous life finds…a lump on her breast.” Marisa is straight forward about her disease and the effects it had on her. She shares every day wisdom about her experiences and how cancer can change a woman’s life, for better or worse.

Tangles by Sarah Leavitt was a finalist for the 2010 Writer’s Trust of Canada Non-fiction Prize (the first graphic novel to a be a finalist in this category), and many other awards including the “Globe and Mails” top 100 books of 2010 and the winner of the CBC Bookie award for Best Comic or Graphic Novels. This powerful memoir tackles what you do if your outspoken, passionate and quick-witted mother starts to fade becoming a forgetful, fearful woman. Leavitt’s sparse black and white drawings and clear prose presents the family’s range of emotions and attempts to deal with this tragedy. Confronting the complex reality of Alzheimer’s, Leavitt reveals the bond that mother and daughter can develop will never be broken.

I hope that this blog helps break downs some stereotypes of graphic novels and brings both information and entertainment to our readers, graphically speaking!

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