Loads of Learned Lumber

Sunday, April 8, 2012

David Small, _Stitches_

IS THE FLOWERING of the graphic novel really more a flowering of the graphic memoir? It seems to me that most of the landmarks of this genre's arrival, from Maus to Persepolis to Fun Home, are autobiographical or autobiographical fiction (Blankets, Stuck Rubber Baby).

There's still Jimmy Corrigan and Ghost World, of course, but I wonder if there is something in the mature versions of the form that lends itself better to non-fiction (memoir and the journalism of Joe Sacco) than to fiction. Is fiction too likely to short-circuit into the tropes of the form's pulpy origins?

David Small's Stitches is a graphic memoir, and a powerful one. He grows up in the 1950s and 1960s in a family of secrets and silent seething; his mother is short-tempered and impossible to please, his father mainly absent and, when at home, uncommunicative. His father, a radiologist, sees to it that David gets radiation treatments for a sinus problem; as a teenager, David develops a tumor on his neck, the removal of which deprives him of most of his voice. He only finds out later, and accidentally, that the tumor was cancerous, and that his mother is a lesbian whose marriage is deeply and poisonously against her grain.

In the wake of these revelations and a few others, he leaves home at 16--somehow, he thrives, becoming an award-winning book illustrator.

The art in the book seems to draw more from the world of illustration than the world of comics--not a lot of detail, lots of wash, the ink lines typically economical and expressive.

The pace is quick, but the book is hard to read, in a way, just because the story is so painful. Unforgettable, though.