What’s the difference between “crazy” and “creative”? Is there a difference? And if you take away the “crazy,” will you also be taking away the “creative”?
These are just some of the questions Ellen Forney found herself grappling with right before her 30th birthday, when she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Suddenly, all those manic highs that she’d once thought made her eccentric and endearing and whimsically artistic took on a scary new meaning.
Though it shed light on some of her behaviors, she was also terrified of what it meant in the long run. Medications might help, but there was the chance that they’d dull her senses and take away her artistic abilities. Then again, the other option wasn’t much better: people diagnosed with bipolar disorder were at a high risk of suicide and recurring hospitalizations; not treating her condition could also lead to more extreme manic episodes that might be harder to control. And so, with a lot of uncertainty, Forney began her rollercoaster ride of different treatment plans and medication combinations.
Growing up, Nicole Georges had always believed that her father was dead. Then at the age of twenty-three, Nicole’s friend took her to a psychic, who informed her that her father wasn’t dead. It’s a secret Nicole sits on for a long time, until finally broaches the subject and her sister spills the beans: no, Nicole’s father never died of colon cancer.
Nicole Georges’s graphic memoir is part coming-of-age, part unlocking-family secrets story about growing up in a stressful household. Her mother dated a lot and was occasionally in abusive relationships, and the stress manifested itself in Nicole in different ways She also grew up in hippie vegan Portland, raised chickens, and refined her art. By the time she was twenty-three, she was keeping a lot of her life compartmentalized: she was still in the closet where her mother was concerned, didn’t know how to broach the subject of her father with the rest of her family, and was trying to navigate the tricky waters of her relationship (which involved living with lots of dogs and traveling with her girlfriend on their band’s tour). The questions about what really happened to her father start to eat at her, and the confusion finally culminates with a desperate phone call to ultra-conservative call-in advice show host Dr. Laura Schlessinger, whom Nicole occasionally hate-listens to.
When I first heard the premise of Tim Leong’s Super Graphic, I knew I had to get my hands on the book (for real: I read a blurb about it and immediately began searching the local library catalogs). I just started reading graphic novels a few years ago, and though I seem to be reading more each year, I’m still a relative newbie to the comics/graphic novel universe. But even as a newb — particularly one whose main acquaintance with a lot of comic story lines = the movie versions of said stories — I freaking loved this book. It’s genius. Kind of obsessive and definitely geeky, but genius. Super Graphic is a crash course on almost everything you ever wanted to know about comics. The book is filled with nothing but flowcharts, Venn diagrams, tables, and a myriad of other types of infographics. If you can think of a way to present information through use of graphics, chances that format is in this book.
That said, Super Graphic is kind of a hard one to review! It has a very broad scope: Marvel and DC’s pricing history; the symbolism and changes in costume colors; a kill counter for The Walking Dead; the Library of Congress’s methods of collection management…the list goes on and on. I am impressed with the ambitious nature of this project. It’s overwhelming just thinking about the amount of research this book required!
I think something like this is better to see rather than read about, so instead of going on about the contents, I’ll just leave you with a couple of the graphics from the book so you can see for yourself (click to enlarge the images).
To almost everyone who knows her, Amy Sturgess is a stressed out woman trying to climb up the ladder in the marketing world. She’s pretty good at it, too…or at least she would be if her second job didn’t keep interfering with all aspects of her life: she’s the superhero named Starling.
Amy takes the concept of trying to juggle it all to a new level, and it’s been blowing up in her face more frequently. She’s good at her job, but to her coworkers, she just looks flaky since she’s always running off to “go to the bathroom” (her explanation for all that time allegedly spent on the toilet is hilarious). In reality, she’s changing into her Starling costume to go fight bad guys.
But lately, she’s been slacking on that, too. She procrastinates and shows up late to stop the bad guys. Rather than dutifully stop crime and hand the criminals over to the police, she’s started tuning into the hard luck stories that made the criminals turn to crime. Superheroes are supposed to be assertive, moralistic, and see things in black and white. Starling, on the other hand, pops Xanax before flying off to her next criminal encounter, often shows up looking disheveled, and sometimes even helps the bad guys! It all goes downhill from there when superhero life and real life collide.
The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness by Michelle Alexander
Publisher/Year: The New Press, 2010
Narrator: Karen Chilton
Length: 13 hrs, 16 minutes
What it is: An analysis of today’s supposedly colorblind legal system and an argument that Jim Crow has simply been repackaged to suit today’s purposes. At face value, the system looks and sounds like it’s applied equally, but communities of color continue to be decimated. African American men, in particular, are imprisoned in disproportionate numbers; many will spend their lives in and out of prison, or in poverty because of the stigma of being labeled a felon.
Why I listened to it: I had my eye on it for a long time and just finally got around to listening to it.
What I thought: Parts of this book are really powerful and heartbreaking. I was already familiar with some of the things Alexander addresses, but she does a great job at outlining the history of some of the worst laws. She makes compelling arguments and eloquently connects the dots from Jim Crow to the present day. Maybe because I’ve already read about this subject, I didn’t always think the book was particularly groundbreaking in some of its arguments, but I do think I it’s an important book; she makes a great point that anyone interested in racial justice should be more vocal regarding the criminal justice system. I do regret listening to this on audiobook, though; Chilton does a good job narrating, but there are so many facts and statistics being thrown that I would have liked to have a printed version to be able to go back and refer to.
A companion recommendation: Black Cool: One Thousand Streams of Blackness by Rebecca Walker. It’s completely different subject matter (it’s an anthology on the concept of “black cool”), but a couple of the essays definitely came to mind while I was listening to The New Jim Crow.
Daytripper by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá
Publisher/Year: Vertigo, 2011
What it is: A graphic novel about Brás de Oliva Domingos, an obituary writer and son of an award-winning Brazilian author. Brás dreams of being a successful writer himself, but instead is stuck in his dead-end job waiting for his life to begin. It’s a non-linear story that reads more like a series of vignettes featuring Brás at different ages.
Why I read it: I had read some good reviews, and that book cover sealed the deal.
What I thought: I took my time with this book. The artwork is absolutely gorgeous. And the story itself is philosophical in nature: at what age does life really begin? Something terrible happens to Brás at the beginning of the book that sets the tone for the other chapters. You learn about his life in little snippets. He has his share of happy and magical moments, but like many people, he’s always waiting for the next big thing; it’s that age-old story of waiting for life to happen, even though it’s been happening and is already passing you by.
You might also like: Big Questions by Anders Nilsen, another philosophical graphic novel. It’s massive and a lot less straightforward than Daytripper, but it’s weird and awesome.