Tag Archives: graphic narratives

Fuzzy Edges

A review of Gareth Brookes’ A Thousand Coloured Castles (Graphic Medicine, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille



A Thousand Coloured Castles is Gareth Brookes’ exploration of Charles Bonnet Syndrome. Featuring an older woman, Myriam, who is diagnosed first with macular degeneration, this graphic novel explores Myriam’s strange visions as she sees figures like soldiers with ladders on their heads, plants growing out of telephone wires, and people with dressers on their heads. Myriam questions her own sanity and isn’t certain she wants doctors to diagnose her condition. When she eventually discovers that she has Charles Bonnet Symdrome, a condition related to deteriorating vision that causes complex visual hallucinations, she still has to deal with her husband and daughter who don’t understand her condition and disregard her, calling her barmy. 

Not only does Gareth Brookes bring attention to Charles Bonnet Syndrome in his comic, he brings attention to the way that the medical conditions of women, and particularly older women, are ignored or treated as personality quirks. Myriam is constantly ignored by her family and perceived as being someone whose perspectives and insights aren’t worth paying attention to.

Gareth Brookes uses a medium of art that simulates visual deterioration, drawing his comics in crayon, covering them in black crayon and then scratching the top layer away to reveal the image underneath. The result is a darkened comic with fuzzy, black edges that the reader has to work to see, simulating the experience of visual disability. 

The comic uses faces without features to create universal images where anyone can project their experiences. These faces allow for the characters to be any person rather than fixing them to one identity.

A Thousand Coloured Castles is a powerful comic that tells a story of disability, ageing, and being ignored.

To find out more about A Thousand Coloured Castles and other Graphic Medicine publications, visit http://www.graphicmedicine.org 

Advertisements

A Green Lantern with Anxiety

A review of Sam Humphries, Robson Rocha, Ethan Van Sciver, and Ed Benes’ Green Lanterns Vol 1: Rage Planet (DC Comics, 2017)
By Derek Newman-Stille

The Green Lantern rings are supposed to go to people who have an ability to conquer fear… so what happens when a ring goes to someone who has agoraphobia, an anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress? Green Lanterns Vol 1: Rage Planet explores Jessica Cruz, a woman with agoraphobia who did not leave her apartment in three years. She is open about her anxieties and throughout the comic she constantly questions whether the Green Lantern ring chose correctly when it chose her. The ring constantly assures her that she is the person that it was meant for, but she keeps believing that she does not deserve it. The Green Lantern that she is partnered with, Simon Baz, also keeps believing that she is not suited to be a Green Lantern, referring to her as a “nervous wreck”.

Her anxiety interferes with her ability to form green light into constructs, a power that all of the other Green Lanterns have. There is a danger in this inability to use her ring to its full extent that may illustrate that the comic is trying to suggest that people with disabilities cannot achieve what non-disabled people can. 

The Green Lantern rings choose people by saying “You have the ability to overcome great fear. Welcome to the Green Lantern Corps”. This opens up the notion of “overcoming” in disability narratives, particularly in the case of Jessica Cruz who we are introduced to in the middle of her work to overcome her fears. Most of the other Green Lanterns are introduced as people who have an abundance of self confidence, which is generally connected in Green Lantern comic to the power that the ring draws on: Will power. But Jessica complicates easy notions of fear and will power through her anxiety. Frequently in public discourse around disability, and particularly mental health disabilities, non-disabled people will tell disabled people that they can overcome their disability by working harder and putting in effort (namely, that they can overcome their disability through will-power). We see this image replicated through what we in Disability Studies call “Inspiration Porn”, those problematic inspirational messages like “the only disability in life is a bad attitude” or “Before you quit, try” or “Excuses. Let’s hear yours again”. Statements like these are intensely problematic because they ignore the bodily reality of disabled people and our knowledge of our own bodily limits. So, creating a Green Lantern who has anxiety, PTSD, and agoraphobia invites critical questions about the way we define disability. There is a danger that this comic could become more inspiration porn because it could become another overcoming narrative, after all, the statement “you have the ability to OVERCOME great fear” is built into her induction into the Green Lanterns and this has a danger of being linked to the fact that the ring is powered by will-power, which is what inspiration porn messages try to suggest can overcome disability with their messages that “if you try hard enough, you can overcome your disability”. 

While there are dangers in the portrayal of Green Lantern Jessica Cruz, it is fascinating to see a superhero with anxiety, PTSD, and agoraphobia, particularly since the superhero genre is frequently about big adventures outside of the home (and for the Green Lanterns, frequently off planet), engaging in activities that could cause PTSD while not having emotional or psychological repercussions for any of the events that happen to them. Jessica Cruz represents a potential destabilizing of these superhero narratives of the person who is impervious to trauma (or who can get over trauma in the space of a single issue comic book). This could be helpful in critiquing the overall portrayal of heroism as something that resists trauma or psychological repercussions at a time when it is important that we examine the toxic culture that ignores traumas visited on people who are put into dangerous situations and the culture that makes people with trauma frequently hide it in order to fit with the image of the “hero” who overcomes everything. 

To find out more about Green Lanterns Vol 1: Rage Planet , visit the DC comics website at http://www.dccomics.com .

Knitting Narratives Together

A review of Embroidered Cancer Comic by Sima Elizabeth Shefrin (Singing Dragon, 2016)
By Derek Newman-Stille

Sima Elizabeth Shefrin takes a fascinating approach to comics, creating a comic out of textiles, embroidering her narrative onto fabric. There is a sense of intimacy about using textiles to talk about cancer that links the artworks produced to the history of textile work in the home. The use of embroidery, for me, evokes memories of embroidery samplers on the walls of the home, and transforming this textile basis into a comic allows a sliding of forms between the usually stagnant stitched image and the dynamism and mobility of the comic book. 

Shefrin’s Embroidered Cancer Comic deals with the complexity of cancer and its presence in the home, exploring the disease not through its pathology, but through the effects it has on the family. Shefrin openly shares her experiences of her husband’s cancer and the intermingling of their feelings from his diagnosis through to his surgery. She examines the way that people try to take control over their cancer narratives either by changing their diet, or by avoiding the doctor, instead using alternative health practices to try to avoid medical intervention. 

This is not a typical tragedy narrative of cancer, and Shefrin brings humour into her narrative, evoking the complex feelings of her readers, who are brought along through her emotional journey. Shefrin doesn’t shy from the personal either, bringing us into spaces of intimacy like the bedroom where readers can engage with questions about relationships where sex isn’t always possible, or isn’t possible in the same way as it was before. 

Shefrin evokes the idea of change and transformation, using stitches to bring narratives of adaptation to life, exploring the way that bodies and their interactions shift when cancer is introduced into them. 

To discover more about Embroidered Cancer Comic, visit http://www.singingdragon.com

To discover more about Sima Elizabeth Shefrin, visit http://www.stitchingforsocialchange.ca/home.htm

A Graphic History of Deaf Schools and Audism

A review of Carlisle Robinson’s The Case of Victor Gray By Derek Newman-Stille

Deaf history is wrought with oppression at the hands of hearing people, and the Deaf residential schools frequently prevented access to sign language, forcing students to instead use spoken English and rely on speech reading. Often Deaf students taught each other sign language in secret on the playground or in the hallways of schools, and, when caught, could receive punishment for learning their own language. 

In The Case of Victor Gray, Carlisle Robinson creates a historical fiction narrative based on the lives of actual Deaf students and teachers. He explores a Deaf teacher who has to fight against a system that prevents students and teachers from using their own language. Robinson portrays Victor Gray as a beloved teacher of Deaf students who taught in a combination of English and sign language, often using ASL (American Sign Language) storytelling as a reward for learning. Robinson draws Gray as a character with an animated body, hands, and face, illustrating the whole body experience of sign language. Gray is a character whose emotions and expressions exude from his body. 

Yet, Gray has to come up against a system that wants to force conformity on the Deaf population rather than allowing Deaf Culture to provide a space for Deaf expression. Robinson examines the history of Deaf schools being run by hearing people and the attempt to force the conformity of teachers and students into a hearing-only system. Gray attempts to resist this oppression of Deaf Culture, pointing out the usefulness of sign language for the education of Deaf students, and even resisting hearing culture by signing to the administrators who are attempting to erase ASL from his school. Gray eventually finds himself unemployed for trying to teach his students in the way that is most effective for them.

Gray is pathologized for his resistance and his attempts to ensure that his students can learn effectively, and, like many Deaf people in the 1930s, is treated as though he is mentally ill for resisting the hegemonic power of a hearing-only system. 

Although a tale of historical fiction, The Case of Victor Gray highlights issues inherent in the history of Deaf education, and, particularly, the stigmatization of ASL. Carlisle Robinson expresses the constant pain of a history of cultural erasure and oppression in The Case of Victor Gray, giving voice to the continued legacy of oppression and the impact that this continues to have on Deaf lives. Using a graphic medium, Robinson allows the reader to look into history, to see the richness of Deaf culture and the pain of oppression, making eye contact with figures from historical contexts. 

To discover more about The Case of Victor Gray, visit http://www.carlisle-robinson.com/the-case-of-victor-gray/ 
To support Carlisle Robinson’s work, visit their patreon account at https://www.patreon.com/carodoodles

Signs of a Powerful Graphic Narrative

A review of Carlisle Robinson’s What QQ Vol 2 
By Derek Newman-Stille

Carlisle Robinson begins What QQ Vol 2 with a lesson for hearing readers in how to address Deaf people. Carlisle points out that the vast majority of hearing people assume that everyone else is hearing and when people don’t answer, they assume this is an act of rudeness, rather than Deafness. 

Carlisle reminds readers that English is their second language and ASL (American Sign Language) is their first language, noting that the comic is an act of translation, an act of storytelling in a foreign language. This is something incredibly significant to bring attention to. Most hearing people assume that ASL is simply a gestural form of English, when, in fact, it has a different grammatical structure, different idioms, and is a different modality of language. This means that translations into English can have grammatical differences. 

Carlisle shares a nightmare as part of the What QQ Vol 2 comic, a post-Trump election nightmare where racist, homophobic, ableist people are given a place to attack those of us who are queer, disabled, or non-white. Carlisle has a character encounter someone who is wearing a “Make American Great Again” shirt who begins calling Deaf people “retarded” and queer people “faggots”. Carlisle observes that this nightmare didn’t come out of nowhere, but is based on events that are occurring in the United States, and now also in Canada, where Carlisle has made their home. 

Not everything in the comic is political, nor does it all reflect depressive realities of being in an ableist, homophobic world, some of Carlisle’s geek humour comes through in this comic as well. Carlisle points out that Spiderman’s web-shooting hand looks like the ASL sign for “I love you” and that, therefore “He fights with Love”. 

Carlisle’s comics pages often combine signs, with the character actually carrying out the signing. This is unlike signing depictions in other comics, which frequently use ASL figure graphics. However, because of the static medium of the comic image, Carlisle often depicts a large amount of text on the page, and freezes the frame with only one sign (and often only one part of the sign) visible. 

Since Deaf populations rely heavily on body and facial expressions, Carlisle’s use of expressive character faces is important for conveying essential meanings to the reader, providing emotional and situational context that complements the text. 

Carlisle combines information for hearing people about Deaf populations with tales meant for the Deaf population to enjoy, linking these together into a collection of stories about their experience as a Deaf person. 

You can find out more about Carlisle Robinson’s work at http://www.carlisle-robinson.com or check out their tapastic account at tapastic.com/carodoodles .
You can support them at https://www.patreon.com/carodoodles