For my third blog post, I selected a graphic novel from Leddy Library to analyze. I am new to reading graphic novels so I wasn’t sure how to select a good read, so disregarding the phrase “don’t judge a book by its cover” I picked the novel by its cover. I chose to analyze Brian Fies’ Mom’s Cancer. The title really caught my attention because I immediately knew the subject matter would be about a disease that devastates so many lives, and in this case a family. Fies’ graphic novel is a nonfiction work that tells his family’s story of dealing with their mother’s struggle with stage four lung cancer and brain tumor. The subject matter alone makes this story very relatable and allows the reader to sympathize with the characters. In 2005 this comic won the Eisner Award for the first best digital comic (later printed) and the award was presented by theorist Scott McCloud.
One thing that I found interesting in this graphic novel is the strong use of narrative. McCloud explains picture and word combinations in his instructional book Understanding Comics. From his explanations this novel is has an additive combination. Both the narrative and images work to elaborate the meaning of the novel. The narrative is highly informative because it uses medical terms specific to the mom’s cancer that pictures would not be able to illustrate. Imagery adds to the narrative because the pictures are highly symbolic and create a tone of anxiety that is carried through the comic. In the opening of the novel Fie first demonstrates the additive combination because he gives the reader a character legend. I think it is an interesting tool because you are immediately introduced to the name and face of each character, and get a brief biography on them. This aids in the understanding of each character/family member’s role before entering the diegetic world. The characters are somewhat generalized by only being referred to as -Mom, Nurse Sis, Kid Sis, etc. Due to their generalized names it makes the characters easily relatable and allows the reader to see their own family members in the characters. This is also true due to the simplified drawing style. McCloud states that abstracting and simplifying an image of a face moves it away from the “real”. This allows the reader to project themselves onto the image and allows them to further engulf themselves into the story.
The comic also really plays with panel layout. The panels vary from the standard grid pattern, to forming game boards that force the reader to move along the narrative like a pawn. The different panel layouts really add and disrupt the pacing of the story. I almost got frustrated following the varied layouts at times which I think reflects the frustration of the mom in her situation. Most of the layouts have a lot going on which mirrors the hectic lives of the characters. There is also the unique panel sequence that displays information in the form of the old child game Operation. This panel pun makes light of the tension in the subject matter while still moving the plot forward. I personally felt overwhelmed and anxious while reading the comic. The way the panels were laid out along with the dialogue gave a dramatic affect that helped create the tone of the plot. This panel below shows the quick pace created by the grid pattern. You are able to get a sense of the mom's hectic life through all the motions she has to go through. This layout gives off a sense of anxiety and repetition.
The use of colour is also interesting because it is used at random in the comic. The majority of the comic is black and white which has a melancholy affect, however random bursts of colour breaks up the tension. Colour is often used for emphasis on specific details or characters like the mom. For panels that display a memory colour is again integrated in sepia tones to show the age of the memory. The sepia tones are used when the mom reflects on a story of her grandfather. This sepia tone is also used to display memories in the graphic novel Two Generals studied in our course.
The narrative pulls the reader so far into the diegetic world that the story seems real because it is in fact a true story. Looking at theorist Matthew Jones who explains “reflexivity in comic art” in this panel the author uses reflexivity to make us aware that this comic is something that has been created. He deliberately pulls us out of the diegetic world because the subject matter really consumes the reader and is a lot more relatable than your average superhero comic. This panel is also an example of authorial awareness because the author is suddenly a character outside of his narrative. We get a view of him creating his comic. This assertion of the author again works to pull the readers out of the diegetic world demystifying the text.
Overall, I think this graphic novel is not just about telling a family’s story about their Mom’s cancer, but it is a story of hope. While reading I could not help but root for the mom to beat her cancer. I anticipated her results were after her rounds and rounds of chemo. I became attached to the family as if they were my own.
-Victoria Ghione, blog post 3 (Leddy library/graphic novel)