Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me

Ellen Forney has been drawing comics for decades now, with autobiographical works such as Monkey Food, a more adult, nostalgic collection titled I Love Led Zeppelin, and a collaboration with author Sherman Alexie, the National Book Award-winning YA novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. She has also been a frequent contributor to "Seattle's Only Newspaper," The Stranger. She is a successful, productive artist, and for many years she has dealt with being bi-polar. This book is her personal account of dealing with that condition.

Marbles is funny, dark, troubling, hopeful, informative, and wonderful. Its narrative is powerfully presented in a multifaceted manner. It captures her hopes to be a productive artist and fears that if she seeks treatment she will become less inspired and less capable artistically. She fears that it will also leave her joyless and empty, so in very concrete ways this book explores the stereotype that artists have to be troubled, manic, and crazy people. The story also chronicles her relationships with her family, lovers, friends, and colleagues in intimate and complex ways. There are no easy answers in deciding about medications, treatments, or personal interactions.

Essential in this presentation is Forney's artwork, which combines sequential art and infographics in effective manner. She plays with layouts and format frequently, keeping her work fresh and the readers on  their toes. This book is super-informative but never boringly so and also very personal, with the emotion coming from her pacing and extremely expressive art. Forney captures her manic highs and depressive lows in like manner, and seeing insights from the life of a vital artist whose work I have been following for some while now impressed me greatly.

This graphic novel was included in many best of lists last year, and it has been very well reviewed in some high profile venues. The Los Angeles Times' David Ulin wrote that this book is "more than a survivor's story" and that "The best stuff here collapses the distance between reader and artist, either by stripping away distinguishing details or by opening the story to broader concerns." Entertainment Weekly's Melissa Maerz gave it an A and called it "proof that artists don't have to be tortured to be brilliant." The New York Times' Douglas Wolk was more measured, offering that it is "not exactly focused, but it’s mostly delightful."

Marbles is published by Penguin Books. There is a preview available at Amazon.

The book also has an official page with much information, reviews, and links to mental health resources.

I would recommend this book for more mature readers as it contains some explicit language, nudity, and drug use.

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