Sunday, December 20, 2015

Not Funny Ha Ha: A Handbook for Something Hard

To say abortion is a hot-button topic in the US is an understatement. Political groups use it as a wedge issue; religious groups typically rail against it, and there is a frightening contingent who use terrorism and violence to press their "pro-life" agenda. Not Funny Ha Ha does not get into those areas, but it does perform an important function. It documents what happens to the people who for whatever reason decide they need to undergo that medical procedure.

This graphic novel follows two different women, called Mary and Lisa, who both undergo abortions, one medical and one surgical. As you can see from the excerpt below, they are portrayed realistically and with intelligence, candor, trepidation, and humor.
This book takes its subject matter very seriously, but it also manages to employ a sense of humor, often through wit. The plot is peppered with very human touches and asides that lend a lot of personality to what could have been a pretty dry read. Also, along with the narrative come some pieces of advice, though they are not presented in a didactic or preachy manner, more like suggestions to help those wrestling with larger issues:
Finally, this book also sheds light on the logistical and mundane aspects of the procedure. It is sort of like a "What to Expect" type book that looks into what is typically a taboo and hidden process. This book demystifies it while also acknowledging that it is a difficult and personal choice, but it also puts a couple of very human faces on those who choose to undergo the procedure. After reading this book, I would imagine it would be difficult for someone to shun or shame those who choose this lonely path.
Leah Hayes is an illustrator, musician, songwriter, and producer who has published a collection of short stories told via scratchboard images called Funeral of the Heart. I think what makes Not Funny Ha Ha work so well is her wit, subtle yet affecting art style, and simple lettering. She takes a very disarming and approachable angle on a very difficult subject that I found very engaging. She talks about her work on this book in this interview.

All of the reviews I have read about this book have been positive. Hillary Brown commented on its "subtlety and sensitivity." Etelka Lehoczky called Hayes' linework "aggressively unassuming" and the entire enterprise "formidable." Publishers Weekly summed up their write-up, "Clear headed and with a sympathetic voice, this book provides valuable information for women who have to make a difficult decision."

Not Funny Ha Ha was published by Fantagraphics, and they have a preview and more information available here. You can also follow news and goings-on about the book at its Twitter page.

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