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Rob Clough is here today with a review of the latest in a long line of cancer-related comics memoirs, Teva Harrison’s In-Between Days.

Prior to reviewing Teva Harrison’s cancer memoir, In-Between Days, I want to provide a bit of context. Both of my parents died from cancer. I have worked in a cancer center for the last 28 years, not usually directly with patients, but quite often. So I tend to hate cancer narratives that use words like “heroic” or otherwise apply exceptional qualities to those who are afflicted with the disease. Cancer does nothing to elevate the character of someone who suffers from it; in fact, what it tends to do is reveal character in a dramatic way. Interestingly, those who suffer from the worst kinds of cancer (metastatic, inoperable, etc) tend to be the most understanding, kind, and introspective patients. Those with the easiest-to-treat kinds of cancer tend to be the most melodramatic and demanding.

The three best memoirs I’ve read about cancer are the rawest and most honest emotionally, revealing the ways in which cancer turns the lives of the patients and their loved ones upside down. Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner, and Frank Stack’s Our Cancer Year is fantastic, as it offers a quotidian, painful look at how cancer and chemotherapy can cause horrible side effects and affect mental status. Miriam Engleberg’s Cancer Has Made Me a Shallower Person is hilarious in the face of her ultimately fatal disease. Sharon Lintz’s cancer stories in her Pornhounds comic were also unsparing, sharply observed, and funny. Harrison’s book isn’t as good as any of those comics for a variety of reasons, but it’s still bracing, powerful, and achingly honest.


Meanwhile, elsewhere:

—Reviews & Commentary. Michael Cavna wants people to read The Onion‘s Stan Kelly (Ward Sutton).

A visual stroll through the Kelly collection is like a meta-history lesson in editorial cartooning before sardonic subtlety became fashionable. Kelly’s illustrations, reflecting wading-pool deep takes on the news, are larded with labels (“today’s no-good teens,” “today’s troop haters,” “benevolent America”) that skewer the worst practitioners of the art form. Kelly sees himself as a political “king of comedy,” but in truth, he is as deluded as Robert De Niro’s bad stand-up Rupert Pupkin in Martin Scorsese’s “The King of Comedy.” He would have been painfully mediocre at best in his own era; in our era, he is laughably hackneyed.

Paul Gravett reviews Guy Delisle’s Hostage.

As a graphic novelist, presented with mainly a lone, often inactive protagonist and a minimum of settings and props – a series of mostly bare rooms (in one case a claustrophobic closet), a light bulb, a creaking door, a clicking latch, a mattress on the floor, a radiator to which his left hand gets handcuffed, a bucket, a window – Delisle draws each day in cycles of subtle variations, like minimalist music or a staging of a Beckett play. Christophe is his main focus, observing him from moment-to-moment immediacy to extended or indeterminate periods. The time elapsed between three wide-screen panels on one chilling wordless page could be minutes, hours or days. Delisle will also shift his viewpoint, sometimes allowing us to look out through Christophe’s eyes, other times visualising in cartoon shorthand above his head his fanciful escape strategies or his distracting ritual of alphabetic French military history.

Brian Nicholson enthuses over Daria Tessler’s Cult of the Ibis.

Mostly-silent storytelling, taking place in a fantasy gothic-architecture world, that seems inspired by German expressionist film. It’s about an occultist getaway driver who, after receiving the loot from a bank robbery that falls apart, orders a build-your-own-homunculus kit and goes on the lam. I remember watching the trailer for Baby Driver and thinking “yes, that does look fun and well-made, but it also looks like every movie that has ever been made.” This is like a variation on that, if made by Jan Svankmajer.

Sam Riedel writes about representation in the work of Simon Hanselmann.

On the still-uncommon occasions that transfem characters show up in fiction (and aren’t two-dimensional stereotypes), they’re often forced to be virtuous because they represent all trans people everywhere. Who wants to be represented by a douchebag? Other marginalized communities also suffer from this tendency, an unintended consequence of “diversity casting” that maintains structural whiteness, cisnormativity, and so on. It’s what made The Good Place so novel; cis women behaving badly in a nuanced way is still itself a rarity. Trans literature is still a niche within a niche, making characters like Maria — the drug-addled, backwards-looking protagonist of Imogen Binnie’s Nevada — almost unheard-of. Since our stories are so often misunderstood, there’s an implicit demand that we be shown in the most palatable light, but that robs our stories of the all-important shades of grey.


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