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Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person -- Miriam Engelberg's "Memoir in Comics" details in a sardonic, straightforward manner her battles with cancer over a period of years. The book seems built-to-order for the segment of NPR's audience that is into a certain kind of graphic novel, and certainly Engelberg is an NPR listener, with frequent references to the network's programs. If she hasn't been vetted by Fresh Air, surely she will be by the end of the month.

You're not going to buy Cancer Made Me A Shallower Person for the art; Engelberg's text introduction details her early, abortive attempt at finding a collaborator to draw her comics. Ultimately she took matters fully into her own hands, and if the result is a potentially less elegant visual depiction of the events herein, it certainly is more immediate than just about any other style could easily to imagined to convey. Think of a slightly less experienced John Porcellino and you'll have a grasp on the style of the artwork. A quick glance at a page of colour art on the site (link likely to change, from the looks of how her site is set up) tells me that the book would have been considerably more effective visually if it had used that sort of colour, as it makes the flat images pop out more, but again, this is not a book you're buying to luxuriate in the art. You're buying it to learn about Engelberg's life and her battle against breast cancer.

Millions of people have experienced cancer, to be sure, but depictions of the endurance of illness over time are rare in comics; Pekar's My Cancer Year and the online-comic-gone-graphic-novel Mom's Cancer are the only other ones that come readily to mind. Engelberg's style of storytelling is firmly in the Pekar mold, a series of observational anecdotes with a powerful cumulative effect lending verisimilitude and a sense that the reader has learned, if not volumes about what it is to suffer a serious, life-threatening illness, at least a lot about the author's particular experience.

Engelberg keeps her tongue in cheek even in the darkest moments, reflecting with wit on such matters as the reaction of friends and acquaintances to her cancer, her own reaction to the disease in herself and others, and the various manners in which she attempted to distract herself from her ordeal while deepest in its tumult (hence the "Made Me A Shallower Person" in the title).

It's not a fun story, per se, but it is compelling, dramatic and at times very funny. I would not have expected, going into the book, to find myself laughing out loud, but there are moments where Engelberg's observational skills allowed no other response.

At some time in your life, you're very probably going to know someone with cancer; hopefully it won't be you. But as a journal of the experience, Engelberg's book is invaluable in the way it lets you into the thought process a cancer survivor goes through, and it's hard to imagine someone reading this work and not coming away at least a little better informed, if not better prepared.

Visit Mirian Engelberg's website.



Blogger ChristopherAllen said...

So you're saying readers should get Cancer? I want to quote you properly for this negative piece I'm writing about you :)

14 June, 2006 14:53  

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