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The Spiral Cage
By Al Davison
Published by Active Images

Some able-bodied people are afraid of the disabled -- frightened and repulsed, not only by the fear of The Other, but by the reminder of their own mortality and fragility. We're made uncomfortable by the reminder that, with the wrong turn of luck, that could be us walking funny, talking funny, or whatever affliction it is that so offends us.

It's petty, of course. Ignorant and stupid. And human. It's hard-wired into us, I'd bet, to have an averse reaction to disabling injury or birth defect. That doesn't mean it isn't something that can't be overcome. A good sign of higher brain function, in my opinion, is the ability to overcome the animal instincts that often challenge what we intellectually know to be true.

Al Davison's The Spiral Cage is his true story of overcoming expectations and odds and making a life for himself despite being born with spina bifida, which made it impossible for him to walk at the age "normal" children do. Davison challenges and shatters your ideas of "disability" and "normalcy" in this graphic novel, showing with honesty and wit that he's more functional than most people and telling the lifelong story of learning to appreciate how much he has and dealing with the prejudices and preconceptions of others.

Davison tells his story in a number of chapters that are told in a variety of storytelling modes. There's some black and white linework that reminded me of Barry Windsor-Smith's early stuff, there's some lush, toned work that recalls Renee French. The whimsical and singular narration compares favourably to Eddie Campbell's autobio stuff. But these resemblances may be coincidental in large part -- Davison's style is unique in many ways, resulting in a story not quite like anything else I've ever read.

There's some child-like scrawling that effectively carries across Davison's childhood point of view -- if you've ever wondered what a taunted child must feel like inside, you'll know now. If you've ever wondered what it must feel like to overcome enormous difficulties to make a life for yourself that includes love, sex and inner peace, well, there's a lot of that in here, too. One of the most amazing things about the book is how absolutely completely Davison conveys his life, his struggles and his triumphs to the reader. It's at times intense and won't be easy for every reader to immerse themselves in to, because Davison smashes misconceptions on every page, and he does so in a highly readable and moving manner. Grade: 4.5/5

-- Alan David Doane



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