Monday, 14 October 2013

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me by Ellen Forney Review


Ellen Forney is crazy – literally! A comic book artist diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental condition that sends her moods shooting from one end of the spectrum – soaring higher than high with happiness and manic energy – to the other – skull-crushing depression and immobility – with unerring suddenness, Forney has created an honest and engaging comic book of her experience living with the illness in Marbles. 

The book follows her diagnosis and its impact on how she views herself and her family and friends’ reactions, to her concerns about how the treatment of her moods with a kaleidoscopic cocktail of drugs will affect her creativity and work. There are a lot of scenes set in Forney’s therapist’s office as they spend months and months figuring out the best combination of drugs for her, and work through her various concerns but unlike another book that followed this route – Are You My Mother? by Alison Bechdel - the theory and science side of her illness doesn’t overwhelm the book. 

Forney finds comfort in reading about other artists who were allegedly bipolar like Van Gogh, Hemingway, and Sylvia Plath, all of whom troublingly committed suicide, but also produced some of the greatest art in the world. This is also another aspect of why it’s great this book exists – for other people like Forney who’ve been diagnosed and are looking for a book to tell them it’s not the end of the world. 

It’s a very stark look at the author’s condition, including photo-static images from her sketchbook detailing visually how she felt while deeply depressed, and the drawings are nightmarish, like something out of Lovecraft or Bosch! Forney also captures what it’s like to be manic through some really energised page layouts, words and images cascading together, sentences toppling over the side, linked in with looping arrows – these sequences are really imaginatively presented and give the reader a look into both sides of bipolarity. 

I found Marbles to be a thoughtful and interesting look at a difficult condition. It shows those of us who don’t have the illness a glimpse of what it’s like for someone who does in a way that’s informative and entertaining to read. Forney’s art is excellent and her writing nicely balances factual scenes with memoir in a tone that’s humane and humourous, keeping her story moving at a nice steady pace throughout - I really enjoyed it. Plus anyone with a tattoo designed by Kaz is alright by me!

Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo and Me

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