Sunday, August 5, 2007

Mom's Cancer: Nobody wants to be bald

That title doesn't really make sense, does it? I was trying to go for an understatement, since baldness isn't too bad compared to the, you know, cancer. Anyway, this will probably be a short review, since I don't have too much to say, but I wanted to talk about the book.

Mom's Cancer
By Brian Fies

In what was probably something of a sanity-preserving measure after his mother was diagnosed with inoperable lung and brain cancer, cartoonist Brian Fies began keeping a sort of comic-strip diary of his and his family's experiences during her treatment. He began posting the strips online at some point during the process, and it became something of a sensation. It's easy to see why, with clear, demonstrative cartooning illustrating a story that is at turns emotional, heartbreaking, and darkly humorous. We get to live the experiences with Brian's family (consisting mainly of him, his mother, and his two sisters, "Nurse Sis" and "Kid Sis"), feeling every small victory and setback in the treatment. The reader really feels like one of the family, and it's very hard to watch "Mom" get sicker and sicker, seeming to look more haggard and shrunken with each installment.

It's fascinating to see the medical processes at work in treating cancer, and that's where a lot of Fies' humor comes through. He often depicts the situations as a board game or maze to demonstrate the feeling of helplessness that has gripped his family, or visualizing doctors as mad scientists doing experiments on Mom:

And his pacing is excellent, making good use of silent panels or breaking the action into a bunch of small panels, like in this page showing the barrage of tests Mom underwent after being diagnosed:

Of course, the strip isn't just about Mom, it's about the whole family dealing with the situation. They band together to help out, but they still have conflicts that arise due to the stress they are all under. In one memorable sequence, Fies depicts the siblings as superheroes having a big brawl as they argue with each other:

As these examples show, the strip is mostly in black and white, but there are occasional splashes of color which give real punctuation to certain scenes. It's a nice effect.

So it's an excellent little story, a quick read at 112 smaller-than-normal pages. I would definitely recommend it as a nice documentary-style story, full of heart and humor. Even though we never learn the characters' real names, they seem like real people, and we feel richer for having spent the time with them.

Well, that turned out longer than I expected. I guess I did have something to say after all. More reviews tomorrow! There had better be, if I ever hope to catch up...

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