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Marbles, Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me

marblescoverEllen Forney
Penguin Books

Forney’s Marbles first came to my attention about a year or so ago when an acquaintance forwarded a galley copy of it to me. At the time I had a fairly big read pile and quite honestly I didn’t know if I was ready to dive into a graphic novel about another person’s mental health issues. Instead I gave the copy to a person I figured the story might benefit. This person read the book and gave a vaguely general good impression and that was that I thought. Little did I suspect that months later the cover would be staring out from a shelf in the new graphic novel section of my library.

Why not? I thought. And so I brought it home and still feeling apprehensive about what I assumed would be the tone Ellen Forney would take in relating her story I let the book sit for a few days before leafing through the pages to get a glimpse of just how dark the corners of Forney’s life were.A couple or so years back I bought a copy of Nate Powell’s Swallow Me Whole when he did a signing at my local comic shop. It was an impressive looking book from its covers to the interior art, and while I was a bit curious about the subject matter I was more smitten by his charm and looks and gladly gave him money in exchange for the book, though I would shortly discover I was not prepared for intensity or depths Powell explored. So, yes, I was concerned about the tone Forney had taken in her memoir and I let the book sit for a few days before leafing through the pages to sneak a glimpse of just how dark the corners of Forney’s life were.

What I discovered upon finally sitting down with the book and reading the first chapter was a euphoric recounting of Forney getting a tattoo that really hooked me. So much so that I thought how bad can this be and I eagerly turned the page to chapter two where Forney abruptly shifts the scene to her therapist’s office the day she first was told her bipolar diagnosis. I’m still hooked at this early point because Forney’s quickyly going back and forth from drawing scenes of her manic episodes and otherrd in which she begins to explore her fears of unofficially being labeled as just another crazy artist. It’s like the technique used to temper egg yolks by stirring a little hot liquid into them instead of adding the yolks to the liquid all at once and ruining the recipe. Forney has also done this neat, little trick with her art by drawing her manic, upbeat scenes more realistically and vibrant whereas she adopts a cartoonist approach for the challenging material. The latter approach provides those hesitant readers like me some emotional distance from Forney’s frankness. Forney does not hold back from shining the light on her life and decisions though she thankfully refrains from being judgmental about matters.

While Forney relies on a minimalist style to evoke expression and form throughout the bulk of the story she also interspersed images drawn in other methods from her sketch books that give clues to her mental and emotional states. Her use of panel layouts is dependent on the content of the particular page or section of story. At times the layouts are fairly standard. In other places they’re small and crowded. In one scene in which Forney illustrates a photo shoot she and some friends did for an adult comic. The panels tumble willy nilly and thumb a figurative nose at Kieth Giffen’s one time strict nine panel grid lay out. They simply don’t exist with borders on a number of other pages, providing a subtle visual relief. There is also a minimal use of heavy dark and black tones in comparison to use of negative space.

The oppressive despair I imagined overwhelming me before starting to read Marbles simply didn’t happen. Yes, it’s a heavy subject but I felt drawn into it by Forney’s skillful storytelling and found myself not ready for her to end the story when I reached the last page.

Marbles has been nominated for an Eisner Award in the Best Reality Based Comic category. Please read a Lamda Literary interview.


March 7, 2015
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