Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A Child's Life: Graphic Novel

A Child's Life
A Child's Life and Other Stories
Phoebe Gloeckner

This is one graphic novel that certainly lives up to its name. I'm glad I wasn't reading it in public when I turned the page and saw the panel depicting two young girls peeping in through a broken bathroom window and catching their stepfather in a *ahem* private moment. (Granted, there were far more disturbing scenes, but that was the first one that I recall being particularly explicit.)

I came across this title when I was looking for graphic novels written and illustrated by women. It seems like a lot of the well known books in this medium are by men, and if you've read my blog at all you probably know I like reading female authors. (And yes, I read male authors and yes I like them and yes Maus I & II are amazing).

The characters in A Child's Life and Other Stories are clearly based on Gloeckner's self and family and friends. It was a little odd to get used to at first, as she often changed the main character's name from story to story. It's understandable that she would want to put some distance between herself and some of these incredibly painful experiences. The stories are in rough chronological order, grouped as child years, to teen, to adult. They were not all completed at the same time, so there are very noticeable differences in drawing styles. This isn't a bad thing - in fact, the differences lend interesting visual variety.

This is not a book to willy-nilly recommend to your friends. It is intense. The subject matter is dark - excessive drug and alcohol abuse, pedophilia, rape, child abuse.

Unlike Maus, there is no attempt to depict the atrocities in anything other than minute detail. All the horrors are present for perusal, which can make you feel a bit like a creepy voyeur. What does this mean? What is the purpose of these artistic choices? Perhaps it's to force the readers' heads point at these acts, force them to watch and acknowledge they exist. Because unfortunately, there are too many children who know about them first hand.


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