I have been reading a glut of memoirs written by individuals with mental illnesses. Marbles, being a graphic novel, seemed like it would shake things...moreI have been reading a glut of memoirs written by individuals with mental illnesses. Marbles, being a graphic novel, seemed like it would shake things up a bit and perhaps provide some new insight into the experience.
I found Marbles to be a bit repetitive of other memoirs of mental illness in its prose content: that is, author finds out she has mental illness, author realizes the relation of past behaviors/experiences to said mental illness, author struggles with current symptoms, author resigns to treatment/medication, author struggles with ramifications of treatment, author succeeds in the degree to which she can (but will always continue to struggle). This repetition is not the fault of the author, but rather my familiarity with the course of these memoirs, which often contain patterns reflecting similarities between individual struggles with mental illness. Try as an author might, it is hard to bring something new to this genre in prose.
The refreshing, new content that Forney does have to offer to the genre of memoirs of mental illness is her illustrations. Her comic style was pretty simplistic and monochromatic for the most part and that fit the story she was trying to tell and did not detract from the details she was communicating. Instead of overwhelming the prose, it merely accentuated the text. Additionally, there were certain illustrations of herself when manic that really communicated the energy of those episodes.
The stars in her eyes, in addition to the content—herself as a "role model" or kind of figurehead—communicates the grandiose plans seen in a manic episode. The swirling text communicates the pressured speech and racing thoughts of mania. These are the moments in which her illustrations shine.
However, the sketches drawn from Forney's notebooks during her times of mania and depression seemed the most informative to an understanding of what it is like to be in either space. Her style when sketching appeared to shift, reflecting her "ups and downs" as her mood fluctuates. This sketchbook speaks more to Forney's experience of bipolar disorder, what it is really like to be manic or depressed, while the prose and most of the other illustrated content seem to speak more to the process of identifying and managing the disorder.
One other minor nitpick that I had with the book was its title. The book's full title is Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me. Throughout the book, Forney references what she calls "Club van Gogh," or those artists and other creative types who have been identified in their lifetimes or posthumously as suffering from a mood disorder.
She makes numerous references to van Gogh, Sylvia Plath, and other artists, yet only mentions Michelangelo in passing twice and never focuses on him specifically. This subtitle creates an expectation in the reader that Michelangelo will be an important part of this book, yet other artists take precedence over him. I think the choice of his name over others was to create alliteration in the title to make it "pop" and was possibly a decision on the part of the publisher, rather than the author. It is a small detail, but it does make the title somewhat misleading.(less)