Marbles: The Adventures of a Crazy Artist
I've been dimly aware of the work of Seattle cartoonist Ellen Forney, who contributed to the Stranger alternative newspaper I read frequently when I was going to school in Tacoma. So when I saw her graphic memoir "Marbles," about her struggles with bipolar disorder, I decided to check it out.
Forney is very honest, depicting both the boundless energy of her highs and the sluggishness of her lows, as she talks to her psychiatrist and tries to deal with the many different drugs she has to consume to stabilize her mood, all while worrying that the drugs that'll cure her will take away her creativity and artistic passion.
It is this struggle to not romanticize "crazy artists" that I found particularly fascinating. This is why Forney initially refused to go on lithium, worrying that the drugs would kill her creativity and ability to be enthusiastic and passionate. She even sort of likes being a part of "Club Van Gogh," as she calls the collection of artists and writers who probably had bipolar disorder or depression, while worrying of ending up as several of them did. The second to last chapter of the book is dedicated specifically to whether or not there is an actual link between creativity and bipolar disorder, and if so what that could mean.
But the majority of the book is devoted to Forney talking about either her ups or her downs. It is to her credit that she is able to capture both, especially since she admits when she was first diagnosed that she could not understand her mindset in one stage while in another, which I thought very interesting. But the comic is able to capture both the excitement and agitation of her manic episodes while also documenting the crushing and inescapable sadness of her depressive ones to, making the experiences feel real in the mind of the reader.
I think Forney's cartoony style fits well with the story she tells. People are recognizably human, although she's able to exaggerate facial features when it's necessary. Her art is very approachable, while also being able to convey a lot of powerful emotion.
All in all, this is a brave and effective memoir, able to burrow deep into the head of its subject. I liked Forney's candidness of her mental illness and how she's dealt with it, and I plan on checking out more of her stuff when I get the chance to. Definitely check this one out if you want to learn more about bipolar disorder and the people who have to deal with.