Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me
- Words: Ellen Forney
- Art: Ellen Forney
- Publisher: Gotham Books
- Price: $20.00
- Release Date: Nov 6, 2012
Posted by Andy Oliver on Mar 11, 2013
A triumph in its skilful use of the language of the comics page to disseminate information and personal experience.
The deeper significance of our first encounter with Ellen Forney in her graphic memoir Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me is not readily apparent to the reader. In this sequence we are introduced to the author while she is undergoing an elaborate comics-based tattooing on her back; an experience which is presented to us with an almost rhythmic sense of euphoria underpinning the proceedings. It will be some time before the importance of this scene will sink in but, when it does, there’s a realisation that this opening is indicative of one of the extremes of Forney’s bipolar condition; a burst of manic intensity that dramatically contrasts with the lethargic lows at the other end of the illness’s spectrum.
Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me follows Forney, after she has been diagnosed as bipolar, in her struggle to come to terms with the condition, the constant revisions to her medication, the reactions of family and friends, and her fears that her creativity as an artist is rooted in the mania of her illness. It’s that selfsame anxiety that the Michelangelo reference of the graphic novel’s title comes from, as a recurring theme throughout Marbles is a hearkening back to a number of historical creative types now acknowledged to have had some form of mental health issues. Crucially, Forney’s terror that medication will sap away her inspiration and passion, removing the very essence of her existence, becomes a pivotal topic throughout these 200-plus pages as the conflict between “wellness” and creativity takes central stage.
As a narrator, Forney is an engaging presence throughout, employing a knowing and sparky wit to cut to the humour in even the worst of the events depicted. Her uninhibited honesty and willing openness allows the reader vital insights into those contrasting devastating low points and dangerous highs she cycles through in rapid succession. But that gregarious personality is key in communicating ideas and experience, and hopefully encouraging greater awareness of the topics raised here.
What is particularly striking about Forney’s narrative style is its busy and chaotic approach. Traditional sequential panels will dissolve into meandering stream of consciousness renderings with a turn of a page before evolving into complex diagrammatical explanations. Visually her layouts can progress from stark realism to cartoony excess to poignant minimalism. This backs up the book’s deliberate but appealing rambling tone but also brilliantly highlights the symptoms of her condition to remarkable effect – the joyous mania, the quieter moments of reflection, all taking on an appropriate and evocative visual identity.
Marbles is a triumph in its skilful use of the language of the comics page to disseminate information and personal experience on a subject that needs to be brought to greater public recognition. But it’s the candid and genial personality of the author, and her ability to connect with her readership, that ensures a profoundly empathic relationship builds up between narrator and audience. The graphic memoir as a comics sub-genre has achieved a certain prominence in recent years – Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me is an engagingly inspirational addition to its ranks.