Friday, August 23, 2013

Ellen Forney’s Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me – a graphic memoir

A graphic memoir that pops the romance of crazy artists

     Marbles stunned me when I was reading it because, by being a graphic memoir instead of a literary autobiography, Ellen Forney pulls the reader into the vortex of bipolar mood disorder with an immediacy that is simultaneously funny and unsettling.  She begins by
describing the process that resulted in her extraordinary back tattoo and then cuts to a session with her new psychiatrist that leads to a bipolar disorder diagnosis.
Ellen Forney in Her Studio*

Beyond the twin terrors of long-term depression off-set by manic highs, Forney wonders if the many, vastly expensive medications she’s prescribed will deaden her creativity as an artist.  

     Having close relatives on the bipolar continuum placed me in the uncomfortable position of constantly thinking to myself, ‘Yep, that’s exactly what it’s like.’  Forney displays courage in showing how she seemed to others, but where her book finds its unique niche is in detailing how an individual on the bipolar scale seems to her/himself.  That’s what gave me pause.  Oh, if I’d been more empathetic, I would’ve understood where he or she was coming from.  That’s true, but those family members and friends who’ve lived on the social knife-edge of wondering when the individual would melt down with extreme verbosity, rage, wildness, promiscuity, or a suicide attempt have been required to demonstrate extraordinary patience or equanimity.  

     Forney’s research found that many artists, visual and literary, suffered from bipolar disorder, though it wasn’t diagnosed for many of them.  The main conflict for Forney, as with others on the bipolar continuum, is whether the medication is worth the side effects and more centrally, whether she will allow her self to be controlled by medications.  Where she finds justification and how she defines herself is one of the plot’s surprises.

     Forney’s visual technique connects both cartoon reminiscences with reworks of actual photographs.  Her style is generally not as realistic or detailed as Alison Bechdel’s in Fun Home or Are You My Mother?  However, Forney’s primary focus is to examine and reveal herself whereas Bechdel refracted herself through deep examination of each of her parents.

*Photo by Hayley Young

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