Last November I attended a comics talk at the Arnolfini, Bristol and was bowled over by the courage of one of the speakers there. The speaker was Katie Green and she was discussing her soon to be released debut Lighter Than My Shadow. She spoke about the challenges of creating a personal account of anorexia and abuse in graphic form and sparked my interest instantly for the work.
Lighter Than My Shadow is finally being released and is the first full-length hand drawn novel by Katie Green. It’s being described as a ‘hand drawn story’ instead of a graphic novel. I suspect this is a way to elevate it away from the perception that comics and graphic novels aren’t sophisticated and the medium is just full of teenage boy friendly stories. Graphic memoirs have been around for a long time now and independent comic book fans will know that since the 70s, comics have been capable of tackling much more serious themes. Katie Green’s debut should be put up there with the seminal classics like Art Spiegelman’s ‘Maus’ and Alison Bechdel’s ‘Fun Home’ as a culturally relevant and important read.
From the first look you can see the amount of skill and patience it must have taken to create this book, as well as the emotional stress. This is a huge novel with beautiful illustrative nuances running through it. For example the way in which her anxiety is represented: through a crosshatched scribbled cloud that expands and decreases over her figure throughout the novel that quickly and effectively tells the reader how the character of Katie is feeling. The angry scribble becomes a character itself, a physical presence reminding the reader that it’s almost a part of Katie.
It’s a stripped down, honest depiction of anorexia and explores how it psychologically affects not only the person dealing with the illness but how it hurts those around you; depicting anorexia as a monster ripping through her and devouring her being.
One thing I love about this book is Katie is not trying to explain why she had it or how it came to be or what cultural factors are to blame, she just shares the raw emotions felt while dealing with such an illness.
Graphic memoirs pair word and image perfectly, so much more can be said with the metaphor of an image. Katie uses blank pages, blacked out pages and white space to convey her slipping further down into her illness. The way in which she draws is simplistic and is perfectly juxtaposed with the heavy serious subject matter she’s dealing with.
As well as tackling anorexia this book deals with sexual abuse in a way I found refreshing. It shows the complexities of the psychological effects without using shock value or aggression that some other accounts have. This is probably due to where Katie is personally in her recovery but it’s an insightful and sensitive account that I believe would speak to a lot of women who have unfortunately found themselves in a similar position.
The violent battle with herself within this novel ends with an optimistic resolve. You feel like from the first image of her sat at a desk offering her third person narration to the end page of a personal message you have been on this journey with her. The drawings seem to flow seamlessly from her pen and patchwork together a mourning of a lost childhood in an approachable and obviously cathartic way. The final picture shows Katie kneeling down and comforting her inner child; it is the perfect ending to represent how the actual experience of drawing this book has been a tool for letting the past go.
Lighter Than My Shadow is a fantastic debut that although deeply personal, explores universal themes of growing up and femininity as well as being just a beautiful book to own. It shows how powerful the graphic novel can be, and I suspect will reach and provide comfort to those who have both dealt with the issues themselves or have looked after those who have.
Lighter Than My Shadow is released on 3rd October 2013.