Marbles on meds

A review of Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir by Ellen Forney

Ellen Forney is a Seattle artist diagnosed with bipolar disorder. This graphic novel chronicles her diagnosis, her interpretation of her manic and depressive episodes and her struggle to decide whether or not to be medicated. One of Ellen's first concerns with medication was how it would affect her art, but as her disease progressed, her concerns focused in a different direction: whether or not medication would actually help her get better.

Wow. This book is heavy. It's exhausting. It's heartbreaking. It's informative. It's promising.

I was talking about it with a friend who was going to read it soon and I encouraged her to settle in with some soothing hot chamomile tea before getting started in order to fortify a peaceful spirit. Because this book will wear you out. Ellen's depictions of her manic periods are frantic and frightening. And then her depression just kicks you in the teeth. There are a couple of pages where she draws herself as a blob under blankets. Frame after frame. It's absolutely devastating. But perfect in the way it captures exactly what she was going through. That's what's most remarkable about this book - the way Forney's mania and depression are captured so completely in her art.

Readers may be familiar with Forney's other work as a cartoonist and illustrator. She's big in the alternative newsweeklies and magazine world and has a popular comic strip, "I Was Seven in '75" that's been collected into the Harvey and Eisner Award-nominated book Monkey Food. I wasn't familiar with her work as a cartoonist prior to reading this book, but I admired her illustrations in Sherman Alexie's Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.