I’m beginning to think that my favorite graphic novel is always the one I’ve just finished. Stitches by David Small and The Photographer by Emmanuel Guibert and Didier Lefevre are two exceptional examples of the graphic novel memoir. They are both very different but the graphics in each really highlight the extreme events in each story.
Award winning children’s book illustrator, David Small, tells the story of his gut-wrenchingly difficult childhood. With few words, much of the story is told through his artwork. Small’s father was a radiologist who works many hours at the hospital while his mother is often cold and angry. A friend of the family finds a lump on young David’s throat. He is scheduled to have surgery for a benign cyst. After a second operation, he wakes up barely able to speak because the surgeons had removed one of his vocal chords. His parent’s never told him it was cancer. It turns out the Small’s didn’t expect David to make it, but when he pulls through life continues on as if nothing happened. This book was incredibly sad, but I felt I could take heart in the fact that Mr. Small has become such a success. That in itself is very life affirming. I just have to say that the end of the book sent chills up my spine both good and bad. I’m hoping for a second installment.
The Photographer is the story of Didier Lefevre’s 1986 journey with Doctors Without Borders in war-torn Afghanistan. The story is told by Emmanuel Guibert, with drawings by Frederic Lamercier. It is a fascinating story. You really get a feel for what an MSF mission entails. The preparation, the traveling are as much a part of the story as the mission itself. What makes this a standout graphic novel, is the incorporation of Lefevre’s photographs within the story. It is wonderful to see the drawings and then all of a sudden a photo of the same person or event. Other times there will be several photos of the same image so you get to see Lefevre’s process. The photos are powerful whether they are of landscapes, ordinary Afghans or step by step shots of surgery. It took me a long time to read this book, because I kept stopping to take a closer look. I would love to see more of Lefevre’s photographs and I’m sad that he passed away at such a young age.