Whilst sick-lit has been in 2012 a topic of discussion within the publishing world, SelfMadeHero have brought us from Belgium a graphic novel equivalent to it with When David Lost His Voice.
With gentle lines and soft palette watercolour, Judith Vanistendael tells the story of David and the women around him in the aftermath of his diagnosis for a cancer of the larynx. Split into 5 parts, each giving a voice to one of the main characters and focusing on their individual handling of the situation, the novel manages to cleverly conceal David’s own voice in the narration. David is sick and does not want to talk about it – which in time leads to an ironical climax when he actually loses the ability to speak due to his last operation. He eventually becomes most vocal in the last pages of the book, when he uses scraps of paper to communicate with his wife and doctor.
There is a non-overwhelming sadness that Judith manages to put across without getting into too much pathos in either dialogue or images. When David Lost His Voice isn’t in fact an openly graphic or vocal representation of disease or death, but instead aims at capturing moments of the lingering life before death, its struggles as well as its unexpected flashes of beauty. The most striking image of the novel is also its cover. It shows Paula, David’s wife, lying on the floor next to a skeleton made out of cardboard which represents David’s body with a green stain for each metastasis that has affected him. With no words spoken, Judith manages to show how physicality becomes a language itself, which Paula is in need of at this point of the narration. Judith’s choices for images and moments to capture are beautifully evocative and there is much to look at in the novel: skeletons first, but also boats, fishing rods, cacti, mummies, balloons, and even mermaids.
With such level of cleverness and sensibility, When David Lost His Voice was undoubtedly one of the strongest independent graphic novels of 2012.
‘Tamar, now I know what we should do to save your daddy. We should mummify him! You get the guts out with a hook, and you pull the brain out of his nose, and then you pour caustic soda in with resin.’ – Max.
Judith Vanistendael is a Belgian illustrator and has published her first most notable novel called Dance By The Light of the Moon with Self Made Hero in 2010. She has been nominated for both works for the most prestigious Grand Prix at the Angoulême Festival. She also illustrates children’s books.
When David Lost His Voice
Author/llustrator: Judith Vanistendael
UK Publisher: SelfMadeHero
280 pp – £16.99
UK Publication date: 2012
————————- Fabrice Blanchefort