Lighter than my Shadow
‘Lighter Than My Shadow’ is a new publication by Jonathan Cape, pitched as a ‘hand drawn story’, a non-fiction autobiography about a girl who struggles with the deadly illness, anorexia. Perhaps the careful wording “hand drawn story” is an attempt to escape from the slapstick stigma attached to the ‘graphic novel’, or the ‘comic’, which over the years has been accused of dumbing down culture. Yet seasoned comic readers will know that since Robert Crumb’s themes of anti-establishment, sex and drugs, or Alan Moore’s chaptered nihilism of the superhero, comics have moved into a nucleus of compelling story telling. Early examples that raise important socio-political awareness is the widely acclaimed “Maus” by Art Spiegelman in 1986, who tells the horrific ‘bleeding history’ of his grandfather’s Nazi war camp experience, or more recently Brian Talbots award winning “The Tale of One Bad Rat” who illustrates the horrific consequence of child abuse.
It is fair to say that this debut novel by Katie Green should stand alongside such important cultural achievements.
As Katie describes the meal planning, the binge eating and the food hiding, an arresting imagery of her mental anxiety runs through the pages in the form of an aggressive, ink-scribbled cloud that looms over her. The subject of anorexia has never before been nailed down so well, here in the medium of the modern comic. For some, it is debatable whether or not the interlaced images and words facilitate a deeper impression of a subject – for using images in novels dissociates the readers own imagination. However with stories such as ‘Lighter Than My Shadow’ the marriage of image and word works, especially when the author illustrates their own story like this. Here the reader can ‘read’ and ‘see’ whispers of Katie’s taboo illness in a haunting and arresting way. A large mouth develops on her stomach as she resists the hunger. Her body warps and morphs into an obese mass, as she describes her inability to disconnect from the thought of having to eat. The intensity of the black cloud above her head grows and darkens.
Disappointingly “Lighter than My Shadow” has little focus on the environmental factors of anorexia; the beauty industry and its mass-media influence, the endless images of photoshoped models in magazines. Nevertheless this does not deter the importance of this novel. Katie Green focuses more on the psychological experience of the illness; how it effected her family, alienated her from friends, ruined the relationship with a boyfriend, how it made her more hairy, how it nearly killed her.
Luckily the author’s violent battle ends with resolve and interestingly she firmly conveys how her art is the resonating therapy for her recovery. The introduction begins with an image of her third person narration, sat at her own drawing desk. Here Katie’s past begins to flow from her pen, the embodiment of anorexia portrayed as ink is scratched on the page like scars. Her childish and passive line drawings give a paradoxical innocence to the content that lurks behind the surface, printed on grey morbid paper that represents the state of her once trapped mind. The drawings neatly weave together the memories of a lost childhood and help her to forge a closure on the tragic identity of her past. It is this construction that shows how the act of drawing is a tool for letting go.
This is a deeply personal and touching account of the author’s inner battle of will and determination, in an effort to get better. It shows the importance of illustration as a weapon for channelling the energy of an intrusive imagination, and how the act of pulling out your thoughts, transforming them onto a page is a gift of intuition, displayed for readers to take heed. So bravo Katie Green! This book will undoubtedly reach out to people who have had to deal with this seriously damaging illness, and who perhaps do not have the foresight to release tension by recalling trauma. This book might even help people in denial to recognise anorexia within themselves. Publication release date 3rd October 2013.
Katie Green is an artist and illustrator living in the south west of England.
Lighter Than My Shadow is her first book.
“I hoped it would end the day I burned everything, bit I would need a little more patience. There were still days I struggled with what I saw in the mirror, or with figuring out how to eat.”
£13.20 from Amazon
Published by Jonathan Cape,
Publication date 3rd October 2013
Book signing launch at “Gosh Comics” Soho 4th October