Note: The following graphic work was part of my Master’s thesis. Rather than letting it sit and collect dust–and, just as crucially, now that I have a bit of distance from it–I have decided to share it. It will run on DI in several parts; since the chapters are quite long, I’ll be dividing it up for maximum readability. Image descriptions can be found below the .jpgs; click the images for larger versions.
Images: Series of line drawings showing Anna, the cartoonist, interacting with Winston, her Yorkshire Terrier, while speaking directly to the reader.
Speech bubble, panel 1: Hi there! I’m Anna, the writer and cartoonist. This is my dog, Winston. He’s with me a lot.
Speech bubble, panel 2: We have some important information to share with you, the reader.
Speech bubble, panel 3: What follows is, in part, about 20 or so years of my life condensed into less than 100 pages…
Speech bubble, panel 4: So, somewhat obviously, I have skipped over quite a bit, and have left some things out.
Speech bubble, panel 5: I’ve tried to be as honest as possible, but I also want to give a nod to postmodernism here…
Speech bubble, panel 6: because how I view or depict certain events may not match up with how some of the other people involved view or would depict these events. I aim to be truthful! And I aim to be honest about my experiences.
Speech bubble, panel 7: As for the more theoretical stuff, I have included citations at the end of the text, plus a whole lot of footnotes.
Speech bubble, panel 8: With this in mind, please enjoy! And (I hope) learn.
PAGE 1 TITLE: LEFT/RIGHT
Panel 1: Illustration of a neonatal incubator.
Text: I was born three months prematurely. I weighed less than three pounds at birth.
Panel 2: Illustration of a small baby in the same incubator, next to a teddy bear.
Text: I was not expected to survive, thanks to a cerebral hemorrhage (sic) and a collapsed lung.
Panel 3: Line drawing of a foot, with a scar on its heel. An arrow, with text, tells us that it is a surgery scar on the narrator’s left heel.
Text: Thanks in no small part to medical science, I survived, but not without a souvenir for my troubles.
Panel 4: Line drawing of a person’s body, with the left hand outlined.
Top text: My first entrée to disability was mild cerebral palsy…the end result of my early arrival.
Bottom text: The left side of my body would always remain weaker than its twin.
Panel 5: Image of the same body with a dotted line down the middle.
Text: The physical issues caused by my CP seemed fairly straightforward.
Panel 6: Image of two feet walking; one is lifted higher off the ground.
Text: My left foot had a bit of a limp, for one thing.
Panel 7: Image of two legs, with one shaking.
Text: My left leg would also get “the shakes,” often at random intervals. On their own, many of these things seemed normal to me—not bad, just different.
Panel 8: Image of young Anna, looking disturbed as she is surrounded by HA HA HAS of different sizes.
Text: When other people entered the picture, though, it was a different story.
PAGE 2 TITLE: GROWING PAINS
Panel 1: Image of young Anna with her family: dad, mom, and younger brother Patrick.
Text: As a child, I had a happy home life.
Panel 2: Image of young Anna, surrounded by smaller images labeled with various interests: Reading, writing, art, lemurs, film, cartoons.
Text: I had interests in a lot of different things, and was lucky to have a family that encouraged my more esoteric leanings.
Panel 3: Image of Anna sitting and reading under a tree.
Text: At an early age, I began to suspect that I was not like other kids…
Panel 4: Image of Anna looking confused as other kids, off panel, yell things at her.
Speech bubble text: “What are you doing READING? At lunch!” “NERD!” “What a SPAZ!”
Narrative text: This was an issue that, unsurprisingly, blossomed when I was around other kids, mostly at school.
Panel 5: Another kid points at Anna’s foot and asks, “What’s WRONG with your foot?” Anna does not respond.
Text: It started small, as these things often do.
Panel 6: Dark clouds form over Anna’s head. She looks perturbed.
Text: By second grade, I had begun to suspect that there was something truly wrong with me, which resulted in more “bad days” than I would have liked.
Panel 7: Anna’s teacher gives her some well-meaning advice.
Text: Some of the advice I got was not especially helpful. My second-grade teacher, for instance, said…
Speech bubble text: ”Just try to treat those things like water off a duck’s back.”
Panel 8: Anna looks confused as she imagines herself as a quacking duck.
Panel 1: Image of Anna interacting with Janet, her physical therapist.
Text: I’d known that some of my after-school activities, such as physical therapy, weren’t exactly “normal.” I liked physical therapy—my therapist, Janet, was someone I felt I could trust.
Speech bubbles: “How are you doing this week, honey?” “Okay, I guess. The kids at school are really annoying.”
Panel 2: Anna is confronted by two kids.
Text: Eventually, I reached a point of no return with many of my non-disabled classmates.
Speech bubble, girl: I heard you go to physical therapy…nerd! Speech bubble, boy: Only RETARDS go to physical therapy!
Panel 3: A row of smiling, exaggerated Anna faces addresses the other kids.
Speech bubbles, Anna: “Sure, you can copy my homework! Ha ha, yeah, I am a spaz!”
Text: By 6th grade, I had decided to dedicate myself to becoming a “nice” girl—I thought that filling the ultimate stereotype of a girl would stave off teasing and bullying.
Panel 4: Anna stares at the viewer with a “poker face.”
Text: During this time, I got a lot of practice in hiding my true feelings when people would say or do cruel or shitty things.
Panel 5: At a doctor’s appointment, Anna’s leg is examined by a doctor.
Speech bubble, doctor: I’m just going to examine your leg, okay?
Text: This would also come in handy during some of my medical visits, although I was not always successful at hiding my feelings in that environment.
Panel 6: At the same doctor’s appointment, Anna is upset.
Speech bubble, Anna: It hurts…
Speech bubble, doctor: You’re doing so well. Almost done, okay?
Text: True to form, when my façade of “nice,” “brave,” and agreeable did crack, I began to hate myself.
Panel 7: Anna sitting at a desk, studying.
Text: I threw myself into school in an attempt to distract myself from both self-hatred…
Panel 8: Image of a squat glass, filled with alcohol and ice.
Text: …and some burgeoning home issues, most notably my dad’s alcoholism.
Panel 1: Anna looks into the distance as a group of boys laugh; one appears to be grabbing her. A thought bubble next to her head reads, DON’T REACT.
Text: My “niceness” often prevented me from taking action against some of the more physical advances [at school]. Poker face was easier, I guess.
Panel 2: Anna’s dad brings breakfast to the kitchen table as Anna stands next to a chair.
Text: Meanwhile, things at home were weird.
Speech bubble, Anna: Dad, I’m tired.
Speech bubble, dad: It seems like you’re always tired. Here, have some breakfast.
Panel 3: Anna interacts with a pointing boy.
Text: Things at school were more or less consistent.
Speech bubble, boy: Do you have a limp because you’re RETARDED?
Speech bubble, Anna: Um, no.
Thought bubble, Anna: Asshole.
Panel 4: Anna has two thought bubbles next to her head; one depicting a hand grabbing her rear as the grabber laughs, and one reading, “Not much I can do, I guess.”
Text: I kept some of what was happening to myself; I figured that my parents had enough to deal with already.
Panel 5: In what appears to be a living room, Anna’s mom talks to her and younger brother Patrick.
Speech bubble, mom: Kids, Dad and I are going to be living apart for a while. It’s not because of anything you guys did…we love you both so much.
Panel 6: Similar image to panel 5’s; Anna and Patrick look away from mom. Their facial expressions seem to have some elements of confusion and anger.
Panel 7: Anna and her mom sit at the dinner table.
Text: Wacky adolescent behavior was easier to talk about than some of the more physical stuff.
Speech bubble, mom: You seem quiet. Did something happen at school?
Speech bubble, Anna: Yeah.
Panel 8: Anna and her friend, both dressed in P.E. uniforms, talk outside. The friend wags her finger as she speaks.
Text: My best friend at the time was the reigning queen of wacky, Janus-faced adolescent ridiculousness.
Speech bubble, best friend: You shouldn’t act so depressed.
Thought bubble, Anna: You wouldn’t know about THAT if it hit you in the face.
Panel 1: The friend speaks to Anna again; both have pinched expressions on their faces.
Text: According to her, girls were a certain way.
Speech bubble, friend: Acting like THAT will make guys think you’re a BITCH.
Speech bubble, Anna: Ok.
Thought bubble, Anna: Whatever.
Panel 2: The friend grasps the sleeve of Anna’s shirt; both are dressed in regular clothes.
Text: I regularly failed to measure up to her elusive standards.
Speech bubble, friend: What made you buy that shirt? You look like a slut.
Thought bubble, Anna: Maybe if I just let her run her mouth, she’ll get bored and stop.
Panel 3: Diagram of “other” markings, highlighted with arrows and text: zits, big boobs, lack of “acceptable” fashion sense, limp.
Text: Certain things marked me as “other,” but my disability was perhaps most damning.
Panel 4: Anna, wearing pajamas, examines a copy of the book Reviving Ophelia and reads the summary on the back cover. Thought bubble: Sounds interesting!
Text: Home sick from school one day, I found Mary Pipher’s Reviving Ophelia on my parents’ book shelf. I read it cover-to-cover in two days.
Panel 5: Anna reading and looking shocked.
Text: From then on, things began to look rather different.
Panel 6: Anna looks sad; thought bubbles surround her head: Why am I so WEAK? Why can’t I stand up for myself?
Text: I was not well-versed enough in feminist theory to notice the problems with that book, but so much of it made sense to me. The sections on [the] expectations heaped upon young women felt especially relevant to me.
Footnote: See Gonick 2006.
Panel 7: Anna angrily says “Not again!” as her left hand shakes. Thought bubble: I am so fucking disgusting…
Text: I was pretty terrible at mimicking “proper” girl behavior anyway, but disability seemed to intersect with these expectations in some very odd ways.
Panel 8: Small drawings illustrating Anna’s limp, leg brace, and harassment by other kids.
Text: From my limp to my medical foot and leg braces to the harassment—I was at once a girl and “other than.”
END OF PART ONE