Two introductory panels featuring Anna and her dog Winston.

Nervous Systems: Introduction and Part 1

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.

Text description for this comic can be found below the jpegs.
Text description for this comic can be found below the jpegs.

Text description for this comic can be found below the jpegs.
Text description for this comic can be found below the jpegs.

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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.


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.


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.”