Author and artist: Ellen Forney

Type: Non-fiction, comic, memoir

Full title: Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me

Published: 2012

I read it: December 2014


Though “mania” and “depression” are in the subtitle, this memoir is specifically about the author’s struggles with bipolar disorder. It’s quite an effective introduction to the topic, told in chronological order from just before her first appointment when she got hints of something serious going on in her life. Ellen Forney completely exposes the years that took her from therapy to eventual stabilization, pulling no punches in visualizing all the ways her brain affected her.

The artwork is supremely confident, guiding the reader from conventional panels to a burst of ecstatic imagery to the heavy weight of a depressed individual. Unlike the realistic consistency of the human characters in a work like Building Stories, Forney depicts herself in a dizzying array of styles. The character of Ellen is cartooney or serious, simple or highly detailed, whatever the page calls for. The book is swift and direct.

And the book is mostly a tool, I think. It’s an assessment of how a person copes with a label, how they are forced to examine their life amongst huge change, and why they might push back against the idea of medication. Forney grapples with the medication topic a lot, and uses a lot of space to helpful visualize the ups and down of bipolar mindsets. She circles and then confronts a burning question: “If I take meds to prevent my mood swings, am I choosing to be less creative?” Here is where the “Michelangelo” part comes in, when she studies famous artists of the past who may have had some form of this disease.

Fortunately, Ellen finds a path and learns to balance her medications with her creativity. The book is filled with personal honesty and could guide someone through a similar situation. It could also help friends and family members understand what a loved one might be going through. It’s not misleading or deceptive, and doesn’t have a single-arrow answer. But it is a fine use of the comic medium.

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