In case you haven't gotten the memo, graphic memoirs are serious and fantastic way to tell stories. It's like suddenly getting a car that goes up and down instead of just left and right and back and forth. Comic artists such as Marjane Satrapi and Alison Bechdel set the bar high with their dissection of history and literature in addition to well-rendered, evocative panels in Persepolis and Fun Home, respectively. Marbles, by Ellen Forney, (Gotham Books, 2012, 237) is an earnest and deserving addition to that genre.
Forney is an artist who seems patterns in water droplets, who has fifty schemes in the air at once. She has periods of depression, too, crying spells where she doesn’t leave her couch. The immensely likable cartoonist earns the diagnosis of bipolar disorder 1, but she is adamant: now that’s she’s joined the “Van Gogh Club” of mentally ill artists, she doesn’t want medication to interfere with her creativity. And, as her therapist expects, she suffers the consequences.
Marbles is quite honest, and there’s an essential charisma to it. Even when Forney discusses her crippling depression, paired with dark, dark illustrations to match, you’re not dangling off the edge of a branch with her. She never lapses into self-pity or anything this memoir could easily do. The tone might have something to do with the lettering, which is cheerfully rough throughout. Forney shows off an amazing range, from the more round cartoonish figures that dominate, to stylized sexy models, to fairly realistic self-portraits. The panel about various reactions to her coming out as bipolar is as amusing as it is revealing.
While Forney’s subject matter is not the most original, that’s no fault of hers. She comes off as genuinely curious and connected to everything she learns about—not just her medication, but the lives of other creative bipolars such as Georgia O’Keefe and Edvard Munch. Marbles is perhaps not the absolute most visually interesting or even the most insightful memoir of mental illness out there, but it is one of the most heartfelt. Forney’s struggles to be the artist and person she feels herself to be are narrated excellently in both word and image. A worthy goal, and a worthy read for the struggling, the curious and creative.