This was suggested by the publisher in a batch recommendation of books that might appeal to readers of The Cult. Since I’m not much of a comic book guy anymore (I collected back when I was a preteen) and I don’t read children’s books, I’d never heard of David Small. Apparently he is a prize-winning author and illustrator. My childhood seems to predate his popularity, so I’m considering myself excused. To be honest, I was lured by the promise of a quick, easy read, and the ever-expanding size of my to read list intimidated me into taking this one on.
Stitches isn’t really a comic book, it’s more of a graphic novel. I know, I know, graphic novel is just a highfalutin term used to make comic books sound more adult, but in this case I think it applies. You won’t find any masked avengers traipsing around rooftops in their underwear here. Nor will you find any self-conscious counterculture posturing or pseudo indie hipness. What you will find, however, is a simple story told with poignancy and wit.
Stitches is an autobiographical story of childhood trauma and repression. Hospitalized at the age of fourteen for what he was told was a cyst, young David wakes to find he can no longer speak. What he doesn’t know is that he was diagnosed with cancer, due to years of x-ray therapy administered by his radiologist father (which was considered a cure-all for chronic sinus and respiratory problems at the time.) Upon learning this terrible secret, David moves out of his parent’s house and strikes out on his own to make it as an artist. I wonder how that worked out?
Years of writing children’s books have taught Small how to tell a story, but this one is decidedly adult. He peppers the story with enough surrealistic touches to keep both the mind and the eye occupied. The graphic medium doesn’t sugarcoat his childhood horrors, but it does make them slightly more palatable. The black and white art is simple and evocative, and Small uses words sparingly. This works to his advantage, as he is quite adept at conveying emotion with the tiniest line. I’m not an expert, but his style has a sort of cartoony naturalism that compliments his storytelling well.
Despite all the author went through, Stitches is not an angry book. It is infused with melancholy, but also with an understanding, one that comes with the benefit of hindsight. He treats his oppressors with the tenderness and sympathy he was denied growing up. They are not villains, and he is not a victim. I don’t know if Small has children of his own, but Stitches projects him as a man who would be more than qualified to raise them. This book is a celebration of his triumph over adversity and a testament to his character as a person.