A basic truth about good art is that it comes from an artist who is compelled to create it. I have followed the work of cartoonist Tom Hart for many years and I consider him a friend. I can see that his latest book, the graphic memoir, “Rosalie Lightning,” brings out the best in him and what he can do as an artist. This is a story about grieving. Tom and his wife, the cartoonist Leela Corman, suffered the loss of their daughter, Rosalie Lightning, a few years ago. She was nearly two years old. The process of grieving has no set amount of time. It can very well go on forever. However, for the sake of one’s own life, and one’s loved ones, there is also a process of acceptance and renewal. In his book, Hart explores all of this with great insight.
The comics medium can offer the reader entry into the mind of a cartoonist in a very distinct way. This often happens with a work from an independent creator who both writes and draws the work. If it is a personal work, and the creator is up to the task, the reader will be swept into a myriad of observations made all the more tangible by the elastic and concise nature of comics. The words must be more condensed, providing a sharper impact. And then you add the immediacy and the intimacy of the drawings coming from the very same author’s hand. Tom Hart is in a unique position, as an experienced storyteller with a highly expressive style, to tell this story.
One thing I’ve always admired about Tom Hart is his ability and willingness to open himself up to his readers. He is alright with presenting himself as a regular guy struggling with life in much the same way as we all do. Now, imagine a gifted storyteller like Hart dealing with the death of his baby girl. Is this a story he can even begin to tell? Is it one he wants to tell? You sense right from the beginning that he followed his instincts and chose to continue to share about his life through his comics. There was no set plan. The observations were intermittent posts on his blog. Organically, a narrative took root. And, I believe, the theme of exploring grieving naturally emerged. You find it throughout the book, first in moving recollections and later in greater detail as two parents walk in the wilderness and search for answers.
Aside from the medical reasons, are there any answers as to why a beautiful toddler would die? That is the question that Tom and Leela struggle with. Was it somehow preordained? Both parents torment themselves by repeatedly posing that question. The thing about Hart’s comics is, by their very nature, they are direct and are brimming with immediacy. There’s an interesting tension created by a story following a circuitous and ambiguous path which is punctuated with sharp and forceful drawings. Hart combats a need to contemplate, and recede into the background, with a strong will to tell his story and keep moving forward in his life. Of course, the goal was never to forget but to find balance. Hart’s book proves to be an excellent work of self-discovery and of keeping the memory alive of a dear soul.
“Rosalie Lightning: A Graphic Memoir” is a 272-page hardcover published by St. Martin’s Press, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. For more details, visit our friends at Macmillan Publishers right here.