Menopause: A Comic Treatment. Edited by MK Czerwiec. Penn State University Press. 2020. 144pp. $29.95
Mimi Pond was a queen for the night at the Eisner Awards this year as she was the winner in the Short Story category for her take on menopause. Yes, folks, you heard it right, a cartoonist won a prestigious industry award on a subject that has gotten little recognition over the years outside of a Joan Rivers comedy act. What’s more, Mimi’s story is part of the book that also won an Eisner Award–in the Best Anthology category! We all need to get over ourselves on so many levels more than ever. The truth is that we all have bodies (who knew?) and they go through changes as we steadily make our way to our final stop. There is no denying that a woman’s body goes through hell. But it’s not left just to me to say that. This book says it in a variety of ways, both vivid and hilarious.
There is so much politics, a lot of it quite toxic, attached to everything about us, including our bodies. What’s refreshing about this book, in that regard, is that it’s engaged in some primal truth. That is what is so compelling about Mimi Pond’s short story as the main character must confront who she is at the most basic level. She’s mad as hell and she’s not going to take it anymore! This comic is one of those in-your-face show stoppers that takes you out of the page, out of the book, all the way to the Eisner Awards. In the story, a mother and adult daughter are wandering around an old-fashioned carnival when a carnie lures them into a show about empowerment. On stage, there is a troupe of naked middle-aged women doing a spoken word act. The mom is overcome and joins the group on stage, strips off her clothes, and vows to run away with the circus. The mom sees her mad dash as her last chance to shine, to live her life. Psychological road blocks can be every bit as real as anything else standing in the way of fulfillment. One is left with a universal urge to push one’s way through no matter what. And, if dad’s hot casserole gets cold, so be it!
With Mimi’s raucous story leading the way, this collection boasts an array of significant work from 28 contributors, explaining, and expressing their views, on the many aspects of menopause, from the general to the more specific and personal. This book is another partnership with Graphic Medicine, co-founded by MK Czerwiec, this book’s editor, as well as a contributor under the pen name, “Comic Nurse.” Menopause: A Comic Treatment is the nineteenth book in the Graphic Medicine Series published by Penn State University Press. The following are some more examples from the book. As I say, it’s a great range of work: some are more medically-focused, created by medical professionals, with simple drawings; and some are from seasoned professional cartoonists more invested in a slice-of-life perspective.
Jennifer Camper’s “A Slow Intermittent Leak” cuts to the chase with a long hard look at the menstrual cycle, from first period to last. For many men, the reality of blood alone makes periods a highly taboo subject. Of course, those men need to get a grip. Camper is a professional cartoonist and it clearly shows. This is a highly organized and masterfully composed work. The combination of the artwork and engaging prose is a pleasure to read and guides the reader through with humor and grace.
MK Czerwiec’s “Burning Up” is both highly informative and entertaining and is a great example of the power of visual storytelling. For these type of educational comics, art is only part of it and can be pretty simple as it is here. What matters most to the cartoonist is finding just the right balance of words and pictures to best convey the information. Czerwiec’s pen name is “Comic Nurse,” and this piece demonstrates what she is great at: taking challenging subjects and making them relatable. In this case, we follow our main character on a journey of self-discovery and an appreciation of “hot flashes.”
My final sample demonstrates how truly powerful and practical comics can be. “Surgical Menopause–In Ten Postures,” is unique in its specificity as it greatly benefits from two experts in their fields. It is written by Susan Merrill Squier, a professor of English and Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at Penn State. It is illustrated by Shelley Wall, a medical illustrator and assistant professor in the biomedical communications graduate program at the University of Toronto. The comics coming from the Graphic Medicine community, which this book is a prime example of, are said to provide insight to medical professionals that they typically do not get. It is through the combination of Squier’s eloquence and Wall’s precision that we get a window into the highly idiosyncratic individual. Too often it comes down to doctors vs. patients when, in fact, we’re all just humans. It takes a very sophisticated comic like this is prove a simple truth: we’re all vulnerable and we all need to be carefully listened to. Ironically, despite how articulate this comic is, it is speaking to how easy it is to not speak properly or to be listened to properly. The prime example in this comic: the doctor, in an all too matter-of-fact tone, asks the patient, “Do you want to keep your uterus if you’re having your ovaries removed?” The patient, in an all too defensive posture, replies, “I am not my uterus.” End of discussion. Uterus removed. Oh, but the patient didn’t really mean it, wishes the doctor had questioned her words and now regrets having her uterus removed.