Page 45 Review by Jonathan
"Come to bed with me..."
"Yeah I guess so."
"We could look at that Victorian erotica book you like."
"Huh? No, I'd rather read this book about cancer. Is that ok?"
"Sure, it's just fine."
Now, just to clear up any potential misunderstanding, this was not the scene in the Rigby household when I settled down to read this latest work from the publishers of medical-based comics Singing Dragon, following from the excellent works: PAIN IS REALLY STRANGE, WHEN ANXIETY ATTACKS, DAD'S NOT THERE ANY MORE, TRAUMA IS REALLY STRANGE, BLUE BOTTLE MYSTERY: AN ASPERGER ADVENTURE and TAKE IT AS A COMPLIMENT. Nor indeed, just in case the wife is reading, do I possess any Victorian erotica...
No, this is in fact a conversation that takes place between the creator, Elizabeth, and her husband Bob, who has been recently diagnosed with prostate cancer. Prior to that particular bombshell it seems like they used to enjoy a fair degree of cuddling and canoodling between the sheets, but clearly the stress of worrying over which medical pathway to proceed with and the effects of the testosterone-blocking tablets he commenced to help prevent tumour growth are having a decidedly negative effect on his ardour.
There are a number of wonderful things about this work that tickled me greatly, despite the inevitable emotional impact of the topic itself. The first being that this is indeed a comic where all the illustrations are scans of embroidery! For Elizabeth Shefrin is a textile artist and it once again goes to show that whilst the output of a sequential-art-based comic is the same ultimate end point, the means and techniques of illustration of getting there are virtually without limit. The only other comic that I could think of employing embroidery, albeit as an embellishment rather than the main approach, is Gareth Brookes' THE BLACK PROJECT.
But what completely got me was the humour, and indeed the love. Throughout, there are some lovely visual gags such as when Bob grapples with the conundrum of radiotherapy or surgery. It'll not surprise you to learn that depending on whether you consult a radiation oncologist or a surgeon, you're going to get a different answer. The punchline, though, is when Bob decides to consult a shoemaker...
"I recommend a new pair of shoes."
As Elizabeth comments, cheekily breaking the fourth wall in the next panel, lest we fear that Bob's cracked mentally and decided to put his faith in some extreme form of alternative medicine... "Of course, that didn't really happen."
So this then is a snapshot of their journey from unexpected diagnosis to where they are today. I found it very affecting and actually quite uplifting. Happily Bob is still with us. As he and Elizabeth both touch on in their separate afterwords, they have had some dark times, but keeping the communication flowing between each other has been paramount. This comic also forms part of the wider conversation about cancer that needs to happen with the public at large, which is obviously an element of the vital mission of Singing Dragon and bless them for that.
I had almost made it through tear-free, when I read the concluding afterword from Dr. Peter Black, Bob's surgeon at Vancouver Prostate Centre, about how there are a few different versions of the prostate cancer journey. How for many it's not a particularly threatening disease, if caught early. But for others, treatment is started knowing that a cure is not possible.
That was unfortunately the case for my much loved and much missed father-in-law, Michael, who was diagnosed after his prostate cancer had already metastasised and spread to his bones. So anything which helps raise the awareness and therefore hopefully early detection and treatment of prostate cancer can only be a good thing. If this was in a doctor's waiting room, I am quite sure it's far more likely to be picked up and read cover to cover by a pensive man than yet another nondescript leaflet. The sad and poignant thing is I can perfectly picture Michael chuckling at the jokes in this work in my mind's eye. But as Elizabeth quite correctly concludes her afterword... "It is so important that we laugh as well as cry."