The graphic novel as we know it nowadays is still pretty much the infant of the literary world. Long beleaguered unfairly in its relationship with its comic book siblings. Gone are the days of Batmanesque Zap and Pow word balloons. Since the eighties we have seen this variation of the comic book medium grow up, travel into grim and grittier territories and come out the other side as something of a fully fledged adult.
One of the latest offerings in this format is courtesy of collaboration between comic book creator artist Diana DiMassa and writer/poet Daphne Gottlieb on a full length story called ‘Jokes And The Unconscious’. As far away from the cape and long johns stereotypes that often loiters in this area of literature this is a story that while existing as a piece of fiction could quiet easily happen in the real world.
The story centres on a 19 year old woman called Sasha who loses her father to cancer and starts working in the admin department of the same hospital where he practiced as a doctor. Along the journey Sasha encounters a wide variety of patients who range from the insane through to the suicidal and those who face their respective conditions with bravery.
Sasha also develops a secret pastime of using the hospital computers to look up the medical records of all her friends and enemies both past and present in a bid to discover where they are in life and where their lives have taken them in the time since she last saw them.
The location and themes within the book are as you might expect somewhat bleak and the prolonged exposure to a hospital environment is one that starts to wear on the central character. However it’s in the face of adversity that a caustic dark humour rises to the fore. Laughter becomes necessity as a survival tool against a work life that starts to become oppressive (and we’ve all felt that right?) and if anything its this that brings some rays of hope to the story.
The black and white artistry that delivers the story is appropriate considering the setting of the story and its primary location its styling for me is reminiscent of some of the work of Robert R Crumb’s work from the sixties (Freak Brothers). As Sasha becomes lost in thought her relationship with reality becomes less cohesive and her daydreams are nicely illustrated with splashes of surrealism that mirror Gottlieb’s ranging poetic writing.
If anything this book has an enhanced sense of realism in the way that it forces you to look at one of life’s biggest issues. The subject of death is rarely coffee table reading but in this instance ‘Jokes and The Unconscious’ makes you look at it in a way that while not necessarily being comfortable can be considered honest. It would be easy for me to say this isn’t a book for everyone, but at some point everyone will (or has) confronted the themes and issues within so maybe at some point ‘Jokes and The Unconcious’ is something everyone should face.