From the vault: Cancer Vixen
Note: this review originally ran in issue #283 of the Comics Journal
By Marisa Acocella Marchetto
Knopf 226 pages, $22 Color, hardcover
Giving the thumbs down to a book like “Cancer Vixen” seems like the critic’s equivalent of kicking puppies or pushing an old lady down the steps. The woman’s a cancer survivor for God’s sake! How can you possibly say mean things about her book in print? The fact remains however, that “Cancer Vixen,” while far from awful, just isn’t very good.
Whenever author Marchetto delves into the nitty gritty of her cancer treatment, she’s on target. She’s got a strong eye for detail, and including things like the fact that the nurses ask your age every time you go in for chemo give the book an intimate feel that helps glide over some of the book’s rough spots.
It’s when she makes a stab at profundity, however, that she fails miserably. Musings like “When you light a candle you illuminate a soul” are asinine when found in a fortune cookie, never mind a graphic novel. And the book has a lot of these moments.
Credit must be given to Marchetto’s willingness to use visual metaphor and play with the panels in order to get her points across. Rather than attempt a straightforward, dry account of her illness, she keeps morphing her images and layout to keep the reader’s eye moving across the page.
The problem is she constantly relies upon the most banal and obvious metaphors to get her points across. Cancer cells are portrayed as frowny faces. Gossipy people are drawn as literally sour grapes. Angry people have nuclear reactors for heads. Even the Grim Reaper puts in an appearance.
Ultimately, “Cancer Vixen” just doesn’t offer enough insight or nuance to push it above the heads of the dozens of other books out there, comics and otherwise, that deal with this type of subject matter. No doubt those who are suffering from this disease will be able to take some comfort from Marchetto’s story. But that in and of itself doesn’t make the book one for the ages. We all share our stories of suffering with those who can relate. We just don’t always publish them.