As I barrel on in my 15/15/15 project, I finally picked up Stitches, a comic-book memoir by David Small, reviewed as one of the best graphic novels of last year. David is six when the story begins. There’s a lovely, long series of tracking illustrations through Detroit into David’s living room where he’s drawing, then we meet his family. Each expresses emotion without words. Mother bangs pots. Father hits a punching bag. Brother bangs a drum set. And David? He gets sick.
At six, David has sinus problems. His radiologist father treats him with X-rays, not uncommon at the time. At eleven, David has a lump on his neck. Surgery is recommended, but somehow the family puts it off for three and a half years. The aftermath of the surgery, and the series of revelations that follow are terribly sad and often horrifying.
Small’s minimalist art and black and white watercolor palette help make this tale not only readable, but engaging. There are many powerful wordless sequences from a child’s perspective, some true, others imaginary. Like Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home, with which this book shares more than a few similarities, the existence of the book and the ability of the artist to write it point to hope and redemption in the face of a harrowing family life.