There's a glorious manic edge to Ellen Forney's Marbles, a graphic memoir about the artist's battle with depression, which was diagnosed in the late 1990s and remains ongoing, if now essentially controlled.
To some extent, this has to do with the material; Forney is bipolar, which means she suffers manic episodes, as the book recounts. Yet even more, it's a function of how she puts Marbles together, by turns methodical and frenzied, as if channeling her emotions on the page.
In that sense, the book reads less like a comic than a scrapbook, in which traditional strip-style layouts alternate with lists, sketchbook pages, re-created photos - all to reproduce the swirling chaos of her inner life.
Forney, of course, has been producing work like this for many years. Her previous strips have been collected in I Love Led Zeppelin and Monkey Food (which looks back at her childhood in the 1970s); she also illustrated Sherman Alexie's National Book Award-winning young adult novel The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.
She introduces her first depressive episode with a sketch on lined paper of a wide-eyed figure clinging, by its fingernails, to the edge of a cliff. I was slipping down and there was nothing I could hold onto, she writes, a line that highlights the two voices that motivate her work here: the one that's living in the moment, and the one that's looking back.
This is an essential tension, not just for Marbles but in regard to the memoir in general; it's a form that relies on a kind of double vision, the story as it was lived and the story as it is being told. Caught up in the experience (as we know because she tells us), Forney was sure she would never come out of it. In that sense, if her book has one essential message, it is that she survived.
Ultimately, Forney imagines herself as part of a creative lineage, going back to Georgia O'Keeffe and Philip Guston, Mary Shelley and Virginia Woolf. It might seem self-serving if it weren't so authentic, a way of marking her place in the world.
At the heart of Marbles, after all, is a sense of terror: both the terror of depression and the terror of not knowing who you are. For Forney, these artists help to root her, and when, late in the book, she imagines 20 of them - names, faces, birth and death dates all clustered around her head in the form of overlapping thought balloons - it feels like a victory.
(C)onnections, she thinks. (C)ontext, perspective, inspiration, company. That's all any of us can ever ask for, regardless of our mental health. And in this exhilarating book, Forney shows us her path to that communion, a communion that begins, as it must for everyone, with the act of coming to some sort of reckoning with herself.