The Comic Pusher: Marbles and Resident Alien Reviewed

Sunday, March 3, 2013

JHU Manager and Web-guy Jeffrey O. Gustafson has a new comics review blog, The Comicbook Pusherman.  Below are two recent reviews, on Marbles by Ellen Forney and Resident Alien by Peter Hogan & Steve Parkhouse. To see his review of 21: The Story of Roberto Clemente, click here!

Review: Marbles, Ellen Forney's Remarkable Chronicle of Dealing with Mental Illness 

(This article was originally published on the Comicbook Pusherman blog in February - Click here for more.)

Marbles by Ellen Forney
Gotham/Penguin, 2012
Bi-polar disorder is especially insidious, a personality disorder that sends the sufferer toppling through waves of euphoria and despair, uninhibited mania and soul-crushing depression. And it is notoriously difficult to treat - one can spend years looking for the right combination of medications to effectively deal with the opposite forces at play, medications that often carry profoundly negative side-effects. Ellen Forney is a Seattle-based cartoonist, who, at the age of thirty was diagnosed as bi-polar. Marbles from Gotham Books is her frank and entertaining memoir of her journey of self-rediscovery and her long, arduous path to treatment and recovery.

At this point in her life she saw her manic episodes as nothing more than periods of hyper-creativity. As an artist, this worked to her advantage. But there were other things going on than just increased production of her art. In her manic episodes she was impulsive personally, professionally and sexually. She multitasked to the point of non-production. And, upon reflection, she was prone to sudden dark periods that would last months.

Once the diagnosis was made, the path to recovery was clear: medication and therapy. Forney had no problem pursuing the latter, though to her determent she was often less-than-honest with her therapist. It was the medication that scared her. Her concern, one shared by many with personality disorders, was simply that the medications would kill her personality, her creativity. She looked at her manic episodes, despite the exhausting physical tole it took on her, as fuel for her art and indeed her very life. What would happen to her if she was medicated? What would happen to her if she was not?

She was immediately put on regimen of medications to deal common for people with her condition, and immediately began to suffer the side-effects. Many of the medications approved for bi-polar disorder have just as many side-effects as benefits, physical and mental, making it harder for the patient to stick with the meds. While Forney and her doctor experiment with the right combination of meds, she researches the effects of mental illness on notable artists of the past and chronicles her progress through her art.

Forney's memoir is fresh and entertaining, comprehensive on the subjects of bi-polar disorder and the medications involved without coming across like a self-help book. She doesn't shy away from the negative things she had to go through, and her exploration of her therapy was engaging (in a way that Alison Bechdel's frustrating and insipid Are You My Mother simply failed at). Forney's art is also very accessible, and overall you are left with a remarkable, brave and simply fantastic memoir and study of mental illness.

Resident Alien, The Best Undercover Extra-Terrestrial Murder Mystery Comic, Reviewed 

(This article was originally published on the Comicbook Pusherman blog in February - Click here for more.)

Resident Alien: Welcome to Earth
by Peter Hogan & Steve Parkhouse
Dark Horse, 2013
Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle came to the small town of Patience, U.S.A., lost a bit far from home. He lives in a quiet cabin on a lake, generally sticking to himself. One day the police arrive at his door - there's been a murder, and could Dr. Harry help out by looking at the body? "But... Why ask me? Sure your own doctor..." "Well, that's our problem in a nutshell, doc. See, we only had one doctor in town, and he's the victim."

Dr. Harry - that's not his real name, of course - reluctantly agrees to aid the police in their investigation. But Harry is hiding a secret, a secret that could be blown by dealing so closely with the authorities in this middle-of-nowhere town, Harry is an alien from another planet.

Resident Alien, Volume 1: Welcome to Earth by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse is a fascinating and unique murder mystery. Harry, who is nothing more than your average normal guy who wants nothing more than to be left alone, gets roped not only into the investigation, but into being the towns new practicing doctor. He is decidedly alien in appearance, but with some telepathic effort he is able to disguise himself - but any interaction puts him at risk. The residents of Patience obviously don't know there is a alien in their midst, but the U.S. government knows something crash landed three years ago and they are looking for him.

Harry agrees to help out with the investigation, in part because to refuse would arouse suspicion, and in part because the idea of solving a murder is an interesting one - who wouldn't be curious about helping to solve a crime? But as he digs deeper into a web of drugs, death and deceit, he puts his identity and his very life at risk. Resident Alien is an utterly fascinating play between murder mystery and an alien far from home looking to protect himself and the people of his temporary life. How much of himself is he willing to give to these people who would hunt him down if they knew his secret? And how far is he willing to go to stop a murderer?

Presented with easy and accessible art from Parkhouse and simple yet engaging storytelling from Hogan, Resident Alien is a superb read now in trade paperback from Dark Horse.

For more exclusive reviews and opinions, visit Jeffrey's blog at and follow him on twitter, @B5Jeff.

The above comics are in-stock and available from Jim Hanley's Universe, For 28 Years New York City's Premier Comic Book Store, Where Art and Literature Meet. 




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