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Mom's Cancer    by Brian Fies order for
Mom's Cancer
by Brian Fies
Order:  USA  Can
Harry N. Abrams, 2006 (2006)
* * *   Reviewed by Lance Victor Eaton

Cancer sucks and that's a universal fact, but once diagnosed, there's little choice but to do whatever is possible to cure or deal with it, and hope for the best. This graphic novel sums up this point fantastically with a pawn and die placed next to each other as a kind of wallpaper for the inside panels. The pawn represents not only our individual lack of power in the game of life but also the chess-like strategies needed to navigate the many decisions in life and treatment when faced with cancer. The die, of course, stands for the risk in various treatments but more importantly for the possibility of death.

Based on his own family's experience with cancer, Brian Fies anonymously created and posted this series of web comic strips to help others cope and also relate to the pain his family currently experience. Fies traces the story of cancer from initial diagnosis to 2005, as it affected his mother and her support system, namely her three children, Brian and his two sisters. As his mother's health continues to decline, Brian and his sisters contend with a range of emotions that are only complicated by their frustrations with the medical establishment and with each other.

Fies' art shifts according to the mood of the strip. Many strips lack detail, holding to an essentialist ideal to focus on what is being said and how people are reacting. But on occasion, Fies goes out on a limb and provides more detail, often to illustrate a point or in some aside. The toll that cancer takes upon his mom is visually subtle but present. His very spare deployment of color makes certain scenes stand out and tremble with resonance.

Though many of Fies' asides are humorous in some regard, they address serious issues. The book can prove therapeutic on many levels for people who have had to deal with cancer, either directly or indirectly. Numerous segues highlight issues that don't often come up with doctors and other professionals. In one sequence, Fies depicts his mother's tight-wire act as she navigates her way through drugs, chemotherapy, and radiation, and the side effects each has.

With a preface by Fies and an Afterword by his mother, this graphic novel proves touching and endearing. It's little surprise, given its content and art, that Mom's Cancer was the recipient of an Eisner Award. Anyone can find something redeeming or worthwhile within this book.

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