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Mom's Cancer


At his blog, also called Mom's Cancer, writer and cartoonist Brian Fries complains,

I hate stories that makes cartooning sound easy. It's too disrespectful to an artform I love and the professionals who work hard to make a living at it. Everybody already thinks it's easy, and a few famous examples of everyday folks who sent their doodles to a newspaper syndicate and hit the million-dollar jackpot only reinforce that idea. I would hate to contribute to that misperception.

Why would anybody think that cartooning is easy? The drawings in Mom's Cancer, a strip that began circulating on the Internet while Mr Fies's mother was undergoing treatment, have a casual, accessible feel, but only a moron would think that they'd been dashed off. Mr Fies says that he has been drawing cartoons for thirty years (he's in his middle forties), and it shows in every panel. That's what makes Mom's Cancer so accessible. The more time you spend with the book, the more sophisticated it becomes, but this sophistication is not what hits you on the first run-through. The sophistication, in fact, consists largely in the way Mr Fies's adroitly stands to one side while his story charges on.

And let's not overlook the fact that he hooks you immediately, vaporizing any resistance that you might have had to reading about somebody's bout with a mortal illness.

Mom's Cancer is a masterpiece of tact. Often frightening, it is never unpleasant, and the gross weariness of radiation and chemotherapy, while hinted at, never grips the narrative. For Mom, it's the most serious of battles. For you, it's a small, almost sinfully entertaining account of one very particular family's experience of Major Medicine. You will either smile (between gasps) because you've been there yourself, or you will learn something about a treatment that used to kill patients before their cancer could do so. Now it just wrecks their bodies while it clears out the tumors. "It takes us a while to figure out that oncology is an improvisational art," writes Mr Fies.

The sheer artistry of Mom's Cancer is breathtaking.


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Having read the quite positive AP review, I can see why Fies was still somewhat pained at the simple but incorrect statement that he had no experience in cartooning. Sure, he was mostly -- though not entirely -- unpublished. But after some thirty years of practice and experimentation with his drawing, he laments what many creative people could brag about: "It is very hard to make something look so easy that everybody thinks they can do it." Jackson Pollock anybody?

I particularly liked Fies's comments on distilling art, "…trying to master the tools to capture the essence of something and evoke precisely the effect you're aiming for in your reader ... " That's the challenge in all art, and the measure of its success in my estimation. So, if consumers of one's art, be it words or pictures, take something else away other than what the artist intended, something nonetheless valuable, has it been as successful from the artist's perspective? In general?

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