29 June 2009

When a Man Loves a Woman

Our Cancer Year by Joyce Brabner and Harvey Pekar is an autobiographical comic based on Harvey Pakar’s lymphoma scare. The chapter is told from his wife (Brabner)’s view point, but is about both of their struggles to understand and cope with the disease while trying to move into a new home. After going to the his doctor for what Harvey thinks is a hernia, the doctor lets Pekar’s wife (Joyce) know that they removed a large tumor. The doctor tells Joyce to schedule a cat scan with the nurse, then leaves without answering any of Joyce’s questions. After frantically trying to get answers, from Harvey’s doctor and the nurses with no result, Joyce calls a friend who tells her to call 1-800-4-cancer. The operator answers all her questions and helps her to have a little piece of mind. After the cat scan and days of waiting, the doctor gives Harvey the news that his cancer hadn’t spread anywhere else. Harvey then still on sick leave from work begins to start moving again. This cause animosity between Harvey and Joyce, when Harvey wants (thinks) he can handle lifting large cinder blocks. A fight between the two ensues causing Joyce to hid in the car. Later Joyce goes to her and Harvey’s new home and begins to realize that everyone that has work on and is working on their new house has either had a cancer scare themselves or has known a family member with cancer. They chapter ends with Joyce sharing her stories and sentiments with the lesbian carpenter, who is herself worried about a lump on her breast.

What a strange comic. In a since, I can see how someone might call Pekar’s work a bit boring. Think about it, real life is boring, and the comic Our Cancer Year is real life, Pekar’s real life. I guess I have trouble with the idea that Our Cancer Year, is real. For me when I know something is real I can connect, follow, and become involved with the stories and characters. Mainly during the parts of sentiment, such as Harvey being more worried about his wife and what might happen to her if the cancer does kill him. It made me tear up a little bit, I don’t like that!!!!, but for that same reason I also loved it. Pekar might not have been trying too, but in my opinion he involves the reader and connects with the reader beautifully. Sharing something so intimate as the battle with cancer then maybe even more so the family issues that arise from dealing.

I also loved the art in the comic. I think the art help tell the story, by giving you the real emotions. In my opinion words can only go so far in trying to explain emotions, but the art in this comic accompanies the words to in my opinion create valid emotions that I could, and did connect with. I defiantly give this comic two thumbs up…even though it made me cry!


  1. I enjoyed your summary Amber. It made a lot of sense and hit main points of the story. If someone would not have read Chapter 5, they would of understood it by your summary alone.

  2. Wow! In the seven sections of this course that I've taught, you're the first person who ever enjoyed this comic, let alone the art! Unfortunately, the majority has spoken, and I'm taking this off the reading list next semester :-( But while I've got you...

    I agree with you about the art. While it can be a bit messy at times, and at length, some of the characters can be easy to confuse or mistake for someone of the opposite sex, few mainstream comics even try this kind of style. McCloud would be happy with it, I think :-)

    But yes, the mundane of real life seem no basis for a comic series that's been running since the early '80s. Yet it's this story that really stands out for me concerning Pekar. However, I'm willing to concede that all those years of practice is producing comics about his every day life, prepared him to tell this one, really moving story.

    I'm sorry/glad you were so moved by this ;-)