Daily Graphic Novel Recommendation 20

Wrinkles

by Paco Roca
Genre notes: illness
104 pages
ISBN: 0861662377 (Amazon)

When I was younger, say twenty-one or so, my brother read me an account of an unpopular man in the 1600s who had been driven from a town while being pelted with stones. As a result of the injuries to the man’s head, his personality, character, and beliefs changed. He was unmade and remade because of a bad afternoon. Years later, he reverted again to his former self, but for me the damage was well accomplished. Before I had kids, my only real fear in life was losing who I was to some catastrophe like brain injury—or to one of the many handfuls of maladies that assault those of old age. Cognition, the particular way that I perceive the world, who I am: those are the essentialities to my existence. After all, if I am not me then who on earth am I?

In Wrinkles, Paco Roca underlines, circles, highlights, and writes in the margins of my fear. His protagonist, Ernest, is an older gentleman (a former bank branch manager) who suffers from Alzheimer’s (though he rarely seems cognizant of his own suffering). The text begins with his admission to an assisted care facility equipped to interact with tenants of varying degrees of dementia. Ernest’s case, when compared with some of the other guests, seems almost benign. Ernest will live out the remainder of his days here, a life mediated through the fog of medications.

Roca uses the toolset of comics to seamlessly transport guests of the home into the world as they are experiencing it. In one moment a man is seventy-two and standing alone in a foyer, and in the next he is six and is stood up awkwardly before a room of his new classmates. A woman is pictured, seated by the window in her wheel chair, old and haggard; in the prior panel she is a young woman of beauty and elegance, riding the window seat of the Orient Express. Another resident sees members of the Legion everywhere. Another is transported again and again to the moment when he secured the heart of the love of his life.

The drama of daily living with a fading mind is told with humour and verve and a lightness of being. And I found myself growing more and more anxious. These amusing anecdotes and funny bits and pieces of lives gone askew were toying with my deepest and tremblingest insecurities. On the surface I was enjoying Roca’s book and the story of Ernest’s progressive psychological collapse. It’s bright and colourful and lovely and well-illustrated and well-paced. But in the midst of my enjoyment, the terror of existence roiled and rumbled. By the end, I was panicked and undone. Roca had done so good a job of exploring the gradual dissolution of selves that I was entirely exposed, my oldest fear made raw and calamitous—all within one hundred pages in which nothing incredibly terrible happens save for that a handful of people gradually forget themselves.

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