Mom’s Cancer deservedly won the 2005 Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic (the debut of that award category). Now, collected in hardcover, it launches the Abrams Image line of illustrated and art books.
Brian Fies created Mom’s Cancer when his mother was diagnosed with lung cancer. It captures how he and his sisters dealt with her treatment in an affecting, honest fashion. Although a very personal story, it is also universal in its lessons about the search for answers, the will to survive, and the importance of family.
Aside from Brian and his mother, the characters include his two sisters, one of whom is a nurse. That’s fortuitous for the family — as a reader, I often found myself wondering how someone without that medical knowledge could ever manage to navigate the system effectively. Early on, the author acknowledges how often luck plays a role in the sequence of events, and he does lots of his own research both for her and for his own comfort.
The art style is a model of clarity, very easy to read and supporting the journalistic approach. The author’s narration leads the viewer through events, and segments from one to multiple pages are titled to indicate changes in subject. Popular culture references are comfortable and familiar in the midst of the story’s changes. One sequence, for example, is structured as a board game path. Other panels mimic superheroes, a mad scientist’s lab, and the board game Operation. Metaphor helps bring the emotional reality of the experience home to readers.
Fies traces his mother’s journey through denial and confusion. She doesn’t want to know some things, like how bad her prognosis might be, and she’s not told some things she does need to know by doctors who forget how scary and unusual this is for a new patient. She loses a lot — control, the ability to drive, her independence — and her family tries to help in all the ways they can, but there’s relatively little they can do.
Those who’ve gone through similar occurrences will likely find it reassuring to realize the commonality of shared experience. Those who haven’t will learn from it. The last few pages, especially, are an emotional rollercoaster with powerful effect.