News and reviews of "Stitches: A Memoir" by David Small, through November, 2010 -- with more Spanish and Italian language reviews. First, a few recently-noted reviews from the past year...
1. The New Gay, Thu, Oct 22, 2009
David Small, a children’s book writer and illustrator, has at 64 written a graphic memoir of his own traumatic childhood in the Detroit suburbs of the 1950s. Drawn in evocative blacks, whites, and many shades of gray, and narrated in a grim, stripped-to-the-bone prose, Stitches recounts Small’s life as the son of a mentally ill closeted lesbian and a detached doctor. One day, his parents’ friends discover a growth on his neck. After an operation, Small loses his voice, forcing his life in his household that much more lonely and desperate. By the end of the book’s 300-some pages, a few major secrets are revealed, but there remains an underlying, unexplained menace.
Small lives in southwestern rural Michigan where Kalamazoo is the closest town, with his wife Sarah Stewart, with whom he has collaborated on several children’s books. He spoke to me by phone on October 7 – he can talk now – from Denver, Colorado where he was on a book tour. Our hour-long conversation, a little over half of which is reproduced below, filled in many of the book’s ambiguities. For those who have read Stitches, this interview will either offer vague comfort or a still disturbingly incomplete resolution.
Paul Morton: Memoirs are mostly about what you leave out. Life is long and art is short. The art of the memoir is mostly about looking back, figuring out which are the important parts, and figuring out what narrative you want to make of the life you have lived. When I got to the photographs of you, your mother and your father on the last page, I was curious to know if there were no photographs or memories of you, your mother or your father ever smiling?
David Small: There is a happy photograph, the sort of photograph one always takes of one’s infants in a bathtub, where I’m smiling. There’s a photograph that the Grand Rapids Press published, a picture of me clowning around in my dad’s hat and pipe. I considered putting that in as my photograph in the back. But…the book is not about David the Adorable Kid. It’s more [about], from my point of view, what went on. And you’re absolutely right about selectivity. I just liked the one of me grimacing at the sun. It just seemed right for the story I was telling…
PM: The style of the book felt like a ’50s sci-fi film. Everything’s in the dark. Everything is sinister and is suggested in the shadows that you can’t see fully. And I kept thinking of David Lynch who bases a lot of his work on ’50s arcana. And your characters, except for yourself, are always wearing these soul-erasing glasses where you don’t get to see the eyes, like ’50s aliens. So where did you get the style and look of the book?
Not from David Lynch, because I’m not a big fan of his, except for Eraserhead. Certainly from black-and-white film though, the kind that Polanski makes. I suppose the kind of lighting that I use so frequently is more out of European films that I’ve admired, like Polanski’s, or Buñuel[’s]…Bergman and Antonioni. But it’s also from my work in charcoal when I was in college. That was my chosen medium back then. Ever since I became an artist [I’ve used light effects to tell a story]. I wouldn’t say in college that [those light effects were inspired by] film. It probably came more from Rembrandt. Yeah, Rembrandt. I like him. I use kind of a loopy drawing style the way he did. I draw with a brush. Those loose ink washes, too. I never would have made that comparison, but an ex-student of mine who is now an art teacher came up with that and said it was strong for him. And I can see it.
PM: But there was no science fiction that informed it?
DS: Well, yeah, from Invasion of the Body Snatchers (laughs). [The effect with] the glasses was certainly consciously chosen to mask the people’s faces… But it also made those areas where you can see their eyes much more effective. What I was trying to convey visually was the guessing game that we played in our family, all the time, about what somebody was angry about. Or what somebody was feeling or why somebody wasn’t talking to you. And if I had shown the eyes constantly I think you wouldn’t have had that feeling that I used to have as a kid. I wouldn’t have been able to convey it. I thought since people are talking [about] a film for this book how that would be done…
[Small and I discuss some of the issues with adapting memoirs to film.]
It all has to do with the rule of truthfulness which constantly gets broken. And that’s one of the things that bothered me when doing a memoir…This was actually an act of biblio-therapy, more than anything else…And until I realized that this thing was actually going to be a book, and actually going to be read by people, my allegiance was to the truth of what happened to me because that’s what I needed to see. When you start, you realize that you’re writing a memoir and everything that ever happened to you, of course, is the most important thing that ever happened to anybody. And then somebody reminds you, as my agent did, that books have themes, books have chapters. They’re organized so that other people can understand what’s going on. That’s when you realize, “Well, maybe my beloved Uncle Joe isn’t as important to the story I’m telling.” So Uncle Joe gets jettisoned.
PM: Where was Joe in your life then?
DS: I just made him up. It was actually my Aunt Peg that got jettisoned…But I would be happy to tell you about my Aunt Peg because this is for a gay magazine.
PM: Go ahead.
DS: She wasn’t my aunt. She was just a woman who came to our house every year like clockwork in the fall and stayed one night. And then left. We called her Aunt Peg. She was tall. She was a Vassar graduate. She was from New England. She was big-boned. She had a faint wisp of a moustache on her upper lip that she never tried to do anything about to remove. She was very masculine-looking, and she knew it and she was totally cool with it. She used to wear Black Watch plaid skirts and a little Tyrolean hat with a feather in it. She was absolutely the person in my life that I adored. And the only one in the “family” who seemed to like me the way I was, the way I am. And I remember I would say to her all the time when I was a kid, “Why do we call you ‘Aunt Peg’?”
She would say, “Well, because I’m a good friend of your mother’s.”
I would say, “Why do you come to visit us?”
“Well, I come to check up on your mother.”
She was a doctor. [Her name was] Margaret Barnes. And [she] was doing a check-up. That’s what doctors did. By the way, she had also introduced my parents when she was in med school with my dad in Chicago. My mother was the secretary [to the president of the] medical school. Peg had introduced my parents. After my parents were dead, and when Peg was dying of leukemia herself, and I had been married for a few years to my wife Sarah, she invited us to come up to Carmel where she had lived for 35 years with another woman doctor in a kind of open gay relationship. That generation called it a “Boston marriage.” Things were not spoken of openly at all. And so we went out and we had Thanksgiving dinner with her.
After dinner she said, “David, I brought you out here because I wanted to meet Sarah, of course. But I wanted to tell you something that I don’t think you know.”
And I said, “What?”
“Well, you know that I introduced your parents.”
“And that I was best man at their wedding.” (Chuckle. Chuckle.) And she said, “What you probably don’t know is that a year after your mother married your father she left him and came to live with me. And we were together for two years and then she went back to him.”
And I said, “Why did she go back to him?”
“I’m not sure. I think it was the money. She always wanted to marry a doctor and be secure and I hadn’t made enough money by then.” And [then] she said, “Maybe there was something else.” She never talked about homosexuality openly.
I said, “It was you she should have lived with because you were the one who could have loved her.”
Then she looked at me and smiled. “Yeah, that’s probably true but then where would you have come from, my dear boy?” And we laughed.
At one point that was the ending of my book. But I couldn’t make it that story because I don’t know a damn thing about my mother except these little scraps of information that I got very early on on those car trips we used to take down to [my grandmother’s] house. And I could put two and two together as well as any other writer, but this [book] was something that I needed to make to understand the way I grew up. I needed [to do this] because I needed to figure out myself more than I needed to figure [my mother] out at that point.
PM: You do reveal your mom’s lesbianism in the book and I found that to be one of the happiest moments of the book. It’s the one moment where I had a sense of your mother enjoying something, or anyone enjoying anything. It’s the moment when we hear the tittering of lovemaking between your mom and her lover, who is not Aunt Peg, but someone else. And then you walk in. I thought that was a relief from a lot of the unrelenting bleakness in the story.
DS: I’m glad you took it like that. In fact, I’m absolutely sure that there was a lot of relief for her in having it out in the open at last. But she was not a happy woman. I don’t recall ever seeing her happy except with a new purchase of something. Because that’s where she thought her true happiness was going to lie. Having all the things that she never had as a child. She was worried about money constantly. That was her main concern.
I remember when I moved out of the home when I was 16, I came back one evening for some reason. And she was upset about my continuing to see this analyst. I had been seeing him about six months at that time. She said, “When is this going to end?”
I said, “When is what going to end?”
“The expense. This doctor.”
“I don’t know when it’s going to end. I guess when I get well.”
“Well, we have no money.”
I said, “What do we need more money for?”
She said, “Luxuries.”
And there was a kitchen knife lying by my hand. And I picked it up and I aimed it at her throat. And we both looked at each other and looked at the knife. And I remember we both kind of gave a little laugh. It was like an embarrassing sudden moment of naked truth. She had come out with the word that was uppermost in her mind: “luxuries.” I couldn’t believe it. And I wanted to kill her for it. She kind of seemed like she thought I was justified. But it was all sort of comical at the same time. And there was never any apology for it. I just put the knife down and left the house. Silly.
She was a difficult woman. Before I left home I remember begging her once to hit me just so I would know what she was feeling…
PM: The final page of the book suggests you forgive your mother for her horribleness.
DS: I guess I do. I don’t consider forgiveness a very useful emotion unless it has something to do with understanding who that person was as a human being…I don’t understand her better because I don’t know much about her. I can see her now from a different viewpoint. It’s one of the best things about making this book. I’m able to confront these people as a grown-up. And I can understand their drives better. And their motivations. And not just see it from the viewpoint of a six-year-old or a 14-year-old. I felt that the Soviet bloc state that I used to live in would come down upon me and take my voice away. They had been trying to tell me to shut up for years. Yeah, I forgive her in the sense that I understand her now. But she wasn’t a very lovable woman. I don’t miss her at all. I didn’t cry at her funeral. And neither did my brother.
PM: You leave your brother out of this for the most part.
DS: Yeah, it’s because he’s still alive. I have no business writing about his life. He really likes the book. He’s going to be at the book event tonight. I haven’t seen much of him in 50 years, but I’ve seen him since the book came out. He really loves it. He says it’s a snapshot of his youth.
PM: Your father is an interesting part of the story. He comes across as an inactive bystander. And then you have the part at the end where he admits to giving you cancer through using a medical process that no one today would ever think to explore.
DS: Except he was not any kind of mad scientist experimenting on his children with dangerous things. He was doing something that was totally standard practice back when he was in school. And they continued it right on up until the mid ’50s. And some doctors I think continued it up until the early ’60s…They were on a trail for a cure for SIDS. It was a worry back in the ’20s [when someone in Ann Arbor began the treatment] just as it’s a worry today. So any kid that had asthma, any kid that had, like I had, very minor sinus problems, whose parents could afford it – and of course my parents got it free because my dad was a radiologist – got bombarded with four to five hundred rads of treatment. I don’t know if you know what a rad is. I didn’t before I researched this. But when you go to the dentist and get your teeth x-rayed, you get a fraction of a fraction of a rad. And it’s very very focused.
But in those days the rays just went everywhere. And the thyroid gland, being very susceptible, [was] where I had the cancer. That’s where it originated and it grew up into my neck and through my vocal chords. And everybody thought I was going to die. And my dad had probably had heard enough and knew enough [that] by the time I got that first operation when they opened it up and found cancer [that] he probably knew, immediately, that he had caused it. But he didn’t admit it to me then. I read that letter [NOTE: his mother wrote a letter about Small’s cancer and put it in a desk] and kept [it] a secret [from them] that I knew anything about [the cancer]. And [I] started to really act out in crazy ways, running away from school and so on, flunking my classes and skipping other classes. Starting to see an analyst. You know when it became clear that I needed help, that’s when he confessed to me.
PM: Did that help you at all, knowing the truth?
DS: It just seemed like a confirmation to me at that time of what I already knew about him. That he was careless. I didn’t like the bravado of any of those doctors, really…I admired them when I was kid, but I came to see all those radiologists after the cancer as these young astronauts who were just hot-dogging it and putting a tin can up in outer space. They had this weapon they thought was going to cure everything. I was born in 1945, man. That’s the year they killed so many people overseas. They knew what x-rays were doing. I’m sure not every radiologist in the country gave that kind of massive dose of radiation to kids born with breathing problems. Some of them had to be more thoughtful than that.
When I was 16, I was just amazed by my dad’s blithe insouciance which I had come to despise because it was so remote from me and so removed from the family. And I think [he was] really complicit with what was going on with my mother and her lovers, actually.
It was a different time. And I have nothing against my mother’s lesbianism. Nothing whatsoever. I wished she had gone off to live with Margaret Barnes. She should have. I was mad at her [for] suppressing her true self. I have nothing against that at all. Never have. Because I could have gone either way myself when I was a certain age. Maybe not by natural inclination but just because the women in my life were so fucked-up in general [and] so threatening. I still prefer the company of men, for the most part, except for my wife who’s a very whole person.
PM: You draw out the scene where your father makes his confession for a long time. You looking at him, him looking away at the beach. Is everything you’re saying to me now what you were thinking then? Or was it just complete shock?
DS: It was a complete shock. I wasn’t even 16 yet. I was a 15-year-old kid. I guess even more shocking was the feeling that once he had told me, he had cleansed himself of all responsibility. If I had carried the book on to another hundred pages I would have told that he actually did pay for my analyst or at least his Blue Cross did. And he did support me in my analysis which was big of him and good of him. And he actually did pay my rent on my first apartment until I got the means to support myself. And he actually did finally perform one or two fatherly acts.
But he was never really able to confront the truth of things himself any better than my mother was. Or any better than my brother is. Or any better than I’ve been in periods in my life. I remember trying to talk with him about my mother when he was in his 80s and his eyes filled up with tears and he told me that we don’t talk about stuff like that. And that I was a little fool, that I had been a fool back when I was a kid. And I was still a fool…He just didn’t want to discuss anything. He left the room and watched tv. I felt very sorry for him then…
Does it bother you that all this explication is not in the book?
PM: It would be a very different book. It’s the kind of explication I would expect in a prose memoir.
DS: Yeah, but I’m not a writer. But I suppose a graphic memoir gives you something very different. I chose the graphic form not so much because I’m a fan of it as that I am an artist and this is a book about being voiceless. And growing up in a house where silence was the rule, where it was, as I say, a guessing game as to what anybody thought. I tried to give the hints that I found in my memory as to what maybe was going on in my parents’ life, but basically I think the purpose of the book was personally for me to re-experience what I went through, the way I went through it, with as much fidelity to that as I could muster. And if that allows other people to remember their childhoods the way they remember them, the way they experienced them, then that’s, I think, a good thing. That seems to be what’s happening.
PM: I’m hearing your voice now. I can’t tell if the hint of raspiness I hear in it is something that’s been left over from the operation or is actually emotion.
DS: That’s good. That’s a good observation. It’s both, because when I get very emotional I lose my voice. When I get tense I can lose it too…
PM: Well, David, I really appreciate you’re taking the time out to talk to me.
DS: I appreciate your interest. I get the feeling that you’re not satisfied though. You’re bothered by the way I did my book in some ways. Is that true?
PM: I’ve read it four times. It keeps on beguiling me.
DS: I like that word.
PM: I like it more every time I read it. It grows curiouser for me.
DS: You spoke rather eloquently at the beginning of our talk about memoir and about how things need to be edited. And I said there are certain things I wish I could have put in. One of them would have been the fact that I actually did have friends when I was a teenager. And I realized this was another instance where if I was going to talk about that the book was going to grow to 500, 600 pages. I did feel that I had to say something about it. And I felt I cleverly summed it up in that one page picture of a party scene. But if I were a reader I guess that would certainly leave all kinds of questions in my mind. Like, “What kind of friends did I have?”
PM: Your book felt like an unrelenting nightmare. You described it as a Soviet bloc of a childhood.
DS: And we all know art flourishes under those conditions.
PM: And people went to parties too.
DS: I did take the tone of my book from the memoirs I consider the most successful and most of them come from the experience of Europe in World War II. And most of those experiences were rather harrowing. But I found that the most successful of them have always taken a kind of detached tone, eliminat[ing] as many adjectives as possible. Because the facts just presented alone speak pretty clearly for themselves.
The more I read interviews with Polanski, for example, he talks about trying to keep a detached tone. He was talking about that in relation to making The Pianist, but it’s in the rest of his work, too. I guess there’s a numbness that sets in or an unwillingness to go back and really touch it, to touch that wound too closely. But I’m not claiming that I went through anything like a Holocaust. I was the victim of psychological abuse, but nobody broke my arms and legs. Nobody locked me in a cellar. I don’t have a sensational story like that. And maybe that’s what’s intriguing: It’s closer to a lot of people’s experiences than it is to those extremes.
2. Pearl's Picks (MD), Thu, Oct 29, 2009
To that shortish list of great memoirs using the format of the graphic
novel (Marjane Satrapi’s Persepolis, Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home: A
Family Tragicomic, and Craig Thompson’s Blankets), we can now add
David Small’s Stitches: A Memoir. Readers with young children will
likely recognize the name David Small as the illustrator of books such
as The Gardener and The Library (both in collaboration with his wife,
writer Sarah Stewart). But Stitches is a whole new ballgame for Small:
it’s a wrenching tale of his 1950s childhood, raised by uncaring,
unloving, and indeed, seemingly deliberately malicious parents who
never had his best interests in mind. It begins when David was six, and
follows him into adulthood, highlighting various events along the way,
including an encounter with his mother’s mother (she’s like a
wicked grandmother in a particularly grim Grimm fairy tale), his bout
of cancer when he was eleven (terribly mishandled by his parents,
despite the fact that his father was a physician), his hospital stay at
fourteen, and much more. The pictures are all in shades of gray, which
speak beautifully to the lack of color and happiness that marked
Small’s childhood and adolescence. For me, the stitches of the title
refer not to the physical representations of his surgery, but rather
the emotional stitching--the mending, if you will--of all the damage he
suffered in his early years, and the choice he made to become as unlike
his parents and grandmother as possible. Heartbreaking and hopeful, all
at the same time--this is a book that both teens and adults can read
3. The Book Shark, Mon, Dec 28, 2009
This memoir is the biggest surprise of the year for me. I had not
intended to read Stitches as I’m not much of a graphic book fan, but
the nonstop rave reviews it kept receiving compelled me to stop by the
library to take a look. I sat down, planning to flip through a few
pages and then move on to other things, but found myself unable to put
it down. I read the entire book sitting right there on the library
floor (couldn’t even tear myself away long enough to find a chair).
And then I started over from the beginning and read the whole thing a
I have read many, many, very sad memoirs (too many I sometimes think)
but never have I been emotionally overwhelmed in quite this way before.
Small tells the story of his life from age six through adolescence,
trapped in a house with what is surely one of the angriest mothers ever
to appear in a memoir, and of his attempts to escape into a fantasy
world. The author’s drawings, particularly the facial expressions of
his characters, are so subtle and specific the people in this book come
through as utterly real. I feel as though I know this mother in a way
no amount of verbal description could possibly have communicated. Small
is equally good at expressing feelings even when the scene lacks
people—the illustration on page 259 begins eight pages of nothing but
rain, and is one of the saddest, most moving parts of the book.
As a lover of words, before reading this memoir I would have said the
best graphic novel cannot begin to compete with the best novel written
solely in words. I now believe I was wrong about that. I haven’t been
able to stop thinking about the visceral, kicked-in-the-stomach impact
Small’s drawings have had on me and why this is so different from my
experiences with traditional memoirs. It seems that words have to be
translated in one’s brain into meaning, which creates a bit of
distance from the feelings being expressed, whereas images appear to
bypass one’s brain altogether and land directly in one’s body. My
experience reading Stitches was physical—exhaustion, nausea, pounding
heart, stomach twisted in knots—much more than intellectual.
Though I don’t plan to pick up every new graphic work that comes
along, I will be paying much more attention to this form of book in the
future and, in particular, to everything David Small creates. Stitches
is an absolute must-read for all lovers of memoir—whether you think
you like graphic stories or not.
4. The Pit Forums, Sat, Apr 3, 2010
...Stitches: A Memoir by David Small.
Gee, yet another writer with yet another “man my parents sucked, let me write a whole book about how much they sucked” tale to tell. I’m getting sick of this shit, don’t I see it enough in independent films? Admittedly, Small’s parents sucked a bit more than most. His dad was a radiologist who obsessively took x-rays of his son, who unsurprisingly developed throat cancer at a young age. And then the parents refused to tell him about the cancer. And then he woke up from what was supposed to be a routine and harmless operation, except with a huge scar across his entire neck and a missing voice box. If even half this shit is true then the dude does deserve to complain about it, but it’s still an ugly story about ugly people drawn with ugly artwork....
5. La Libreria Costera, Mon, Apr 26, 2010
...Una memoir gráfica sobre la dura infancia de un niño que transformó su pesadilla en un cuento de hadas.
Un día, David Small se despierta tras una supuesta operación y descubre que no tiene voz. Le han abierto el cuello, le han extraído las cuerdas vocales, y se lo han vuelto a coser, dejando una larga cicatriz que marca su rostro. David tiene 14 años y nadie le ha contado que tiene cáncer y que su vida pende de un hilo. En Stitches, David Small y recrea su terrorífica autobiografía, una historia propia de Kafka. Las imágenes acompañan este relato sobre el drama de una familia disfuncional y gótica. Con imágenes caleidoscópicas que transforman una vida pesadillesca en un cuento de hadas, David nos cuenta cómo huyó de su casa con solo 16 años y convirtió su sueño de ser un artista en una realidad....
6. PaperBlog, Fri, May 7, 2010
Justo ayer terminé de leer esta novela gráfica que firma David Small,
la primera que publica en el género y vaya manera de aterrizar: una
aterradora historia de la vida, autobiográfica en este caso, que
podía haber sido imaginada por el mismo Kafka. Lo mejor es no saber
nada de antemano sobre la trama, por lo que os recomiendo, si tenéis
intención de leerla, googleéis poco y le otorguéis un voto de
confianza, porque es realmente espeluznante. Ya parece un tópico decir
que la realidad supera muchas veces la ficción, pero en este caso
viene al pelo la trivialidad, porque el contenido del relato es
terrorífico, claustrofóbico y, para colmo, real como la vida misma.
Solo diré que David Small nos concede un asiento de primera fila a su
infancia, a un drama familiar gótico donde él, protagonista de esta
historia, se convierte en objeto mudo e involuntario de la frustración
de una siniestra familia en la que no es aceptado. El libro ilustra
fenomenalmente la complejidad de la relación con sus padres, las
propias frustraciones y cómo perder la voz marcará su evolución
superando las dificultades hasta la propia aceptación a pesar de la
traumática infancia que nos describe en la casa familiar desde los
seis a los dieciséis años.
Con poco texto, el necesario a la vez que bien resuelto, el peso
fundamental del relato recae sobre el dibujo en blanco y negro,
realizado a lápiz a modo de boceto inconcluso. Dibujos y más dibujos
cargados de silencios y desengaños en una casa donde la madre impone
su particular tiranía, el padre se desahoga con un saco de boxeo en el
sótano, el hermano mayor aporrea una batería y David, con solo seis
años, crece completamente solo acompañado de sus pesadillas reales e
imaginarias. A medida que las imágenes aparecen en el libro nos
sumergimos en este drama familiar hasta llegar a la cumbre, cuando su
padre le confiesa las razones por las que su infancia adquirió
La escasez de narrativa formal a favor de la ilustración transmite al
lector el vacío silencioso con el que transcurre la vida de David, una
extraña mezcla de culpabilidad y vacio interior que va haciéndole
sentir terror a la vez que desprecio para consigo mismo, proporcional
al que va generando respecto a sus padres, una situación muy kafkiana.
Sin embargo, al final de la novela ofrece cierta redención respecto a
sus progenitores a la vez que para consigo mismo, cuando al madurar
comienza a verlos como seres humanos reprimidos, tal vez miedosos y,
sin justificarles, abandona en gran medida la imagen monstruosa que
embargó su infancia. Una novela realmente emotiva, bien lograda
artística y psicológicamente devastadora que deja al lector tan mudo
como al protagonista, atrapándonos de lleno en la pesadilla de los
funestos seres que rodearon la vida en directo del autor.
7. College of Architecture Art and Design (MS), Thu, May 20, 2010
Consider another recent work–Stitches: A Memoir, David Small’s
graphic account of his childhood in Detroit. Here, art provides the
young artist with a refuge from the failings of his own family and
peers. Through his drawings, the small Small immerses himself in a
different reality. His Wonderland of art is a place that offers
respite and sustains the imagination. Connected to the “real
world” by a thread, it also provides a position from which things can
be looked at afresh, from some other point of the compass.
8. ComicsBlog Italy, Thu, Jun 3, 2010
Stitches - Ventinove Punti è la nuova opera dell’americano David
Small, che ha già regalato agli amanti del romanzo a fumetti un lavoro
come The Journey. Come il suo predecessore, anche Stitches, che uscirà
il prossimo 30 giugno per Rizzoli/Lizard, è un racconto che punta a
toccare le corde del cuore prima ancora che stupire per le trovate
David Small ha deciso di raccontare con Stitches un momento della sua
storia passata. Un momento doloroso che ha però inciso sulla sua
biografia, decidendo in qualche modo il suo destino. David,
quattordicenne come tanti altri, si sottopone ad un’operazione
apparentemente di routine, ma al suo risveglio scopre di non essere
più in grado di parlare. Una corda vocale gli è stata rimossa, e i 29
punti (stitches, appunto) applicati per richiudere una ferita alla gola
ora lo hanno reso praticamente muto.
In quel momento David scopre qualcosa che i suoi genitori e i medici
non gli avevano detto: aveva un tumore alla gola, e l’operazione era
una scelta estrema per evitare il suo destino di morte. David Small
rivive quei momenti, e le successive fasi della sua esistenza, come
filtrate attraverso un racconto di Kafka. Con il suo stile tipico, in
bilico tra orrore e favola, David Small racconta una storia
incredibile, fatta di genitori che sfogano le loro frustrazioni sui
figli e peggiorano la situazione del ragazzino malato pensando invece
di aiutarlo. Fino alla decisione finale di David, bisognoso dei suoi
spazi per crescere come uomo: abbandonare casa a 16 anni.
Stitches è un’opera che commuove pur senza utilizzare gli strumenti
di maniera per farlo. Un’opera che una volta per tutte, se ce ne
fosse ancora bisogno, abbatte le pareti tra romanzo scritto e romanzo
illustrato, mostrando una profondità degna delle grandi opere
letterarie. Stitches è candidato agli Eisner Award 2010 come Best
Reality-Based Work e Best Writer/Artist - NonFiction. I lettori
italiani potranno trovarlo nelle librerie dal 30 giugno con le seguenti
caratteristiche: 17×24 cm, 336 pp, b/n, al prezzo di 19,00 euro.
9. Moonlit Garden, Mon, Jul 12, 2010
Stitches was painful and exhilarating and ugly and beautiful. It’s
the horrible story of David Small’s childhood. It reminded me of A
Child Called It but with a poetic touch. It ends quietly and
triumphantly; I am grateful that I read it.
10. Enthusiasticast, Sat, Sep 25, 2010
Mark endorses David Small’s Stitches.
11. What We Blog About When We Blog About Love, Thu, Sep 30, 2010
While in Maine last week, I (Ben) visited Sherman’s Books &
Stationery and asked the bookseller at the counter where I could find
Lane Smith’s It’s A Book. “That’s one of my two staff picks!”
the bookseller said. His name was Bryce. Bryce didn’t take me to the
kids picture book section (where I’d already checked) but rather to
the adult humor section. Where exactly the book should be shelved has
been a subject of some debate amongst booksellers, and it all has to do
with the last line.
“You’ve got to read it,” Bryce said. “It’s brilliant.”
“I did read it,” I told him. “But my wife hasn’t. I’m going
to show her. What’s your other staff pick?”
“Stitches,” Bryce said. He walked me to it and put it in my hands.
“It took me about an hour to write the blurb,” he said, gesturing
to his shelf talker. The blurb was three sentences long. “It’s a
pretty good blurb if I do say so myself,” Bryce added.
I showed Erin It’s A Book, then put Stitches back on the shelf.
“Thanks, Bryce,” I said. “I’ll be back for that one later.”
Bryce clearly didn’t think I was coming back for the book ever again.
But I made it a point to swing by Sherman’s about once a day to see
if he was there. The first two days he wasn’t. I asked a bookseller
when he’d be back in and she told me the following day.
“Your boyfriend wasn’t in again?” Erin asked when I got back.
“Why don’t you just buy the book even if he’s not there?”
“Because he recommended it and I want to show him I meant it when I
said I’d be back to get it.”
“Because he’s your boyfriend now.”
“Yes, because he’s my boyfriend now.”
Bryce was in the next day. I picked up a Times and Stitches and dropped
them on the register counter.
“Good morning, Bryce. I’m buying Stitches.”
“Yes you are,” he said. He had a Big Gulp of coffee. “What’s
your name again?”
I told him. “That’s right!” he said. “I was wondering when
you’d come back. And then you did and you were all like,
‘Bryce!’, and I was like, ‘I totally forget that dude’s
I thanked him and left.
“What was your boyfriend wearing today?” Erin asked me when I got
I gave her this look.
Stitches is a heartbreaking graphic novel of Small’s nightmarish
childhood and his miraculous survival. Without giving away too many
details, Small has two of the most colossally monstrous parents
imaginable — and yet his portraits of them, particularly his mother,
are fair and even, at times, generous. (An epilogue gives a bit more
background about his mother’s health problems and other things Small
learned only after she died.) His parents conceal a truth from young
David, then deceive him to preserve the lie. Stitches is remarkably
free of bitterness; writing from the vantage point of sixty-four years
of age, Small traces how his brutal childhood also marked his
beginnings as an artist. One wonders whether he would be the
illustrator he is today if not for his harrowing youth.
But why take my word for it when you could just take Bryce’s? “A
graphic novel of breathtaking cruelty and radiant redemption, Stitches
is about David Small’s childhood and a chilling operation that left
him mute and scarred but not defeated and broken. I’m tempted to call
it the finest graphic memoir since Art Spiegelman’s Maus. I think I
12. The Sparrow Papers, Sun, Oct 10, 2010
...On this morning’s broadcast of The Diane Rehm Show on NPR, cartoonist and playwright Jules Feiffer was asked by a call-in listener whom he would cite as being as inspirational among today’s cartoonists as Will Eisner had been for him.
Feiffer, on air to promote his book from this past spring, Backing Into Forward, immediately claimed G.B. Trudeau was still at the top of his game with Doonesbury.
But newspaper strips, he added, were an endangered species, with graphic novels being where one can see excellent examples of sequential art today.
Feiffer noted the usual suspects — Daniel Clowes and Chris Ware. But he also lauded David Small and his Stitches and Craig Thompson for his Blankets. Which is interesting as the two look somewhat similar, with their soft brush strokes, and both are memoirs of less-than-cheery childhoods.
But both books are well worth reading and admiring....
13. Book Dragon, Tue, Oct 12, 2010
...The versatile Jane Yolen – apparently she hates the word “prolific” according to a recent interview – debuts her 300th title bearing her good name over the half century she’s been writing! No, that’s not a typo. Yes, truly 300 books! No wonder she’s been called the ‘Hans Christian Andersen of America’ and the ‘Aesop of the 20th-century.’
Yolen’s latest is a visual delight, thanks to the art of David Small, whose breathtaking graphic memoir, Stitches, garnered the (somewhat controversial) 2009 National Book Award nomination in the Young People’s Literature category.
Elsie is a city girl, living in Boston with her widowed father, comfortable in their life together. But with her mother gone, “Papa longed for something else, something far away from Boston, and the sadness in his heart.” In the era of ‘go west, young man’ – and take your little girl with you – Elsie and her father move to “a faraway place called Nebraska, where there were few people, and almost no towns at all.”
With Elsie’s new canary, Timmy Tune, in hand, the small family arrives to their new life: “‘Here there is only grass and sky and silence,’” Elsie writes back to her grandparents back in Boston. Her solitary life is broken only with the songs she shares back and forth with Timmy Tune.
When Timmy Tune flies out of his cage one day, Elsie gives chase, desperate to find her only friend. Their songs will bring them back together … and their journey out in the open wild will finally bring Elsie ‘home.’...
14. Joshua Malbin, Tue, Oct 19, 2010
I know David Small’s Stitches came out a year ago, but I just got it
recently and am writing about it now for two reasons: 1) It was
nominated for a National Book Award, only the second comic or graphic
novel to be so honored. 2) What troubles me about it isn’t much about
the book itself, and this post isn’t much about the book itself.
Let’s all stipulate up front that Stitches is a very good book. The
slightly gauzy feel of its black-and-white watercolors perfectly
complements an autobiographical story of childhood, and that story is
often quite horrifying. David Small’s childhood with a
passive-aggressive, narcissistic, cold mother was obviously not only
difficult to bear emotionally, it scarred him physically and almost
So having all agreed on that, let’s move on to a more interesting
question: the problem of memoirs. (“Another graphic memoir,” my own
mother said when she gave me Stitches as a gift.) Memoirs have already
shouldered aside much middlebrow fiction, and are now making serious
inroads on graphic novels. Indeed, as Glen Weldon noted at the time,
most of the “graphic novels” to receive critical acclaim have
actually been memoirs: “Maus, Fun Home, Persepolis, Stuck Rubber
Baby, American Splendor, Blankets, Cancer Vixen, etc.”
This bugs me because in most cases even very good memoirs—like
Stitches—suffer in comparison to the best fiction.
See, even in a work as brutally honest as Stitches, it feels like David
Small has to hold back. He declines to give any hint of an inner life
to any of the characters apart from the narrator, opting instead merely
to tell things as his younger self experienced them. This is
understandable. How can you get inside the head of the mother who
treated you like shit? It’d not only be harrowing, you could never be
the least bit confident you were getting it right.
As a result most memoirs of childhood tend to treat the narrator’s
parents as black boxes, or at best mysteries to be probed.
Now on rare occasions this can work. In Fun Home Alison Bechdel
revolves around the enigma of her father’s closeted sexuality and
possible suicide, using the books she and her father both loved as
Or memoirs may be creatively successful because they tell stories where
the monsters are evil or repressive societies, as in Maus, Persepolis,
or Stuck Rubber Baby, rather than individual people.
In many, many cases, though, memoirs—especially family memoirs—come
across as simple tales of survival, where the only resolution is that
the narrator grows up and gets the hell out of his parents’ house. To
me, this fails basic tests of storytelling: What does the main
character want? What other competing desire prevents him/her from
having it? What precipitating event brings these competing desires into
conflict, and when this conflict is resolved, is the character in a
significantly different place from where he/she began?
None of this happens when the resolution is: “And then I grew up.”
When I read a memoir like Stitches, then, I’m torn. On the one hand I
want to celebrate good work wherever I find it. But on the other I fear
that every good memoir clears the way for more memoirs, and I don’t
think that’s necessarily a good thing.
Of course, I could just be bitter like Glen Weldon’s friend: “A
novelist friend muttered to me once, seeing his book on the remainder
table, ‘I should’ve called it This One Time Daddy Yelled At Me,
Boo-Hoo: A Memoir.’” You’ll have to tell me.
15. OSW Library, Mon, Nov 1, 2010
...Grownups, don't get left out of the fun! Some of my favorite reads have been graphic novel memoirs such as Raymond Briggs' Ethel and Ernest, Craig Thompson's Blankets and David Small's Stitches....
16. Bogleheads, Mon, Nov 1, 2010
...Does this count as a "book" and did I "read" it? Stitches: A Memoir by David Small. A "graphic novel" (aka "comic book"). Strange, sad, wonderful, quite moving. Besides the smug, relieved, "Ah, my weird family was way more normal than some peoples'," I was interested to see how many things I related to. The dream sequences--particularly the recurrent squeezing-through-small-doorways element.
Although I did not experience anything as traumatic as he did, the business of a) bad medical communication in general--let me say docs and nurses are way way better now than they were a few decades ago--and b) very very bad medical communication with kids aged, say, 8-14, who actually need excellent medical communication, resonated with me....
17. Bloomingdale Public Library (IL), Wed, Nov 3, 2010
...Stitches: A Memoir by David Small
A frightening graphic novel memoir of a childhood spent with an angry and repressed mother and a distant father. Family dysfunction is compounded when young David develops a growth on his neck that is ignored by his family for years and turns out to be cancer. What sets this graphic novel apart is its use of point of view. We witness David's childhood through his eyes, which makes the horrific things that happen to him that much more frightening. I sped through this engrossing book, and hope to go back to take more time to savor the images and narrative of the book. If you've never tried a graphic novel, this would be an excellent first choice....
18. Kalamazoo Gazette (MI), Sat, Nov 6, 2010
Local News / Newspaper / Daily
An acclaimed graphic memoir by award-winning Mendon author and
illustrator David Small has gotten an additional nod of praise this
month from a man who truly knows his graphic novels.
Small's "Stitches: A Memoir" (W.W. Norton & Company, 2009), which was a
finalist for the National Book Award, is listed in this month's edition
of Men's Health Magazine's "The Best List" as one of the five "Best
graphic novels." The selections were picked by Paul Levitz, a longtime
comic book writer and former president of DC Comics.
Levitz's pick places Small in good company on a list that includes such
comics luminaries as Frank Miller ("Sin City"), Will Eisner ("A
Contract with God") and Neil Gaiman ("Sandman: Dream Country").
Small, who has authored and/or illustrated more than 40 children's
books in addition to "Stitches," said in an interview with Your Home,
Your Lifestyle magazine correspondent Lynn Turner earlier this year
that writing the memoir — which documents his troubled childhood in
Detroit — was cathartic.
"You never really get rid of everything completely," Small said. "But
that book showed me the problems so clearly, and they didn't mean that
much any more."
19. Cantankerous Ape, Mon, Nov 8, 2010
For a long time, I avoided using the term graphic novel. No matter how
good they were, even when the comics I was reading had characteristics
of novels, I still thought of them as comic books. The name just seemed
a bit desperate – like a kid puffing himself up to get served at the
I didn’t think comics should have to credentialize themselves or
apologize for being comics. Over the last couple of years, however,
I’ve been reading some illustrated sequential tomes that actually
seem like novels.
Most recently, I picked up David Small’s memoir Stitches. Not only
was it fantastic, it felt like I had read a novel: the detailed
evocation of place and time through little details; the powerful,
painful moments of childhood torment; the powerful characters; and the
sense it left me with – I absorbed and appreciated much of its
greatness, but I will be coming back to read it again.
But here’s what floored me. I read the whole thing in 45 minutes.
This is not meant to belittle the book. It’s fantastic.
The art is great. Small is largely known as an illustrator of
children’s books. He marries a fantastic gift for faces and
expression with a very cinematic sense of perspective, framing and
The story is gripping and rewarding. It was powerful, and I’ve been
thinking about it all day… since reading it last night in 45 minutes.
There is now so much amazing illustrated work being published across so
many genres, choosing to read literary fiction almost seems spoiled to
me – like watching a silent movie.
Go get Stitches. Treat yourself.
(If you need more convicing, David Small’s website has more art,
interviews, etc. to give you the flavour of it.)
20. Books Beside My Bed, Mon, Nov 8, 2010
...The pictures in this book are extroridary and I wish that I could post some of the wonderful illustrations of Boston and the fieds of the West. Instead you will have to go and find a copy of Elsie's Bird at your local library or bookstore. The story is sweet and simple but you really feel for Elsie as she leaves her beloved Boston. The emotions that the book invoked were very similar to Sarah Plain and Tall, where Sarah left her Maine for the windy grass of the West. Like Sarah, Elsie at first rejects the differences of the sea towns but come to love the openess of the West. I highly recommend this book and hope that you enjoy it as much as I did. Also, check out David Small's website. He write the graphic novel Stitches that has been so highly exclaimed- now I have to check it out. His online sketchbook is so lovely!...
21. IFanBoy, Tue, Nov 9, 2010
I am not sure about you, but I've always been of the opinion that it is probably a lot more interesting to write a memoir than read one. That's not to say they are not interesting, but I have always been kind of leery about memoirs, most likely because I worry that in the time I am reading about how interesting someone else's life is, I am missing the opportunity to do something interesting with my own. But these feelings probably have less to do with critical thinking than my own white-knuckled fear of mortality. (That, and the fact that my uncle (Tobias Wolff) has written a truly fantastic memoir that was actually made into a movie with DeNiro and a very young Dicaprio, building what can only be a nagging inferiority complex — let's be honest here.)
In one of the several magazines on the coffee table (we get a lot of magazines, when people come over, I often fear that they think they are actually in a waiting room, waiting for a checkup, not a living room, waiting for a margarita), there was some discussion of the "best of the best" graphic novels. It was in Esquire or something--some magazine that none of us would really consider to be a source of solid comic book reportage--and I went down the list with a skeptical eye, agreeing with some of the pics, but finding myself a bit worried that there were quite a few books that I didn't recognize at all, including Stitches by David Small. Not only did the magazine think it was one of the best graphic novels--ever--but it was also in the running for the 2009 National Book Award. Sure, it was a memoir, but, heck, it was my duty as a staff member at iFanboy to investigate!
A best-in-class graphic novel that was also a national book award that I had never heard of? Within seconds I was ordering it from Amazon (using the iFanboy link, natch) and, after reading it this weekend, I wanted to discuss the book with you.
The cover for Stitches does not look like a graphic novel, or, really, even a prose book. It looks like a kid's book, with this ungainly kid sprawled out against a door, making me think that this was more about a grumpy kid trying to keep "Stitches," the monster in his closet, from coming to school with him. However, the opening pages of the first chapter ("I was four…") set the tone for something far less whimsical, with bleak and freezing shots of Detroit in the 40's. I actually started the book a few times before I went to bed, but the dreary gray ink washes of the first few pages just felt too heavy, too "National Book Award"-y, and I exchanged the book for yet another issue from that Bruce Wayne's Coming Home And You're Gonna Pay For It series.
Then I started to read the book.
That one sentence really is a paragraph, because this book is just…well, let's just get it out: it's hauntingly good. Small has been drawing all his life, and I guess he's made quite a name for himself writing and drawing children's books, and his characterizations and storytelling reflect that, with wonderful, free from pages that defy layout--he uses the page to reflect moments in way that comic book folks may be uncomfortable with, even mildly distrustful. This is, truly, a novel that uses graphics to tell the story of David's youth.
Much of the story takes place before David turns ten. While I am not going to discuss specifics, it spoils nothing to explain that he was often sick as a child, and his father, a doctor, was his primary caregiver, with lots of examinations and x-rays being used to figure out what was going on. His father, a steadfastly distant figure in reflective glasses who always seemed to be smoking cigarettes or a pipe, is a constant background presence for most of the book, while David's mother was responsible for most of the day-to-day child rearing. And it's not "parenting" that we are privy to in these pages. It's child-rearing, it's heartbreakingly strict and..unfeeling? No...that's not right. There is feeling there but...I don't know how to describe it--I'd much rather you read it and experience it. There is love there, but love is not, shall we say, immediately obvious. From the beginning of the story, the scenes with David's mother just make you tense; you just wish she wasn't around, you know? It's just easier when she's doing her own thing. But that's too dismissive. David's mother, as he relates in the author's notes at the end of the book, is one of the most complex and memorable characters I have read about in years.
This is not a happy story, but it's not one of those books where the pain described within its pages is almost exploitative. This is the story of a family at a certain time, with certain beliefs, with attitudes that seems shocking to us now, but are understandable and certainly not unheard of. It's just a different time, and the relationships between parent and child, between father and son…were more rigid. The love for the child was tempered by something else, something less to do with heart and more to do with order.
Small's background in children's books is evident not only in how he uses the pages, but with his ability to completely let go, creatively--I haven't seen many books that celebrate a child's imagination as well as Stitches does. When young David escapes into his drawings, we literally get a page of his six year old self diving into the paper, crawling down to a cave where all his characters live. Awkward to describe, devastatingly beautiful to see. Small's treatment of adults as these towering, distant figures, talking at him instead of to him, is incredible. As you go through these pages, sometimes the images on some pages are sharper than those on others, not unlike memory itself. You really get the feeling that you are living these memories, watching them unfold in your imagination. The construction of the story lends itself to this as well, with age being the only chapter break--"I was six"; "I was elevent". Is that not how we tells stories of our youth? Less about the subject of the story initially, you know? Much more about "this is how old I was, so imagine the events with that lens". As the years past, as the memories get sharper, the chapters get more specific: "Three and a half years after the diagnosis" and " August 27th, 3pm". This is memoir, a reflection on (and reaction to?) memories--the book's narrative construction reflect the form.
The drawings in the story--I find myself thinking about the art as "drawings" for some reason, this really feels like a story told through the pages of a sketchbook--are just beautiful. The faces, in particular, are, as I said above, haunting. The mother…when she's angry, the way Small draws here furious face, from the kid's point of view…well, let's just say you remember what it was like when mom was having a bad day. Indeed, this book really reminded me of just how closely kids are watching adults, just how much of an impact the words and actions the adults really have on a child. The whole notion of "he's just a kid" really takes on new meaning after this reading this story. This book really made me realize just how many memories I have from those early years, and just how fundamental even the smallest things were to me back then. The way my parents acted to each other, the ways they would teach me about thing, what they would talk about when they thought I was not listening…I remember. "Just a kid" should not be a dismissive phrase ("he'll get over it, he's just a kid") but one of caution, as if to say, "this is important, be careful here."
Stitches is not a particularly long story; 329 pages sounds like a lot but the book is physically smaller than other books (8.7 x 6.9 inches). It's a wonderfully produced book, with a great binding and heavy paper stock. The art, done in ink and ink washes, really soaks into the page…again, you feel like you are flipping through a sketch book, there's just that real intimate feeling to it, you feel like you are discovering the pages, as opposed to reading a book…it's hard to explain, but suffice to say, the book feels right for the story. Memoirs can be terrifically difficult to end, but the last page of this book comes at the right time, and it's the kind of book that you put down and just end up staring off into space for awhile after. There are a fair amount of scenes involving surgery and recovery in this book (hence the title), and as one who has gone through a bit of oral surgery, I can tell you that David nails the sense of powerlessness and confusion that one feels before, after and during such procedures. It's rough, but it's not overdone. And while I was admittedly a bit suspicious of it being a National Book Award nominee (I mean, I just had the feeling that it was being included to show people, "Hey, we're hip, we've got comics in this joint too!"), I can see why it was picked. This story would not be nearly as effective as a prose book. I don't think you could actually tell it using prose--it just wouldn't have the same emotional impact, it wouldn't even have the same narrative impact: it's important that we know that this kid who escaped his day to day life through drawings ended up being a professional artist who then used the very same skills to tell his story. The drawings of his parent scolding him about his posture? That was how it happened, that's how it felt to live those moments. Words, photos, video--they wouldn't do that experience justice.
I began this article intending to draw direct parallels to Jeff Lemire's Essex County, but I will discuss that work at a later date. Suffice to say, I think using the graphic novel format is a distinctly modern and resoundingly appropriate way to craft a memoir. As we have talked about in the past, there is something unique when the writer of the story is also responsible for drawing it. (While Essex County is not necessarily a memoir, it does tell stories in a community that he is very familiar with; so it's more the personal relationship with the material the connects Lemire's epic work with Stitches.) This is a masterful work, and I hope that it being a National Book Award nominee meant that people that would normally never read a modern graphic novel were exposed to the medium. For you, the regular comic book reader, if you have been longing for a story that didn't have to do with a Brightest Day or Heroic Age, something a tad more reflective to read as the days grow shorter and the nights more still... this is your book.
22. Mimi Cyber Librarian, Tue, Nov 9, 2010
David Small, known for his prize-winning children’s books and book
illustrations, has created a masterpiece of a memoir in a graphic novel
format. He says, “I am an artist, and this is a book about being
voiceless…When you have no voice, you don’t exist.”
Small divides his memoir about his “Soviet Bloc” of a childhood
into parts relating to his age when the events happen: “I Was Six,”
“I Was Eleven,” “I Was Fourteen,” and “I Was Fifteen.”
Through black and white drawings, shaded in grays, with very few words,
Small tells the story of a family where silence reigns, where love is
never shown, and where explanations are never given.
His mother is a 1950s housewife, his father a radiologist, and his
older brother is the usual bullying brat of a big brother. Here are the
bare bones of Stitches. David was small, sensitive, and prone to
infections. X-rays were the new big thing, and his father as a
radiologist used them to “cure” David of his sinus infections. When
he was eleven, he developed a lump in his neck that was diagnosed as a
cebaceous cyst. His parents decided to ignore the doctor’s
recommendation that the cyst be removed claiming that it would be too
expensive to remove, so David lived with it for the next three years.
However, when he was fourteen, the cyst was finally removed, and along
with it, David’s thyroid and part of his vocal cords. David was left
voiceless for a prolonged period of time, but more insidiously, he was
never told that he had cancer. The next year was a nightmare for David,
and he began to act out his pain and anger, causing his parents endless
frustration, and contributing to David’s increasing isolation and
psychosis. Finally, at age fifteen, his parents took him to an analyst,
who Small portrays as the white rabbit from Alice in Wonderland. This
dear man helped him realize that it is not David who is flawed, but his
parents and his entire family, and that he has a right to be angry for
his parents not telling him about the cancer. The climax of the book
comes when his father tells him that he was to blame for what happened
to David because the cancer had been caused by the prolonged exposure
to the x-rays.
Small understands the concept of telling a story without words. When he
describes how his father reveals the huge secret, the drawings go on
for several wordless pages, and the pain is searing. In another amazing
sequence, Small illustrates with rain the tears that flowed when he
began to understand that the pain of his life was not his fault, that
his mother was incapable of loving, and that he had not been told the
truth his whole childhood. The viewer (reader) is absolutely moved to
tears as the rain in the drawings eventually subsides.
It is so evident that Small has bared his soul in Stitches. In one
drawing, little boy David is drawing on a big piece of paper on the
floor and in the next two drawings, he is sucked down into the paper.
In an interview, he says that he had so much more that he could have
told, but that he had to continually edit the story down until it was a
manageable length. A short chapter about Small’s adult life, and an
equally short explanation with a couple of photos, helps the reader
understand a little better about why his childhood was so unfortunate.
David Small and his wife, the author Sarah Stewart, live just south of
Kalamazoo, and are frequent visitors to our community. I saw them last
at a Chinese restaurant in our neighborhood. Small won the Caldecott
Award for the book, So You Want to Be President? in 2001 and is an
honor book winner for the same award with a book he wrote with his
wife, The Gardener.
Like Persepolis, which I reviewed earlier this year, graphic books can
tell a story in a very profound way. In discussing this, one reviewer
suggests, “Such moments remind us of the emotional power and
immediacy of drawing.”
I highly recommend Stitches. It is an amazing book, the winner of
several awards, and should be on everyone’s reading list.
23. Evansville Courier and Press (IN), Tue, Nov 9, 2010
Local News / Internet / Daily
David Small won the 2001 Caldecott Medal for his illustrations for "So
You Want To Be President?" Now he brings his talents to "Elise's Bird"
(Philomel, $17.99), a story about a girl who moves with her widowed
father from her beloved Boston to Nebraska. Elise, a city-lover, hates
what she believes is the silence of the prairie and at first refuses to
leave her lonely farmhouse. When her pet canary escapes one day,
however, Elise runs out into the surrounding grasslands and, for the
first time, hears "the voices of the plains."
Author Jane Yolen's lyrical story is matched by Small's illustrations,
in which he uses watercolor, pastel and ink to capture both Elise's
spirit and the majesty of the Nebraskan landscape. (Ages 4-8.)
24. Milan News Leader (MI), Tue, Nov 9, 2010
Local News / Newspaper / Daily
7 to 8:30 p.m. Wednesday: Downtown Library. Author/illustrator David
Small and his wife, author/gardener Sarah Stewart, will share their
thoughts on the importance of art and reading for young people
25. Articles Base, Mon, Nov 15, 2010
Video Description: Graphic novelist David Small discusses how his
experience with therapy in adolescence inspired the cathartic
self-analysis of his memoir, “Stitches.”
26. For Your Leisure, Tue, Nov 16, 2010
...Story: One day fourteen-year-old David Small awakens from a supposedly harmless operation to find his throat slashed and pieced together, leaving him a virtual mute.
Wow, the illustrations in this graphic novel are spot on! They exude a very cinematic feel. Small captures the most intimate and often lonely moments of childhood exceptionally well. Not only are the sketches incredibly realistic, but the story also holds it’s own. Small suffered through a less than idealistic childhood, and the trauma he endured at the hands of his disaffected parents is truly harrowing. The ending is very shocking and it’s hard to articulate the feelings that it creates in the reader....
27. Law and Conversation, Wed, Nov 17, 2010
I mentioned last week that I’ve been on a graphic novel kick on and
off this year. The combination of dialogue, occasional narration, and
often stylized cartoons to tell great stories never ceases to fascinate
The relatively recently coined term, “graphic novel,” not to
mention the Pulitzer Prize that Art Spiegelman won for “Maus” in
1992, is an indication of the respect comic books have gained since I
was growing up, when my parents admonished me against revealing that I
had a subscription to Mad magazine.
My parents’ admonitions notwithstanding, until recently, I didn’t
realize just how controversial comics once were, condemned by no less
than Sterling North, the author of Rascal, and Frederic Wortham, the
Comic Book Villain. David Hajdu recounts that interesting and scary
history in his nonfiction “The Ten Cent Plague: The Great Comic Book
Scare and How It Changed America,” which is reviewed here and here.
Hajdu discussed his book and the history of comic book persecution and
burning in a number of podcast interviews, including this one from
Maximum Fun and this one from NPR.
Here are three other graphic memoirs worth reading:
1) Persepolis, by Marjane Satrapi, which got me started on graphic
novels earlier this year, is the story of the Iranian revolution of
1979 from the vantage point of a young girl in Tehran as she grows from
a small child into a rebellious teenager. Her parents ultimately send
her to Vienna for her own safety and for more opportunities. (Satrapi
now lives in France.) Satrapi also wrote “Embroideries” and
“Chicken With Plums,” both of which I enjoyed, but not as much as
“Persepolis,” which was made into a movie. Like “Maus”,
“Persepolis” is a two-volume work, and, also like “Maus,” the
first volume so enthralled me that once I’d finished it, I RAN to the
library to check out the second.
2) Stitches: A Memoir. David Small’s remarkably nonbitter account
of his parents’ dysfunctional marriage and his radiologist father’s
unwittingly planting the seeds of cancer by treating his breathing
difficulties with massive amounts of x-rays during the 1950s.
3) Fun House, Alison Bechdel‘s memoir of coming to terms with her
father’s and her own homosexuality, and with her relationship with
her complex father. Bechdel drew and wrote the comic strip “Dykes To
Watch Out For” for years; I thought she’d stopped, but her website
seems to suggest that she may still be drawing it.
28. (MI), Wed, Nov 17, 2010
Author/illustrator David Small and his wife, author/gardener Sarah
Stewart, will share their thoughts on the importance of art and reading
for young people and the impact of the picture book in children's
literature. Mr. Small will also present illustrations from his latest
children's book project. A booksigning will also occur at this event
and books will also be on sale.
David Small has illustrated more than 40 picture books. His books have
been translated into several languages, made into animated films and
musicals, and have won many top awards. 'Stitches,' David's 2009
graphic memoir about his problematic youth, was nominated for a
National Book Award. A published poet and lifelong diarist, Sarah is
the author of five acclaimed children's books -- 'The Money Tree,' 'The
Library,' 'The Gardener,' 'The Journey,' and 'The Friend.'
This event is held in conjunction with the October- November exhibit at
the Library: Children's Books By Famous Folks from the Children's
Literature Collection in the University of Michigan Special Collections
29. Vineyard Gazette (MA), Fri, Nov 19, 2010
Front Page / Newspaper / Daily
Mind you, graphic memoirs are not the incest-laden stomach churners
that seemed to be the talk of the tube not long ago, but tend toward
the psychologically probing, artistically compelling memoirs like
Alison Bechdel’s bestselling Fun Home, Marjane Satapi’s Persopolis,
which was turned into an animated feature film, and David Small’s
Stitches, a National Book Award finalist for young people...
30. Lara's Reading Room, Sun, Nov 21, 2010
This week I am back to my favorite new genre, the Graphic Novel,
discovered while undertaking this weekly reading challenge! No matter
that it's really the only new genre I have tried all year. It's also no
matter that it's only the second time I have read from this genre. I
mean who's keeping score? Okay, I am. And at the end of the year I am
going to have this wicked cool post full of stats and numbers (or as
many stats and numbers that a Communications major can muster) and my
fellow book nerds are going to love it and some will think it's dumb
and that's okay, too.
So, not only being a new genre for me, it's a new one for the old book
club. It's my turn to host in December and when you are the host, you
hold the power to either mandate or offer up some selections from which
the group can vote. I decided to shake things up and present three
choices, all graphic memoirs. There were a some eager smiles, a few
perplexing hmmmmms and even a couple of she-might-be-crazy-to-think-I
So after everyone softened their gazes and started reading the
summaries, the majority settled on STITCHES: A MEMOIR by David Small.
While I am not one to gloat It should be noted that two book club
members e-mailed me within the last couple of weeks to say they had
never read a graphic novel and were pleasantly surprised with STITCHES.
Now that I have read this 2009 National Book Award winner, I can say
that I was as well.
STITCHES is the shocking look at a brief, yet life altering period, in
David Small's life. Born to a radiologist father and a homemaker
mother, Small grew up in a household that communicated with bangs,
slaps, claps and grunts. Communication was completely controlled by the
parents (when they communicated at all) and the house was cold and
quiet, devoid of any love and affection. When David was just six years
old, he developed multiple sinus infections, which his father chose to
monitor and evaluate with x-rays. This repeated exposure caused Small
to develop throat cancer and required two serious operations on his
throat. Complicating matters (more than your own father giving you
cancer is complicating) was the fact that Small was never told why he
needed surgery. It was only after the second procedure caused him to
lose his voice--and what we can guess was years of guilt--that his
As wordless as the Small household was, STITCHES is almost as quiet.
Relying on his tremendous illustrative talent, Small effectively takes
the reader through this fear and anger-filled time in his life with
compelling imagery and few words. While there are certainly enough
issues with Small's dad to write a book, his mother is a significant
contributor to the family's dysfunction. We learn little about Small's
brother and the story did leave me asking a few more questions than I
would have hoped. Despite this, I absolutely loved the way Small uses
his ability to draw to present his story. It's the illustrating (and
years with a caring counselor) that enables Small to actually find his
I think it is awesome when someone can write a book or draw even a
single picture. But if you can do both? At the same time? That's
ridiculous talent. Seriously. I now officially get why this is an
emerging arena for creatives that have the ability to story tell in
different ways. It's no surprise after reading this to learn that Small
is now an accomplished illustrator, having won awards for his work on
children's books. His talent is obvious. His story completely
fascinating, ultimately redemptive and uniquely his own.
Rating: 4 stars
31. New York Times (NY), Mon, Nov 22, 2010
...Oh, does this resonate. A few years ago, I posted a comment on a health blog mentioning that I don’t allow dental xrays for my child unless there’s clear evidence of a need, and she’s never needed them. I could not believe the reaction– I was called a weirdo, a bad mother and an idiot. I’m happy to see the reference to the old xray machines that shoes stores used in the 50s. Things haven’t changed– we’re so wowed by the ability to see inside, we don’t ask the questions we should before doing so.
David Small’s book “Stitches’ is a great, grave reminder of this– a graphic memoir of a time when it was thought x-ray machines could cure all sorts of childhood illnesses– and the children who were treated with them got cancer....
32. My Sofa, Tue, Nov 23, 2010
...Este comic es un testimonio impresionante sobre la infancia de su propio autor, David Small. Es una infancia dura por la familia que tiene y porque le sale un tumor en el cuello. Algo asi, claro esta, deja una huella importante en tu vida, sobre todo si la operacion tiene otras consecuencias, ademas de la cicatriz, desde luego.
Lo bueno de esta historia es que nos da una panoramica muy completa de su infancia, hay momentos divertidos y anecdotas memorables, formando un conjunto muy atractivo, muy bien contado y presentado. A nivel grafico hay que decir que estamos ante un genio de una talla mas que destacable, su maestria en el dibujo y la expresividad de su trazo hace de la lectura una continua gozada, llena de brio, pulso, ritmo, dinamismo, intensidad y recursos narrativos brillantes.
Por si todo esto fuera poco, el relato esta dotado de calidad en su contenido. Puede parecer una suma de escenas cotidianas, recuerdos, pero hay algo mas profundo tras ello. Hay como una busqueda de sentido, un intento de analisis sobre su propio caso. El autor retrata a la perfeccion los problemas de cada miembro de la familia y como eso repercute en su propio ser. Porque sus padres son un ejemplo tremendo de egoismo y desamor. Ese comportamiento miserable y mezquino impacta ciertamente.
Sin embargo, resulta mas interesante la propia personalidad del protagonista. Se aprecia muy bien su imaginacion y sensibilidad. Y gracias a esto sus observaciones revelan con acierto el fondo oculto de los detalles, la forma en que cada persona comunica soterradamente sus frustraciones y tal. Esa claridad perceptiva y sinceridad es lo que da al relato su riqueza y poder cautivador.
Hasta tal punto que incluso puede dar pie a mas lecturas en algun momento. A mi por ejemplo, me ha sugerido una idea interesante. Hay una escena donde los dos hermanos se ponen a mirar las fotos de medicina de su padre. Una foto muestra un tumor de cuello. Que es eso? pregunta David. Un tumor, dice su hermano. Y que es un tumor? Una cosa que crece, algo antinatural. Todo el mundo sabe lo que es un tumor, imbecil.
Mas tarde David desarrolla su tumor y tambien es de cuello. Que curioso, no? Se me ocurren tres posibilidades. Al ser tan sensible la vision le ha impresionado y eso ha derivado en que su ser de alguna manera interiorice que a el le corresponde sufrir eso justamente. O bien, que esa vision sea como un aviso, un anticipo de su destino ya configurado. O simplemente mera casualidad.
De todas formas no hay que olvidarse de su entorno familiar. Puede ser que la enfermedad de David sea consecuencia de todos ellos y que, al mismo tiempo, sea tambien una leccion, una prueba por su egoismo y tal. En fin, sea lo que sea, una lectura enriquecedora. Un saludo....
33. Giraffe Days, Sat, Nov 27, 2010
...A random buy. This is another memoir in the form of a graphic novel, and seems to be a rather harrowing, bleak story. At least, it starts out that way: at fourteen, David wakes from “a supposedly harmless operation to discover his throat had been slashed and a vocal cord removed, leaving him a virtual mute. No one had told him he was expected to die – and it would be years before he learned the devastating truth.” They manage to make that sound like they were trying to kill him. Frankly, the whole thing gives me the shivers. The drawings are wonderful though....
34. Culturamas, Mon, Nov 29, 2010
David Small, un premiado escritor e ilustrador americano de libros para
niños, relata en Stitches su dura infancia y la manera en la que ésta
marcó su carácter y le ayudó a desarrollar sus frustraciones en los
El título de la obra traducido responde al significado de “puntos
de sutura”, y es que el protagonista esconde una gran cicatriz en el
cuello fruto de una operación. Una cicatriz que se traslada hasta el
corazón, e intenta coser las heridas de un niño al que sus padres no
quieren, un hijo marcado por el silencio, la indiferencia y la
incomprensión desde su más tierna infancia.
David explora en los recovecos de su memoria episodios que le marcaron
cuando tenía seis, once, catorce y quince años. Traslada en viñetas
a tinta en blanco y negro sentimientos que al autor ya de adulto aún
le oprimen, y le incitan a coger la pluma para denunciar el mutismo de
su madre, las mentiras de su padre o la figura invisible del hermano
Grandes temas como el cáncer, la demencia senil o la identidad sexual
subyacen de fondo, pero por delante siempre se presentan los ojos
interrogantes de David, la mirada de un niño que se pregunta el por
qué le tocó vivir una infancia muda.
Texto y dibujo fluyen en esta historia autobiográfica que no necesita
de muchos artificios ni excesivas descripciones para impresionar al que
está leyendo. De hecho, es una obra repleta de silencios, momentos
ilustrados vacíos en los que aparentemente no pasa nada, pero que
rebosan de duras realidades.
La publicación de esta novela gráfica le sirve al autor como terapia
y a los lectores nos ayuda a humanizar la figura que firma cada obra,
descubriendo no sólo su calidad literaria sino también la manera en
que la vida nos golpea a todos por igual y condiciona los caminos a
35. Ciber Anika, Mon, Nov 29, 2010
David Small se fue de casa a los dieciséis años para cumplir su
sueño de ser artista, pero antes de que llegara aquel precoz momento,
hubo una vida que le arrastró a decidirse tan joven a salir de su casa
y luchar por su sueño. Una mentira (o un silencio que parece una
mentira), la impresión de no ser querido por su madre, la pérdida de
la voz al pasar por quirófano y otros detalles casi traumáticos le
harán dar el gran paso.
Por fin una novela gráfica que podría ponerse a la altura, o al
ladito, de la genial “Maus”. Las sensaciones que te recorren por
dentro conforme lees esa infancia triste, donde como niño no puedes
comprender ciertas cosas y creces creyendo que tu propia madre no te
quiere, resultan estremecedoras. Es su mirada, la que debía ser de
madre tierna y acogedora, lo que nunca ves y con la que él nunca
vivió. Mal humor, malos gestos, una sensación de egoísmo compartido
con el padre y una insultante desprotección por parte de ambos es lo
que transmiten sus experiencias y la forma en que su mente concebió su
infancia. No conocía otra forma de vida: el dinero se anteponía a su
salud, el derroche de los padres se anteponía al dinero que necesitaba
su salud, los secretos de los adultos se anteponían a la felicidad del
crío… y así un sinfín de miradas crueles, toscas, cruzadas y
faltas de aparente preocupación le hicieron creer que eso era la vida.
Hasta que visitó a un psicólogo (o psiquiatra, no lo aclara) después
de perder la voz en una operación quirúrgica y se enteró de que él
sí valía la pena, que no estaba loco, que sus reacciones eran
normales y que podía salir adelante y buscar el camino correcto que le
llevara a una vida más plena y feliz.
Presentado en tapa dura, con la calidad que caracteriza al sello
Reservoir Books, es un placer pasar las páginas en blanco y negro y
visualizar esos momentos que David Small ha sabido representar tan
“Stitches” fue finalista del National Book Award 2009, lo que me
hace pensar en qué novela gráfica le desbancaría porque no lo
tendría nada fácil. Es un tesoro. Lo eligieron uno de los diez
mejores libros de 2009 en el Publishers Weekly y fue número 1 en la
lista de los más vendidos de The New York Times. Y con razón.
36. Laman Public Library (AR), Mon, Nov 29, 2010
...One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die....
37. 5603 - Children's Book Reviews - Osborne, Tue, Nov 30, 2010
Stitches chronicles the author's life from birth to adulthood,
revealing along the way myriad secrets that shaped his family
environment. Everyone within the family has their own way of coping
with the taciturn family ways. As a sickly child, David received
various experimental treatments on a regular basis from his father the
doctor. He also encountered various frightening medical specimens and
photos as a result of spending time around hospitals and medical books.
David tries to escape from these horrors by indulging himself in the
fantasy of Alice in Wonderland. When he develops a lump on his throat,
his mother, scared of the costs of the operation, puts off treatment of
it and instead indulges in a shopping spree. When it is finally
operated on, David finds he has lost his voice after the operation. His
family has told him nothing about his surgery, but he discovers a
letter from his mother to his grandmother that says it was cancer. He
begins a downward spiral of skipping school, running away, and
eventually ends up living alone at 16 as he finishes high school and
indulges himself entirely in art. David finally finds support in a
friendly therapist, portrayed as a white rabbit, who helps him to make
sense of the many secrets his family has hidden over the years.
The lack of colors in the black and white drawings shaded only with
gray washes works to convey visually the harsh emotional environment of
family experiences in a void of communication. Various flashback,
dream, and nightmare sequences are integrated visually into the
narrative of the book, skillfully lending greater insight into the
character's unspoken motivations throughout. Metaphors are also
conveyed both visually and within the text to more fully depict the
emotions behind them.
As a solo work of art and writing, the book works exceptionally well as
a whole. The graphic-memoir format is also particularly well suited to
an author who has won the Caldecott medal for his artwork in children's
picture books. While it is certainly not a cheerful childhood tale, it
is so skillfully executed as to provide great insight into the workings
of non-communicative families in general, and David Small's in
* Find out more about living with cancer.
Grace: A Child's Intimate Journey Through Cancer and Recovery
(Coping With Illness) by Melinda Marchiano
The Last Lecture by Randy Pausch
* Read more graphic memoirs.
The Complete Maus: A Survivor's Tale (No 1) by Art Spiegelman
The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi
* Read more about growing up with dysfunctional families.
Because I am Furniture by Thalia Chaltas
A Child Called "It": One Child's Courage to Survive by Dave
* Explore the history of radiology and medicine.
Naked To The Bone: Medical Imaging In The Twentieth Century
by Bettyann H. Kevles
Under the Radar: Cancer and the Cold War (Critical Issues in
Health and Medicine) by Ellen Leopold
38. Why is Marko, Tue, Nov 30, 2010
this little illustrated memoir caught my eye at a bookstore recently
and became an impulse buy. it fits that “tragicomic” vibe, telling
the author’s recollection of a childhood ignored by strict and
distant parents. it’s not a full nightmare of physical abuse that
we’ve read elsewhere — but that’s part of it’s power: this
story feels so much more (sadly) common. and the simple but expressive
illustrations (all black and white, btw), convey a subtle emotive power
that compelled me to read the book in one sitting.
39. Dos Cafes y Una Mesa, Tue, Nov 30, 2010
...STITCHES – Small: Hay que tener mucha sangre fria y valor para contar una infancia como la que vive David Small en STITCHES (Suturas) la grafica sencilla es el fuerte en una historia donde pasan muchas cosas y donde las secuencias son fundamentales para contar una infancia donde las cosas que uno ha vivido son literalmente Miel sobre Hojuelas ante las cosas que vive David… un fundamental sin duda…...
40. ALA RUSA, Tue, Nov 30, 2010
...Small, David. Stitches: A Memoir. Norton. 9780393068573.
Stark drawings give voice to the horrors of a child who find redemption in art while growing up in a repressed and disturbed family....
41. The Counter Project (MI), Tue, Nov 30, 2010
David Small is the author and illustrator of numerous books for
but there is no mistaking his graphic memoir Stitches (2009) for a
book. The book takes on a quietly dysfunctional family -- with both
familiar and alarming issues.
Of course, Stitches isn't the first memoir to focus on a family's
imperfections. However, you haven't heard this story before. It is
thoughtful, and infinitely more powerful because of the haunting nature
Small's illustrations. You literally can't get the story out of your
For anyone hesitant to read something in the graphic book genre, don't
Stitches is a perfect introduction. It's next to impossible not to
empathize with such a tragic main character, especially knowing he's
real person behind this book.
Best Part: An author with real talent who was born and raised in
what's not to love?
Worst Part: The whole thing goes by too fast.
42. Cleveland Live (OH), Tue, Nov 30, 2010
General Interest / Internet / Daily
Jane Yolen and David Small
"Elsie was a Boston girl."
She loved its cobbled streets, cozy harbor and her happy life.
But then Mama died, and Papa moved them to the faraway prairies, with
only her canary for companionship. When her beloved bird escapes, Elsie
musters the courage to find both him and "her true prairie home."
Small paints with a sure hand, capturing the many landscapes of the
story perfectly. His sense of color and composition is masterful.
Yolen writes with sensitivity and compassion, teaching children that
even after great loss, there will be joy again. Grade: A-
43. Isak, Wed, Dec 1, 2010
...ALA Notable Books For Adults List, 2010
This is a strange list in that it seems to be indiscriminate about publishing parameters--many of these titles were published last year, but only had their paperback editions released in 2010, like, say, David Small's Stitches, which appears in the nonfiction part of this list....
44. Monkey Read Blog, Wed, Dec 1, 2010
...An exquisite picture book captures the wide-open beauty of the prairie.
Jane Yolen and David Small bring to life the story of young Elsie: a girl who leaves Boston, where she has been extraordinarily happy, to go across the nation with her father to the lonely, wide-open spaces of the prairie. Her only friend is her pet canary Timmy Tune. Will she leave the sod house to explore the prairie, to get to know it? No. She hunkers down inside with Timmy and that is enough. Until the day the canary gets out of the cage, flies out the door, and into the prairie, drawing her—in a wonderfully dramatic scene—onto the prairie, too. When Elsie races into the blowing grasses of the prairie, calling her canary, your heart will break; when the canary finds her, you will cheer....
You should visit David Small Books for excerpts and author commentary. Stitches was a Number One New York Times Bestseller, and Finalist for the 2009 National Book Award.