Most helpful critical review
11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Visual masterpiece, but for fans of the genre only
on October 17, 2009
Stitches: A Memoir, is exactly what it purports to be. It is a memoir of the early life of artist David Small. And what a painful, emotionally scarring life it must have been. Small recounts a difficult childhood devoid of love, burdened by distracted and distant parents, and punctuated by a childhood cancer caused by his own father.
Alas, then, that Stitches doesn't quite hit the emotional buttons a story like this deserves to hit, because I *wanted* to feel drawn into this bleak (yet all too real) world more than I did.
This was certainly no fault of Small's grasp of the medium, which is excellent. His art has a loose simplicity about it, at times even a seeming sloppiness (undoubtedly deliberate), that is stark and vivid and entirely appropriate. His storytelling, which is so vital in the world of sequential art, is crisp and clear, and his compositions make excellent use of the page. Artistically, Stitches is a triumph.
The tale itself is unrelentingly bleak, with only a small glimmer of love late in the story of Small's early life. That's okay, though. It's not as if the reader doesn't know what he or she is in store for. We know we're about to be depressed.
Where Stitches falls just short of complete excellence is in the writing. While the art is simple and stylish in an impressionistic way, the writing is just simple, made up of direct, bare narration and equally direct dialogue. It often works well enough for the dialogue -- witness the mother's outburst on 226 and 277, which painfully underscores her loveless nature -- but the narration does little to add to the overall work. As a medium, comics excels when the words and images combine into a greater whole. In the best comics, theirs is a symbiotic relationship. That doesn't happen here. The narration feels almost superfluous, and thus distracting. Yet removing it would make Stitches an even lighter read than it already is. (Its 320 pages whip by FAST, even with a reader like me, who lingers on and absorbs each panel.)
The result? A reader kept at an emotional distance from the story.
However, Small makes excellent choices when it comes to allowing the visuals to tell the story, and he knows when to allow the imagery to get abstract. His instincts here are superb. Small's outstanding skills in this regard work hard to carry the weight of the emotional narrative here, and make up for any shortcomings in the writing.
I know many Amazon readers consider 3 stars a bad score, but let me be clear: It's not. Not to me. As far as I'm concerned, if you enjoy graphic literature and like memoirs, if you enjoy the genre in which Stitches dwells, it's worth a read. Small's visual work is impressive and the narrative has the potential to be powerful to certain readers. I may feel Stitches falls just short of its potential -- and it does -- but I'm glad to have read it.