Author: Frederick Peeters
Pages: 192 pgs.
Publish Date: March 20, 2008
Publisher: Jonathan Cape
Catalog ID: ISBN-10: 0224082396
Blue Pills, by Swiss artist Frederick Peeters, chronicles his relationship with Cati, a wild, vivacious girl he meets at a New Years Party. They connect and become lovers. Before long Cati tells Fred that she and her three-year-old son are both HIV positive. He is filled with a mixture of passion, pity and desire, but he does his best to act cool. Although disconcerted, he wants the relationship to work, and so it does. The book charts Fred’s evolving relationship with Cati’s son, cataloguing his periods of illness, his stays in hospital and the routine of his medication- the blue pills of the title.
One of the most engaging aspects of the book is the relationship between the couple and their laconic, overworked doctor. Judging by his rant against doctors in the opening pages of the book, Fred doesn’t normally think much of the medical profession. However, he describes Dr R as a “life raft”. The doctor doesn’t take himself too seriously, he has moods and off days. He is, therefore, human.
Maybe because it is not told through the body of a sick person, there is actually surprisingly little drama compared to other works in the same genre. It is low key, gently philosophical and more to do with love and anxiety than HIV per se, a meditation on the psychological suffering caused by being labeled and the arbitrariness of chance in the process of infection (Cati blames herself, Fred blames the world for her suffering). Like other graphic novels, I found it offered a new perspective on areas of the patient experience that I had never considered; the sort of non-propositional knowledge that comes from living through a treatment regime, rather than from reading textbooks.
Using lots of visual metaphor, Blue Pills is a sort of graphic diary, a snapshot from the life of someone whose partner has HIV. There is no ultimate “resolution” to the story, just the suggestion of continuation. In this way Peeters destroys the teleology of the AIDS narrative as it is has been considered in the past: ending in death. It is a story about being well, getting on with life whilst living with an implicit medical “condition”, as part of what Arthur Frank calls “the remission society”(1997: 8-13).