The tense and interrogative relationship between word and image that characterizes the comics genre makes possible David Small’s ironic articulation of sickness as a wordless language. Indeed, the growing catalog of illness autographies attests to the effectiveness of comics in giving individuals the means to express openly and candidly the otherwise silencing and stigmatizing experience of illness. What makes Stitches notable among illness autographies, however, is that it stews in its silence, making the quiet of illness itself a language—a form of communication requiring recognition, translation, and response. In examining how Small “stitches” together the conflicting but overlapping forms of communication he both uses and implies—word, image, sound, silence—I hope to explore how Stitches manipulates the comics format to communicate the silence that often accompanies illness, teaching readers how silence, too, can speak and must be heard.
Mita Mahato is an Associate Professor of English at the University of Puget Sound, where she teaches courses in contemporary Visual and Cultural Studies, we well as nineteenth-century British Literature. Her current research explores the articulation and reception of illness stories in non- traditional narrative forms, including comics, film, and online media. Her essay on the fraught world of illness blogging, “Virtuous Community: Online Storytelling in Leroy Sievers’s My Cancer,” was recently published in Storytelling, Self, Society. She has begun work on a graphic novel/memoir.