Heatley powerfully demonstrates that when lives are messiest, art remains cathartic, even redemptive.



A family steeped in 12-step recovery risks addiction to 12-step programs.

Heatley (My Brain Is Hanging Upside Down, 2008), who has provided illustrations for the New York Times, New Yorker, McSweeney’s, and other publications, pairs deceptively simple drawings with transparently direct text. Though the book is divided into 12 chapters, it doesn’t really involve working all 12 steps until the last. Before that, Heatley delves deeply into a life that is as complex and messy as any, that refuses to untangle through easy epiphanies, and that doesn’t resolve itself the way readers may anticipate. Throughout his life, the artist has been drawn to—and suspicious of—12-step programs since his parents were involved in numerous ones, often simultaneously. He heard the jargon and witnessed the results as his mother transformed herself (at least temporarily) through Overeaters Anonymous and changed the family’s dynamic enough to divorce his father, who had issues with debt (and at least borderline sexual abuse of his sons). At various times, the author was addicted to pornography, spending, shoplifting, and attracting romantic attention. He and his wife fought frequently, most often over their financial instability but about his various 12-step programs as well, which she felt he was using as an escape from domestic tension. He felt he was becoming addicted to those arguments. He saw his brother walk a thin line between spiritual fervor and madness, and he resented the way that his mother responded to every complication in any of their lives with 12-step bromides. He supplemented his programs with therapy, and he found counseling and 12-stepping to be at odds with each other. “It was clear to me that I had a spiritual disease,” he admits, yet finding the cure proved confusing. This graphic narrative, rich in detail and reflection, shouldn’t be read quickly in one sitting but rather savored.

Heatley powerfully demonstrates that when lives are messiest, art remains cathartic, even redemptive.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-0-375-42540-0

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Pantheon

Review Posted Online: July 3, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.


The Book of Genesis as imagined by a veteran voice of underground comics.

R. Crumb’s pass at the opening chapters of the Bible isn’t nearly the act of heresy the comic artist’s reputation might suggest. In fact, the creator of Fritz the Cat and Mr. Natural is fastidiously respectful. Crumb took pains to preserve every word of Genesis—drawing from numerous source texts, but mainly Robert Alter’s translation, The Five Books of Moses (2004)—and he clearly did his homework on the clothing, shelter and landscapes that surrounded Noah, Abraham and Isaac. This dedication to faithful representation makes the book, as Crumb writes in his introduction, a “straight illustration job, with no intention to ridicule or make visual jokes.” But his efforts are in their own way irreverent, and Crumb feels no particular need to deify even the most divine characters. God Himself is not much taller than Adam and Eve, and instead of omnisciently imparting orders and judgment He stands beside them in Eden, speaking to them directly. Jacob wrestles not with an angel, as is so often depicted in paintings, but with a man who looks not much different from himself. The women are uniformly Crumbian, voluptuous Earth goddesses who are both sexualized and strong-willed. (The endnotes offer a close study of the kinds of power women wielded in Genesis.) The downside of fitting all the text in is that many pages are packed tight with small panels, and too rarely—as with the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah—does Crumb expand his lens and treat signature events dramatically. Even the Flood is fairly restrained, though the exodus of the animals from the Ark is beautifully detailed. The author’s respect for Genesis is admirable, but it may leave readers wishing he had taken a few more chances with his interpretation, as when he draws the serpent in the Garden of Eden as a provocative half-man/half-lizard. On the whole, though, the book is largely a tribute to Crumb’s immense talents as a draftsman and stubborn adherence to the script.

An erudite and artful, though frustratingly restrained, look at Old Testament stories.

Pub Date: Oct. 19, 2009

ISBN: 978-0-393-06102-4

Page Count: 224

Publisher: Norton

Review Posted Online: May 20, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2009

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Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.


A new life and book arise from the ashes of a devastating California wildfire.

These days, it seems the fires will never end. They wreaked destruction over central California in the latter months of 2018, dominating headlines for weeks, barely a year after Fies (Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow?, 2009) lost nearly everything to the fires that raged through Northern California. The result is a vividly journalistic graphic narrative of resilience in the face of tragedy, an account of recent history that seems timely as ever. “A two-story house full of our lives was a two-foot heap of dead smoking ash,” writes the author about his first return to survey the damage. The matter-of-fact tone of the reportage makes some of the flights of creative imagination seem more extraordinary—particularly a nihilistic, two-page centerpiece of a psychological solar system in which “the fire is our black hole,” and “some veer too near and are drawn into despair, depression, divorce, even suicide,” while “others are gravitationally flung entirely out of our solar system to other cities or states, and never seen again.” Yet the stories that dominate the narrative are those of the survivors, who were part of the community and would be part of whatever community would be built to take its place across the charred landscape. Interspersed with the author’s own account are those from others, many retirees, some suffering from physical or mental afflictions. Each is rendered in a couple pages of text except one from a fellow cartoonist, who draws his own. The project began with an online comic when Fies did the only thing he could as his life was reduced to ash and rubble. More than 3 million readers saw it; this expanded version will hopefully extend its reach.

Drawings, words, and a few photos combine to convey the depth of a tragedy that would leave most people dumbstruck.

Pub Date: March 5, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-4197-3585-1

Page Count: 160

Publisher: Abrams ComicArts

Review Posted Online: Nov. 26, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2018

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