Sunday, April 19, 2015

Mom's Cancer Notes: Page 1

As I celebrated in my previous post, the first page of Mom's Cancer was posted to today (actually tomorrow, but I got a jump on it from the Pacific Time Zone). Let me introduce it to new readers:

Mom's Cancer is a true story about my mother's diagnosis and treatment for metastatic lung cancer, and how that affected our family. I first serialized it as a webcomic, posting a few pages at a time online. At first I posted anonymously; my family didn't even know. After a few months the comic went viral, I told my family, and they took the news pretty well. Fortunately, Mom loved it. If she hadn't, I would've killed the whole thing. The webcomic went on to win the first Eisner Award for Best Digital Comic and be acquired for print by Abrams Books. It's gotten some very gratifying recognition, brought me many new opportunities and good friends, and is remarkably still in print. Now, about a decade after I created it, Mom's Cancer returns to the Web.

When Universal's John Glynn and I first talked about putting Mom's Cancer online, one of his ideas was to annotate the story with sketches, drafts, and my reflections on its creation. Terrific! But given how the site is set up, it'd be difficult to add such material without interrupting the flow of the story.

So I'll try to do that here. My plan is to add a comment to each week's comic linking readers to these posts (although I don't expect to have something to say about every page). Anyone interested in the behind-the-scenes process stuff can find it here, those uninterested won't be bothered. We'll see how that works.

I briefly considered setting up a separate blog for the purpose, but already have more balls online than I can juggle. These posts will all be labeled "Mom's Cancer Notes" in the right-column index so that, as they accumulate, they'll be easy to corral with a click.

Page 1
The story begins with Mom and Kid Sis watching a bad movie. I always felt a little guilty naming the culprit (the 2002 "Time Machine" film) but that's what it was and it truly was a bad movie.

This page establishes one of Mom's Cancer's conceits from the start: the story's mostly black and white, but anything that is extraordinary, fantastic, subjective or unreal--in this case the little blue spots floating around Mom's head--appears in color.

It took about a year and a half to complete Mom's Cancer. In that time, the way I drew the characters drifted and evolved, Mom most of all. That's pretty common in comic strips: Snoopy and Garfield changed a lot over the years. In Mom's case, the change was so noticeable that when it came time to turn my webcomic into a book, I had to go back and redraw her to match how she'd look later:

Original Mom at left, redrawn Mom at right.

Thank you for reading Mom's Cancer. Please feel free to leave any questions or comments here or at and I'll respond as best I can.


Walter Underwood said...

It is interesting to adjust representations in a nonfiction comic.

One thing, when Tina was reading this, she stopped at the page where you are slouched in a comfy chair and she said, "That is exactly how Brian sits!"

Brian Fies said...

"Adjust representation in a nonfiction comic" is an interesting phrase that opens several worm cans. What's true or not, what's representational or not? One reason my publisher and I didn't put a photo of me or my family on the print "Mom's Cancer" is we didn't want readers flipping back and forth comparing the "real people" with their cartoons. All that said, "Mom's Cancer" is as journalistically accurate as I could make it, based on detailed notes I took at the time. I don't know if it's relevant that my mother may not have actually had a striped shirt in her closet.

Tina knew me best when I was a lot younger. If anything, I've grown even slouchier.....!

Walter Underwood said...

As a photographer, I know how to adjust a document to tell different stories.

There is objective truth and subjective truth. Surprisingly, both may require editing.

At one point, my mom wore a lot of shirt dresses, but I have no idea of when that was.

It was a solid decision to not include photos, though I would like to meet the conspirators at some point.