By Dustin Cabeal
Occasionally I stumble upon books that are so powerful and moving that they stay with me long after I’ve completed reading them. Lighter Than My Shadow is one such book as I found myself thinking about it for days and days on end before writing this review. The last book that did something like that was Seeds. Whereas Seeds was a great book for anyone that was going through cancer or had a family member, Lighter Than My Shadow is something completely different.
Comics are amazing when you think about them. They can touch people and relate to people in ways that books, movies, TV and video games simply can’t. They are just not the same. If you were to make this story as a movie or show, so much would be lost in the adaptation. Because comics can be art and be great stories at the same time. They don’t have to worry about a killer third act or to develop every character that shows up in the tale.
Lighter Than My Shadow is written and illustrated by Katie Green, and it’s also about her life. What’s particularly interesting is that in a circular way the entire story is what lead her to art, but to simplify that as the point of the story is false and misguided. The story is about so many things that it deserves better than a review to explain it. The story begins with Katie becoming and struggling with anorexia. It is a long story so while getting the gist of the first of many things that Katie deals with in her life, it’s important to understand that it’s not as simple as just saying it’s about anorexia.
It covers a lot of what was in Katie’s mind, from self-image to bullying, to self-worth. These are just some of the things that go on in her mind. Because it’s a visual medium Green is able to illustrate a visual representation of what her mind felt like, and this comes in the form of squiggly clouds. They are strangely complex clouds and not just a random doodle on the page.
The story follows Katie all the way to college or uni as it's called in the story. There she deals with two new occurrences in her life. Her father takes her to an alternative medicine “doctor” who helps relieve the stress of her mind. Now, usually I wouldn’t spoil a story for you, but I feel that the more information about this story that’s out there the better. Again, that’s what is wonderful about comics, that they can relate in ways other mediums cannot. Katie is molested by the “doctor” who systematically takes apart her relationship with her parents, her friends, and her boyfriend. On top of this, she starts binge eating as a coping mechanism, while still technically dealing with anorexia at the same time. We’re still not even done, but I think these main three things that Katie deals with are the most important to mention for anyone that might relate to them.
The story had to be a difficult one to tell and to illustrate because of how difficult everything was to go through. I’m grateful that Green published it because personally, I think a lot of people will benefit from reading this story, if not for themselves then perhaps someone in their life going through anything remotely similar.
The writing and narration are strong. Green knows just how much dialogue is enough and when to pull back and let the artwork do the talking. All the dialogue has a natural flow to it and is quite believable. The narration is smooth and fades to the background. It becomes your own inner monologue which makes it all the more emotional.
The artwork is clean and detailed. It is and isn’t in black and white. I don’t know how to describe it, but it’s like grayscale, but not exactly. It’s difficult to describe it because it looks more like the paper stock, but that’s impossible because the characters are lighter than the backgrounds. There were some minor things with the artwork, perspectives and angles were sometimes off, especially towards the start of the story. The characters aren’t quite varied enough to always know which supporting character is which, but it’s nothing detrimental to the story. It’s just things you’re likely to notice.
I dare not say this is an “important” work. I kind of think that undercuts the skill and craft that Green has put into this graphic novel telling her story. Saying it’s important is like saying the subject matter is more important than the story or art and it is not. I have no idea if this is Green’s first graphic novel, but it is incredibly impressive both with the writing and visual storytelling. To think she almost ended up a biologist is crazy. I’m glad she came out on the other side and dared to create something as relatable and thought-provoking as Lighter Than My Shadow. You don’t have to relate to the subject matter, I had nothing from my personal experiences to pull from, but on a basic human level I was able to relate, empathize, sympathize and ultimate root for Katie throughout the entire story.
Lighter Than My Shadow
Creator: Katie Green
Publisher: Lion Forge Comics