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When comics were invented at the end of the 19th century they were conceived as entertainment for adults. Then, somewhere along the way, they became associated with juvenilia and adolescent male fantasy. The last 25 years has seen such a marked reversal, with the rise of the graphic novel, that the kind of half-apologetic introduction I am now writing has become something of a cliché, at least to advocates of a medium grown so much in stature it is attracting serious attention from cultural theorists. Given the growing number of autobiographical works dealing with the experience of illness and disability, it seems high time that scholars studying the boundaries between literature and medicine should pay it some heed.
Blue pills: a positive love story is a graphic novel by Swiss cartoonist Frederik Peeters. A gently philosophical tale of relationships, love and the difficulties faced after a HIV/AIDS diagnosis, it garnered great acclaim in its original French and was published in English last year. It is, by accounts, an autobiographical work, in which ‘Fred’ relates the story of his growing love for Cati, a vivacious and adventurous girl with a young son. As the couple become closer, Cati tells Fred that she and her 4-year-old are HIV positive, plunging him into a momentary confusion of “passion, pity, desire, flight, rejection, possession, punishment [and] sadness” (p35), a moment depicted cleverly by the loose brushwork as he stares, frozen, ‘to camera’. The artwork, it has …
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