When you’re a professional cartoonist for such magazines as The New Yorker, Glamour, and Modern Bride, what do you do when you are diagnosed with breast cancer? If you’re Marisa Acocella Marchetto, you chronicle your experience in a comic strip and publish it with the eye-catching title of Cancer Vixen: A True Story. From before her diagnosis through her recovery, Marchetto reveals both a comical and emotional ride through doctors’ offices, family gatherings, social events, and other confrontations as she battles against cancer while trying to maintain her sanity.
Living a life out of Sex and the City, Marchetto hangs out at all the hotspots and knows all the important people. When she isn’t fighting for another cartoon to be published, she’s meeting with her friends at the coolest bars or working in her overstuffed apartment. But a lump in her breast brings it all to a crashing halt. When she is labeled with cancer, she soon discovers her true friends, including her boyfriend-turned-husband, Silvano, a pillar of support throughout her ordeal.
In many ways, Marchetto’s tale mirrors other tales of survival by cancer patients. But she does something few dare do; she jokes about cancer and gets away with it. Much as ethnic groups can employ ethnic slurs or stereotypes without redress, so too can Marchetto add humor to her tale of cancer without any real resentment. But Marchetto’s tale shines not necessarily because of her story, but in the manner and format in which she relates her experience. While sticking mostly to straight chronology, she does go off on the occasional tangent that can alleviate tension or provide distraction during the more sober aspects of the story. Her best and most influential artwork comes when she goes beyond the typical panel structure. These transgressions often reveal the numerous forces working away at Marchetto during her journey. These pages also often include non-art material such as her “Surgical Pathology Report,” a receipt from Johnny Rockets, and a prayer card. These elements provide the authentic aspect that can occasionally be lost with her asides and jokes.
Beyond her battle with cancer, her learning about what’s important in life add depth to her story. She also addresses issues revolving around cancer such as support networks, facing death, and the recovery process after the cancer has been removed—all while trying to maintain a life and career.
Iconic and bright in color, the art grabs readers’ attention, while the contrasting color scheme is gentle on the reader’s eyes. The images conceptualized in her imagination about cancer and what her body is going through proves an effective way of relating cancer to those lucky enough not to have had direct or indirect experience with it. With over two hundred pages to tell her story, she makes ample use of her space to tell her story in a visually delicious style.
Cancer Vixen: A True Story does quite the balancing act of telling Marchetto’s story, providing a “light” side to cancer the and impact and effects of the disease. Marcetto reveals a mastery of storytelling in comic art that will come as a surprise and delight to readers.