With striking style and candor, Manila illustrator and indie comics artist Elle grapples with the intergenerational guilt brought on by an uneasy convergence of medicine and politics in their autobiographical comic Cicatrix.
Discovering a strange, hard lump below their left ear, a young Filipino--presumably the author, but unnamed for much of the narrative--falls into the grips of an Internet-enabled anxiety that is tinged with guilt: "Every time I get sick, I always feel that it's karmic payback," they confide. This vague disquiet comes into sharper focus when they visit a doctor who, they discover, has been selected by their grandparents for his connection to the widow of Ferdinand Marcos. The grandparents prospered greatly under Marcos's repressive, U.S.-backed dictatorship in the Philippines, a fact that engenders the feelings of shame and resentment with which the protagonist must now contend. And while inherited guilt can--perhaps must--be channeled toward resistance, this only compounds the burden: "I'm ashamed that guilt feels like a duty."
Unfurling a far-reaching meditation on complicity and responsibility in the face of a vast machine of imperial violence, Elle keeps Cicatrix grounded by showing how politics can manifest in the most intimate locales: the family, the body. The lump, abstracted as a floating red circle, makes for a surprisingly impactful visual motif that, in concert with Elle's bold compositions, lends cohesion to the narrative's personal and political dimensions. That such a slim volume could feel so expansive is a testament to the author's subtle command of sequential storytelling. --Theo Henderson, bookseller at Ravenna Third Place Books, Seattle, Wash.