A Sobering Comic: a book review.

Ever since I was a kid scouring the house for enough change to buy X-Men from my local convenience store I have loved graphic novels. I love books in general and believe wholeheartedly in the power of words. But when words and images combine in a storyboard, narrative comes alive. Action in still life.

Images also have the power to communicate important truths. As an adult, some of my favorite graphic novels include Spieglman’s Maus and Gene Luen Yang’s Boxers & Saints. These novels are both ‘historical,’ exploring holocaust and national tragedy (respectively).  Other Graphic-non-fiction explores politics and social activism (see for example, Joe Sacco’s Palestine). I have reviewed on my blog a few different graphic novels exploring religious themes: saints in Christian history, scripture, etc.

Sobriety: A Graphic Novel is different from the above. It too is graphic-non-fiction but its aim is therapeutic. Author Daniel Mauer is a former Lutheran minister and is an active participant in the recovery movement.  In Sobriety he combines his skill as a story teller with the art of Spencer Amundson to explore the power of the Twelve Steps.

Sobriety’s plot follows what I suspect the conversation in an Alcoholic Anonymous Meeting is like. Mauer’s characters come from diverse backgrounds. They each have their own understandings of God and spirituality and the stamp of addiction is different for each of them. Still each finds help through the twelve steps. The conversation begins after Larry the ‘old timer’ shares in a meeting how he found sobriety. From there a conversation ensues between he and Alex (a gay, Londoner atheist with a Heroin and Ecstasy addiction). Larry is also sought out by Hannah a college freshman who went from honor roll to serious addiction in her first year of college. Their circle widens to include Debby a single mom (a pill-popping-alcoholic) and Matt (a gang-banger and Meth addict). The conversation explores the significance of each of the Twelve Steps as each tries to work through their own issues and experience.

Mauer and Amundson periodically also insert themselves in the comic to visually display rock-bottom, to explore A.A’s founding or Victor Frankl’s Logotherapy. The multiple narrative makes for an interesting and engaging read and showcases the way A.A. (N.A. or other similar twelve-step-based groups) can help people work through their addiction and find the way to freedom.

I think this book has a good message. At times I wondered if addicts would find this novel a little bit  too preachy. I mean, I agree with the message and know people who have been helped through twelve-step programs, but it kind of felt in places like an overgrown Chick-tract (except it didn’t go off on an Antisemitic rant or say the pope was the Anti-Christ). But this is a general problem for all fictionalized-narratives put to didactic purposes. I think this is a good graphic novel to fet in the hands of someone getting into recovery because it covers many of the issues and questions addicts face, but it doesn’t quite reach as far as ‘great literature.’ I give it three-and-a-half stars.

Notice of material connection: I received this book free from the author or publisher via Speakeasy, in exchange for my honest review.

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I am a pastor, husband, father, instigator, pray-er, hoper, writer, trouble-maker, peacemaker, and friend. Who are you?

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