When (fictional) Susie is initially diagnosed with lung cancer, she gains a wise cracking, ass kicking super powered conscience and motivating force called Perrywinkle who appears to her and helps to guide her through the battles with chemo and beyond. As you would expect from a superhero inspired tale this means Perrywinkle takes on the villainous forces of Susie’s illness which manifests themselves as evil germs and ultimately an eight legged spider villainess which she battles with the aid of chemo infused super powers!
But it’s not all superhero action. Susie also draws on her personal experiences of coping with illness to create a really powerful and emotionally complex read. It’s a bit like Mike Garley’s Late Fees in the way it blends genre based action with a highly personal tale to create a unique and original take on the story (except this one has fewer samurais!). In Perrywinkle there is as much of the day to day trials of coping with cancer, the effect it has on personal relationships and the tribulations of treatment that Susie receives, as there is superhero action. And it is this which is the more interesting and informative part of the story and gives the books it’s real core.
However, it’s not all serious and by mixing tons of humour in with the superhero tropes Susie also makes Perrywinkle a really enjoyable and fun read – which you might not expect when you hear about the subject matter. By not going down the doom and gloom auto-bio route of say, Harvey Pekar, Susie instead makes Perrywinkle very readable and as such it should appeal to a much wider and more diverse audience than if it had just been a more traditional slice of life tale and that’s great because this is a really powerful story to hear.
For this new collection, Susie has redrawn the artwork from her webcomic as she now becomes more confident with her abilities. Her artwork has a very 90s inspired style, with shades of Michael Turner, J Scott Campbell and Jim Lee in there, which again makes the book feel like something very different from the usual hand drawn auto-bio books. However, with this art style comes the challenge to live up to those lofty comparisons. As with Reckless Hero’s work (which has a similar 90s infused style), the bar is so high that it is easy to pick faults in how the book doesn’t quite have the slickness of those inspirations. Some of the figure work is a little inconsistent and some of the faces feel a little repetitive and generic, and the whole 90s style can be a bit too style over substance in some places. However for a debut offering it is very solid, and in places the computer colours help mask some of these inconsistencies to create a very polished and slick looking product.
Ultimately though, it is the story which makes Perrywinkle worth picking up. It manages to capture Susie’s infectious and positive attitude, as well as focusing on a strong and well depicted female lead (who has a look which many cancer survivors can identify with). All this makes for a personal and informative story, but one which doesn’t ask you to pity or feel sorry for the writer. Perrywinkle is a triumphant tale of overcoming adversity (apologies if that’s a bit of a spoiler!) and we hope that Susie can find a way to continue Perrywinkle’s adventures in the future (although we hope not at the expense of her health!). However if she doesn’t then this debut offering feels like a fantastic and complete story that informs as much as it entertains and manages to create a highly entertaining read about a very serious subject.
The Review: Perry Winkle started life as a webcomic. Susie then took the decision, the perfectionist she clearly is, to redraw it and put it out as a print comic, which will soon be available to buy.
Cards on the table. Susie is a pal of mine. But we first met after I got a chance to read the first half of the story and later interview her on a panel at the Leamington Spa Comic Con earlier this year. I am always impressed with this woman. She is not only brave but also talented and this comic attests to both these facts.
The comic (in my humble opinion) reflects not only the refusal of Susie to be beaten by the illness but also that cheeky sense of humour that imbeds itself into the pages. (A moment when Chris points out that his wife just farted always raises a smile).
The way that the story is told has a feel of the traditional, the bond we have developed over the years with those super-heroes that we are used to reading. The creator weaves the elements of the illness affecting a couple into this trope and makes it much more personal by doing so.
This brings a familiar feel to the images that also, when required, smacks you in the face with moments and images of two people dealing with a life threatening illness. This is a real feat of artistic skill in my opinion.
The art style has a contemporary capes and cowls feel to it. There isn’t the usual use of overly melodramatic shadowed images or ponderous navel gazing. This is a pragmatic and practical look at dealing with a terrible event. It has style and an emotional wave that will crash down on to the reader.
Cancer is something that has touched many families and in reading this, I can’t help but feel emotional myself through the story that is told on the page. Susie manages to bring home the real and heartbreaking gut punch this disease is – and how it affects her and those around her. There is one panel that hits home with the impact a diagnosis and treatment has. Susie curls herself up into a ball and utters the line…
“I just lay there… vulnerable and broken…28 years old, life was going well, married, saving up for a deposit….why now?'”
Listen. I’m a man in his forties. I’ve seen a lot of shit over the years. But nothing has ever brought home the strength of an individual and that life can be emotional and fraught with danger to the undeserving than this comic has to me at every single reading.
As I put the book down, I am genuinely more than a little broken. This is a work of strength and humour and drama and tears and joy. What more can you ask. And at the end a big old ray of hope.
Susie Gander’s Perrywinkle comic was borne out of her own battle with cancer and having seen the “C” word hit my own family, I was keen to see how this would shape up.
It jumps straight into the heart of the whole situation as the wait for a diagnosis in among a series of hospital visits plays out , showing us the crushing weight that has when facing the unknown. The way Susie deals with this is just amazing as her own personal superhero arrives in the form of the titular Perrywinkle and the metaphorical fight of good vs evil takes things head-on.
The road ahead of Susie becomes a grey area that she faces alongside her husband, family and Perrywinkle with an immensely positive frame of mind. The chemo takes her physical form to the depths and having seen cancer & chemo first hand in my own family, this became a stark reminder of the type of struggle far too many people go through on a daily, weekly, yearly, lifetime basis. That being said, a creative outlet like comics helps capture the defiant streak in our central character and one of the most successful elements of this story is how she clings to normalcy in the face of the disease & the treatment.
While the story is very personal the creative process & the art that’s poured into it have the same feeling of purpose from Susie and this all becomes a heartfelt & thrilling ride that’s full of hope. Robin Jones sweeps in on lettering duties as he adds his typically professional skills to another important indie release. Empowering, hopeful and ultimately beautiful…..this is a superhero story wrapped in an autobiography with more honesty than you could ever imagine and further proof that not all heroes where capes.
ometimes great art comes from a cruel, hand-delivered fate from life; that huge jerk. In this case, the art comes from creator Susie Gander in the form of her semi-autobiographical journey entitled Perry Winkle. Gander shaped this comic as a means to cope with her diagnosis and treatment of Hodgkins Lymphoma, as well as raise awareness. Perry Winkle packs a powerful and emotional punch that readers will feel all the way through the last panel.
Perry Winkle begins in a hospital room. Fictional Susie and her husband Chris are waiting anxiously when suddenly, out pops Ms. Winkle herself, Susie’s confident cancer fighting superhero, ready to spring into action at a moment’s notice. When Susie receives her devastating diagnosis, Perry flies into action. While she dukes it out with the many-armed cancer demon, externally, Susie navigates treatment, its side effects and her own ability to stay strong during the fight of her life.
Potential readers, brace yourself for a whirlwind. You will laugh; you will cry; all the emotions will be exhausted. Perry Winkle is such a compelling comic. It dives immediately into the action and keeps the story tight and gripping until the bitter end. However, Perry Winkle is not all gloom and doom. Apparently, cancer has a funny side. One of the most hilarious moments comes when during treatment, Susie discovers her pee turns red. Then, she and her husband marvel at the red-tinted toilet bowl.
Among all the positives Perry Winkle has to offer, at its heart, its realness is stronger than any power at Perry Winkle’s disposal. It’s not just because this comic is based on the creator’s personal experience. Although, with all those treatment drugs pumped into her system, who knows if Gander actually saw a Perry Winkle in the flesh. After receiving her diagnosis, what does Susie do but the worse possible thing: Google her disease. I was internally screaming at that, but it came from a loving place. Who doesn’t feel the urge to Google any and all ailments, only to take the plunge down the WebMD rabbit hole to find cancer waiting at the bottom? This is not the sole relatable moment. Because of its authenticity, readers endure Gander’s pain, fear and courage right alongside her.
Aiding the realism of Perry Winkle is the artwork. The contemporary style fits this tale beautifully. The artwork, also done by Gander with lettering by Robin Jones, strikes balance between the funny moments and the serious, terrifying flashes. The face Susie makes when seeing Perry for the first time is absolutely priceless. The one true criticism is the narration blocks. They have a tendency of being a distraction. Through these chunks, Gander falls into the trap of telling instead of showing. The image featured above by itself makes a statement. However, the impact of that visual is undercut by Gander disclosing exactly what the picture shows. Let the artwork speak for itself.
Ultimately, any fan of fantastic storytelling needs this comic. Perry Winkle could most likely melt the heart of the coldest son of a bitch around. It’s raw, hilarious, mesmerizing… really, it’s all the feelings imaginable.