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Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, & Me

by on December 17, 2012

Ellen Forney has found her marbles.

Ellen Forney’s graphic memoir, Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo & Me, is now available from Gotham Books (ISBN-10: 1592407323; ISBN-13: 978-1592407323). Gut-wrenchingly honest, Forney’s memoir not only tells the story of her struggle with bipolar disorder, but also documents her travels along the turbulent road of creativity versus insanity.

Forney considers herself a cartoonist, although she is okay with being called an illustrator and artist. Her work of graphic creations was in The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-time Indian, written by Sherman Alexie. She also drew the book I Love Led Zeppelin and Lust: Kinky Online Personal Ads. According to her website, she also provides a range of personal drawing projects such as wedding invitations and portraits.

There’s a trend now for books, novels, short stories, etc., to be turned into graphic novels. But this graphic book is still unique. While words are used, Marbles also uses thin and thick lines, light and dark panels, and varying brush strokes to emphasize the emotions of Forney’s diverse situations. Combine the words and the images and it’s a double pow!

As the memoir depicts her dances with mania and all the creativity it incites, it also shows the crash and the feelings of uselessness: the mania creates and the depression destroys. Once Forney goes to a psychiatrist, she begins to notice the patterns of highs and lows. But that is only the beginning. What follows are years of trying different medications for the disorder, all with varying levels of effectiveness and side effects. And during all of this, there’s a consistent concern Forney has for sustaining her creativity. Would the meds help or harm the muse that allowed her creations?

In the end, she was able to accept that her creativity flowed better with the help of the right medication. “Stability is good for my creativity,” says Forney.

Forney found public libraries to be invaluable in her work as a cartoonist as well as in learning about her diagnosis. “Awesome,” is how the author describes her local library. As the memoir depicts, she used the library often to review art books which are fairly expensive if bought individually. The Seattle Public Library also provided resources for learning about not only her diagnosis but also the many artists who are now thought to have had a mental illness, such as Sylvia Plath, Georgia O’Keefe, and William Styron.

In addition to her cartoon creations, Forney teaches at Cornish College of the Arts. In teaching the basics, she has found a new appreciation for art and comics through her students. “For me to deconstruct and construct comics helps me. Keeping in touch with the building blocks helps bring something fresh.” Her enthusiastic students help inspire her as well.

Forney hopes that the book will provide support and comfort to those suffering with mental disorders, as well as be an educational tool for those who do not have the disorder. But in the end, she wants her memoir to be “a good read!”


Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir: New York: Gotham Books. 2012.

Lust: Kinky Online Personal Ads from Seattle’s The Stranger: Fantagraphics Books: 2008.

The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian, by Sherman Alexie, Art by Ellen Forney by Sherman Alexie: Little, Brown. 2007.

 I Love Led Zepplin: Fantagraphics Books: 2006.

MONKEY FOOD: The Complete “I Was Seven in ’75” Collection: Fantagraphics Books. 1999.


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