Keep a steady eye on one page or another from Stitches and you can feel the urgency and sincerity. For example: David is six and he is lying on the floor with his paper and crayons before him. He’s in his element, his world. He’s already feeling uncertain about his home life. In that moment, he has his crayons and he knows how to draw better than any other kid on the block.
David Small gathers up critical details along with the lighter ones as he pursues his own Rememberance of Things Past. He is documenting as well as exploring. He is going as deep as he can go for things to make sense to him. In the process, random moments in time find their proper place in the story: his mother’s secret language; his sliding in his socks across a hospital’s slick floor; his Alice in Wonderland make-believe world; his recognition that a mysterious friend of the family brings out something unusual in his mother. In this way of recalling the past, Stitches is most like Maus and Persepolis, the only two graphic novels that most people outside of comics are aware of.
As Small states in an interview with Newsarama, he does not consider himself a writer, at least not a great writer. Well, it’s no easy hat trick to summon up the past and bring it to life in vivid detail. Even when it’s just drawings we see, Small often creates bits of poetry. It’s nice that he does not take himself too seriously. Considering the content, it requires a sure and steady hand not to have it overwhelm the creator. This is a story about how Small discovered, at age eleven, a growth in his throat and his parents, who had the money, chose to wait three years before removing it. The neglect and misjudgment does not stop there. Small gives us a clear picture without his self-pity or any sense of revenge.
It’s hard to come out and call Stitches “groundbreaking” when you consider all the other exemplary works in comics. The last two columns of Comics Grinder alone provide excellent examples: The Squirrel Machine and The Winter Men. But, the fact is that Stitches is an exceptional book and it can be called groundbreaking in certain aspects. Placed alongside Maus and Persepolis, Stitches provides the general reader with a great leap forward in lyrical, expressive and beautiful drawing to be found in a “graphic novel,” something that Maus and Persepolis are not geared toward and is outside the scope of either book’s ambitions. Yes, at the end of the day, drawing counts for quite a lot.
Stitches is on many a critic’s short list for best comics of the year. It also holds the distinction of being only the second graphic novel to be nominated for a National Book Award. The first was in 2006 for Gene Luen Yang’s American Born Chinese. So, it’s good to have Stitches in the spotlight offering a strong story along with strong art and that’s a groundbreaking step for comics in the eyes of a mass readership. And for those of us with more discerning eyes, I still believe that Stitches holds its own among the best books out there.