Sophia Wiedeman's The Deformitory is a small, black and white, graphic novel that adds just a touch of realism to its magical realism style. The comic was also her masters thesis for her MFA in Illustration from The School of Visual Arts. Last year, Wiedeman won a Xeric Foundation grant which she used for publication of The Deformitory. Diamond will feature it in its August Previews issue and it will be available in comic shops this fall.
It is a very interesting work, a thoughtful literary comic that I read several times, each time finding new angles to think about. It's hard not to give away the entire plot in discussing the work, but I am going to try. So a partial "spoiler" warning perhaps…
Wiedeman describes The Deformitory as a graphic novel about "a dormitory where the fantastically deformed seek supposed sanctuary." It's not a bad description of the place in the comic called the Deformitory, but the actual graphic novel is perhaps a small slice of everything that might be going on at this strange retreat for those afflicted with supernatural abnormalities. There are a number of characters Wiedeman introduces and weaves throughout the story, but it largely follows a young woman named Dolores. She seems at first to suffer from carpal tunnel syndrome in her wrists and hands, but then wakes to find her hands transformed into two talking claws she names Cornelius and Buster. Dolores seems to view her new "hands" as an improvement and for awhile enjoys life in the city with her new "friends". One panel of mockery from some passersby though is enough for Dolores to follow the suggestion of Cornelius and Buster to move to The Deformitory.
One can of course read this literally as a fantastic tale of hands-morphing-into-claws, but it is also possible to see all of the fantastic transformations as symbolic of one woman's internal struggles. What exactly she is struggling with then is not clear: loneliness, mental illness, a less fantastical deviation from "normality"… these are all possible interpretations of this comic. But as one reads through the comic it does make sense at this level — Dolores is dealing with problems, she retreats further into them which seemingly gives her confidence but when she uses this confidence to attempt to interact with the "normal" world things go inevitably wrong and she turns in anger on herself.
Wiedeman shows a lot of ability in the circular way she constructs the narrative of this book and while I'm not entirely convinced a tangent with Dolores and friends talking about the "Heart Monster" added all that much, another diversion to learn about the "Ugliest Mermaid" did add to the book's themes and nicely looped back into the main tale. Wiedeman also weaves a tale about a boy and a unicorn that bookends the rest of the comic. The unicorn story may not be directly connected to the rest of the comic (I actually wondered for awhile if the boy in the unicorn story was the same character as the man in Dolores' story, but it didn't seem to make sense after giving it some thought) but Wiedeman does show how it takes place geographically on the same map as the rest of the comic and perhaps that is further evidence that Wiedeman intends us to take the entire comic literally.
Her art, while fairly simple, is effective (perhaps even more so because of the smaller size of the book). In fact, she uses a cartoonish approach to the characters, except for a slightly more realistic rendering of one crucially violent scene between Dolores and another character. I think that was a nice choice there which helped to convey the magnitude of that scene. And overall I liked it, there's a lot of attention to detail in much of the book that rewards repeated reading.
Definitely a good read and I'd recommend looking out for it or checking in at Wiedeman's website for more details on where to find it.
Note: The creator provided a free copy to ComixTalk for review purposes.