Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2011/ Driven by Lemons

Driven By Lemons

Driven by Lemons is a comic book/graphic novel by Joshua W Cotter. When I picked it up from the Kitchener Public Library I thought it was in the "pretentious artsy" genre of comic books. I guess I was right -- the art is hand-drawn and occasionally unpolished, the narrative is disjointed, and there is not much explicit humour. But unlike most books of this genre Driven by Lemons struck a chord.

Although it does not become apparent until the middle of the book, this is a book about hallucination (possibly caused by schizophrenia or a manic episode). In my opinion it does a better job of helping us see through the eyes of hallucination than anything I have read before. The narrative and pictures dance between insight and incoherence. The book presents pages of doodles and textures that I kept analyzing as if they contained patterns I could understand. What made sense? What was nonsense? I could not tell. The primary colours of this book are red and blue and black, which occur in many different contexts. Is that significant? Why is the primary character a bunny? What is the meaning of the fox? This book is confusing, which is part of the point.

I don't think that mental illness affects our brains uniformly, and part of the reason perception disorders are so terrifying is because the parts of our brains that work right have to deal with the parts that don't. What would I do if I was suddenly unable to talk? What if I was able to discern patterns that nobody else could see or even perceive? That's what genius is, after all -- the ability to see and understand things to which the rest of us are oblivious. Some people are geniuses, and some people are just hallucinating.

I think the format of comic books serves the subject matter well. Sometimes the drawings are whimsical. Sometimes they are realistic. Sometimes they are abstract. Sometimes words matter. I found the drawings helped me visualize the hallucinations more effectively. Philip K. Dick managed to help us experience mental illness with words alone (Dr Bloodmoney is a good example of this), but it's not easy. I don't think the task of depicting insanity is much easier in comic books, but I suspect that comics have a better chance of succeeding because they have a richer toolkit.

I don't know whether I recommend this book or not. Probably I have ruined it for you by describing it and setting up expectations. Probably my own experiences and prior reading played a big role in why this book touched me. But touch me it did, and I am hoping that by documenting my experience here I won't forget this book as quickly as everything else I mindlessly consume.