John Porcellino’s The Hospital Suite is the work of a master comic creator at the top of his game. The art is strikingly simple, the narrative nuanced, the conclusion open-ended.
This 250-page volume tells the story of Porcellino’s many health problems, both physical and mental.
Stricken with debilitating stomach pain in 1997, he takes readers from his first symptoms to his ultimate diagnosis and sort-of recovery.
On one level, it’s a medical journey. Accompanying that is Porcellino’s quest for spiritual solace.
The black-and-white drawings are reminiscent of the sparse lines found in Matt Groening’s "Life in Hell" strip. The book is text heavy, but the story compelling.
Anyone who’s had chronic health problems, or been a caregiver, will relate.
The Hospital Suite is more proof of how 2014 is shaping up to be a high-water mark for graphic novels. Along with Mimi Pond’s Over Easy and Bryan Lee O’Malley’s Seconds, there have never been so many excellent graphic novels on offer.
The central struggle here is one between medical science and the mysteries of the human body.
Ultimately, Porcellino finds solace when he realizes some medical issues are unknowable. They can’t be resolved, but — with the right attitude — you can learn to live with them. They will never be eliminated, only endured.
In the second half of the book, the artist/illustrator relates his lifelong struggle with obsessive-compulsive disorder.
In the hands of another creator, his own weird behaviour (opening doors with his foot, avoiding a street where a banana peel rests, wearing plastic gloves to drive) might come off as comedy, but in Porcellino’s telling, the true horror of his diseased mind shines through.
However, at no time do we lose sight of the narrator’s essential humanity.
This is why Porcellino can rightly claim to be the heir of Harvey Pekar, the trailblazer who popularized autobiographical books. Porcellino’s honesty makes him a fitting successor.