The graphic memoir is a narrative genre that uses the visual comic strip format as a medium to convey a personal account. More specifically, Dunlap-Shohl uses his expertise as a cartoonist to convey his journey through becoming diagnosed and living with Parkinson’s Disease in his “pathography”, My Degeneration. Particularly, the use of visual metaphors and personification allow Dunlap-Shohl to communicate the different aspects of Parkinson’s Disease in an easily digestable and relatable manner to the reader.
On pages 24-29, Parkinson’s Disease manifests itself as a nefarious green man dressed in business attire with the arrogance of a businessman and gives Dunlap-Shohl a visit. Instead of seizing all of his assets, Parkinson’s Disease instead attempts to seize Dunlap-Shohl’s life, from his motor skills, to his job, relationships, and sense of self. By creating a physical representation of Parkinson’s Disease, Dunlap-Shohl allows the reader to envision what it’s like to have Parkinson’s. It’s hard to imagine and convey life without precise motor skills, but the sheer gravity of the fear associated with it can be relatable through a businessman trying to screw your life over and take everything from you. This also creates an image of a villain or something to fight and “beat”, similar to how people say they’re “fighting” or “beating” a disease.
On pages 86-89, Dunlap-Shohl literally takes on this fight through playing interactive video games and creates a fantasy of him boxing the aforementioned physical manifestation of Parkinson’s Disease. The various treatments and lifestyle changes Parkinson’s patients can take to try to “fight” the disease. However, there are limitations to this personification, as in reality, there is no green man to beat up and instead, Parkinson’s patients are fighting an abstract, nonphysical disease, allowing the reader to understand the struggle a long drawn out “fight” against Parkinson’s can be, as treatments improve and patients are living longer and longer.
On pages 90-92, Dunlap-Shohl creates another metaphor for Parkinson’s through Philippe Petit’s World Trade Center walk. Dunlap-Shohl conveys the perceived loneliness of the disease as only the Parkinson’s patient has to walk the tightrope, but taking another perspective at the disease, the patient is surrounded by a support group of family, friends, and medical professionals to help their journey through living with Parkinson’s.
- Dunlap-Shohl, Peter. My Degeneration: a Journey through Parkinson’s. The Pennsylvania State University Press, 2016.