The Story of My Tits: Initmate, Jocular, and Poignant Storytelling

This article was originally published at Comics Bulletin on October 21, 2015.

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The Story of My Tits is a perfectly titled comic; it conveys a sense of familiarity and humor, while simultaneously alluding to the personal and sensitive subject matter of the narrative. In The Story of My Tits author and cartoonist Jennifer Hayden walks readers through the course of her life focusing on three battles with cancer, including her own. It is a memoir that, although it has an unchanging structure, ducks and weaves through tones like a story told by an old college comrade catching up over drinks. In that casual blending of comedy and tragedy, Hayden manages to create a truly special comic.

Hayden discovered the comics medium after her diagnosis with breast cancer, and transitioned from a career in writing and illustration to creating comics after surviving. Her relative newness to the form is difficult to notice, given the strength of her prose and knack for crafting loving, detailed drawings. The entire comic is presented in a static four panel grid though, opting to focus on what is inside each set of borders, rather than playing with the page itself. This consistent design keeps readers interest in each unit of the story, and every one functions like a stanza capably conveying itself.

The four panel structure creates an intimate reading experience, keeping readers focused on each beat of the story. Hayden moves between story beats with the rhythm of a slow walk on a fall afternoon. It doesn’t matter whether she is engaging with the insanity of college love stories or the heartbreaking recognition of a parent’s mortality or fallibility, each new footstep lands easily and effortlessly propels the next.

The Story of My Tits reads more like an affable audiobook or a one woman stage show. The text that runs across the top of each panel is that form of mouth to ear storytelling. It is comfortably casual, relating a diverse set of experience with humor and familiarity. Hayden is almost joyful in her ability to share in captions, never skirting the mistakes and troubles from her own life. This pacing and ease of reading makes for an experience that moves very quickly. More than 300 pages will flicker by, as even the chapter divides feel like poor stopping points when you can always consume just four more panels.

Hayden packs a lot into each panel though, making it worth reader’s while to pause or return and examine backgrounds. Hers’ is clearly a cartoonist’s style creating memorable characters with a minimal use of lines. Often her own wild, long hair or the receding line of her husband’s brow contain more details than their own faces. She only requires a few specific notes (e.g. a sharp elongated nose and almond-like jaw) to make a face both clear and lively. Drawings of remembered settings are far more intense. Crosshatching darkness and the shading of roof tiles reflects a return to these places of intense joy and sorrow. Little jokes emerge in these landscapes like faces on the moon or a small bird, reminiscent of Tezuka’s silly attempts to lighten the mood.

The emphasis on easily recognized characters in the foreground of each panel is central to Hayden crafting visual motifs that span the story. Strong, animalistic images like a rhinoceros, lone wounded deer, or the baring of fangs all link multiple story segments. These not only allow Hayden to easily callback to similar feelings or moments, but to weave her wandering story into a greater thematic whole. It is possible to get lost in each new adventure within her life, forgetting about her courtship with Jim when they are finally having their first child. Yet when they fight, the simple changes in their depiction lock the two segments together far more efficiently than any prose.

Throughout The Story of My Tits Hayden touches upon themes of survival, learning, impermanence, and discovery. They are broad concepts focused through the lens of her and her family’s encounters with cancer. It is the details in these stories that make them universal though. Whether or not readers have personally survived cancer or watched a loved one fight the battle, they cannot deny the humanity found within Hayden’s tales and how they connect to broader struggles of finding meaning and growing throughout life.

Even as the ending begins to sprawl and lose the central thread of Hayden’s tale, The Story of My Tits never really loses its sense of momentum or friendliness. So when the comic finally arrives upon its epilogue, any instants that did not connect within this enormous tapestry of one woman’s life are instantly forgotten. In the final panels, Hayden manages to pare back so much into a strong central thesis that pulls on the parts of her memoir that will draw readers in no matter their personal experience with the material.

The Story of My Tits is defined as much by its broadness as its specificity. These stories are Hayden’s and are immersed in details bound to make readers both laugh and cringe. Yet by sharing these intensely personal narratives, Hayden has exposed a piece of her soul and allowed outsiders to find comfort and understanding.

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About chasemagnett

Chase is a mild-mannered finance guy by day and a raving comics fan by night. He has been reading comics for more than half of his life (all 23 years of it). After graduating from the University of Nebraska–Lincoln with degrees in Economics and English, he has continued to research comics while writing articles and reviews online. His favorite superhero is Superman and he'll accept no other answers. Don't ask about his favorite comic unless you're ready to spend a day discussing dozens of different titles.
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