If the name sounds familiar, Kriota Willberg writes the Get A Grip column here at The Beat. In Silver Wire, Willberg’s self-published work of graphic medicine that dates back to research she did during a residency at the New York Academy of Medicine Library, she focuses on sutures and ligatures, both medical procedures that involve stitching into a human body.
Like tattoos, stitches find humans taking an outside skill and applying it to their own bodies, melding physical work with the self. As Willberg researches, aspects of the medical procedures become linked with aspects of the physical labor. Stitch techniques are related, whether in cloth or human flesh. And yet, Willberg notices, historically surgical work is considered something for men, sewing something for women.
Willberg, already adept at sewing, seeks to expand her knowledge and skill into the medical version and reaches out to her friend, a doctor, to guide her. While Willberg does her work on bananas and grapefruit, she extends our knowledge, walking the reader through the historical circumstances of what she is learning. She also uses these moments to talk about changes in these methods and the surgeons related to this process.
But Willberg offers so much more than a dry history, and much of what she brings to the comic is accompanied by philosophical imperatives. Asking questions about the ethics of past research that benefits us, she shows how we are all entangled in these stitches. They kept our ancestors alive and we benefit from them today. They are a direct connection to people who suffered in the quest to save lives, and we owe it to to them to know a more about what they were sacrificed for, and to question our involvement.
In 29 pages, Willberg covers all that with beautiful artwork and also provides copious notes and citations. It’s cartooning and research done with the skills of a surgeon, and while Willberg has made her material available online for free — as Heidi pointed out last month — I’d urge you to purchase a hard copy of Silver Wire for your own reference and appreciation, and also to encourage Willberg to create more informative and friendly medical work.
Shing Yin Khor admits midway through The American Dream that they sees this journey on Route 66 as one to find themself. It’s a trope that travel writers use, they’re a travel writer, and they’re good with all that. But as a Malaysian immigrant, finding themself is linked with figuring out what America is. Not the America they live in, Los Angeles, but the rest of it. And so Khor does a brave thing. They uproot themself from their life and asks the question, “Where exactly have I decided to live?”
That they decided to answer it on the fabled Route 66 surprised me, since my impression is that it was a relic of the past. People barely travel on the ground let alone beloved old roads that don’t give them the speed they need, right? According to the book, it is still much-traveled. As Khor reveals, a huge portion of the Route 66 traffic belongs to bikers and RVers and, from what I can tell, both those, these days, equals retirees — though not entirely, and it’s heartening to see that they met some vacationing families and foreign tourists. And in asking themself where they live, and achieving the goal of finding themself, it’s these people that are going to answer that more than any of the places they visit.
Khor visits what Route 66 has to offer and this part of the book is fun. Quirky outposts and kitschy tourist attractions and crumbling relics of historical interest. It’s all kinda still there, mixed with newfangled patches of eerie self-awareness, and they’re fun. But these are artifices meant to symbolize something of the moment, not be something forever.
That’s what’s so strange about Route 66, and probably any other touring road in the country. Decay sits on top of kitsch, which sits on top of tragedy. It’s the American story. We try to move past the ugliness with diversions, but since we embrace the new shiny thing — the thing that always functions as the kitsch — the old thing, the old kitsch, crumbles into something sad. And there’s nothing worse than something sad seeking to divert from something horrible. But that’s what you get on these old roads.
The people are the difference, whether they’re embracing change or digging their heels in. Route 66 records many instances of both and as Khor tries to find definition for themself within this highway, it’s the people that manage to offer them any, not the tourist attractions.