Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos
Written and illustrated by Lucy Knisley
Published by First Second
Kid Gloves is an inevitable masterpiece, what happens when a writer who loves research and childbirth gets pregnant. Pregnancy makes researchers out of everyone and Lucy Knisley cherry picks the tartest fruits. It is an alarming book, hilarious and precious and unafraid. Love letter and lesson. A journal.
The creation of Pal, Lucy Knisley’s story of childbirth, is told from way, way before giving birth to any children to and through it and then beyond. A worthy and delightful addition to the pantheon of modern writers setting the record straight on biology, health, and autonomy. The world of medicine built by men is done on a foundation of generally accepted total madness, placing a metaphorical and physical void inside bodies and then treating their patients like a waiting room. Bad on a level that varies from disconcerting to infuriating.
The look of Kid Gloves is undeniable warmth, comfort, and love; the struggle it speaks to, that pregnant people go through to have their children safely, is no joke and Knisley gives no quarter.
What she undergoes in Kid Gloves because of a casually bad doctor is part of a chain that extends “200 years before conception.” There is a veil of secrecy placed around all reproductive anatomy, a world of men telling other men what wellbeing for everyone is, and the price of that secrecy is paid with lives and safety and in stigmatizing the beautiful.
How wild is our country where we have to go to strange, incompetent men to have access to knowledge of our own bodies. Pregnancy stories are about power.
So the writing is crafted to deliver information beyond a storyline. Knisley uses panel progression to tell the memoir but graphic facilitation techniques to include the minutia her memoir is surrounded by. It reminds me of the Cartoon History of the Universe books in its sequential art love-fest over a tree of facts. Do you like the infographics of Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj or the way the historic is folded into personal in Assassination Vacation? This is a book to your taste.
Knisley’s art style is ideal for mixing the somber and the silly. It is sweet, which translates to bittersweet as needs must; it has the heart and clarity required to shake the reader up. Her simple, iconic imagery suits the information load. Iconic like icons: a fleet of puked-in toilets makes for an excellent single panel gag. Knisley’s pen, the tight curves of comfortable control, play out more indie rock than slick. Kid Gloves is cute, not cutesy (yes, sometimes cutesy), cool cute. Simple elegance that feels crafted, intimate, unique.
The lettering has a voice, a style for titles and dialog and points between. It is also Knisley’s playfulness let off the leash. The aesthetic flourishes of titles for impact, the freehand swing once the words grow too big for bubbles and spill into the panel, Knisley finds ways to cut loose within her expertly sculpted structures in a way her lineart reserves for moments of extreme emotion.
Knisley’s colors are simple and to the point. Flat with texture, just a little surface noise where a gentler expression is needed. The colors and the pens are both chosen for their utility and Kid Gloves changes its touch from solid to softened to scratched as the story dips and sails. The color and its quality glues together fantastic projections and humble realities as they come and go from the story without getting in the way of the quantity of information.
Describing the trauma she experienced, falling back in love with life was “to court the snake that bit you for its curative venom.” It’s a repeated visual presence, the fangs of the snake the complicated ghost of anxiety. Knisley makes meaningful inferences where her research, experience, and metaphors cross, and then writes them into the book as a whole. Kid Gloves offers more than capturing the moments of clarity Knisley’s experience have made her privy to. Knisley uses the lessons she’s learned to teach.
Comics is the ideal alchemy for experience and metaphor to blend together. Both Knisley’s imagination and the complexities inside the human body are far-out concepts. But Knisley’s life is organized (well, it was), everyday in its cycles and stability. Knisley weaves together many, many threads. Her story. The story of pregnancy. The politics of physical health. The result is a gradient of imperceptible transition. The color of Kid Gloves is the shade at the Venn diagram’s center.
Knisley builds her story with the natural rise and fall of action for a stunning end product. The timing of story beats is superb. The slow trimester is the perfect chance to zoom out and look from micro to macro. Knisley is an exquisite manager of information.
For all this talk about design and unconventional comic book big picture storytelling, her skill at crafting a scene can bring the reader completely into the moment, to the point of absurdity. I am reading a book by this lady about her baby and still my heart is in my throat reading Pal’s birth story. Right there, right then, I was in Kid Gloves, with her husband, fearing for Lucy.
There have been quite a few good books in recent years dealing with the uncertainty of having children in dystopian times. Knisley confronts those fears in Kid Gloves and, baby in one hand and a sword in the other, goes after the uncertainty and fear surrounding birth itself.