by Lucy Knisley. First Second, February 2019. 247 p. ill. ISBN 9781626728080 (paperback).
Reviewed June 2020
Stephanie Kays, Fine Arts Librarian and liaison to Women’s & Gender Studies, Denison University
Lucy Knisley’s Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos is a graphic memoir that chronicles the cartoonist’s experiences with fertility, miscarriages, pregnancy, and other health issues. Interspersed with colorful infographics, Knisley narrates a remarkable nine months, marked by a near-death experience and the birth of her first child. As Knisley puts it, the comic is the story of her greatest transformation: from “not a mom” to “mom.”
Knisley’s experiences are informed by familiar memories, inventively and amusingly recounted: her first encounter with sex education at age sixteen, learning how to put a condom on a banana, discovering that you can’t get STIs from sitting on a toilet seat, and, in general, much advice about how not to get pregnant. Knisley thoughtfully argues that there’s much more that we ought to be taught. She dives deftly into the history of women’s reproductive health, weaving together a discussion of history, myth, and (often grotesque) pregnancy superstitions. With her distinctive brand of humor, she engages with the familiar and the personal: the stigma of miscarriages, the work of overcoming depression, the realities of illness during pregnancy, and the frustrations of an inattentive, know-it-all OBGYN. It may come as no surprise that the history of obstetrics and gynecology is riddled with misogyny and racism and, at crucial junctures, Knisley treats these matters with the gravity and frustration they warrant. During one truly horrific detail about the “father of gynecology” Knisley memorably opts out of illustrating the scene: “Not gonna draw this. Horrible. Nope.”
Knisley is a direct and personal narrator throughout almost all of Kid Gloves, offering her incisive and funny dialogue via caption boxes. Her clear linework and bright colors are paired with playful full-page illustrations and a diverse range of comics techniques are thoughtfully applied. There is a moment during Knisley's birth story when she loses consciousness for two days. This portion of the story is written from her husband John's perspective and, in stark contrast to the rest of the comic, Knisley illustrates his matter-of-fact narration with muted black-and-white linework. Color is slowly reincorporated into the panels as Knisley regains consciousness and her control of the narrative.
For all of its near-death seriousness, Kid Gloves is resolutely funny, endearingly frank, and replete with fascinating information. It makes for an excellent addition to any public or academic library committed to the humanities, women’s and gender studies, or cartoons and graphic novels.