Thursday, January 12, 2006


Once in a while I'm contacted by a writer, artist, or cartoonist who's heard about Mom's Cancer and invites me to take a look at their work. I don't feel particularly well qualified as a critic, my opinion is of little more value than anyone else's, I don't know any secrets to getting published, and I'm not in a position to help anyone's career but my own (and I'm none too certain there). As long as everyone understands those ground rules and I have the time, I'm usually happy to oblige.

Mammoir is a book written and illustrated by Tucky Fussell, who was a fourth grade teacher in Boston when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Tucky is currently teaching overseas and her mother, Betty, sent me a copy. It's a remarkable piece of work.

Tucky brought her professional experience as a former advertising writer and commercial artist to Mammoir, which is structured as a series of "teaching units" covering her diagnosis, treatment, reconstructive surgery, and subsequent life. Tucky's black-and-white line art is loose and "undergroundish," sometimes displaying a simplicity and crudeness that looks a lot like spontaneity and urgency to me. I think it's appropriate for this story. Her narrative is imaginative, almost stream-of-consciousness: she interjects pop culture references and Hindu deities into discussions with her breasts (which talk back) and a wise-cracking laboratory rat who follows her around like her own Jiminy Cricket. It's an abstract, very metaphorical trip through Tucky's life and imagination.

While I might disagree with particular narrative or artistic choices, Mammoir accomplishes a lot of things I like. First, it clearly comes from the same impulse that led me to create Mom's Cancer: capture the details of this strange experience, turn something bad into something good, and help other people through similar ordeals. Second, I feel like I get to know the character of "Tucky," like her, and care about what happens to her; that's hard to accomplish in any medium. Third, to the extent that I can tell, it's accurate and honest about cancer; a lot of it was eerily familiar to me because my family lived it, too. Fourth, I simply have a ton of respect for the work and commitment that went into its 176 pages, knowing that she had to start on Panel One of Page One just like I did.

More information about Mammoir--including Tucky's bio, sample pages, and order information--is available at The book is produced by AuthorHouse, a company I don't know but which appears to be a print-on-demand publisher like Lulu or CafePress. The copy I received is well printed and bound, and looks completely professional in every way. Why this do-it-yourself technology hasn't completely revolutionized the publishing industry is beyond me.


Anonymous said...

Dear Brian,

I am overwhlemed and very touched that you highlighted my book on your blog news, which my mom forwarded to me. I am absolutely thrilled to get such good publicity. Thank you for taking the time to offer genuine support.

And with what you have written about your own book, I can't wait to read it. I guess that will have to wait til I get back to the States. Congrats on the hard copy version. I would love to offer a link to your site on my website. What do you think?

I have some questions I'd love to ask you. I know you are really busy, so don't feel obliged to answer them,but I respect your opinion and would love your feedback if you have any time at all.

Here are my questions:
1.) How did you draw up Mom's Cancer? Were they simple line drawings that you then scanned in and shaded in Photoshop?

2.) I am thinking of writing and drawing a line of comic books about Kuwait, and or teaching overseas, for a US audience. I'd love to submit some to magazines. Any suggestion on the size (4 pages as opposed to 24)

3.) I am feeling very isolated over here, and am considering relocating to the States to promote my book, which is pretty hard to do over here, partly because cancer is a nono to talk about, partly because no bookstores would be interested in it. What do you think?

4.) How do you pay the bills and write/draw at the same time?

5.) Could I promote my book at the Comics Conventionin San Diego and how would I do it?

Well thanks a lot, and if you don't have time to respond, it's no priblem. At least your blog gave me a chance to get clearer about some things.

I am looking forward to seeing more items on your site.


Tucky Fussell

patricia said...

Brian, thanks for bringint this book to my attention. I'll certainly check it out.

I gotta say... I just love the title. Very clever.

Brian Fies said...


I'm glad you saw my post. I've got to say, your Mom is quite a cheerleader. I'd be happy to have you link to my site, but don't feel obligated.

I'll try to answer your questions here but also encourage you to e-mail me privately ( so we can whisper to each other backstage.

1. I drew Mom's Cancer very traditionally, penciling and inking on Bristol board. I then scanned the black-and-white art into Photoshop for clean-up, shading, coloring, etc. I go into some detail about my method in my entry of November 9 (

2. I like your idea but have no advice about the U.S. magazine market. The best I could suggest is that you create a proposal with a few sample pages that you then submit to the magazines you have in mind. Each will surely have its own ideas about size, format (proportions, color vs. b/w, etc.) that would be good to know before you get too committed to the job.

3. I think promoting your book would be very hard over *here*, too. I'm fortunate to have a publisher who knows what they're doing; I have no advice for a self-published author. I have heard of guerilla marketing campaigns in which a writer loads up books in the back of her car and hits the road for a few months. That could work. I think you could benefit from the robust network of breast cancer support groups in the U.S.--seems to me that if people in those groups read and like "Mammoir" that it could get a lot of word-of-mouth help.

4. In my day job I'm a self-employed science writer who works at home. Doing "Mom's Cancer" was hard and took a long time, but I was lucky in that I could schedule writing and drawing time in among my other work. If I needed to take a morning to draw, I could (I might end up working on something else until midnight, but that was the trade-off).

5. I think the San Diego Comic-Con and similar events could really work for you. They typically set aside space for small-press or self-published cartoonists to display and sell their work (though I have no idea how much actual business they do). For example, Comic-Con has a small-press area where you can buy a table for, I think, $300. See

Like I said, please write me so we can maybe talk privately.

hot said...

I read your blog daily and cheer your every success!!! I wish you well, I wish you strength and most of all I wish you peace. You are in my prayers-Robin Solomon.