The Big Skinny

Posted by on July 21st, 2010 at 12:04 AM


(Click image to read longer excerpt.)


The Big Skinny: How I Changed My Fattitude, A Memoir
Carol Lay
Villard Books; 198 pp.
$18; Color Softcover

We’ve had graphic novels, graphic memoirs, graphic theoretical polemics (Scott McCloud’s, f’instance), graphic biographies and graphic autobiographies. Why not a graphic self-help tome? Carol Lay’s tome about weight-watching and dieting is a big book on a slenderizing subject and boasts a cartoonist’s title. Inside, the pages also reveal a cartoonist’s mind at work, deploying the peculiar resources of the medium — symbols, visual metaphors, timing — to tell a story or to persuade or to instruct. In these pages, Lay abandons the cartoony shorthand that distinguishes her weekly comic strip, Way Lay (with its inventive but annoying mannerism of designating faces by putting a clutch of teeth where the chin ought to go); in this book, Lay resorts to a more representational (although still not realistic) and therefore less stylized manner.

The first third or so of the book is the “memoir” part: Lay reviews her childhood and young adult years, showing how she acquired the habit of eating as a way of compensating for various shortcomings or frustrations in her life. Here, she is a stand-in for us all. For the next third of the pages, she explores human metabolism and what makes us fat, and she takes us through various schemes she followed to lose weight, coming to the realization, finally, that counting calories and exercising were the only strategies that worked. The last section of the book gets almost clinical with calorie counts and sample menus and recipes. But the cartoonist is never far from the page: Lay’s sense of humor, both visual and verbal, lurks throughout. Even if you don’t need the book for its instructional value (I do, and I plan to resort to it often, particularly during the forthcoming Hazardous to Waistlines Season), The Big Skinny is a vivid demonstration of how cartooning works on many levels.


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