Illustrator creates mesmerising account of father’s dementia
The new graphic novel by Flemish artist Ephameron describes the demise of her father and the effect of his illness on her family
In her new graphic novel, Cardon, known by her artist name Ephameron, depicts his decline as she sees him fall victim to primary progressive aphasia, a rare form of dementia that targets language and orientation.
“My father was diagnosed about 10 years ago,” she says, “and this book is about his turmoil and about us, his family, who take care of him. Mostly it deals with what we feel and experience and how he perceives the world, which is slowly coming to a halt.”
Most of Ephameron’s work has been somewhat autobiographical, so it was obvious to her that one day she would produce something reflecting this ordeal. “In a review of my previous book, Weg (Gone), someone said it was a shame that I hadn’t written it myself, as I only did the illustrations,” she says. That made me consider what I could write about.
“My father had been ill for some time then, and I was busy collecting photographs of him, so he became a great source of inspiration. Initially I thought it would take me a year, but ultimately it took me five years to complete Wij twee samen.”
Intrigued by transience
Ephameron, whose nom de plume was loosely inspired by the word ephemeral, is intrigued by life’s temporary and transient state of affairs. It is a theme that surfaces in all her work as well as her methods, collage being her preferred technique. “I’ve always loved collage,” she says, “and I prefer using perishable material such as paper and tape. In this case especially, it adds a certain depth to the story.”
I wanted to confuse the readers, to make them feel what my father feels
Her previous illustrations in books are known for their vulnerability, unique composition and haunting tranquillity. Green, grey, brown, black and white are the dominant colours, creating a natural but delicate vibe.
“It was difficult in the beginning to get started,” she admits. “I love language, but I’d never tried writing a literary text before, so I started by writing down memories and then deleting many of them. I didn’t want it to become a ‘dear diary’ kind of novel. I tried to boil it down to its essence, and that’s how I found my style. The text ultimately also becomes a part of the illustrations.”
In all her work, Ephameron challenges her readers to draw their own conclusions, casually guiding them through a maze of intimate images and wafting words. “In the first draft, I worked with text balloons,” she says, “but they seemed redundant, so I started erasing all the dialogue and added my own thoughts and feelings, those of my father and several bits from his diary.
“I consider my work art rather than a comic. Like with conceptual art, you have to look further than what you see in front of you; there’s this extra layer of reality. And in this case, I also wanted to confuse the readers, to make them feel what my father felt.”
In the end, Ephameron lures the reader in to explore the multitude of emotions and voices behind this deceptively simple account of loss, longing and life.
Her father is still battling this disease, but after years of chronicling and care, she was tired and decided to conclude her magnum opus. “It was such an emotionally draining experience,” she explains. “The whole process of turning these drawings and collages into an actual book was quite an endeavour as well, but worth it in the end.”
Just like author Tom Lanoye, who wrote about his mother’s deterioration after a stroke in Sprakeloos (Speechless), or graphic novelist Judith Vanistendael, who created an account of a battle with cancer, Ephameron published this novel not simply as a quintessential part of her oeuvre but also as an ode to a beloved relative. And, last but not least, because it might help others, illustrating that you’re not alone in the struggle against mortality.
Haunting, harrowing and humane, Wij twee samen is a multi-layered graphic novel that will make you ponder the essence of both language and life. Its poignancy and powerful images create an air of recognition and reassurance in the otherwise troubled terrain of the human mind. It’s a delicate profound deep narrative that depicts the cataclysmic repercussions of dementia.
Wij twee samen is published by Oogachtend. An exhibition of images from the book runs until 20 March at Sint-Lucas Antwerpen
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