söndag 12 februari 2012

David Liljemark: Boltzius

I've previously mainly come into contact with David Liljemark's satirical work, and haven't been impressed by it. Partially, it's been that his drawings aren't very interesting; the line isn't strong and lively as I like it, but dull drawings certainly don't make a comic not worth reading; I found the early Dilbert hilarious despite the uninteresting art, and there are plenty of people who've created interesting work despite not being particularly good at drawing (see, for example, plenty of underground comics creators). Mainly, however, it's been that his approach to satire leaves me rather cold; there's usually very little subtlety to his cartoons, so there's no artistic or conceptual finesse for me to admire or be amused by.

So I had some doubts as I opened Liljemark's comics format bio-novel of the Swedish late 1800s faith healer Fredrik August Boltzius, but Boltzius actually works reasonably OK, and it does illustrate the problems and tragedies with charlatans persuading sick people that they can be healed by faith alone, regardless of what science-based medicine says. Let's take a look at the story as Liljemark tells it.

The book is divided into seven chapters followed by a huuuuuge amount of endnotes (more on those later). The first chapter drops the reader in media res, with travelers from near and far arriving in the Värmland (Swedish province) village where Boltzius lives and works his miracles. They're all sick, they're all hopeful, they're practically all desperate. Then the miracle worker – or rather, the Lord's instrument, because that's how he sees himself – comes out of his cottage to lead the crowd in singing a hymn, preach a bit and show off his "successes"; people who rejoice in having been cured, but who pretty clearly haven't really.

"You don't have the faith!
Had it been my arm that was cut off, it would grow back!!"

In the second chapter, we learn a bit more about Boltzius' history before becoming a faith healer – failing as a farmer, being obsessively honest and apparently prone to bouts of depression and drinking. The reader learns this from a couple of friends drinking and discussing (and arguing about) Boltzius and his miracle-working.

These are the two best chapters in the book, I think. The hope and desperation of those seeking cures and the self-deception of those "cured" and of Boltzius himself are communicated both clearly and subtly, and Liljemark writes excellent dialogue. Unfortunately, after these chapters, the book runs into a problem: the main conflict in the story has already been revealed (and to a large extent resolved). Boltzius is an honest charlatan, who believes in what he's doing, and he's not helping the ill; in some cases, he's worsening things for them by giving them false hope (and keeping them from proper medical care). Liljemark goes into more detail about the criticisms against Boltzius from the medical profession (mainly from medical student, and later doctor, Emil Thorelius), shows more of Boltzius's fishy faith healing, and has a really clever question from a young girl "cured" by him – "If God can cure people whenever he wants to, why doesn't he? Why does he wait until Boltzius asks him to?" – but essentially, the dramatic nerve has gone out of the story. Even a serious car accident almost killing him (in chapter six) and Boltzius' actual death in the final chapter fail to really raise the temperature.

Finally, after the 100 pages of comics biography there follows a 250+ pages long, small-type, postscriptum with story notes and references, going into seemingly interminable detail about this or that person in the story, and the debate about Boltzius and his work. It does bear testimony to the work Liljemark has put into researching his topic, but it doesn't IMO really add to the book; it simply goes into too much detail to be interesting unless reading the comics story has rendered you somewhat obsessed with Boltziusiana.

So, while I do think Boltzius is worth reading, it has only limited re-reading value for me.

Inga kommentarer:

Skicka en kommentar