Graphic memoirs by female creators are becoming a genre unto themselves, separate from the rest of the medium by sheer quantity and popularity. From Raina Telgemeier’s Smile, Sisters, and the forthcoming Guts to Alison Bechdel’s Fun Home and Are You My Mother? to Thi Bui’s The Best We Could Do, many critically acclaimed and reader favorite graphic novels of the last few years have been autobiographical graphic novels by women. Lucy Knisley is no small part of that phenomenon. She has chronicled her life in books like Relish and An Age Of License, documenting a vacation with her aging grandparents in Displacement. Kid Gloves: Nine Months Of Careful Chaos (First Second) feels like a logical continuation of her last book, Something New, in which she wrote and drew about the experience of getting married. While her work has always been introspective and full of questions, Something New also included a lot of research about how the wedding industry and traditions have changed over time.
Kid Gloves continues that trend, weaving deeply personal stories about Knisley’s experience giving birth to her first child with facts and history about childbirth and babies. Knisley even discusses her qualms about sharing so much of her child’s early days with readers and the internet. She’s chosen to call him “Pal” in her work, a pseudonym to protect his privacy as best she can in an era that expects too much sharing.
Knisley’s honesty and willingness to inspect her own behavior has long been one of the best parts of her work, and with each book that only becomes more necessary. In Kid Gloves, she discusses her struggles to get and stay pregnant, her frustrations with distracted doctors and the lack of education around the common but rarely discussed parts of pregnancy. She’s gentle with herself when it comes to her negative emotions, but forthright about her own shortcomings and the challenges she faced with her loved ones throughout the experience. As Knisley points out, many of these topics are still very taboo; people are often warned not to share any pregnancy news until the 12-week mark, which means that the numerous early miscarriages and fertility struggles that a lot of people have are never discussed, leading to even further isolation in grief.
While Knisley’s honesty about both the best and worst parts of pregnancy are compelling, what elevates the book to a must-read for those who want kids or love people who do is the context in which she places her personal experience. She outlines the misogynistic and deeply racist history of gynecology in fittingly serious and irate language, her frustration palpable and powerful. Knisley’s own traumatizing birth experience is made all the more terrifying knowing just how common that type of experience is for so many people.
Readers that are familiar with Knisley’s work will appreciate the sometimes subtle ways that her artistic skill has grown and changed as she has published her life in comic form. Although her linework is simple and feels soft thanks to its round shapes, it never feels too cartoony or overblown. Her talent in capturing likenesses is especially clear in her illustrations of her mother, husband, and Pal, and there are some exaggerated expressions that she uses to great comedic effect throughout the book, helping to cut up the heavier and harder subjects. The best way to describe Knisley’s work is human and gentle, both with the creator and the reader. The book is a reminder of how hard and rewarding it can be to grow a family, and feels like a call to action when it comes to obstetrics and gynecology’s slow erasure of parental health. Knisley is already working on her next book, about being a first-time parent, and the thought of having a shelf of her work, a life laid out in comics, is a happy one.