Gutter Space #12: Trauma and Watercolors

Gutter Space #12 by Leslie Salas

Trauma and Watercolors: Stitches, by David Small

Many of us have our own ways of dealing with stress and trauma. Some of us paint, write, sing, play an instrument. Others may run, play a sport, go to the gym. And some turn to cigarettes, booze, brothels. For David Small, though, he deals with a traumatic medical condition and his dysfunctional home though a blank canvas and his pen.

In his watercolor memoir, Stitches, Small envelops us in his world of lies, deceit, horror, and loneliness, and the escape into illustration.

This book is undeniably beautiful—and rightfully so. The author is an award-winning author and illustrator of picture books for children. When I first saw this graphic novel as my friends and I browsed through the (then) small section of sequential art, I flipped through the pages, wondering what they would hold.

I could not put it down. I sat on the carpeted floor and devoured the memoir while my friends left me, and came back, and left again before I finished. And I had to sit. And wait. Before I was okay enough to try and find them.

Given Small’s profession as an artist and illustrator, it makes sense that much of his story would be told without words. Small relies on the power of quiet images strung together, allowing the reader to make his or her own sense of the sequence.

This memoir is filled with many things. Anger. Frustration. Misery. The struggle of overcoming barriers, or being oneself, of being heard. But this memoir is not pedantic. It does not ask me to feel sorry for him, it does not tell me to loathe a particular character. It is the essence of “showing,” rather than “telling,” and therein lies it’s power. With all of the sadness and all of the hardships, there is also hope, and a tentative trust for the future.

Read, and find out why.


Leslie Salas (Photo by Ashley Inguanta)

Leslie Salas writes fiction, nonfiction, screenplays, and comics. She earned her MFA in Creative Writing from the University of Central Florida and attended the University of Denver Publishing Institute. In addition to being an Associate Course Director at Full Sail University, Leslie also serves as an assistant editor for The Florida Review, a graphic nonfiction editorial assistant for Sweet: A Literary Confection, and a regular contributing artist for SmokeLong Quarterly.

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