Canadian illustrator and writer Leslie Fairfield’s 2011 graphic novel ‘Tyranny: I Keep You Thin’ is an exploration of anorexia and one young woman’s journey in escaping its grip. Autobiographical in nature – Fairfield’s bio states that she has had a thirty year battle with anorexia and bulimia – the novel’s simple and straightforward approach in detailing the process of starving, binging and purging adds poignancy to the message. By telling her story graphically, Fairfield is able to personify ‘Tyranny’, the voice of protagonist Anna’s eating disorder, as a harpy like nag, sketchily drawn and leery, and always piping up whenever Anna starts to make headways in life.
We begin startlingly with Anna being strangled by the furious ‘Tyranny’, declaring ‘I told you not to eat. You are too fat!!’ and then focus on Anna’s dazed and haunted face ‘How did I get to this place?’ Fairfield flashes back through Anna’s life with panels depicting the moments and comments that have stuck in her memory, be it positive or negative impacts on the development of her identity. As a young adult she has to escape the worry of her parents, loses her boyfriend – ‘I mean, you just keep fading away, and… I don’t know who you are anymore’ – and ultimately embarks upon a series of experiences where she meets other women struggling with eating disorders. The catalyst for Anna’s turnaround is the loss of a friend to a heart attack induced by anorexia.
The illustrations in Fairfield’s novel make use of long, lean lines, emphasizing protruding elbows and knees, taut clavicles and hunched shoulders. Anna’s face changes many times to reveal the myriad emotions that come from focusing every minute of every day on food and controlling its intake. Mantras fill the background pictures of Anna’s life: ‘I will not eat, I will not eat’.
The graphic novel seems a perfect form in discussing this issue, and those recovering from an eating disorder or those trying to find some way to understand the condition would take away much from ‘Tyranny: I Keep You Thin’. Fairfield neither preaches nor makes commentary on outside influences contributing to the condition, but merely makes it a personal story with a simple narrative arc. This would be a very useful book on a school curriculum.