Mis(h)adra by Iasmin Omar Ata
Gallery 13, 2017; 288 pp
Reviewed by Britny Brooks
My seizures are triggered by lack of sleep, intense physical or emotional stress, or sometimes even anxiety about epilepsy itself. One or any combination of these things can give me an aura, which can lead to a seizure. (6)
In this debut graphic novel, Mis(h)adra, author Iasmin Omar Ata tells the story of Isaac, a young college student suffering with epilepsy and dealing with the struggles of daily life, doctors, and college. In the author’s own words, mis(h)adra is a loose play on the Arabic words misadra which means “seizure” and mish adra which is slang for “I cannot.” Originally, a 15-part serial webcomic of the same name, this graphic novel is full of bright color, emotion, and the manga-inspired art adds a level of playfulness to each panel of this semi-autobiographical story.
The contrast between the animated, whimsical manga-inspired style and the seriousness of Isaac’s story is one of the graphic novel’s many strengths. The art gives Isaac an even fuller range of emotions that help you sympathize and relate in a very short amount of time, which then allows you to also understand and see his seizures and epilepsy in a more intimate way. Another huge strength, though it is weird to say, is the way that Ata has portrayed Isaac’s auras and seizures. Throughout the book you see turquoise daggers with an eye following Isaac around and when he has a seizure they are what cut and attack him. It gives you the sense that no matter what Isaac does he is always being followed and watched—and that the fear of having a seizure is always on his mind.
It is during the seizures that Ata lets the real dissolve into the realm of the fantastic with panels losing their form, breaking down, and changing from the softer yellows, purple, and peach of the rest of the story to black, red, and electric blue as Isaac is cut, stabbed, and torn apart by one-eyed turquoise daggers. It is here in this void like place that you see the deep emotional, physical, and psychological pain and stress that Isaac is under. It is in this intimate place that you realize the true extent of the dichotomy of Isaac’s life and Ata is able to make it both a jarring yet beautiful experience. This visually stunning, emotional story is part of the first batch of graphic novels to come out of the new imprint Galley 13 and I think it put them off to a great start. Mis(h)adra is a great book for those who enjoy non-fiction or biographical graphic novels and manga readers alike—and that is not something that you see everyday.