Graphic Novel Review: Kusama The Graphic Novel by Elisa Macellari

Kusama The Graphic Novel by Elisa Macellari, translated from Italian by Edward Fortes. Laurence King, 2020. 9781786277169. 128pp.

Lenz’s documentary Kusama – Infinity, and Kusama’s autobiography Infinity Net are the two main sources listed at the back of the book, but even if you’re familiar with both there’s a lot to love in Macellari’s colorful, well-designed graphic novel. (Is it weird that my favorite part of the book is Kusama’s deadpan face and the way Macellari draws Kusama at different ages?)

The book opens with Kusama’s early life, including her unsupportive mother and going inside her head a bit to show her mental illness and obsessions. Kusama moves to New York in the late 1950s and works on art around the clock, anxious and detached. She’s driven and ambitious, and has quite a bit of success. (The book spends a few pages on her intense and platonic relationship with artist Joseph Cornell, which is lovely and sad.) After she returned to Japan because of her mental health, there was a period where she was mostly forgotten, though now, of course, she’s become famous worldwide for her art and for being herself. (If you haven’t ever experienced one of her mirrored infinity rooms and you have the chance, go for it.)

This looks like a friendly, colorful book for kids, but it’s probably not something most parents would appreciate finding in the children’s graphic novel section of the library — Kusama witnesses her father cheating on her mother, and there’s some nudity when she’s creating public performance art in New York. Worth noting: it’s all tastefully drawn (even the adultery).


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