Graphic Novel Review: Radium Girls by Cy

Radium Girls by Cy. English translation by Ivanka Hahnenberger. Iron Circus Comics, 2022. 9781945820991. 134pp.

This graphic novel opens in 1918, with Gracey reporting for work and setting about to train Edna in how to paint watch faces using Undark, an expensive, glowing “color.” Unfortunately for both of them and the rest of the women who do the same work, this involves using their lips to smooth the brushes before dipping it in the paint and ingesting a little radium each time. When they go out to dance together, they glow a bit, and some of them even use the special paint to play practical jokes. When they’re warned by the scientist who invented the paint that they shouldn’t put the brushes to their lips, others deny that it’s dangerous. But then they start getting sick and dying and by the time they realize the truth it’s too late. (Their lawsuit led to the establishment of industrial and occupational safety standards, and the creation of the OSHA.)

The book is based in part on The Radium Girls: The Dark Story of America’s Shining Women by Kate Moore. Cy brings the story of these women to life with a limited color palette using colored pencils, and the green of the radium glows amidst the dark purple throughout. This is one of the most stunning graphic novels I’ve seen in a long time.


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