There are so many ways to tell a story and just as many avenues for engaging a reader. An issue as diverse, wide-ranging and various as dementia will require the whole gamut of an artist’s creative ability as they seek to find effective means of telling a story that isn’t their own. Spanish author, Paco Roca was one of the first to record the dementia experience in a graphic novel. Originally published back in 2007, Wrinkles was later translated into English and republished. Wrinkles follows Ernest, an older man, living with Alzheimer’s disease as he is admitted to a residential care facility and at first struggles to settle into his new home.
We see the residential care facility and the residents themselves through Ernest’s eyes as he’s given a tour of the building and begins to join in with daily activities. The visual aspect of the book allows Roca to be playful with how he interprets Ernest’s gaze. Some images give us a realistic idea of what Ernest is seeing, others allow us an insight into the mental associations and memories his brain is dredging up as he tries to process his new surroundings and friends. Roca’s images also add a layer of humour to the text. One page features eleven almost identical illustrations of older people dozing beneath a clock as time progresses from morning to night. The final cell on the page depicts Ernest being asked if he’s had a good day. The visual is kind of like an illustrated joke and also effectively conveys the monotony of nursing home life much better than any phrase or sentiment could.
Roca also leaves space between his illustrations in order to convey the idea of memory and language loss and also the notion of endless, unstructured time. Not everything is said or stated because, with dementia, not everything can be quantified or expressed in words. Towards the end of the book Ernest’s Alzheimer’s develops and more and more cells are left without speech bubbles. We see Ernest still present even as his ability to communicate gradually begins to disappear. On the final pages of the book Ernest’s features are entirely removed from his face and we’re left contemplating the troubling image of a man whose identity has been removed by the illness he’s living with. Though Roca deliberately includes a final page of images -Ernest present in past memories- I’m not sure I agree with the way he’s depicting a person living with dementia in the final stages. The message he’s conveying seems to be Ernest is no longer Ernest; his only meaning is to be found in his past.
The author spent a great deal of time visiting retirement homes, observing and talking with residents as he researched this book. The results are stunning and very effective. There are moments when it’s impossible to convey with words, exactly what’s going on in the mind of someone living with dementia. In Wrinkles, Paco Roca has shown how visual images can often speak volumes when words begin to fail.
Wrinkles was published by Knockabout Limited in January 2015