A Book Review: ‘The Spiral Cage’ by Al Davison

Al Davison AKA the Astral Gypsy is a critically acclaimed comic book artist and writer as well as being a film-maker, martial artist and comic-shop owner,not to mention that he has severe Spina-Bifida. The Spiral Cage is the first volume of Davison’s graphic novel autobiography, a creator-owned title which he both wrote and drew. It chronicles his life in an unflinchingly honest fashion, from growing up in 1960s Newcastle and suffering five murder attempts at the hands of his father, to weathering the effects of M.E. with the help of Buddhist practices.

From its opening black and white pages, the graphic novel portrays the extraordinary trials of the young Al, as the narrative takes the reader through his complicated birth and the multiple surgeries he endured in order to survive. After pulling through, a page depicting a strikingly beautiful juxtaposition between the doctors’ notes and x-ray images tells us of the professionals’ lack of hope for the boy. Following even more operations and two years in an isolation unit, Al lived on to astound those who dismissed him. As the book slips backwards and forwards through time, we see the narrator recall many experiences that can be hard to read, as Davison casts light upon some of the cold but true realities of living with disability. Several of the scenes in the book portray his battles both as a child and adult with various assailants, including school bullies and his own violently abusive father. These passages can be shocking, but the humour that is constant throughout shows the sharpness of the author’s wit and strength of mind. Through the chapters the reader sees in detail the many mind frames and thoughts which Davison goes through in various phases of his life, both harrowing and positive as everyday events and M.E. leave their mark. As the panels begin to wind down, Al’s determination leads him to find spirituality and love as he continues to go forward whilst slaying his demons.

The Spiral Cage is an inspiring graphic memoir, full of optimism and truth, not to mention it’s sophisticated and realistic art which make it a unique and honest work which stands out in its medium.

It explores taboo subjects which many people avoid and fear in life and reading, but Al’s ability to not only write and draw such topics but to genuinely be at peace with them is remarkable. What makes this book so powerful is that it is not a victim’s tale filled with clichés, but a story that begs no sympathy told from the soul of a survivor.

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