Writer: Leah Hayes
Artist: Leah Hayes
Release Date: August 8, 2015
The subtitle of Leah Hayes’ new comic is A Handbook for Something Hard, which is the best possible description of a book that focuses on abortion. Hayes tells the stories of two women, one who has a medical abortion (i.e., one induced by abortifacient pharmaceuticals) and one, a surgical abortion. There’s not all that much in the way of background information on the characters, and the lens is trained on process and facts, not on motivation or morality. As Hayes writes, “this is a book about what it’s like to go through an abortion” and, therefore, why or how its characters got pregnant “doesn’t really matter.”
The small trim size, big panels (one per page or spread) and large hand lettering emphasize information first and pacing second.
This is not a long book, but Hayes follows a page that contains only the words “She waited for what seemed like a long time” with a two-page spread of no words and an image that might be a view of the floor in the waiting room. There’s a stripe of pink at the bottom; nothing else. That kind of subtlety and sensitivity is the point of the book, which doesn’t try to be snappy or hip or funny, as its title lets the reader know. A quick flip through it shows a bunch of pages of vaguely sad-looking or worried women. Some of them are sitting down and drinking tea. Others are looking out the window or being helped up the stairs.
There is a deep sense of loneliness in Hayes’ images, which can make the reader feel uncomfortable. Although the book depicts nothing graphic and is, if not euphemistic in its language, decidedly not crude, the intimacy of the procedures it examines suggests that we are intruding. That is, in fact, her point in creating Not Funny Ha-Ha
At the end she writes, “A procedure that so many women go through can also seem like you are very alone. Part of my intention is to make such a thing seem less lonely, if I can.” It’s hard to remain neutral when discussing abortion, but Hayes’ repeated caveats (I’m just a cartoonist; talk to your doctor about anything; this is just informational) do their damnedest to situate her work outside politics and religion. That’s a noble goal. Whether it’s achieved depends on your own ability to remove those influences from the reading experience.