Who would think a comic in which the first page has the main characters caught in a moment of wonderment could be so sad to read?
Karma Shmarma is an autobiographical recounting of creator Mark Griffin's battle with cancer. It's a powerful comic from the Kubert School trained creator who manages to visually capture the tenseness that must gather in one's gut when the word 'cancer' is mentioned.
While the comic version of this story remains incomplete, the reader is left wanting to know what's next as Mark's cancer comes out of remission. This comic concludes with Mark seeking treatment in hopes of a cure and sending his sperm to be preserved so he and his wife can later have children in case the treatment causes infertility. It's ironic how the comic ends with the idea of preserving chances at life.
After reading this comic tonight I wanted to write Mark and see if he'd be at an upcoming comics show. I wanted to read the second issue if it had come out. It took me about five attempts to correctly enter the address of his website, as if fate was stalling for a purpose, only to find out that Mark Griffin died of complications due to the cancer treatment this past June, shortly before MoCCA Art Fest 2008.
It was only last year that I met Mark Griffin and some of his friends, such as Mark McMurray (who I met in 2006), at the MoCCA event. I talked with all of them for a bit, though at this point, I have no idea what was said other than something like, "I enjoyed Dumb Jersey White Boy (to Mark McMurray)," and "I'll buy all your comics, because I want to read them and could I please get sketches from all of you." From Mark (Griffin) I received an awesome, simple sketch of Mark and his wife, Jen, (angry looking, almost Hulk-like, oddly juxtaposed against the previous page's rendition of McMurray's angry, Hulk-lookalike father) yelling "Cancer Bad" at a cancerous cell.
I've read a few other cancer autobiographies in comics form this past year, simply looking for good, powerful storytelling, but this single issue comic managed to convey and evoke more emotion than either of those other two completed graphic novel works. This is a testament to Mark Griffin's abilities as a storyteller and this world is a sadder place without Mark and his creativity.
You can read Karma Shmarma 1 for free by clicking on this link.