Alibi V.26 No.46 • Nov 16-22, 2017 

Book Review

From Ink Black to Paper White

Graphic novel Ink in Water doesn't shy away from the hard stuff

In in Water

Lacy J. Davis almost single-handedly mended my relationship with my body. And I know that I'm not the only one can testify to Davis' strength in voice and conviction. Through her long-running blog Super Strength Health, her podcast, Flex Your Heart Radio, and the gym that she co-owns in Portland, Ore., Liberation Barbell, Davis has made a life out of empowering people through body-positive fitness—the messaging of which reverberates throughout her fans' lives. Now, we can add to that impressive resumé a graphic novel title—Ink in Water: ... Or How I Kicked Anorexia's Ass and Embraced Body Positivity. The book, which chronicles Davis' battle with eating disorders and subsequent discovery of her personal power by way of weightlifting, was co-created with her partner, the book's illustrator, Jim Kettner.

What first strikes the reader of Ink in Water is its feeling of authenticity—many will right away recognize the feelings and the experiences that Davis writes so candidly about. Davis was—and is—a radical, queer, feminist armed with all the tools to intellectually reject society's bullshit. “The punk scene taught me a lot,” Davis writes, “not the least of which was that society's beauty standards were shit … and to truly, deeply not give a fuck what the norms thought.” Despite a host of positive influences that told her otherwise, “the seed of an idea was waiting to spread … no matter how far away from a 'normal' girl I was … no matter how much feminist literature I devoured … no matter how many Bikini Kill records I owned … deep inside, I thought I was maybe just a little too big.”

It is comforting to understand that someone who seems as liberated as Davis also struggles with those nagging self-doubts, while simultaneously, the narrative frighteningly underlines the influence of the omnipresent messages we all receive from the powers that be. Those hard-to-kill norms foisted upon us by big business and society loom our whole lives, almost inescapably. There's something to acknowledging that. Triggered by a traumatic break-up, that feeling of being too big didn't go away—instead it grew to all-consuming size, meanwhile, Davis herself began to shrink.

Davis gives structure to her life in meaningful ways, piecing together her history not chronologically, but in epochal vignettes that seamlessly move into and contrast one another both figuratively and literally thanks to Kettner's illustrations. Though Davis has unpacked her struggles in a variety of mediums, the graphic novel seems to be a particularly powerful format—one that was practically made for dealing with dark and difficult subjects. Davis and Kettner together create something dynamic—their intimacy as life and artistic partners surfaces in the closeness with which the story is written and illustrated. It's clear that Kettner understood the feeling of the experience, and that is channeled into the graphics—cast in black and gray—that fill up the 200 and some pages of the book.

Readers see Davis rise and then fall again in heart-wrenching episodes that convey the hopelessness that she must have felt, until finally, she connects with something that makes her feel mighty once again—weightlifting. And that provides the avenue to a new life for Davis, and how many of us came to be familiar with her name. It wasn't just fitness coaching that made Davis such a recognizable figure in body positivity circles, it was the openness with which she has spoken on her struggles with eating disorder. That piece is, in fact, part of her success story. I don't want to give away the entire arc of the book here, but the hopeful note it ends on is part of what makes it such a compelling read. “What if—” she writes near the end, “What if there was something more I could do? What if … what if I could tell the whole world?”

Many, many people are thankful that she did.

Find Ink in Water online at store.silversprocket.net, directly from the publisher at newharbinger.com, Amazon.com or request it from your favorite local book retailer.