About the book

One day David Small awoke from a supposedly harmless operation to discover that he had been transformed into a virtual mute. A vocal cord removed, his throat slashed and stitched together like a bloody boot, the fourteen-year-old boy had not been told that he had cancer and was expected to die.

In Stitches, Small, the award-winning children's illustrator and author, recreates this terrifying event in a life story that might have been imagined by Kafka. As the images painfully tumble out, one by one, we gain a ringside seat at a gothic family drama, where David — a highly anxious yet supremely talented child—all too often became the unwitting object of his parents' buried frustration and rage.

Believing, as most parents do, that they were trying to do the best, David's parents, in fact, did just the reverse: Edward Small, a Detroit physician, who vented his own anger by hitting a punching bag in the family's basement, was convinced that he could cure his little son by shooting him up with heavy doses of radiation, yet with near deadly results; while David's mother, Elizabeth, a tyrannically stingy and excessively scolding parent, ran the Small household under a cone of silence where emotions, especially her own, were hidden.

Depicting this coming-of-age story with dazzling, kaleidoscopic images that render nightmare in a form that becomes a fairytale in itself, Small tells us of his journey from sickly child, to cancer patient, to troubled teen, whose risky decision to run away from home at 16 — with nothing more than the dream of becoming an artist — would become the ultimate survival statement.

A silent movie masquerading as a book, Stitches is as much a memoir as a tale of redemption that informs us that things can get better, that good can emerge from evil, and that art has the power to transform. It is a both a profound gift and a remarkable achievement, a book that renders a broken world suddenly seamless and beautiful again.

Read the reviews

Like the boy in this autobiographical novel my first reading of Stitches left me speechless. And in awe. David Small presents us with a profound and moving gift of graphic literature that has the look of a movie and reads like a poem. Spare in words, painful in pictures, Small, in a style of dry menace, draws us a boy's life that you wouldn't want to live but you can't put down. From its first line four pages in, "Mama had her little cough", we know that we are in the hands of a master.

Jules Feiffer

David Small evokes the mad scientific world of the 1950s beautifully, a time when everyone believed that science could fix everything. Small is an innocent lamb, a sensitive boy, caught in a nightmare situation. His parents and grandmother are really creepy. Capturing body language and facial expressions subtly, Stitches becomes in Small's skillful hands a powerful story, an emotionally charged autobiography.

R. Crumb — artist, author

Add David Small's book to the illustrated Bible of artists who have had to will themselves — invent themselves — and ultimately seize success as the only way to keep the gritty, dark beginning of a home life from snuffing them out altogether. If this book were a wine, you'd discover a nose full of Truffaut, Baudelaire, and John Waters. And yet, after all the blows and the despair, and the desperation David Small skillfully manages to draw a door out of his past and invite us into his present.

Jack Gantos — Josey Pigza Swallowed the Key, finalist for the National Book Award

David Small's STITCHES is aptly named. With surgical precision, the author pierces into the past and, with great artistry, seals the wound inflicted on a small child by cruel and unloving parents. STICHES is as intensely dramatic as a woodcut novel of the silent movie era and as fluid as a contemporary Japanese manga. It breaks new ground for graphic novels.

Francoise Mouly — Art Editor, The New Yorker — Editorial Director, TOON Books

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Read the transcript at bigthink.com

Mark W. Arend lives and works as a bookbinder, restorer and librarian in Oshkosh, Wisc. He was inspired to craft this hand-bound boxed special edition of Stitches.

Stitches Tattoo
Cover from Stitches by David Small

replacement content

Morton Feldman's 2nd String Quartet, played by The FLUX Quartet, on Mode Records.

David Small on Feldman's 2nd String Quartet

To me, this is the music of memory, of dreams. As in memory (and like the Turkish rugs Feldman so loved), figures in the pattern advance, repeat, recede and come back, always slightly changed. As in dreams, bizarre things happen without adjectives telling us what to think or feel. There is no starting point, no end, no rightness or wrongness to this music. Someone has likened it to gazing at a vast night sky full of stars. Someone else said it was like listening to Charon's boat bumping gently against the dock, waiting to transport passengers to the netherworld. I found it the perfect music to work by while I created my memoir, and I listened to it daily — all day in the studio — for nearly 3 years.

Available September 8, preorder from one of these fine online booksellers.