I Am an Elephant (2017)

The first Russian book-length graphic novel about disability, I Am an Elephant received unusual attention in the mainstream press for a comics work, leading the publisher Boomkniga to offer a larger-than-usual print run. Written by disabled author, filmmaker, and musician Vladimir Rudak (b. 1968, based in Petrozavodsk), with art by leading Russian comics artist Lena Uzhinova, it is largely based on Rudak’s experiences after becoming paralyzed in an accident. Veering from classic realism, the novel takes on a surrealistic, whimsical tone at times more appropriate to a children’s book or animated cartoon, with the motif of “life is a stage” a paramount theme. The central character divides his identity in two: one a flamboyant, even obnoxious talking elephant, the other a silent rag doll, representing spirit and body, respectively. In the course of its 135 pages, through monologues, enacted scenes and memories, I Am an Elephant explores contemporary Russian prejudices and beliefs regarding the disabled, the sexual yearnings of wheelchair users, and the emotional labor of dealing with paralysis as a “macho” man. Nothing like it had appeared in Russian comics before, certainly not in book-length form.