In the comics memoir, Sentences: The Life of M.F. Grimm, Percy Carey tells of his experiences growing up in New York, finding success as an emcee in the early 90s, and getting caught up in the drug trade and gang shootings that would eventually leave him paralyzed from the waist down. Artist Ron Wimberly sketches Carey on the graphic novel’s cover in a wheelchair as he is now, rather than surrounded by fans or performing on the stage he once shared with names like Snoop Dogg and Tupac. The choice is fitting, given Carey’s interest in conveying the social and economic realities of his life behind these scenes and after spending time in prison.
But in the epilogue subtitled “Standing Ovation,” Carey grasps the wheelchair’s arms and pushes himself up. A microphone dangles in the air above him. With his arms stretched out, chin raised, he steps forward and says: “Damn! Feels good to do that! Fuck it, I figure if I can’t do it in real life…yet…might as well do it in my book!”
I’m curious about what Carey’s story accomplishes here by stepping away from what he can’t do “in real life.” Reviews of the comic are unequivocal when it comes to praising his honesty, his unwillingness to glamorize hip hop culture or the drug trade. What, if anything, changes when Carey (in collaboration with Wimberly) frees himself from the wheelchair and in the process, releases his story from the constrictions of nonfiction? By bracketing off the moment in an epilogue, the comic arguably reaches the only kind of happy ending possible without threatening the story’s credibility. At the same time, the utter joy and pleasure that he takes in the visual representation of his body makes the fact that we are dealing with a comic particularly important. Is it enough to say that Carey wishes for the ability to stand or that he imagines what it might be like to walk again when on the concluding pages of his book, he actually does?