Negative & positive
by Robert Julian
Blue Pills: A Positive Love Story by Frederik Peeters; Houghton Mifflin, $18.95
Generally speaking, I prefer my art on canvas and my prose in paragraphs. Therefore, with a fear and loathing of the Thompsonian variety, I picked up Blue Pills for my first experience with a graphic memoir. We now live in a post-literate society, and I must regrettably acknowledge that the graphic novel format is likely to be with us for a very long time.
Swiss cartoonist Frederik Peeters published the original French version of Blue Pills in 2001, describing in words and pictures his relationship with his HIV-positive girlfriend Cati and her three-year-old son, who is also HIV-positive. Peeters is HIV-negative. In the seven years it has taken this work to migrate to the United States and be translated into English, the "blue pills" (Viracept) have become an outdated treatment protocol, but the challenge of a sexual relationship between individuals of different HIV status remains constant.
Peeters' illustrations are all black-and-white, and his story is appropriately told in simple, declarative statements that accompany the artist's relatively primitive visual style. But it is the simplicity and (dare I say it?) simple eloquence of Blue Pills that give it value and relevance today. The medical issues stand side-by-side with the sexual/emotional challenges of loving without fear when HIV infection from one's partner remains a possibility. Peeters manages to provide a loving, heartfelt rendering of these issues without descending into bathos, negativity, or irrational head-trips.
The great value of Blue Pills lies in its potential to be read and understood by individuals of any age, sexual preference, or educational level. I don't think it rises to the standard of high art, nor is it literature, but Blue Pills makes a significant contribution toward understanding and living successfully in the viral universe.