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Graphic Medicine Novels: Tyranny





Bibliographic Record

 Title  Tyranny
 Author  Fairfield, Lesley
Illustrator  Fairfield, Lesley
 Mental Illness  Eating Disorders
 Publication Date  2009
 Publisher  Tundra Books
 ISBN  978-0887769030
 # Pages  120
 Color Profile  Black & White
 Worldcat Link
 Amazon Link
 Annotator  Tina L. Hefty


Drawing from personal experience, Lesley Fairfield writes and illustrates a story about a girl named Anna. The book opens with an emaciated-looking Anna, asking “how did I get to this place?” (p. 4). Traveling back in time, we see that Anna was once a healthy girl. She had hobbies and passions and was excited to grow up. But puberty causes her body to change, and Anna is displeased with her new bodily image. She decides to take matters into her own hands, beginning with intensive dieting. Positive results encourage more severe behavior, and before long, Anna is anorexic and bulimic. She drops out of school but manages to keep a job. Continuing to waste away, Anna imagines an ongoing relationship with Tyranny, a visual representation of her eating disorders. When Anna strives to recover, Tyranny’s voice holds her back. Anna’s severe weight loss eventually results in her hospitalization. She realizes she wants to live, knowing her life depends on the successful confrontation of Tyranny.


Fairfield’s approach to the artwork in Tyranny is fairly simplistic. Cartoon-like drawings are accompanied by digitally-rendered shading. Despite the simplicity of the line work, facial expressions are often exaggerated, so the reader feels connected and tuned into the characters. The written word is expressed through running text, internal monologue, and dialogue.

Mental Illness Narrative

Anna experiences many of the classic indicators and symptoms of eating disorders. Excessive dieting is observed first, eventually developing into starvation. At the same time, Anna occasionally binges, which is often followed by forced vomiting or the use of laxatives. Physical pain, hair loss, and tooth decay are also observed.

Humanistic Revelations

Anna is prompted to develop an eating disorder by her changing adolescent body. She explains, “I was desperate to have my younger body back” (p. 11). This feeling is often shared by individuals with eating disorders; post-pubescent dissatisfaction with body image can be a common trigger. Another revelation in Tyranny is the inconsistency that often takes place between what an anorexic or bulimic person sees in the mirror and how they actually look. Several pages show an emaciated Anna looking into the mirror and seeing an overweight girl staring back. Perhaps just as compelling is Anna’s insistence that she does not, in fact, have an eating disorder. This goes to show how difficult it can be for individuals to admit they have a problem. We also see how little comments from well-intentioned family and friends can have devastating consequences, such as Anna’s mom’s advice that she try not to gain much more weight.


Tyranny is a fairly short book, and in a limited amount of pages, Fairfield does a fine job of illustrating many of the symptoms and complexities of eating disorders.  However, there are other titles within this collection that reach a greater level of depth.  For that reason, this book is best recommended as an introduction to what it’s like to have an eating disorder.

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