positiveAIDS has been in the public eye for over three decades now. As understanding of the disease has grown and treatments have become more advanced, the stigma and fear associated with being HIV-positive has decreased, though they have not vanished altogether. Tom Bouden’s Positive offers hope for those living with or affected by HIV. It also serves as a powerful acknowledgment that in spite of all society’s supportive changes, managing HIV, emotionally and physically, is no walk in the park.

Positive begins by introducing us to Sarah and Tim, as Sarah is about to uncover her HIV diagnosis. She’s been feeling sick for a while, but wouldn’t have guessed that HIV had anything to do with it. She doesn’t know from whom she contracted it, and the comic doesn’t explore this — she’s too busy dealing with her imminent mortality, hurrying to write her will, planning to quit her job, and so forth. As she realizes the extent of treatment possibilities, and feels the strength of her partner’s support, life begins to look a bit brighter. But when drug cocktails start, so do their side effects — she’s constantly nauseous, dizzy, and tired. Much of the book focuses on how hard it is to find the right treatment, and how the side effects often need to be treated by more drugs. Managing HIV appears to be exhausting, tedious, and tenuous, but in Sarah’s case, it works out for the best.

The story also focuses on how an HIV diagnosis affects one’s view of their community. Sarah and Tim’s relationship is rock-solid, and his support of her and his concerns about his own status (he’s HIV-negative, but understandably nervous to get tested) are moving and well-written. Questions about their continued sex life (and it does continue successfully) are addressed with visual and verbal directness. Sarah’s relationship with her long-suffering, crabby mother, and her choice to not disclose her status to a woman so wrapped up in her own problems, is a great example of how not everyone will understand or sympathize with the illness. Finally, Sarah’s friendship with an African woman at the HIV clinic with a story far different and more difficult than her own, is a subtle reminder of how far the world has yet to go in preventing and treating HIV and AIDS.

At about 45 pages, this short comic is far from perfect. The story structure feels a bit like a pamphlet that would be handed to you at the doctor’s office. It’s purposefully universal and general — it doesn’t scratch far below the emotional surface, as Blue Pills, another AIDS-focused graphic novel does, nor does it focus on gay issues surrounding HIV. This is an interesting choice, given that the majority of Bouden’s work has been explicitly gay-themed. But, it’s earnest and straightforward, with bubbly, Tintin-esque illustrations, and just enough of a twist at the end to leave you feeling positive.

by Tom Bouden
ISBN: 9780984594092
Northwest Press, 2013

  • Emilia Packard

    Past Reviewer

    This reviewer is not longer actively working on our site, but we would not be here if not for our many dedicated contributors over the years. We thank all of them for their reviews, features, and support! Emilia has been reading graphic novels rabidly since her best friend handed her Craig Thompson’s Blankets over winter break during her sophomore year of college. From that day, her fate was sealed — at Grinnell College, she created, edited and drew strips for a student comics magazine called The Sequence. As an MLS Student at the University of Illinois, she spent way too much time filling up her backpack (and her roommate’s backpack) with the treasures of the Undergrad Library’s comics collection — never less than 40 books at a time. Just in the past few years, she’s worked at libraries and archives in Washington, D.C., Minneapolis, Indiana, and Austin, Texas and consumed their graphic novels collections with great gusto. She has been drawing her stick-figure avatar, Flippy-Do, since she was about 10 years old.

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