Scene 1: A lone crab crawls against a black backdrop.
Scene 2: It is joined by several more crabs.
Scene 3-6: They crawl towards a naked, sleeping woman while her boyfriend sleeps next to her. They congregate closer and closer towards her left breast, ultimately surrounding it.
In astrology, the crab is associated with the sign of Cancer. We know exactly what’s going on.
This is just one example of the inspired creativity devised by author Vero Cazot and Montreal illustrator Julie Rocheleau to tell the wordless story of Betty, a woman who loses her left breast to cancer. A surprisingly zany take on life after a mastectomy, this survivor’s tale takes its queue from the screwball comedies and silent movies of early cinema, complete with interspersed title cards and sound effects bubbles.
When Betty wakes in the hospital and lifts her gown to see the stitched scar across her chest, she tears the room apart looking for her missing breast. She looks under the bed, through cabinet drawers, and inside the ventilation shaft as her wig flies off and on her bald head. The hospital keeps removed boobs in individual jars on a rotating conveyer belt, and when they find Betty’s breast with the pierced nipple they rush it to her in a frenzy. Betty is thrilled; her boyfriend, who fainted when he first saw the flatness of her chest, faints for a second time. It’s a scene that brings so many things to the surface: heartache over Betty’s initial panic, shock and humor at the hospital’s cold, industrial-like procedures—one can’t help think of the current war on women’s bodies when seeing all of those classified boobs—annoyance at the self-absorbed boyfriend, and, finally, fear for Betty and what’s to come.
As the story progresses, Betty becomes increasingly inadequate and incomplete in the eyes of her boyfriend and colleagues. She tries filling her bra with an apple, and then a costly synthetic boob. In one of the story’s more zany moments, she manages to steal the boob during a botched burglary at the shop where she’s trying it on. But it’s a short-lived success, and she eventually loses both her boyfriend and her job, where having “two boobs” is literally in her contract.
Betty continues to struggle with social expectations of perfection and femininity until she befriends a group of burlesque performers. They share their own imperfections with her: a prosthetic leg, a pacemaker scar, and, in a particularly humorous show-and-tell, strongman Nino’s tiny penis. They share a giggle over that one, and the experience marks a turning point in Betty’s life.
The fact that this story aligns itself with the zany and the madcap only made me more invested in Betty’s experience. It’s a bold move to address something as devastating as breast cancer with such camp—almost taboo—but it’s camp with heart, and it’s camp that has something to say. When Betty pulls a Gene Kelly and gleefully clicks her heels together after stealing the synthetic boob, you know she’s missing the point. She’s in denial and she’s going to have to face this painful fact eventually. At the same time, you want to save her from it. It’s effective camp, and it speaks to the craziness of embracing one’s supposed failings and eventually finding joy in a life you didn’t plan for. With sprawling, surreal artwork that seems to want to spill out from the confines of the page, Betty’s is a seminal story that shouldn’t be missed.
With a fair amount of nudity and sex, About Betty’s Boob is suggested for mature readers. Adult collections will benefit from the graphic novel’s inspiring tale of loss and self-acceptance, as well as its explorations on body image and chosen family.
About Betty’s Boob
by Vero Cazot
Art by Julie Rocheleau
Publisher Age Rating: Mature readers