196 pgs. full color | $19.99 hardcover | W: Julie Dachez; A: Mademoiselle Caroline
Marguerite is a 27-year-old French woman. She has a job, a boyfriend, a nice apartment, and in general seems to fit reasonably well into the world as it exists. As we quickly learn in Invisible Differences, however, appearances can be deceiving. Marguerite has developed a routine that allows her to pass as “normal,” but only just, because the way she experiences the world is substantially different from the way most people do.
Noises that other people simply ignore without thinking—footsteps, casual chatter, the elevator bell, the clicking of typewriter keys—for her create a din which saps her energy and destroys her concentration. Since Marguerite works in an open office environment, such noises are ever-present, and sometimes she has to flee to the restroom just to have a moment of peace and quiet. While her co-workers enjoy the opportunity to socialize and share information about herself, she’s thrown by simple questions like “Got any weekend plans?” Her co-workers then take offense at what they consider her sulkiness, while she simply doesn’t understand what kind of a response they expect. And someone’s been complaining to her boss that she doesn’t try to fit in, a failing that apparently outweighs the excellence of her work.
Outside of work hours, Marguerite loves being in her quiet apartment, putting on comfy clothes and chilling out with her pets (two cats and a dog). But her boyfriend, Florian, likes to go out, and doesn’t understand that, for her, attending a party is a real chore rather than something to look forward to. Her idea of a great weekend is to take a book to the park and alternate between reading and looking at nature, choices her acquaintances regard as boring.
Eventually, Marguerite’s careful routines and coping techniques break down. She’s been seeking out help, but her condition is largely unrecognized in France, and is frequently underdiagnosed in women. Doing her own research on the Internet, and at a bookstore, she suspects she has Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), which is confirmed after two days of testing at the Center for Autism Resources. She’s relieved to realize why she experiences the world so differently from most people, and—spoiler alert—gets on with the business of creating a life that suits her. But not all goes smoothly: her “friends” are more a hindrance than a help in this regard, and the professionals she should be able to trust, from her physician to the Director of Human Resources in her company, are similarly uninterested in broadening their worldview to include the possibility of neurodiversity.
Invisible Differences is written both for people with AS, and for those who don’t have it but want (or need) to learn something about it. By beginning with the lived experience of one individual (written in consultation with Fabienne Vaslet, whose life forms the basis for the story), Invisible Differences naturally draws the reader into the subject, and short-circuits attempts to claim that AS doesn’t exist. Most of the facts and figures are saved for the end of the book, which presents basic information about AS, offers suggestions for coping mechanisms and accommodations for people with AS, and presents a short bibliography about AS including reference books, memoirs, children’s books, novels, and online resources.
Mademoiselle Caroline’s art is perfectly matched to the narrative approach in Individual Differences, which tells Marguerite’s story from her own perspective. When we first meet her, Marguerite lives in a world of blacks, whites, and grays, with an occasional color accent (often red) drawing attention to a particular object. The distracting noises in her environment are presented as scribbled cursive words scattered across the panels, nearly overwhelming some scenes, as the noises themselves overwhelm her consciousness. When non-diegetic commentary is included, it appears outside the panels, so there’s no confusions between the voice of Marguerite and that of the narrator. When Marguerite begins to understand herself and find ways to live comfortably in the world, the panels become more colorful, until she’s finally living, as the title suggests, in a full-color world.
Several other collaborators contributed to this work. They include translator Edward Gauvin, editor Amanda Meadows, designer Sarah Rockwell, cover designer Rachel Dukes, and sensitivity reader Ashanti Fortson. You can see a preview of Individual Differences here. | Sarah Boslaugh