This comic raised eyebrows by winning the 2012 Costa Biography Award. I had heard from comics enthusiasts that it was tame and boring, and the insinuation was that comics could only win prizes by doing everything they can to badge themselves as 'literary', and therefore 'worthy' of being treated 'seriously' (liberal use of scare-quotes entirely deliberate). I picked it up despite these warnings because I was re-reading Ulysses and wanted a little bit more biographical information about James Joyce (since there is so much autobiography in the novel). As it turned out, I was much better off reading the excellent Joyce: A Graphic Guide instead.
Dotter offers very little insight into the Joyce family. Lucia's breakdown and death is treated with almost callous brevity – two splash pages cover 8 years from her first breakdown to her death. Neither is the link between her story and the author's particularly well justified. The comic is framed by a day in the life of Mary Talbot in which a chance encounter with a memento of her father triggers a series of flashbacks. Despite a sources section at the back detailing the research that went into putting the story together – it retains the sense of an off the cuff riff.
The most egregious example of this is two instances in which Mary Talbot adds textual notes correcting her husband's inaccurate depiction of her story – bewildering since by their own account the collaboration was a very close one and therefore should have nipped these mistakes in the bud. Is this supposed to underline Mary Talbot's Molly Bloom-like assertion of independence within the co-dependent structure of the family – something Lucia Joyce was incapable of in the 1920s and 30s? Perhaps, but it also adds to the overwhelming impression of a book hastily put together, and therefore a throwaway example of the comics form.