A selection of comics related to mental (and physical) health. These are honest, beautiful, and often brutal narratives.
Included in this assembly (with descriptions from publishers’ websites):
My Favorite Thing is Monsters by Emil Ferris (2017)
Set against the tumultuous political backdrop of late ’60s Chicago, My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is the fictional graphic diary of 10-year-old Karen Reyes, filled with B-movie horror and pulp monster magazines iconography. Karen Reyes tries to solve the murder of her enigmatic upstairs neighbor, Anka Silverberg, a holocaust survivor, while the interconnected stories of those around her unfold. When Karen’s investigation takes us back to Anka’s life in Nazi Germany, the reader discovers how the personal, the political, the past, and the present converge. Full-color illustrations throughout.Rendered in a kaleidoscopically and breathtakingly virtuosic visual style that combines panel sequences and montage, Emil Ferris’ draftsmanship echoes the drawing of Otto Dix, George Grosz, and Robert Crumb. My Favorite Thing Is Monsters is a revelatory work of striking originality and will undoubtedly be greeted as the debut graphic novel of the year. http://www.fantagraphics.com/myfavoritethingismonsters/
In-Between Days: a memoir about living with cancer by Teva Harrison (2016):
Teva Harrison was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at the age of 37. In this brilliant and inspiring graphic memoir, she documents through comic illustration and short personal essays what it means to live with the disease. She confronts with heartbreaking honesty the crises of identity that cancer brings: a lifelong vegetarian, Teva agrees to use experimental drugs that have been tested on animals. She struggles to reconcile her long-term goals with an uncertain future, balancing the innate sadness of cancer with everyday acts of hope and wonder. She also examines those quiet moments of helplessness and loving with her husband, her family, and her friends, while they all adjust to the new normal.
Ultimately, In-Between Days is redemptive and uplifting, reminding each one of us of how beautiful life is, and what a gift. https://houseofanansi.com/products/in-between-days
Earthling by Aisha Franz (2014)
The German cartoonist Aisha Franz’s debut graphic novel details a day in the life of two sisters and their single mother. Set in a soulless suburb populated by block after block of identical row houses bordered by empty fields and an industrial no-man’s-land, Earthling explores the loneliness of everyday life as these women struggle to come to terms with what the world expects of them.
Earthling unveils a narrative rich with surrealist twists and turns, where the peas on the dinner plate and the ads on television can both literally and figuratively speak to the most private strife and deepest hopes in a person’s life. As the sisters begin to come to terms with their sexuality, they are confronted by harsh realities and a world that has few escape routes for young women.
Drawn in deep gray pencil, the claustrophobia of Franz’s crosshatching and smudging matches the tone of the book perfectly. Earthling is an atmospheric and haunting account of the inevitability of losing the dream worlds of childhood. https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/earthling
Skim by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki (2008, 2015 edition)
Skim is Kimberly Keiko Cameron, a not-slim, would-be Wiccan goth stuck in a private girls’ school in Toronto. When a classmate’s boyfriend kills himself because he was rumoured to be gay, the school goes into mourning overdrive, each clique trying to find something to hold on to and something to believe in. It’s a weird time to fall in love, but that’s high school, and that’s what happens to Skim when she starts to meet in secret with her neo-hippie English teacher, Ms. Archer. But when Ms. Archer abruptly leaves, Skim struggles to cope with her confusion and isolation, armed with her trusty journal and a desire to shed old friendships while cautiously approaching new ones.
Depression, love, sexual identity, crushes, manipulative peers –teen life in all its dramatic complexities is explored in this touching, pitch-perfect, literary graphic masterpiece. Cousins Mariko and Jillian Tamaki collaborate brilliantly in this poignant glimpse into the heartache of being sixteen. https://houseofanansi.com/products/skim
Fish by Bianca Bagnarelli (2014)
In the quiet heat of the French Riviera, where the long days of blissful summer are tempered by the annual rabble of revellers and sun seekers whose arrival excites a new life into otherwise sleepy towns, a listless and sombre child seeks solace in his questions about death. It is the summer after Milo’s mother and father were involved in a fatal accident and his cousins are visiting at his Grandparents’ crowded house in the Cote D’Azur. Despite the warm, familial setting, Milo cannot escape the grim spectre of death that seems to loom everywhere, he is morbidly fascinated by its presence. He sees it wherever he looks, whatever he does, and the fragility of his own existence plagues his every thought. So, when a missing girl is found drowned on a public beach, Milo thinks that seeing her will finally lift the veil of the great unknown and provide him with answers to the questions that have overwhelmed him since the day he lost everything.
A striking and beautiful comic that explores the profound themes of adolescence and loss, while reminding us of our own mortality and just how delicately we are held together. http://nobrow.net/shop/fish-2/
Look Straight Ahead by Elaine M. Will (2013) (review by Weird Canada)
Between schoolyard bullies, schizophrenic visions, and dissatisfaction with his art, 17-year old Jeremy Knowles is experiencing a difficult adolescence. Structured as contemporary Künstlerroman, Elaine M. Will’s Look Straight Ahead documents Jeremy’s struggles with acute mental breakdown exacerbated by teen angst (or perhaps vice-versa) and his experience with art as therapy.
Will situates Look Straight Ahead firmly in the imagery and narrative of timeless adolescence: the story itself is centrally concerned with the process of growing up, and her characters bear uncanny resemblance to a similarly teen-minded classic. Other than the physical likeness, though, Will’s steers clear from anything so middle-American: drawn in black and white (except for a few bursts of colour in Jeremy’s hallucinations), Look Straight Ahead alternates between frigid asceticism and manic psychedelia as Jeremy navigates the vicissitudes of recovery.
The familiarity of Will’s characterization imbues Look Straight Ahead with a distinctly human verisimilitude. Despite the metaphysical scope of his hallucinations, Jeremy’s struggles never venture beyond the relatable and they suggest an autobiographical intimacy with their content – Will herself suffered a mental breakdown in 2002. And, just as Will created Look Straight Ahead in the decade after her illness, Jeremy’s ultimate recovery confirms the restorative power of art and the inextricable link between creative and personal growth. https://weirdcanada.com/tag/cuckoos-nest-press/
Sprawling Heart by Sab Meynert (2016) (review by Rob Clough )
2dcloud has never been afraid to publish books that don’t neatly fit into categories, and Meynert’s book is no exception. I believe it’s best described as an illustrated prayer and invocation for healing. The lush illustrations, including delicate pencil drawings, elaborate design work and vibrant use of color, give the eye something powerful to work with when paired against the relatively spare use of text. The prayer is about staying open, staying aware, looking for help and looking for connections. There’s a repeating visual motif of flowering amidst an open hand, representing perhaps that it’s important to understand how to be open to the things life can offer you, that one’s mental state is key to accepting or not accepting what life has to offer, in all of its incarnations. The comic is all about flow, fluidity and water’s paradox in being droplets and a wave all at once. That metaphor is used to explain our position relative to others: we are all water, whether we realize it or not, and we can either flow or resist–but the river will always keep moving. http://2dcloud.com/sprawling-heart
Ikebana by Yumi Sakugawa (2015)
Ignatz Award nominee Yumi Sakugawa (I Think I Am In Friend-Love With You) presents a powerful exploration of a piece of performance art. Cassie Hamasaki embodies a Japanese flower arrangement, and then, trailing her confused art class, she silently walks into the city, through a public utterly unaware of what she is doing. http://retrofit.storenvy.com/products/14025111-ikebana-by-yumi-sakugawa
Soft Float by Valentine Gallardo (2015)
“Valentine Gallardo’s Soft Float (Space Face Books) rests comfortably in the reader’s hand. The soft white cover holds Gallardo’s deep graphite black with conviction. Her style is built on this kind of contrast, white figures emerging out of fuzzy and indistinct darkness, shapes cohering out of gestures. The short pieces that make upSoft Float hang together by virtue of a shared preoccupation with the lives of young adults caught in the throes of awkward socializing. Everything is simultaneously lackadaisical and intense, just like every party.” –Read the full review from The AV Club. https://spacefacebooks.com/products/soft-float-by-valentine-gallardo
One Hundred Demons by Lynda Barry (2002)
Inspired by a 16th-century Zen monk’s painting of a hundred demons chasing each other across a long scroll, acclaimed cartoonist Lynda Barry confronts various demons from her life in seventeen full-colour vignettes. In Barry’s hand, demons are the life moments that haunt you, form you and stay with you: your worst boyfriend; kickball games on a warm summer night; watching your baby brother dance; the smell of various houses in the neighborhood you grew up in; or the day you realize your childhood is long behind you and you are officially a teenager.
As a cartoonist, Lynda Barry has the innate ability to zero in on the essence of truth, a magical quality that has made her book One! Hundred! Demons! an enduring classic of the early 21st century. In the book’s intro, however, Barry throws the idea of truth out of the window by asking the reader to decide if fiction can have truth and if autobiography can have a fiction, a hybrid that Barry coins “autobiofictionalography.” As readers get to know Barry’s demons, they realize that the actual truth no longer matters because the universality of Barry’s comics, true or untrue, reigns supreme. https://www.drawnandquarterly.com/one-hundred-demons
Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi (2003)
In powerful black-and-white comic strip images, Satrapi tells the story of her life in Tehran from ages six to fourteen, years that saw the overthrow of the Shah’s regime, the triumph of the Islamic Revolution, and the devastating effects of war with Iraq. The intelligent and outspoken only child of committed Marxists and the great-granddaughter of one of Iran’s last emperors, Marjane bears witness to a childhood uniquely entwined with the history of her country.
Persepolis paints an unforgettable portrait of daily life in Iran and of the bewildering contradictions between home life and public life. Marjane’s child’s-eye view of dethroned emperors, state-sanctioned whippings, and heroes of the revolution allows us to learn as she does the history of this fascinating country and of her own extraordinary family. Intensely personal, profoundly political, and wholly original, Persepolis is at once a story of growing up and a reminder of the human cost of war and political repression. It shows how we carry on, with laughter and tears, in the face of absurdity. And, finally, it introduces us to an irresistible little girl with whom we cannot help but fall in love. http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/160890/persepolis-by-marjane-satrapi/9780375714573/
Naming Monsters by Hanna Eaton (2013)
An adult Where the Wild Things Are, Naming Monsters is a warm, compelling graphic novel about a college student grappling with her emotions after losing her mother, but without knowing how to express them.
Fran is a keen amateur cryptozoologist – an expert in the study of animals that may not exist – and she can’t quite tell if the animals she meets are real or part of her imagination. But one thing is for sure: monsters are all around us.
The year is 1993, and we join Fran on a wild ride around London while she negotiates its real or imagined menageries. Tales of strange creatures that might-have-been introduce each stage of her journey.
Fran’s adventure, often with her best friend Alex in tow, is a psychogeography of London and its suburbs – a picaresque graphic novel in which the grief of losing her mother is punctuated by encounters with her semi-estranged dad, her out-of-touch East London Nana, a selfish boyfriend, and the odd black dog or two.
Hannah Eaton shows in sensitive pencils and beautiful penmanship what happens when your emotions become personified by monsters, and how you can learn to live with them. http://www.myriadeditions.com/books/naming-monsters/
Ojitos Borrosos by Ines Estrada (2012)
“A collection of short comics I made during 2006-2012. It was nominated in 2012 for the Ignatz awards “Best Artist” and “Best Collection”. Most of these comics were originally self published as zines, and others appeared in publications like VICE, Kuš!, Smoke Signal and Fett Magazine.”
Self published (Mexico, 2016) in an offset edition of 1000 copies, 160 pp. http://inechi.com/ojitosborrosos.html
Becoming Unbecoming by Una (2016)
A devastating personal account of gender violence told in graphic-novel form, set against the backdrop of the 1970s Yorkshire Ripper man-hunt.
It’s 1977 and Una is twelve. A serial murderer is at large in West Yorkshire and the police are struggling to solve the case – despite spending more than two million man-hours hunting the killer and interviewing the man himself no less than nine times.
As this national news story unfolds around her, Una finds herself on the receiving end of a series of violent acts for which she feels she is to blame.
Through image and text Becoming Unbecoming explores what it means to grow up in a culture where male violence goes unpunished and unquestioned. With the benefit of hindsight Una explores her experience, wonders if anything has really changed and challenges a global culture that demands that the victims of violence pay its cost. http://www.myriadeditions.com/books/becomingunbecoming/
The Next Day by John Porcellino, Paul Peterson, and Jason Gilmore (2011)
“Constructed from intimate interviews with survivors of near-fatal suicide attempts,” The Next Day takes us into the minds of four individuals who attempted suicide and lived to tell the tale, and asks the question, “What if they had waited just one more day?” Certainly, the decision of the authors to bring in John Porcellino to illustrate this work was the single most important one they made, as only Porcellino’s minimal, understated line could work here; anyone else’s work would have risked pushing the material into the maudlin realm. Obviously, this is not a book for everyone, but it’s good that it’s now out there for anyone. Delve deeper into this book by reading” –The Comics Journal review.
Repost from an earlier section of my autobiographical comics guide:
Graphic Autobiographies on Physical and Mental Illness, Including Trauma and Grief
Below are links to a selection of graphic autobiographies about physical and mental illness that you will find at the University of Toronto Libraries, alphabetical by author’s last name.
B, D. (2006). Epileptic. New York: Pantheon Books.
Barry, L. (2002). One hundred demons. Berkeley, Calif.: Distributed by Publishers Group West. (Trauma; sexual abuse)
Bell, C., Lasky, D., & Amulet Books,. (2014). El Deafo. (Hearing impairment)
Brabner, J., Pekar, H., & Stack, F. (1994). Our cancer year. Philadelphia, PA: Running Press.
Cunningham, D. (2011). Psychiatric tales: Eleven graphic stories about mental illness. New York: Bloomsbury.
Davidson, A. (2003). The Spiral Cage: diary of an astral gypsy. Los Angeles: CA. (Severe spina bifida)
Dunlap-Shohl, P. (2015). My degeneration: a journey through Parkinson’s. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
Engelberg, M. (2006). Cancer made me a shallower person: A memoir in comics. New York: Harper.
Farmer, J. (2014). Special exits: A graphic memoir. (Aging; adult children with older parents; family relationships)
Fies, B. (2008). Mom’s cancer.
Forney, Ellen. (2012). Marbles: mania, depression, Michelangelo, and me: a graphic memoir. New York: Gothem Books.
Freedman, M. (2014). Relatively indolent but relentless: a cancer treatment journal. New york: Seven Stories Press.
Green, K. (2013). Lighter than my shadow. (Eating disorders)
Hart, T. Lightning, R., & Corman, L. (2016). Rosalie Lightning. New York: St. Martin’s Press. (Grieving)
Hayden, J. (2015). The story of my tits. (Breast neoplasms; breast cancer; mastectomy)
Leavitt, S. (2010). Tangles: A story about Alzheimer’s, my mother, and me. Calgary: Freehand Books.
Nakazawa, K. (1990). Barefoot Gen: The day after : a cartoon story of Hiroshima. Penguin.
Nilsen, A. (2012). Don’t go where I can’t follow. Montreal: Drawn & Quarterly. (Partner’s battle with cancer)
Porcellino, J. (2014). The hospital suite. (Anxiety; illness)
Potts, P. (2010). Good eggs: a memoir. New York, NY: Harper. (Infertility; pregnancy)
Marchetto, M. A. (2006). Cancer vixen: a true story. New York: Pantheon Books
Satrapi, M. (2003). Persepolis. (Depression; trauma)
Small, D. (2009). Stitches: A memoir. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart. (Trauma; abuse; anxiety; depression)
Streeten, N. (2011). Billy, me, & you: a memoir of grief and recovery. Brighten, England: Myriad Editions.
Tristram, M. (2014). Probably nothing: a diary of not-your-average nine months. London: Viking. (Cancer and pregnancy)
Will, E.M. (2013). Look straight ahead: a graphic novel. Saskatchewan: Cuckoo’s Nest Press. (Anxiety; depression; mental health)
(2013)The Storyteller’s eye: Comics about illness & caregiving, science & medicine, by students in the biomedical communications graduate program, University of Toronto. Compiled by Shelley L. Wall. Toronto: BMC.
Woollcott, T. (2009). Mirror mind. Toronto, Ont: T. Woollcott. (Dyslexia)
Links to webcomics, tumblrs, zines, and blogs with graphic autobiographical work on mental and physical illness
https://www.facebook.com/pg/Im-Crazy-64283709927/photos/ (only available on Facebook, I believe)
Jenn Woodall (anxiety):
Sarafin; “mad pride” (experience being in the psychiatric system): http://asylumsquad.ca
Please let me know if you have any recommendations!