The final year of my illustration course was devoted entirely to projects we ourselves created, in preparation for our graduation show. It took me a year longer than my fellow cohort to get there. My mental health issues meant I struggled, and for a spell I wasn’t sure if the university would let me come back.
Mental illness is incredibly hard to talk about – especially for men – let alone draw. But I love comics, and in this year of no constrictions, there wasn’t really any other subject I should make one about.
My biggest influences included: Dick Tracy newspaper strips – especially the classic arcs with The Brow and Flattop – Chester Gould had such command of narrative he could craft stories which would last for months, but would still be understandable when split into daily strips; “Garfield Minus Garfield”, with its inadvertently hilarious stories of alienation and loneliness and empty panels was a huge influence, and “Borb”, by Jason Little. Other artists I recommend to check out include Norwegian minimalist Jason, and Michael DeForge, who worked on Adventure Time.
Van Gogh’s painting, “At Eternity’s Gate” also made a strong impression; a man cradling his hands, in thought or in despair.
So my book would be made up of short three or four panel strips, mostly silent, which would build up into some kind of narrative … hopefully. The symptoms of depression would be characters themselves. Samuel Johnson and Winston Churchill anthropomorphized their illnesses as “black dogs”. Mine would be … weirder.
Lars is a bat-faced creature in a sharp business suit. He represents the voice in your head which will sometimes be positive, sometimes be negative, and sometimes, never shuts up.
Daisy, an oversized female torso and legs, representing feelings of melancholic longing for things long gone – especially love. She is disembodied because memories can become intermingled and indistinct as time passes, and wears lingerie to represent the objectification of sexual memories.
Finally, feelings of anger, despair and self-loathing would be represented by Rover, a round ball or spiky points, ever changing in size, and named after the monster in “The Prisoner.”
As I worked each character seemed to take on a life of its own: the strips featuring Daisy became violent, while those featuring Lars tended to turn light-hearted.
I love designing books and have taken courses on book-binding. My ideas became larger and ridiculously ambitious until it’s final form became ring-bound with laser-cut vinyl covers.
The final part, the label, is designed to look like one attached to a doctor’s prescription. All medications come with an information sheet which lists the possible side-effects, and in the case of anti-depressants, these side-effects can sometimes make your health worse.
And finally, a name for the book: Suicide Survivors Club. Actually, I think I decided upon this before anything else.
Most of the strips don’t really follow an internal narrative; some are representative, others abstract, but generally obscure. They all mean something to me. I’ve never really found out how effective it is as an actual book to anyone else.
It’s one of the very few projects I’ve made that I’m happy with, and didn’t throw in the trash almost immediately. At the time, it was cathartic. It has a beginning and an end, hopefully a positive one.
Thank you for reading.