This week animator and graphic novelist Lucy Sullivan tackles mental health and no, not all or even most of her choices for the three books which influenced hers are graphic novels.
I don’t care about your book! Instead tell me about three books which influenced your book…
Agnes’ Jacket: A Psychologist’s Search for the Meanings of Madness by Gail A. Hornstein
The eponymous clothing was the creation of a Victorian era inmate in a German Asylum. In a quiet act of defiance ex-seamstress Agnes stitches her story into the uniform she’s forced to wear. And so begins a journey into the hidden world of ‘psychiatric survival groups’ and closed meetings of people ‘hearing voices’ that have eschewed medication in favour of talking and in doing so find a way to live with their mental illness. An idea that spoke to me on a very personal level as I’ve always felt my depression is linked to being an artist.
A lot has been written on the pros and cons of medicating for mental illness but this book is more about the personal experience of it. Much was eye opening for me and had a direct effect on how I’ve drawn the experience of a psychosis and on how I view my own family’s trials with mental health. Many of the people that Hornstein comes across that are diagnosed with hearing voices have experienced a moment of great trauma in their lives but often this is not realised until they are given the chance to really talk about it in supportive company. When I mentioned this theory to my Mum whilst discussing my grandmother’s bipolar she responded, “well she did come home to find her brother dead, having gassed himself in their oven.” A fact that I’ve never once heard connected to her subsequent decline in mental health. And how did that happen? Because often we fail to see the person beneath the psychosis. A fascinating and essential book for anyone interested in psychology.
The Black Project by Gareth Brookes
Rendered in Lino Cut and Embroidery this astonishing book is the story of Richard who, lacking the confidence or chance to meet a real life girlfriend, decides to build his own. As his technique and desires grow ever more sophisticated with each version Richard delves ever deeper into his fantasy and leaves reality behind.
This is the graphic novel that gave me the confidence to create Barking exactly as I wanted to without worrying about strict panels or typeset fonts. Gareth approaches comics with an utterly unique flair and complete lack of fear for breaking rules. Much like Angela Carter he establishes the world so completely that you never once question it and are enveloped by his extraordinary tales. Beautiful work and a deserving winner of the inaugural Myriad Edition’s ‘First Graphic Novel’ Prize.
Grief is A Thing With Feathers by Max Porter
I already had 2 chapters created and was sending mini-comics off to publishers when I stumbled across this incredible work. Told trough the thoughts and experiences of three characters. Dad: Ted Hughes scholar, author and grieving husband. Boys: both too young but also more at ease with their loss than their father and Crow: the viscously funny phantasmagorical representation of grief and death.
I can honestly say I have never read anything as poetic, groundbreaking and honestly heartbreaking written about this ultimate of subjects. A genuinely remarkable debut. It’s greatest inspiration to me was not to hold back. Grief is a messy, destructive experience and needs to be spoken more openly about.
Oh, ok – tell me about your book then…
Barking by Lucy Sullivan
Caught by the police in the maelstrom of a grief triggered psychosis and a position that looks anything but sane Alix Otto is sectioned. Along with her on the ward are a giant goading black dog, more shadow than fur, and the ghost of her dead friend. Once the laws of her new life are aggressively shown to her Alix soon realises she only has herself to rely on for help. But when your mind is your own worst enemy how do you find a way out?
Based on the experience of myself and others of a mental health crisis Barking will explore our preconceptions of madness, of how we treat people in the midsts of it and hopefully open up more conversation around a subject that truly affects us all: Our inner life. For who can really say what is sane and what is not.