Jul 15, 2011

Comics Cube! Reviews: KINDS OF BLUE

About a month ago, the incomparable Scott McCloud pointed me to KINDS OF BLUE, an anthology of short comics about depression. The comic was on Pozible, which I guess is Australia's version of Kickstarter, as it needed funds to be published. It has since received full financial support, so I won't be telling you to donate to it (although you may get the rewards associated with each level of monetary donation). I'm going to tell you why you should read it.

Depression is a very real, physical disease. It can, untreated, be crippling and paralyzing. The best description I've ever had of it is that you can take the worst moment of your life, and then take away the reason for it, and that's what clinical depression feels like. And yet, I hear a lot of people dismiss this — and mental illness, in general — citing that "It's all in your head," and that all you need is willpower to beat it. No, it's not, and willpower only helps it as much as it can help your flu. Meaning you can work through it, but it won't go away.

I think this is all important to know, and it's important to build awareness, not only for the people who may not know just what depression feels like, but also for the people who have it to know they're not alone. And KINDS OF BLUE, edited by Karen Beilharz, speaks to both groups. The anthology is full of heartfelt testimonies from sufferers of depression and their supporters, and are told in various styles and tones. Beilharz and Paul Wong-Pan's "The Real You," for example, is painted and has an overwhelming feeling of sadness. Meanwhile, Guangyao Un and Fiona Darwin's "The Suit" is cartoony and full of whimsy. One thing they have in common is the use of imagery (stage masks for "The Real You," a beekeeper suit for "The Suit") to represent the barriers that depression puts between the sufferer and the people they care about.

The use of symbolic imagery is prevalent throughout the book, never more notable than in "The Black Dog Must Die," by Beilharz and Tim Bywater, which depicts depression as an unkillable black dog. The story ends on a hopeful note, as does "Labyrinthine," by Un and Rebecca Jee, which depicts the illness as a maze. The use of these metaphors outlines just how difficult the disease is to deal with, and it's effective because it gives you hope without underemphasizing the seriousness of the illness.

The hope balances out some of the other stories, which, in contrast, simply tell you what depression feels like, such as "Nihilo," by Beilharz and Kathleen Jennings. This is probably the most depressing (no pun intended) story in the entire anthology, as it talks about the sufferer desiring nonexistence (as opposed to death). The story is paced in such a way that really draws you in. And if you don't understand why they would feel that way, that's part of the effectiveness — people dealing with depression don't understand it at first either. But what is important is that you know that that's how they feel, even if you don't understand the why.

Beilharz also writes two more stories specifically for the friends and loved ones of the sufferers of depression. "Five Tips for Caring for Someone with Depression," drawn by Belinda Stead, provides a useful five-step guide for those who are helping someone through the problem. The closing story, "A Friend in Need," tells more of a story, and ends the book on a hopeful note.

KINDS OF BLUE is a beautiful anthology with gorgeous artwork and properly paced storytelling to really make you feel something about this oft-misrepresented illness. It is commendable of Karen Beilharz to put this together, and I can't recommend it enough.

You can read KINDS OF BLUE here. If you would like to donate some money to KINDS OF BLUE, you may do so here.

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