Art of Psychiatry Society

A call for graphic memoirs
May 14, 2012, 11:08 am
Filed under: Comics

Drawn from Distress to Recovery

A Call for ‘Graphic Memoirs’.
Editors: John Stuart Clark & Theodore Stickley

An undervalued feature of the recovery movement is the powerful narratives of those who have survived mental health problems and the psychiatric system.

Increasingly people in distress or recovery have turned to the graphic medium of comics to tell their sensitive stories, sometimes collaborating with friends or therapists, more commonly working alone to produce a personal diary or recollection. While a few have emerged as published ‘graphic memoirs’, most never see the light of day, or at best, are only accessible as web-comics.

Going some way to correct this, we invite submissions for a compendium book of graphic short stories of personal journeys (or part of) to be published early next year. The invitation goes out to everybody, past or present ‘sufferer’, regardless of artistic or literary expertise.

The editors appreciate that the form and dimensions of any proposed book are critical to those who create comics, so before committing, we ask for expressions of interest.

This should be no more than a title and paragraph outlining your proposed story, plus a sample page of artwork submitted as a jpeg no bigger than 2MB. As a rough guide, imagine the finished book is A4 format and in black & white. Your finished story or episode should be no more than ten pages long, but can be as short as a single page.

Provided it is indicative of your style or that of the person you will collaborate with, the sample artwork can be of anything and any dimension. It is not necessary to work up a sample of your proposed story. Postal submissions will be accepted, but your outline must be typed, the artwork must be a photocopy, and a stamped self-addressed envelope must be included. Foreign language contributors will need to provide their own translations into English, and the page must read left to right.

The editors will respect full confidentiality should you wish your work to be included anonymously, but we need full contact details, even if you prefer to use a pseudonym. The editors cannot team up writers with artists, or visa versa.

COPYRIGHT: Standard copyright practice is adhered to.

DATA PROTECTION: The editors will retain entrants’ personal data for use solely in conjunction with work on this project and will not make this available to other organisations.

Digital submissions: see also

Postal submissions: Theo Stickley, Faculty of Medicine, Institute of Mental Health Building, University of Nottingham, Jubilee Campus, Wollaton Road, Nottingham NG8 1BB, U.K.

The deadline for expressions is July 31st 2012.

Graphic novel reviews
March 27, 2011, 8:27 pm
Filed under: Comics

Hate No. 24 by Peter Bagge review by Greg Neate

With its enduring depiction of Seattle’s ‘grunge’ culture, the 1990s serial comic Hate benefitted by association with its location during its first 15 issues. However, when the suburban, slacker everyman, Buddy, returned to live with his family in New Jersey for the next 15 issues, Hate’s slapstick and tragic dynamics expanded to include three generations struggling to live the American dream and with each other.

Psychiatry features most directly in issue 24 when Buddy insists his emotionally unstable girlfriend, Lisa, sees ‘a shrink’ after her latest ‘irrational’ outburst. More of Hate’s stock-in-trade counter accusations follow; ‘You’re the one that’s crazy, not me!’, before Lisa attends a male Freudian analyst and then a female, cognitive therapist. Both are professional but tied to their ‘agendas’ and ultimately unable to overcome her lack of purpose. As Buddy and Lisa drive home after a final revealing joint session, Lisa impulsively suggests they have sex. An exasperated Buddy succumbs and their ‘love’ continues, though this time the reader is spared one of Hate’s graphic displays of tension obliterating intercourse. GN

Issues 1-15 of Hate are collected in Buddy Does Seattle (2005) and 16-30 in Buddy Does Jersey (2007) both published by Fantagraphics Books.

Gregory I-IV by Marc Hempel review by Greg Neate

While comic book characters commonly have ‘funny’ shaped heads, Gregory is unique for depicting a mentally disordered, straightjacketed boy whose vocabulary is limited to grunts and shouting aloud his name repetitively. Still despite the unlikely setting for humour of his isolation cell, that doesn’t stop Gregory’s adventures or those of his visiting friend; Herman Vermin, a vain, grandiose, imaginary (or is he?) rat.

The playful use of perspectives, including through Gregory’s eyes, enables readers to experience his tragic and hilarious humanity. Dramatic compression and expansion of the comic strip panels, the four walls of Gregory’s world, reveals him to be both oppressed and contained by his environment. Similarly, despite his ‘helpless’ state, Gregory has a profound effect on those he encounters in this sympathetic portrayal of the tensions and tedium within a psychiatric institution.

Gregory was published as four books Gregory I – IV by Piranha Press and later reprinted in two volumes by DC comics as A Gregory Treasury Vol. 1 & 2 (2004)

Greg Neate’s website

Further reading:


Psychiatric Tales – Darryl Cunningham
Years of the Elephant – Willy Linthout
Couch Fiction – Philippa Perry


Maus – Art Speigelman
Persepolis – Marjane Satrapi
Palestine/Footnotes in Gaza – Joe Sacco
Pyongyang – Guy Delisle


The Watchmen -  Allan Moore/Dave Gibbons
The Dark Night Returns – Frank Miller
V for Vendetta – Allan Moore

Review of ‘The Alcoholic’
March 17, 2011, 6:29 pm
Filed under: Comics

Jonathan A., the protagonist in this semi-autobiographical book, is a writer and an alcoholic with a ‘propensity for getting into trouble’.  As we first meet him he’s drunkenly running from the police having been apprehended in flagrante with a dwarven pensioner.  Predominantly telling his story in flashback, A. charts the beginning of his problems to high school 22 years earlier, the first time he experience the dangerous sensation that alcohol made him cool.

A.’s heavy drinking continues through college and worsens with the death of his parents, but a spell in rehab allows him to remain abstinent and to establish himself as a crime writer.  But sobriety does not improve the other theme of this book: his troubled relationships with men and women.  The failure of the friendship with a treasured teenage male friend wounds him in particular whilst his relationship with an aging aunt is his only relationship of any stability.  Eventually he falls in catastrophic love with a woman who is much younger than him, and the drawn out swansong of this romance returns him to drink.

‘The Alcoholic’ is artfully drawn as well as being pacey and grimly compelling.  Although predominantly concerned with loss and melancholy, it is not without humour.

Review by Dr Stephen Ginn.  This review originally appeared in the London Division newsletter

Graphic novels and psychiatry by Dr Issy Millard
March 17, 2011, 6:24 pm
Filed under: Comics

(more from Thom Ferrier)

At long last, Comics seem to be being taken seriously and the struggle for ‘funny books’ to escape their geeky ghetto is over. A new school of academic criticism – “Comics Studies’ – has emerged and literary critics give the best graphic novels as much attention and recognition as they do the latest releases from celebrated novelists.

The last twenty years have seen a renaissance, driven by advances in technique, new understanding of the medium, and the realization that comics can be used to tell any kind of story. Indeed, it can be argued that comics might be the best medium for telling certain kinds of story.

The American cartoonist Scott McCloud, in his influential work of  criticism Understanding Comics offers an explanation for why this may be the case. He compares the experience of watching a movie, reading a book, and reading a comic.

When you see a film, McCloud says, you are entering a world where the creator has complete control. Every image and sound that is projected has been selected for you, producing an overwhelming and totally immersive sensory experience. When you read a book, by contrast, you are given words to interpret in your mind’s eye. How you choose to see those words is entirely up to you; the crucial part is the imagining.

McCloud sees comics lying half-way between the other two forms. A cartoonist, through the choice of frame, character, design, and line has the same control as a movie-maker. He can present a world and the narrative exactly as he wants you to see it. At the same time, explains McCloud, there is a crucial piece of magic going on as your eye passes over the page. In the gaps between frames, the  story is no longer dictated. Instead, you are imagining the connections that move the story forward. You are building the narrative in your head.

It is this combination of authorial control and the reader’s imaginative engagement that makes comics special. It is why we will believe that Superman flies, or that a dog like Snoopy can talk. It also reveals why we don’t believe it when we see the same thing happening on screen. The literalizing of a previously imagined wonder can only be disappointing.

It is not just stories about men in tights that benefit from this effect. Recent graphic novels like Epileptic (David B), From Hell (Allan Moore), and The Photographer (Guibert) have convincingly explored psychiatric themes. These stories are wildly different in intent and style but have a common desire to explore subjective experience. They also share techniques: the books frequently show jarring contrasts between reality as it is, and how it is perceived by their subjects; they slip suddenly into vivid depictions of dreams and fantasies; or they use tricks of rhythm and form to subtly unsettle, and surprise the reader, mimicking their subjects own experience

This kind of playfulness with time, reality and perception, is something that is only really possible in graphic narrative. When  combined with comics’ proven strength at portraying the fantastic, it explains why the medium offers such an exciting, and underexplored platform for exploring mental health issues.

What is so exhilarating is that the form is still very new. The rules are still being written. To offer an analogy: comics now stand where cinema stood at the dawn of the talkie.

Dr Issy Millard CT2 South London and the Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust

This article was orginally published in the London Division March Newsletter.