24-JUNE-2011 It’s taken me a week to clear my head about PSYCHIATRIC TALES by Darryl Cunningham. When I heard about this book through Publishers Weekly, I knew I had to have it. I have been in the “making notes” phase of my own personal story as a person who wants to create but also suffers from what’s called Major Depressive Disorder (with Psychotic Tendencies according to my discharge papers). I’m totally strapped financially and a friend from the online podcasting/geek community sent me an Amazon gift card as a sweet gesture of kindness. With it I ordered season 2 of Castle and PSYCHIATRIC TALES.
When it arrived, all I had time for was the foreward. The fact that even this introduction is comprised of Cunningham’s powerful black and white cartoons with sequential narrative, had me sold that this would most likely be my favorite book of 2011, graphic or otherwise.
Honestly, my first thought when I saw the shout out in PW was “uh-oh, someone beat me to it so I shouldn’t bother writing my story.” Then I rationalized that there are a million superhero and zombie books on comic shelves so theoretically there should be room for more than one graphic novel about mental illness. The problem is there are published books and popular published books: for example, Harry Potter was not the first boy wizard in a special magic school but he’ll be the “only” one according to pop culture. Enough about what brought me to the table; here’s what I thought of the book:
Cunningham broke each chapter down by mental illness which he witnessed at the hospital during his time as a nursing student. He approached each delicately but without an overly liberal pandering. When there was a person who was checked in as a patient that clearly didn’t belong there, Cunningham shows how the situation was honestly handled. His collection of Tales isn’t about judgment or about evoking a reader’s own sense of despair. Cunningham did this for his own therapy as a means to show the world that even a person like him, an educated person in the U.K. living a middle class life, can in fact also be a victim of a mental disease. Every story within is different from the next; yet the message is that any one of those stories might not be different from someone you know.
Since I’m generally a reader that covers all things comic book, I appreciated that Cunningham refers to his drawings not as a “comic” nor even “sequential art.” He always says he’s a cartoonist and that this collection is made of cartoons. They just happen to follow a sequence of storytelling through his narrative and dialog. The illustrations are stark in black and white which he inverts to show movement in thought processes when the subject of a panel isn’t actually moving. It can be a little psychedelic at times not only when he’s addressing the hippie-style life of one patient.
The bottom line is I cannot possibly recommend this enough. It’s a stellar read which is grounded in simplistic illustrations. I look forward to explore Cunningham’s other works.
Listen to the review on Comic Geek Speak ep. 1096.