Monday, 18 October 2010

Review; Psychiatric Tales

Artist Darryl Cunningham originally, and with great modesty, released these Psychiatric Tales on his blog. It’s probably a reflection of his ability and the sheer strength of these strips that very quickly he found a real-world publisher in the form of UK based Blank Slate who released a hard back collection earlier this year. You might think that the rules of this blog mean that I just read the strips online and not progress on to the physical copy but you’re wrong. The physical thing is the point, as far as I’m concerned.

Darryl recounts his experiences working as a psychiatric nurse telling us about the people he’s helped, being careful to protect their identities, and carefully explaining that most of the assumptions we generally have about mental illnesses are wrong. It’s a worthy and interesting thing to do in any media but Darryl’s ability as both an artist and story teller elevate this beyond what many other creators would do with his inclination.

Darryl has what looks like a disarmingly simple art style but there are complicated ideas and emotions being expressed. The townscapes turn negative during intense mental difficulty. (Darryl’s drawings of towns and cities are always amazing, incidentally). Characters’ hairstyles are often elaborate as if to hint at the turmoil going on underneath them. Occasionally Darryl samples photographs, bleeding the tone out of them, to appropriate affect within the narratives, or zooms in and out of earlier images for perspective. Importantly, the book never forgets that as disabling and as bleak as mental illness can be that sufferers can be diagnosed and helped.

Darryl is a considered story teller, every word carefully chosen and every sentence meticulously paced. But then he combines these words with the images, as you do in comics, taking full advantage of the language this art form provides. The dialogue never loses logical perspective but very quickly, thanks to its combination with the art, I find myself making emotional connections. I can’t tell if Darryl has made these effective combinations deliberately or instinctively but either way, it’s very powerful.

Cost: The book retails for £11.99 but I’m pretty sure that I picked up my copy for £10 from Caption over the summer, although I don’t consider this an achievement as I would happily have paid full price. Caption is a small press comic event held every year in Oxford. It, and events like it, are the best places to find the most interesting comics being produced right now. Often books by guests will be on sale for a little less than in the shops because, I imagine, the cut paid to the organisers is less. Whatever, all you need to know is, small press comic events are great and you should own a copy of Psychiatric Tales.

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