A Soul In Torment
Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Hayes just took a look at Lucy Sullivan’s Barking graphic novel, out now from Unbound…
Writer/ Artist: Lucy Sullivan
Lucy Sullivan’s graphic novel Barking about a young woman in psychiatric torment would be more evidence that comics is a legitimate form for discussion of mental health, if that question hadn’t been settled long ago anyway. Published through the crowdfunding platform Unbound and with some revenues going back to support an appropriate charity, it’s the story of someone besieged by grief and guilt, and who seems as likely to be washed away by the painful rips and splashes of black ink in the art as by the ugly thoughts brewing in her head.
She is Alix Otto, and one year after the death of a close friend Alix’s demons have overwhelmed her. Sectioned and corralled into a hospital psychiatric ward where antagonism with staff and other patients is constant, Alix’s real struggle is with herself. A troubled imagination throws up aggressive visions of her dead friend and a hulking black canine, her depression’s actual Black Dog. Under the umbrella of an NHS that probably wants to help but might struggle to actually do so, Alix does her best not to collapse completely.
Stories of patients in psychiatric care are regulars in films and novels, but as comics develop their own canon of mental health stories there are aspects where they have the edge over the competition. Lucy Sullivan’s art is all stress and discomfort, black lines scratched hard into the image with hardly a solid border to control Alix’s runaway mind. Panel borders come and go, so do faces, and legible speech patterns, and reliable points of view for that matter. The outside world, especially the areas around and under Thames bridges where events in the plot converge, are sketchy and unformed, while the bodies in motion or crooked with tension are sometimes elongated smudges, like some of Dave McKean’s anxious figures. The reader has to work at the task of sorting things out; but then so does Alix.
All of which means that Barking is going after the subjective feeling of mental health, rather than the objective story of a patient’s trip down bad memory lane. Other comics have done this too – Sloane Leong’s black and white story A Hollowing from 2017 dealt with a girl’s crushing sorrow over the death of her mother, its images elastic and flowing like black paste – and it’s a solid artistic tradition, the same goal of getting insecurity and unease down on paper which kept the Expressionists in business for years. It makes for a tense, troubled read, but if Barking had been anything else then it would have failed.
Barking is out now from Unbound