Wednesday, October 24, 2018

Minis: Haleigh Buck's I Feel Weird #3

I Feel Weird, Haleigh Buck's continuing series about "depression, anxiety and hopefully getting over it!" is about as raw and real as it gets. That's both in terms of talking about those feelings as well as the long, hard process of therapy. Buck sharing about what brought her to bottoming out in previous issues was certainly harrowing, but that's a narrative that is a familiar one in a sense. Lots of attention is paid in mental health narratives to "this is where I was, I needed help, and I got help" (which is valid and important, certainly), but much less is paid to the long, incremental process of getting better. That's especially true thanks to how frequently difficult it is to actually get therapy in a time when getting health insurance in general is so difficult, especially if one doesn't have the means to do so.

Issue three is her most ambitious, centered and focused effort to date. It must first be said that her level of craft is just outstanding. She can go cartoony to hyperrealistic naturalism and it all fits together. Her page design choices are consistently interesting, using blacks as a way of overpowering the reader and getting across that sense of anxiety that permeates every bit of her work. Buck jams a lot of words onto each page and even makes that crowding a decorative aspect of her work.  With dense hatching and cross-hatching to add detail and depth to her work, Buck just likes slinging ink and makes it work for her. In the Will Elder tradition, she also adds a lot of funny eye pops to each page. Indeed, while Buck's work is visually dense, by no means is it dour. She's a funny writer who can take the darkest topic and make it funny. For example, the back cover has a bunch of comics and a coffin with an interesting and particular shape that's captioned "Thanks for keeping me out of life's longbox." It's a great image, and Buck's attention to detail, as always, is important in getting the joke to land.

In the rest of the issue, Buck goes back and forth from the psychotherapy session that began in the previous issue and other stories. The first story is about a New Year's Eve hookup that disappoints because the guy she's with announces that he doesn't want a relationship the next day. She tries to laugh it off in the story itself while informing the reader that she is upset. There's a brief strip about the sort of responses one gets when others learn that you've tried to commit suicide, which is scorched-earth on-point and darkly hilarious at the same time. There's an anecdote about Buck's especially dysfunctional younger sister who had just had a baby--and Buck's other sister was understandably concerned for the baby's welfare. The anecdote concerns some psychopathic behavior evinced by their younger sister as a child, and it's an understandable concern. The art here slides between caricature and near-photorealism, and the effect is astounding.

Of course, the main attraction in this issue is the therapy session, with a therapist who's using a prescribed method (including tagging patients as being a particular kind of tree?) and is not exactly the essence of empathy. The therapy session runs in a narrow row of panels at the top of the page, and the rest of the page is taken up by the history of depression and its treatment from antiquity to now. It's a sobering reminder of just how primitive medicine was (and still is, in some ways), especially with regard to mental health. Buck's illustrations are funny and weird, giving the reader a lot to look at. In the next therapy chapter, her anxiety is addressed, and there's an amazing page where her therapist asks her what makes her anxious. Buck replies, "Everything" and then spends an entire page, with white lettering atop a black page, listing dozens and dozens of triggers. It's page that doesn't even need to be read from top to bottom--the simple acknowledgment of the scope of her triggers makes it a powerful image, with a small self-caricature in the bottom left-hand corner of the page. Incredibly, the story ends with the therapist asking how often Buck prays. What separates this issue from the earlier two is Buck's focus is much sharper, allowing her to really zero in on key issues and render them in the form of a narrative. There's no question that she's a major talent, as this comic shows off her storytelling, drawing and writing chops.

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