But it also follows Darryl Cunningham's own journey, starting as a health care assistant and then training to become a mental health nurse until the strain of the course threw him into severe depression and he had to stop. But all the years of working as a carer gave him a deep insight into the lives of people suffering different conditions and provided him with real-life work anecdotes that makes him able to portray them as real people, not just clinical conditions. And it also makes the reader care about Darryl as a health worker, realising the hard-core things these carers deal with, and the emotional beatings they go through. But the book's not a request for for us to pity Darryl; his straightforward, almost dead-pan voice at times focuses us as readers on the universality of mental health problems, and emphasizes the need to be able to talk about these things in a way that doesn't stigmatise people for being ill, in the way we wouldn't if someone had, say, a broken leg.
A deep sense of empathy is the thing that came through most clearly to me in this book, and when I read it in installments online, it made me see Darryl in a much warmer light than when I'd first met him. I knew Darryl slightly as 'one of the guys from the internet', and met him a couple times, but he was very quiet, and I didn't really know how to relate to him. But as I read his book, his real voice came through very clearly, explaining his shyness and making me realise it masked a deeply kind, thoughtful person, who has suffered a lot precisely because he cares about and empathises with people so much. The last chapter clinches it, when he allows us to see his own struggle with depression and the hope he gives to other people who suffer it. You can't not like Darryl after reading this book, and marvel at his beautiful woodcut-inspired line work, clever compositions and impactual storytelling. After I'd finished reading the book, I read that he mentioned me to someone as a friend, and I felt very honoured to be called that (and, later, thrilled that we could share his 50th birthday at our Fleece Staton party).
This book highlighted to me just how fascinating comics are as a medium; I don't think anyone can convincingly sustain a full-length comic book that disguises their real personality, in a way that someone might be able to hide while writing a novel or making a series of illustrations. It would be a great way to interview someone for a job (if only the work process didn't take so long): 'Here, sit down and make me a comic.'
Be sure to get a copy of this book from Blank Slate; you can buy it from Forbidden Planet International and elsewhere. You can also read another personal account of depression from a Times article by Giles Andreae, the author of our book Morris the Mankiest Monster. I'm very grateful to both Darryl (tallguywrites on LiveJournal) and Giles for shedding so much light on a subject that most British people really don't like to talk about. And Darryl, thanks for doing it with so much style, this book's going to be a classic.