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One of my favorite format and subject combinations is insanity and graphic memoirs. The best way to get into someone’s head and really see the world as they see it is through their own artwork. Comic book artists have a special talent when it comes to writing graphic memoirs about mental illness and I am very grateful to them.
The first books that made me a reader were about teenagers with mental illness – I look at you Beatrice Sparks – and it remained one of my main subjects when I need something to remind me of why I love books. Sometimes they look into my own brain, but most of the time they offer a brand new perspective that I didn’t know much about before opening the book.
Here are some of the best graphic memoirs on mental illness that cover depression, anxiety, addiction, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, eating disorders, postpartum depression, and grief. Please take the best possible care when reading any of these books. You go deep into dark topics.
Graphic memoirs for mental illness
The way she feels: My life on the border in pictures + pieces by Courtney Cook
The way she feels is a truly moving memory in comics, essays, and lists about living with borderline personality disorder. Courtney Cook writes about how no one writes about BPD (there are about four books on the subject), and her work makes the disorder a little less scary, taboo, and misunderstood. She openly writes about her experiences with self-harm, dermatillomania (obsessive skin pecking), and numerous hospitalizations in amazing ways that feel like reading a friend’s diary. In fact, it often feels like she’s one of my friends in high school. The book is raw, but also full of humor, heart and oh so many bright colors.
My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 2 by Kabi Nagata, translated by Jocelyne Allen
Kabi Nagata’s diary in the manga is so good. My Solo Exchange Diary Vol. 2 is the third book in the series that follows the same themes as the previous one – loneliness, depression, and finding your way into the world as a young person – but with the addition of alcohol addiction. In the midst of her darkest days of drinking and wetting the bed, Nagata is rushed to a hospital to have her well-being monitored. And in the end, she realizes that she was loved all along, just not as she expected.
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Everything is an Emergency: An OCD Story in Words Pictures by Jason Adam Katzenstein
Jason Adam Katzenstein’s art is breathtaking. In the present, starting when he was a little boy, we are taken on his journey through life with obsessive-compulsive disorder. Anything that is an emergency puts us in Katzenstein’s brain and shows that OCD is much more than just being tidied up – they are seemingly insane obsessions that disrupt daily life until the ritual is complete. This graphic treatise on mental illness gives you a much deeper understanding of this disorder.
Feelings: A Story in Seasons by Manjit Thapp
I don’t have the words to do this book justice. Majit Thapp is an incredible artist, and her illustrations speak volumes for the sparse words that connect the images throughout the book. Feelings are a year in Thapp’s life, told through the ups and downs of six seasons: the fear of the monsoon, the exuberance of midsummer, the desolation of winter. Every side is a miracle.
Solutions and other problems by Allie Brosh
Allie Brosh had a long hiatus between this book and her previous one, Hyperbole and a Half, and during that time she had many terrible experiences. Her sister died by suicide. She got divorced. Solutions and other problems are dark and poignant and kind of weird too, and cover these devastating events alongside her strange childhood and stupid dogs.
Dear Scarlet: The Story of My Postpartum Depression by Teresa Wong
In this arresting graphic treatise, Teresa Wong writes a letter to her daughter recording the hours, days, weeks, and months after she was born. Dear Scarlet dives deep into the seemingly taboo topic of postpartum depression and shows how devastating a beautiful moment can be when the body is ravaged by hormones.
Ink in Water: An Illustrated Memoir by Lacy J. Davis and Jim Kettner
I couldn’t stop thinking about this book. In the midst of a breakup, Lacy J. Davis has a passing thought: Am I not small enough to be loved? So begins their derailment in the land of eating disorders and overexertion. Ink in Water is her journey back towards wellness with numerous setbacks and an inflammatory attitude. Jim Kettner’s black and white illustrations are visceral.
Hardly a functional adult: Everything will make sense at some point by Meichi Ng
Meichi Ng’s webcomics probably don’t need to be featured. She draws perfect, relatable little scenes of life as a young adult trying to figure everything out. Barely Functional Adult is a series of stories from her life dealing with heartbreak, therapy, and everything in between, illustrated with cartoons in their signature style. It will make you laugh and sigh and make you feel that way.
Dancing at the Pity Party: A Dead Mom Graphic Memoir by Tyler Feder
While grief is not directly a mental illness, it is a big deal and can manifest itself as a mental illness. Tyler Feder’s graphic memoirs about her mother’s loss to cancer are simply mind-boggling. She writes openly about her grief, but also about the guilt that follows the loss, such as the relief of death after an incurable illness. Feder, the eldest of her sisters, spent most of the time with her stupid mother and often felt like she had fucked her for the years before her sisters were born and aware of it. Because grief makes your brain think strange things. The dancing at the pity party is so beautiful and sad and made me hug my mom and smell her wonderful mother odor for the rest of the time.
For more information in the world of graphic memoirs on mental illness, check out these comics for those with anxiety, comics about depression, and comics about mental illness.