If you haven’t seen Paul Giamatti’s incredible performance as comic book writer Harvey Pekar in the 2003 film American Splendor you should add it to your Netflix queue. The movie follows the Cleveland born and raised Pekar and his rise to fame as underground comic book creator, writing about relationships, holding a job, wrestling health issues, writing about life. Better yet, track down any of his books. His book Our Cancer Year, which won both a Harvey Award and American Book Award, was written with his wife Joyce Brabner, recounting his tumultuous yet ultimately successful battle against lymphoma. It’s an account that takes comic book writing to another place entirely. His American Splendor series has been praised by many in the field, including other writers like Neil Gaiman. His stories were drawn by a myriad of artists including Cleveland neighbor Robert Crumb.
Harvey wrestled with anxiety during his life and suffered from depression. He died from an accidental overdose in 2010 shortly after he learned he had a recurrence of cancer–his third fight against the disease. If you ever are questioned about comic books as a serious medium, you can point to Harvey Pekar and that should stop anyone in their tracks.
Last week a friend sent me a link to website written by a woman named Allie Brosh who uses comic art to talk about her life and experiences, blogging much like any number of people across the Web. She’d been offline for a long while and returned with an incredible post last week. Check out this story in comic art form, titled Depression Part Two. There is something very compelling and striking about her creative way of storytelling. If you have ever known someone who suffers from depression, or you yourself think you may suffer from depression, you may find your friend or yourself in Allie’s work. The Bend, Oregon, based blogger has received thousands of comments already for her post about depression, and if the story itself doesn’t convince you that “you’re not in this alone” then all the commenters who have written about being touched by her story should.
I’ve heard that the ability to share feelings with others is part of some people’s experience with depression, and it must have been cathartic (as well as brave) for Allie to get all this down and share it with so many strangers across the vastness of the Web. Even if depression isn’t a part of your world I am sure you can relate to any number of her accounts of others’ reactions to her attempts at sharing about dealing with feelings of depression. Ultimately there is an ounce of optimism in her work. Along with the message “you’re not in this alone” you can see the uncertainty of the future–for Allie and anyone else in her circumstances. You can’t help but hope those around her are helping her out. And it makes you look around you to see if someone around you needs help and isn’t getting it.
If you’ve known people with depression you might also know how many people have been able to control their disease by getting a good doctor and getting the right medication to control the chemical imbalances that may be holding them back. No doubt the decades of societal stigmas have held people back from getting help. But friends and family who care can help. Ask questions if you think you need help. Talk to others or at least try to talk to others who you may be able to help. Read websites like Allie’s, which she calls Hyperbole and a Half. Look how many strangers care about someone they don’t even know. It’s because ultimately we’re all in this thing together. The good people among us and around you–the only people who matter–want you to succeed, to find the help you need.
Like Harvey Pekar’s many books on life and life’s troubles, Hyperbole and a Half is a use of comic art to help readers learn from others and use others’ experiences to attack their very serious personal issues head-on.
Allie Brosh is also publishing some of her blogging in a book due out October 29, 2013.
Hyperbole and a Half: Unfortunate Situations, Flawed Coping Mechanisms, Mayhem, and Other Things That Happened will feature her insightful stories from her blog that began in 2009 with much from her many posts in 2009-2010. Eisner judges in 2014 take note.