World Mental Health Day 2020: As kids, what attracted us most about comic books were the cartoon figures and colourful illustrations more than anything else. And naturally so, because many of us grew up with the idea that these comics were meant primarily for recreation, not learning. It is only as an adult that you realise these very books were addressing a range of issues that may have been overlooked or were never drawn attention to as a child.
Challenging the popular notion that comic books are only for fun and are not meant to be taken seriously, several artists have been using the medium to spread awareness and educate people about several issues that impact the lives of both kids and adults, one of them being mental health. Raj Comics, for instance, recently came up with a comic book edition of the popular Super Commando Dhurva, written by Manoj Gupta and Ayush Gupta, on the hero’s struggle with depression. Besides comic books, there are plenty of webcomic strips on mental health that have been doing the rounds on social media for a while now.
Comics as a medium of sensitisation
First things first, how can comics serve as a medium for talking about an issue as serious as mental health? Artist Rahil Mohsin, who has been highlighting the issue through his comics, for instance, wanted to capitalise on people’s eternal love for the art form. The 30-year-old from Bengaluru, who has been posting his work on mental health on Instagram, told indianexpress.com, “In the current scenario, everybody looks up to social media for any kind of information, be it news, sports or any other social issue. I think today, we are consuming things at a very fast rate. And I felt that getting across the right kind of information through the right format to that kind of demographic would be most important. We have infographics, of course, but we also share a sense of love for comics. My comics are for everyone.”
Comics, as an art form, has a universal appeal and accessibility, and therefore, become an effective means of reaching out to the masses, believes graphic designer and illustrator Sravya Attaluri. This is what inspired the 25-year-old, born in Hyderabad and based in Hong Kong, to use comics to visually communicate what could not be articulated in words. “It is relatively easier to start a conversation about mental health through comics. It is something you can share with your friends and family. Comics help normalise talking about the issue because a lot of the times the imagery around depression and other mental health issues are very dark, but mental health does not have to portrayed negatively. As long as you are using the right terminology and portraying what it feels like to be in the situation, I think comics and illustrations do a very good job,” she said.
‘Started mental health comics during coronavirus lockdown’
These artists do not pose as experts on mental health; they mostly use comics as a means of expressing their personal struggle with mental health issues, which resonate with people a lot more. Sreejita Biswas, a 33-year-old artist from Kolkata, now based in Bengaluru, took to creating comics on mental health after going through a “pretty bad episode”. Diagnosed with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), which includes self-image issues or difficulty in managing emotions and behaviour, she started her mental health-related medication as early as a 14-year-old. It was in 2016 that a series of unfortunate events triggered her suffering due to which Biswas, initially a writer, was unable to pen down her thoughts. “It was very crippling for me. I had always been interested in comics, so when I could not write, my illustrator colleague suggested drawing. Thankfully, it turned out that I was a decent artist,” she laughed. Biswas has been creating comics for a mental health awareness organisation for the past three years, apart from her other works. Currently, she is working on a comic book about her personal struggle with BPD.
Mohsin, on the other hand, took to making comics on mental health after personally facing difficulties during the coronavirus lockdown, something a lot of people globally were struggling with too. “During the pandemic and the subsequent lockdown that was imposed, I was not exactly in the right mental state. I was all by myself. Soon, I started checking out some documents and social media pages on anxiety and other mental health issues. I began decoding all the information on mental health and give it a sort of comic spin so that is easily available for everybody.”
Attaluri too makes sure to base her comics on her own day-to-day experiences or that of people she knows personally. “For me, it is more about conveying to people who may be struggling with mental health disorders that they are not alone. Some people get angry if they see comics giving suggestions. So I like to reiterate that I am an artist and not a mental health expert,” she emphasised.