Comics for the Mentally Ill: By the Mentally Ill

Comics/graphic novels are a way of expression for many artists. They can express many things including things going on in the artist’s life. An example of said expression are artists who depict mental illnesses in an appropriate way. Many more popular comic series metal illnesses aren’t portrayed properly, making the person a villain or acting in a stereotypical “I need a straightjacket” attitude. However, that is not the case of the stories behind actual mentally ill people writing their own stories through comics. For example, in Diary Drawings by Bobbie Baker, synopsis by Ian Williams, Baker has Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) and her designs are described by Williams here: “What struck me initially was the roughness of many of the sketches: the hasty, naïve style, which seems to dominate contrasts sharply here and there with impressive technical precision,” (Williams 1). Baker chose to do over 700 water color paintings for her book to describe the aggravation of suffering from BPD.

Though graphic novels can show a positive light on the struggles of mental illnesses, they can also show the bad side as well. Martha Cornog points out an interesting graphic novel called The Road to God Knows by Von Allan. A one-line description of the comic can be described as “Teenage Marie is a bit overweight and has missed too much school. Her real problem is her schizophrenic mother,” (Cornog). This comic shows how mental illness can in fact be a burden on other people while still showing that it is serious, and the person needs as much help as they can get. This doesn’t exactly state that schizophrenia is bad, it just shows that people with it need help. As a schizophrenic I absolutely agree with the case this comic is making, that people need help from the others around them, but it can be very difficult for someone to take the full load of your own illness.

Daniel Lipford wrote in detail about invisible illnesses being explained through comics and how it helps people understand and seek treatment for their illnesses. Lipford describes the use as important by stating: “The significance of imagination cannot be overstated because it is in our imaginations that illness stirs up the fear, the hate, and the shame that dissolves identity, yet it is also there that we find the resources to overcome illness and empathize with others,” (Lipford 72). He talks about how imagination and expression is important through invisible illnesses because of how it helps people to empathize and grow from the knowledge. That the knowledge itself is helpful to people who don’t understand what they are going through and can be explained through a series of comics that make it seem less threatening and more informative.

In the same aspect, Grace Bello writes about Ellen Forney’s ‘Marbles.’ Marbles is about Forney’s diagnosis with bipolar disorder and how she copes with it. At first Forney did not want to include herself at all in the memoir however, she wanted to learn more about her diagnosis and wanted others to learn too. So, Forney included herself and how she learned to cope with her disorder rather than attempt to cure it, because in reality you cannot cure most mental illnesses. You can only manage. Bello took a quote from Forney that describes perfectly why talking about your own illness for others with the same illness here: But through her painful firsthand experience with bipolar disorder and her re-creation of it through drafting her graphic memoir, Forney had a revelation: “When you read an interview with a fiction writer, they talk about their characters taking on their own lives and making their own decisions, and being surprised by the things that their characters do and come up with. I never understood that. And I’d say that, in the course of doing Marbles, there were a lot of things that were like that. There were things that the story just called for: it called for a reflection here, it called for a drawing there, it called for a wordier page here that looked forward or reflected back. So in a way, I felt like I was pulling the story almost from something that already was there.””

To conclude with Heidi MacDonald with “Classics new and old” MacDonald talks about a few different novels in her piece. But the one that caught my eye was about Nate Powell’s “Swallow me Whole.” Powell’s novel is about two teens struggling with mental illnesses, with a follow up on children living through the horrors of war. MacDonald considers the novels she has described as flourishing literature, showing a novel about mental illnesses can be considered progressive in these times.

Graphic novels are something we all read in our lifetimes. The graphic novel or comics are something we have all seen whether we sought them out or not. It is a proven fact that information spread through comics is paid attention to and understood a lot more than the regular written word. Comics make a head way in information for the disabled and mentally ill as comics are a way to spread information in a nonthreatening way. Comics even help people with reading disabilities understand what is going on with them while the regular written word cannot do it on its own. Comics help spread information on the mentally ill and help the disabled just be existing. Graphic novels have an importance in life that we have only just begun comprehending. Perhaps in the future we will have even more representation and understandings of the mentally ill and disabled.




  • Williams, Ian. “Diary Drawings: Mental Illness and Me.” Social Work Education, vol. 31, no. 6, Sept. 2012, pp. 795-797. EBSCOhost
  • MacDonald, Heidi. “Classics new and old.” Publishers Weekly, 27 June 2011, p. 32+. Literature Resource Center,
  • Bello, Grace. “The bipolar cartoonist: Ellen Forney’s ‘Marbles’.” Publishers Weekly, 5 Nov. 2012, p. 42. Literature Resource Center,
  • Lipford, D. (2017). Graphic medicine: Depicting invisible illnesses in comics (Order No. 10618671). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (1954090127). Retrieved from
  • Cornog, Martha, and Steve Raiteri. “Graphic novels.” Library Journal, 15 Mar. 2010, p. 88+. Literature Resource Center,

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