Asylum Magazine (Volume 22 No 1) Spring 2015

Welcome to the start of a series of editions of the magazine featuring mental health issues depicted in comic strips. We kick off with a full issue devoted to this topic. This will be followed by special features in the next few issues. They will focus on specific themes: depression, anxiety and psychotic experience; bodies and gender, including eating disorders, femininity and masculinity; and critical approaches to mental health diagnosis and treatment.

We will end with reflections on the series, where we consider what about mental health is included in comics, and what is so far missing. Whenever we mentioned this project to anyone we were staggered by the positive response. People are always more than warm in their enthusiasm, often asking why nothing like it has been done before. From the initial call out, through conference presentations, to receiving submissions, the response has been amazing.

In fact the overwhelming number of responses led to a change in our initial plan, from one special issue to a run of four features. We feel that over the last decade something has happened in relation to comics and mental health, which we are now tapping into. Increasing numbers of comic artists who have experiences of mental distress have been representing them, and in increasingly diverse ways across a number of media. We hope to reflect this development.

Our motivation for the project came from a passion for comics and, over recent years, we found representations of mental health issues in comics helpful for navigating our lives. Some of us have also found creating comics a useful way of expressing and exploring our own experiences; this is something that Meg John will reflect on next time. But we also recognise that comics have not always been positive when they portray mental health matters.

As Joseph points out in this issue, for a long period in the history of comics, ‘madness’ was mainly linked to depicting ‘bad guys’ in superhero comics (such as The Joker in the Batman series). In the next issue, Sasha Garwood considers that illustrating mental distress through the characters of Delirium and Despair, in Neil Gaiman’s Sandman series, is a rather mixed representation. However, there have recently been many more autobiographical comics which draw on the authors’ own experiences of distress.

And while these are by no means always perfect, they represent a strong shift towards a realistic portrayal of such matters. Caroline will explore this theme more in the third feature in this series. The internet has enabled many people to share comics about their experiences online, and webcomics have become a powerful way of expressing the diversity of such experiences, as well as building shared communities around these issues. This indicates the potential of comics, graphic novels and sequential art for vividly portraying lived experience, and in ways that really seem to connect with readers.

In the fourth part of the series we explore some of the limitations of comics for representing these matters, but also the potential they offer for a critique of popular and medical understandings of mental health. We begin with William Penson’s reflections on just how much in their history comics have dealt with mental health issues – if not always explicitly.

This is followed by Peter Beresford’s account of the solace he found by reading girl’s comics, and Joseph’s commentary on early comic-strip representations of mental health. We then include an interview with Bryan Talbot about his book The Tale of One Bad Rat, Anika Ramholdt shares her own web comic about social media, and Jemma Tosh reflects on mental health in the comic series based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer.

When she discusses the power of the single panel cartoon, Sheree Bradford-Lea asks whether we even need a full comic to express mental health experiences. And Sonia Soans and Pauline Sometimes discuss depictions of the asylum in comics. Across this series we include work by Simon Warne and Liz Greenfeld. Simon recently did a PhD on mental health practices, but he found the written word alone did not always communicate his experiences very well; we’re really excited by a number of comics based on his research.

And Liz’s Compendium of Superheroes is a brilliant anthology by women about their experiences. In upcoming issues of the magazine, we’ve tried to give a good balance of comics and written pieces. We include pieces by well-known comic artists and lesser-known folk, and both academic reflections and personal explorations. (We asked the academics to write as clearly and simply as possible!)

We do hope this series encourages you to go out and read more of the wonderful material that people are creating. Please note that the Asylum collective is always keen to include graphics in the magazine, so if this year encourages you to make your own comics, or to read and reflect on some of the existing ones, do please submit your work for future editions.

Meg John Barker, Joseph de Lappe & Caroline Walters

Co-editors of the series: Mental Health in Comics


Download Volume 22 No 1



  • Special Issue: Comics And Mental Health: Part 1
  • Madness And Comic Books: When Are Comic Books Not About Distress And Madness? William Penson
  • Girls Comics Saved My Life – Well Perhaps Not, But They Certainly Helped. Peter Beresford
  • ‘ALL I Needed Was To Get It Out Of My System’: The Early Use Of Comics For Mental Health Therapy In America Joseph De Lappe
  • The Tale Of One Bad Rat Steve Bissette Interviews Bryan Talbot
  • The Social Asylum Anika Ramholdt
  • Excerpt From Binky Brown Meets The Holy Virgin Mary Justin Green
  • Madness In The Whedonverse: How Mental Illness Is Portrayed In The Works Of Joss Whedon. Jemma Tosh
  • The Insane Asylum In Comics: A Brief Overview Sonia Soans And Pauline Sometimes
  • The Normalizing Power Of The Single-Panel Cartoon Sheree Bradford-Lea
  • Graphic Poems
  • Simon Wharne
  • The Compendium Of Superheroes And Alter Egos Liz Greenfield
  • The Mad Studies Stream Brigit Mcwade And Lucy Costa
  • Book Reviews
  • News And Reports