How does make comics when depressed?

depressionI’ve not done much personal blogging for a while. I’ve also not talked much publicly about my depression and anxiety. Those things are linked, for sure, but I’m not exactly sure how. A while back, welljesuschrist, September 2013 in fact, I published the last of my quick and scuzzy webcomic, Suddenly Something Really Interesting, where I’d gotten to the end of therapy for my anxiety, and the utterly non-climatic or euphoric or epiphanic realisation that underlying all my anxiety was a deep depressive state I’d had since I was a kid.

Even my counsellor seemed disheartened that it ended that way – she didn’t get that sense of satisfaction that we’d “broken through” together. Just a kind of sullen resignation between the two of us that, you know, we’d tackled some stuff, and that, well, this realisation was at least that.

A realisation. Something tangible to potentially work on.

It didn’t really work out that way

Well of course it didn’t. Depression doesn’t work like that. You don’t go, okay, now I realise that depression is the underlying problem, I can solve it. You go, shit. Fuck. Depression, that’s a problem. Then you get depressed, and there’s no way you can summon up the energy needed to work on it.

Or anything else.

Since then, I’ve worked on a number of comic projects, and a couple of other bits and pieces. Thing is though, I don’t think I can comic well when I’m depressed. I mean, sure, I can summon up the energy to draw, because I love it. Occasionally I get fortnight-long periods where I’m writing constantly. Rarely, I’ll feel like I’m ready and willing to take on the world and somehow emerge as an actual professional.

But then the shit-storm hits.

Then the black dog wraps its tail around your neck, swivels its dull eyes at you and rudely salivates drool on your shoulder from its gaping maw, and you can’t even find the energy to turn around and look at it. You know it’s there, but you’re too paralysed to acknowledge it properly, let alone tell it to leave.

When that hits, you’re fucked. I’ve missed the chance to work with at least two writers who’ve since hit big in comics because I was in the middle of a long, slow breakdown. I’ve stretched the length of time a project that should have taken from, say, three months, to over a year because I blinked, freaked, gave up, and went back to full time office work because I couldn’t realistically see how I could make it as a freelancer any more.

I’ve gone to cons, at the very nadir of the depression, and left thinking that I never wanted to make a comic again because it was pointless and no one even wanted to look at my work let alone buy it and what was wrong with me that I made such weird comics anyway instead of stuff that people would actually buy and anyway why do I even want to be involved in this world of comics when it’s all a big sham and a fraud even though I feel like the fraud and the interloper who’s been working for seven years to try and convince people that I’m a comic creator when I’m actually just shit and everyone knows it…

Because depression and anxiety are intrinsically linked for me, and many others.

And then the utter, soul-crushing energy-sapping breakdown that comes afterwards, where you have to try and pick up the pieces and change your life while feeling completely embarrassed with yourself and disconnected from the world. And then the anxiety that comes from the realisation of that. And then, and then, and then. An endless cycle of dragging yourself from a low energy state to be catapulted into a high energy state only to crash back into a low energy state, and so on.

Call to Action

Here’s the bit in a blog post where you should put some kind of call to action, if you’re trying to sell a product or service. Here’s the bit in this blog post where I tell you that there is no getting out of this cycle, and all you can do is use what little energy you have when it arrives.

What I’ve done is recognise that, in many ways, I have to start from scratch. There’s a couple of projects I need to finish freelance-wise, and then I have to concentrate on my own stuff. For me to feel any kind of sense of completion or satisfaction in creativity, I have to finish something that’s solely mine.

I embarked on Gonzo Cosmic a while back, and though I’m still in love with the idea behind it, it’s a long, arduous project with no sense of finality and a lot of hubris to overcome. So while it’s still on the go, I need something more satisfying.

That’s why most of my attention is focused on the Dundee Uni Masters course I enrolled on. I need to give myself the ability to focus on learning about and researching comics for the sake of it for a while. I enjoy it, I’m good at it, and it could give me potential career avenues when I complete it, that would complement the creative work I do. I love the medium of comics, and exploring history, sociology, form, all of that, is exciting and is giving me the buzz back.

And, I’m also focused on making AION. It still comes with hubris (I’m calling it my “queer Flex Mentallo”, go figure why anxious and depressed people like to paint these kinds of targets on our heads), but it’s a complete thing, almost entirely written in my head, pages started. It’s a semi-autobiographical work with elements of superheroes, sci-fi and Burroughs-esque fiction in there. I mean, I never really make it easy on myself, but I have to make the work that excites me, the kind of work I’d read.

I’m also exorcising some pretty big demons throughout AION too. I hope that helps me to feel at least a little better about myself. And you know what? In some ways, I’m looking forward to having it completed and putting it out into the world.

I think the biggest thing I’ve learned over the last year or so has been that I need to learn to create without lust for result. AION is mine, and if I put the work in and everyone thinks it sucks, fair enough – but I can’t argue with the fact that it’s exactly what I want to make. And I’m not beholden to anyone, anyone I can let down on deadlines, or fuck up with in some other way. I just have to please me, and right now, that feels like the best I can do.

I’m also writing a novel, which has some very minor elements of autobiography in’t. It’s another thing I think I need to get out in the open – it’s bleak, unremittingly bleak. New Bleak, in fact. It comes from reading ‘Ghosts of my Life’, ‘Conspiracy against the Human Race’, ‘Cyclonopedia’, the ‘Southern Reach Trilogy’ and other stuff that I absorbed over the last year. It’s also my take on queer zombie horror, completely nihilistic, as the zombie genre really should be.

I get moments where I sit and wonder what’s wrong with me that I’m writing something so bleak.

Then I get other moments – mad, raving moments – where I realise that the bleakness is unmitigating anger at the world.

So, that should be fun, for you to read, I mean.

And finally, I’m sitting with this post open, completed, re-reading it and staring at it, wondering what egotistical drive makes me want to write this, thinks I should write it, that I have anything worthwhile to say, that it’s just me feeling sorry for myself, or trying to publicly make excuses, or self-flagellate, or

That’s what it feels like, all the time. In everything I do. Who am I? I’m not good enough to do this. I’m not worthwhile enough to do this. I’m nobody. And so I suppose writing this, and making work, and sharing work, even though it comes with fear, is about trying to prove that I’m not nobody. To try and silence the voice in my head that tells me I’m not good enough. So whatever, here it is, and that’s that.

Feel free to hit me up with your thoughts in the comments box below.

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