Barking is Lucy Sullivan’s debut graphic novel and after powering through her funding campaign over on Unbound, it’s official release in a couple of weeks can’t come quick enough.
The book centres on Alix Otto as she battles to evade the inner demons that are in ‘attack mode’ against her own sense of clarity and a year after the discovery of her friends body the cracks have never been more visible. The fragility of Alix’ mindset is evident from the beginning as her options to end it all present themselves in a stark reality but just when we think that being on the brink is as bad as it could get for her she’s taken into a care system that tackles specific mental issues with general guidelines.
That approach in itself can do more harm than good and as Lucy weaves a harrowing plot around our central character it’s clear that in the confines of a psychiatric ward the lines between cure & illness are blurred for pretty much everyone that’s in those surroundings. The destructive place she finds herself in is fuelled and flustered by patients & staff alike but there are glimpses of good intentions that start to make a difference in her day-to-day life.
In a story that’s split between personal experience & research it’s a brave step for Lucy to take in being so open and honest about her personal experiences both inside & outside of her own head. Within that rawness there’s a definite sense of purpose that helps take mental health, it’s treatment, society’s approach to these issues, and everything around about it into the realm of worthwhile discussion. I’m sure we’ve all battled a black dog of some sort but for those on the end of the spectrum that blurs reality & nightmare in a destructive way, there’s got to be a better way to get clarity for the patient, the family and everyone else involved in the waves of instability being experienced.
Lucy manages to make sense of the madness around Alix with an erratic style to the writing & art that truly evokes the sense of control being lost and the inner voice playing it’s part in sustaining that. The hope is there too though and while their are real depths that the story hits – there’s an air of bittersweet release to making all the interactions, conversations, visions, and assistance significant in keeping Alix moving towards a happier place.
The writing for the cast of characters is heartbreaking & heartfelt from the first to the last page and even the presence of that black dog for Alix becomes a crucial part in her search for clarity. The harsh truth throughout the book is that there’s not really a “perfect” solution to life for Alix or for any of us but there is a clear chance at making the best of the hand you’re dealt. The caveat to that is that the real issues that plague us all to some extent have to be approached in a unique way that tackles every unique issue in the best way possible.
In the end Barking achieves everything it wants and more – it gives us a glimpse into a world we see glossed over and forgotten about, but rather than using a flashy tour-de-force we have a gutsy & brutal reality check that hammers home just how fragile mental health really is. This goes further than that though, it sparks the discussions we need to see happen, it shines a light on how amazing a creator Lucy is and it bolsters the notion that comics, in whatever form, can reach beyond escapism and help make a difference in more ways than many would admit to.