Barking (New Edition)

By Lucy Sullivan (Avery Hill)
ISBN: 978-1-910395-76-9 (HB/Digital edition) 978-1783528806 (2020 Unbound HB)

You might not think it, but there’s a lot of guts and inner fortitude demanded of making your inner worlds real – especially in autobiographical comics. In 2020 animator Lucy Sullivan released her first graphic novel: “an exorcism” detailing a deepening depression and personal mental health crisis and the concomitant failings of our overstretched, cash-starved health services in one of the most potent, powerful and damning explorations ever seen of the plight of in-need individuals in a “money-first-& foremost” health system.

Barking set new critical standards for a growing subgenre of candid and intimate experiential biographies and after being lost in the global commercial convulsions of Covid-19, returns here in a new edition that will hopefully find the major audiences the book always deserved.

Rendered in staggeringly expressive stark monochrome artwork capturing a spiky mood of mania and madness and pitched as a chilling horror story, it’s set between a life-altering period of days (October 25th to November 5th, if you’re wondering) and begins with ‘Hounded’ as a terrified young woman flees from a monstrous black dog.

Desperate and defeated, she finds a bridge and seeks surcease in suicide, but as reality and her inner world converge and congeal, she is picked up by indifferent cops who apparently have far more important things to do, and dumped on a standard 72-hour hold under the Mental Health Act in ‘Commit to Me’. The dog is with her all the way, as is a gang of scary men and a cacophony of voices that never let her rest. Never mind, there are plenty of readily doled out drugs for that in the ‘Rot Box’

Alix might be in isolation but she’s not alone. Her passengers are delighted to keep telling her how bad and weak and useless she is. ‘Prone to Trouble’, she hears again how nobody wants her and why she lost her only friend. As treatment and assessments – dispassionate yet still somehow judgemental – continue, Alix enters the enforced society of fellow inmates/guests/ patients in ‘Just a (Rumination) Phase’, learning some harsh lessons pitched as vague threats and religious paternalism, all before being left to make her own recovery as best she can.

Between flashbacks, hallucinations and potentially lethal ward-companions her slipping back to ‘Unembodied Diamonic’ visions is inevitable. Fears that drive her regain their power and medical indifference, casually “phoned-in” care, too many drugs and economically driven treatments like group therapy and enforced isolation don’t deal with the personal demons. Nor do suggested cure-alls offered by her fellow inmates, but only war with Alix’s ever-present visions and in-situ inner tormentors in ‘Prognostication’, ‘Call of the Void’ and ‘Bruising the Fool’ before a gradual breakthrough and notional resumption of “normal service” augurs a return to stability and equilibrium during ‘Life Under Saturn’

A Foreword by comics doyen Nick Abadzis details how the project first materialised – and his involvement in it – precedes the tale itself and is mirrored by the author’s revelatory Afterword at the back. This describes how Sullivan’s allegorical extrapolation of a very low point also seeks to address greater issues surrounding this country’s growing mental health problems and our literally insane simultaneous starvation of funding required to fix the rot. It’s supplemented by a wonderfully uplifting, self-deprecating Postscript for this new edition describing the understandably shaky course of a creative project about fear, isolation and incarceration that was published during a global lockdown…

Also crucially germane here is a copious Acknowledgements section, underscoring how vital human contact and collaborative input is: not just in story-making but in all aspects of living in the modern world…

A visually disturbing and emotionally shocking exploration of how grief and depression self-destructively feed on each other and how the fix for spiralling mental chaos is not getting a grip but getting help, Barking is not just a worthy and necessary read, but one that will stay with you forever.

© Lucy Sullivan, 2020. All rights reserved.