Small Press comics have become a really powerful tool for exploring issues of mental health, such as anxiety and depression. Comics tackling this complicated topic range from the funny and quirky like Wired Up Wrong or Brain Shoodles to genre tales like At War With Kaleb. But whatever the format, the common thread is comic creators exploring their own struggles with mental health in an incredibly personal and laudable way. The latest to join this growing sub genre of fascinating books is Chris Browning’s Grey Fug: Discussions With My Cats About Depression.
The title of Chris Browning’s Grey Fug perfectly encapsulates that debilitating feelings that depression can make a sufferer feel and within it he documents the way this fug impacts his own life by framing the book as a conversation with his cats. But rather than it be a two way dialogue it is more that he is trying to explain to his cats about how he thinks and how his brain works. This relative simplification of how his depression and anxiety manifests itself (along with his Aspergers) allows those on the outside to truly understand what is going on in a way that wouldn’t be possible with a more traditional narrative structure.
He uses an almost diarised approach with pages arranged without panels in a lot of places, which help increase the intimate nature of the story telling. It also gives it an almost sketchbook like feel (which for artists is often as personal as a diary) with Chris’ art ranging in style from scratchy and hand drawn, to experimental mixed media. There are also several pages with highly detailed and stylised illustrations that feel almost like extended doodles and thought pieces that really showcase his skills as an artist. It also helps prevent the book from becoming too self indulgent and encourages repeat reading so you can digest and take in the styles of each page individually.
While it may not have the laugh out loud moments of Wired Up Wrong or the accessible story
of At War With Kaleb, Grey Fug is still a really interesting and thought provoking read – especially for those whose brains work in a similar vein to Chris. He has a fantastic turn of phrase and manages to capture moments and feelings that many of those suffering with depression and anxiety will find ring true, while his diagrammatic representations of how anxiety affects his brain do the same visually, showcasing why comics is such a revealing vehicle for this kind of subject.
Grey Fug is a really articulate and highly personal read, which handles a complex and highly sensitive subject in a very smart and engaging way. As well as being a familiar read for those struggling with mental health it is also really useful for those looking to understand depression and anxiety in a friend or loved one and so shouldn’t just be seen as a book for those with mental health issues.