Mental Illness Unit ( Marbles & American Splendor)

Metal Illness was the topic of the unit for this section of the semester. This topic played a huge influence within the characters lives in the pieces we read and or watched. Ellen Forney, narrator of Marbles, expressed her daily hardships of dealing with her own mental illness—Bi-Polar/Depression. Forney’s graphic novel includes her desire of being accepted (sexual relationships), her meetings with her doctor/therapist, mood swings, journey through different medications, and her depressed states. She travels between mania, depression, and multi personalities. However, this mental illness is one of thousands—Harvey Pekar, another narrator of his own story in American Splendor also faced a Mental illness. Throughout the movie Harvey never verbally accepted or obtain the knowledge of his illness—but rather left it to the audience to pick up on. Harvey dealt with depression throughout his whole life—opening scene of the movie he was only a child during Halloween and when it came time to trick-or-treat he neglected the holiday and refused to play dress up. This opening scene marked his careless attitude towards life. Harvey’s construction of comics, dealing with his everyday life drew attention and eventually a huge audience—he highlighted his everyday struggles of a boring clerk job, messy house, at one time being left by his wife, struggle to contain a new found lover, developing of a small family, etc. His points could be related to a large number of people, which is why his comics being inserted into the movie American Splendor was a hit.

Graphic Novels in connected with Mental illnesses to me work terrifically. This is because people on the outside of the illness or even people who don’t understand their own illness can find closure and understanding in something other than text. The graphic novel that Ellen Forney constructed about her own life shows people with or without a mental illness that it is most certainly an everyday struggle/occurrence and even though it doesn’t seem as big as something like Cancer—it physically and mentally is draining and should not be signed off as being “sad”. Visually, graphic novels can seem confusing but in many ways they are easier to help communicate issue without words. In Marbles there are many pages that have doodles, squiggly word boxes, stars in Forney’s eyes, and very cartoon like drawling’s—these pieces are part of her mania stages which can be distinguished as a reader because of their imagination influences which are heavily separated from the parts where she is meeting with her therapist and the boxes of the events are very organized and clean cut. Overall having the ability to see how she views her own life on paper in a graphic form helps one understand how her mind is working on and off of the medication—and also depending on which medication she is taking at that time.

Some moments in either Marbles or American Splendor, benefit hugely with the ability to narrate with multiple images and texts. For instance with a large amount of the population not having this illness it can be hard for them to relate, so having a few pictures teamed with texts makes it more visually informative. Also if someone who is undiagnosed or has been diagnosed it helps them find assurance that they are not the only ones. In Marbles, Forney goes through a large assortment of medication throughout her journey—nearing the end of the book Forney explains, “Bipolar disorder is difficult to treat. Finding the right medication can take a long time, so bipolars may list our med histories proudly-like merit badges” (Forney, 181). In addition to this text she illustrated an image of her holding a large piece of paper with her so called “merit badges” aka images of the different pills and their names that she has been prescribed throughout her illness. This image underlines that the different medication she was prescribe to was not a joke—visually it helps highlight her long and CONTINUING journey. This illustration to me helps me understand the actual dilemma and why her mood swings and day-to-day personality continue differently throughout the pages. American Splendor used the illustrations of Harvey throughout the movie. Seeing a living person and hearing them doesn’t necessarily mean you can see what they are feeling on the inside. Having the comics overlap the actor who is playing Harvey illustrates his actual emotions. For instance within his comics he is portrayed as an old man, sometimes very angry, a man that has many squiggles and seems to smell, etc. These illustrations of Harvey in comic form link his emotional side to his illness. On film Harvey is a sluggish man, not very nicely dress, slobbish, dirty, etc.—however his character never changes on film because that is how he constantly is in living form—but with the overlap of comic illustrations of his feelings on the inside, you can then relate as a audience to his actual emotions.

In conclusion graphic novels connected with mental illnesses is a great idea and helps shed light on how those affected actually feel internally. Not all illnesses and or diseases are represented on the outside of the body, so it is hard for one to relate with. With the addition of illustration it helps open up the realm of emotions on the inside so people on the outside can physically understand others hardships.

Work Cited

  • American Splendor. Dir. Shari Springer Berman and Robert Pulcini. Perf. Paul Giamatti, Hope Davis, Harvey Pekar, Joyce Brabner. New Line Cinema, 2003. DVD.
  • Forney, Ellen. Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me: A Graphic Memoir. New York: Gotham, 2012. Print.
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