Local cartoonist and illustrator Elaine M. Will published her first compilation on Nov. 5 with Look Straight Ahead, a graphic novel based around the trials and stigmas surrounding those who live with mental illnesses.
It was nominated for the Gene Day Award for self-publishers authors in 2011 and received a Xeric Foundation self-publishing grant in 2012.The book is a full collection of a story in seven chapters after having being serially published online.
Look Straight Ahead is about 17-year-old Jeremy Knowles, a high school student and aspiring artist struggling with constant bullying, arguments with his parents and an unrequited crush on his classmate Erin.
These combined pressures slowly become too much to deal with and, when even art fails him as an outlet, Jeremy has a severe mental breakdown and convinces himself that he is a prophet tasked to save the world.
But as time passes and Jeremy undergoes treatment, he finds it more and more difficult to keep a hold on what exactly that task is and what he would need to do to accomplish it.
Beyond the belief that he is dying because of his treatment and losing his ability to draw, Jeremy struggles to understand the meaning of his life and how he can fulfill his destiny when he can’t even remember what he wrote while having his first breakdown.
Upon returning to school, he sees that the stigma of mental illness has begun to colour his interactions with classmates, friends and family. Sliding back into delusions is all too easy by comparison, and Jeremy soon risks being lost to reality.
Look Straight Ahead is inspired heavily by the author’s own experience with mental illness as well as the fact that very few comics explore such a topic.
Popular culture often misrepresents mental illness, reducing a wide spectrum of conditions and severities to stereotypes of what is most interesting and dramatic. This is touched on as Jeremy faces what his classmates think of him after a week in the hospital.
His condition itself is serious but is handled respectfully, showing his internal struggle and dialogue as much as his issues to explain his condition to others. This is aided by the artwork, which uses varying styles, techniques and colours to allow the reader to better understand Jeremy’s emotional and mental state and realize that — delusional or not — what’s happening to him is nevertheless all too real.
This is a very important and personal story. Honest and emotional, Look Straight Ahead shows how mental illness can affect people in different forms. It is not an instantaneous thing to either happen or recover from, and those who must face it need the support and understanding of others.
Ultimately mental illness is something that can be overcome — not necessarily defeated, but understood and dealt with in the most appropriate way. And sometimes that understanding is all that matters.
Look Straight Ahead is available at bookstores, comic stores, major online retailers and online at blog.e2w-illustration.com.