A New Comic Book Confronts Bipolar Disorder, Our Notions Of The “Crazy” Artist

As a long-time sufferer of depression with bi-polar symptoms, comic book artist Elaine Will never really fit in. “Not even amongst other artists,” she says. Will hated being called crazy. Even worse, she hated how people romanticized the idea of the “crazy artist,” who turns out masterpieces in a manic state.

“The notion of the ‘crazy artist’ producing their most brilliant work in the depths of madness is more or less false,” she says. “It was only during periods of recovery that they were able to create work.”

Ironically, in order to set the record straight, Will turned to art. Her new book, Look Straight Ahead, features Jeremy Knowles, a teenage boy who suffers a severe mental breakdown. The 17-year-old protagonist-outcast eventually saves himself through the power of art. But while Jeremy’s hypomania is accompanied by enhanced creativity, Will makes clear that “the real art comes from editing through the raw, often chaotic ideas dreamed up while manic.”

As its title suggests, Look Straight Ahead asks us to see the world through Jeremy’s eyes. He suffers delusions and is sometimes violent. But instead of judging him, the comic allows us to be him–to see for ourselves what mental illness looks like on the inside and, in so doing, to empathize.

“We all have our own unique personalities, idiosyncrasies, hopes, dreams, fears, and anxieties,” says Will. “To treat any of these as ‘crazy’ is preposterous.”

Look Straight Ahead will be available in comic stores on October 30th and in bookstores on November 12th.JM