Kill Ana: A Graphic Memoir
When I googled my best friend’s BMI search results said ‘Death Imminent’. Kill Ana is based on a diary I kept during our year living together at University.
The story aims to go beyond the internal mechanisms of the eating disorder, focusing on the realities of codependency, recovery and forgiveness.
Ella, co-writer, made an observation that stuck with me. You can replace the eating disorder with anything: drug abuse, alcoholism, depression or neural diversity – the story would be the same.
Why a Graphic Novel
Comics culture is particularly honest when it comes to mental health, so it feels like a supportive medium for the story I want to tell.
Comics share the advantage that books have in that we can get an insight into the thoughts of the characters through monologue, so the reader can relate to and empathize with the characters.
The comic medium is also uniquely placed in being able to use visual metaphors for the subjective experience poor mental health.
In Katie Green’s graphic memoir Lighter Than My Shadow, her eating disorder is portrayed as a chaotic cloud of scribbles.
In Lacy J. Davis’s graphic memoir on a similar topic, the spreading darkness of mental illness is illustrated in the title of her book Ink in Water.
In my own graphic novel Kill Ana, an account of anorexia from the viewpoint of both carer and sufferer, the resilience of the negative thought patterns is illustrated through forget-me-not flowers that keep growing back once they’ve been picked out.
The feeling of facing fears is illustrated as hanging from a cliff and being told to trust the carer and ‘let go’.
I’ve used visual metaphors of different animals to reflect the different caring styles, like the nagging terrier, the avoiding ostrich or the gently nudging dolphin.
As well as visual metaphors the comic artist is able to use the readers associations of the medium to inject humour and satire into the work, which enables discussion of difficult subjects, like a pair of Uni students playing with life and death.
Mental Health Education & Comics
Graphic Medicine is an organisation that explores the discourse on healthcare through comics. Founder Dr. Ian William’s expresses that “comics and graphic novels could be used as a resource for health professionals, playing a valuable role in reflecting or changing cultural perceptions of medicine, relating the subjective patient/carer/provider experience, enabling discussion of difficult subjects and helping other sufferers or carers” (check out their response to Covid-19).
I wish I had known how to watch out and handle this stuff from the position of a peer. I wasn’t a parent or doctor. I needed guidance on how to deal with the day to day struggle as her peer. Both emotionally and practically. How we deal with mental health has become more common knowledge since back then and I want to contribute to the conversation with our story.
Progress so far
After re-reading the diary it was a matter of breaking it down into its parts for the narrative – which I did in the form of post-it notes.
Then Ella and I had a long conversation about the whole story, which was therapeutic in itself. It was confessional, tough at times, but we felt lighter afterwards. We were able to forgive ourselves for things we said or did. Ella is a marvel and god I hope I get that through in the story!
After that conversation I was feeling pretty fired up and was up until 4am sketching the first 12 pages (a solid nine hours :’).
Now I’m re-working the story to suit where we are as people at this point in life.
The graphic novel will be published as issues online as we go, with an aim to get this published in 2022.