Barking by Lucy Sullivan
Everyone forgets, once you’re dead…you’re an innocent, no matter how crap a human you might have been.
Lucy Sullivan’s graphic novel Barking had a fittingly difficult birth. Published through the Unbound crowd-funding website it faced problems when the initial print run was not up to scratch. Lucy did the difficult but right thing, she had the book reprinted so that it really represented the vision she had.
There have been some outstanding examples of comics dealing with mental health issues in recent years and Barking is a great addition to them. Wired Up Wrong by Rachael Smith being a recent standout example albeit one that had a very different style.
Having the book reprinted was a great choice because the black and white art is the core of the book. At times bold and at others intricate, delicate and complex. Lucy recreates the dark undercurrents rising from the river, from the mud and from her own pain and torment. From the darkness a beast has emerged and taken form. A black dog that taunts and worries at the frayed psyche of Alix.
Look Alix, there’s really only one decision to make, what you got to decide is are you safer in here…or out there?
Alix undergoes a journey that Lucy describes as an allegory of her own experience following the death of her father. It deals with issues of grief, depression and mental health. It looks at the unpleasant experience of being in the mental health ‘system’ and does not shy away from examination and sometimes criticism of how people in crisis are often treated.
The mental health ward that Alix finds herself on is very real and in some ways mundane. Busy, overworked and underpaid staff dealing with difficult and sometimes violent patients. But at the same time amidst the cognitive behavioural therapy and meds there is a magical and occult undercurrent. Dorathea ‘Dolly Horror’ another patient, does tarot readings and scrys the black dog that stalks Alix.
Own the beast within, explore without a map, take a step, a leap of blind faith, Cerberus will guide you.
Chapters open with beautifully rendered drawings, often of the London riverside. The river, with its connections to her father’s death, is in some ways the source of Alix’s grief. Alix feels like flotsam, like something churned up from the silt and washed up on the tide for the seagulls and mud-larkers.
Dialog sometimes swirls around in a hard to read way that reflects the confusion within Alix’s mind. But there are also very strong pieces of writing that shout out from the page. With a haunting artistic style reminiscent of Sienkewicz the art is dramatic and memorable. Barking is a beautiful creation that deals with pain and disintegration but also shows that there are ways out of the darkness.
Following the Unbound release, Barking will be widely available from April 17th 2020. For more details on availability check out Lucy Sullivan’s website.