Graphic novel review – ‘I had a black dog’

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Less a graphic novel than a picture book on an adult theme, I had a black dog is Matthew Johnson’s visual articulation of what it is like to suffer depression.  Borrowing Churchill’s sobriquet for his dark moods, throughout the book’s pages Johnson illustrates a man bedeviled by an ever-present black dog: it’s his reflection in the mirror; it lies between him and his partner at night; it sits on his food.  Johnson’s illustrations have a dark wit, but also a serenity as he charts his subject’s journey from despair toward insight and respite via professional help.

A sequel of sorts, Living with a black dog continues the theme, focusing on the challenges faced by partners and carers of people effected by depression.  Among the subjects covered are how to recognize depression, good and back things to say, and how carers and patients alike can access help.

I had a black dog and its companion project homogeneity onto what is in fact a very heterogeneous patient body and mostly shun any discussion of the complex ways in which people arrive and are maintained in this state of mind.  This reductionist quibble aside, their accessible approach and common sense advice make them a good place to start any discussion on this common disorder.

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