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Graphic Medicine Novels: Our Mother

 Our Mother

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Bibliographic Record

 Title  Our Mother
 Author  Howard, Luke
 Illustrator  Howard, Luke
 Mental Illness  Anxiety Disorder
 Publication Date  2016
 Publisher  Retrofit Comics LLC
 ISBN  978-1940398587
 # Pages  40
 Color Profile  Black & Pink
 Worldcat Link  https://www.worldcat.org/oclc/990828963
 Amazon Link  https://www.amazon.com/Our-Mother-Luke-Howard/dp/1940398584
 Annotator  Jen A. Fisher

Summary

Our Mother tells the story of Howard’s experiences with mental illness through a series of disjointed stories. From tales of robot sci-fi mothers to shady assassin mothers who give kids mental illnesses in shady back alley deals, this book mainly deals with mental illness through the context of mothers. One of the key stories in the book is that of a young girl whose father is leaving the family because he can no longer handle his wife’s depression. Newly abandoned, the little girl decides that if she takes the new, depressed version of her mother back to where she came from, maybe her old mother will come back. Setting off into the wild blue yonder, the little girl travels with new mother, who begins to de-age and eventually becomes the same age as her daughter. Eventually, the new mother and the daughter manage to bring new mother back to her childhood home, but there is no resolution. New mother still remains in the present time. The little girl has to learn to accept her life as it is.

Presentation

Howard constantly cuts through his narratives, creating a sort of mental storm that works well with his story. While the main tale of the little girl trying to get the new mother home is the driving point, Howards uproots the narrative by suddenly throwing in strange panels with disjointed events, seemingly in order to create chaos within the story. While the story itself is very sad, it’s also darkly funny, and the emotional journey the little girl goes through trying to get her new mom safely home is poignant and relatable for anyone who struggles with a family member’s mental illness.

Style-wise, Howard’s work reminds me greatly of Pendleton Ward’s Adventure Time, with the characters being cutesy, but oversimplified with bodies closely resembling tubes. Realism is replaced by caricature whereby emotion is expressed by the level of detail in the facial expressions. The comic is also saturated with a bright neon pink that is so fluorescent it often hurts the eye. This is completely intentional in that it forces the reader to read through text that is almost painful, perhaps to liken the experience to feelings often experienced by people with anxiety.

Mental Illness Narrative

In the text, it is rather unclear as to whether the new mother suffers from anxiety or severe depressive disorder as she displays classic symptoms of both. Howard portrays the new mother’s sleep disturbances and fatigue as common occurrences, which are symptoms that have been attributed to both disorders. In one of the more heartbreaking panels, the little girl tells the reader that her new mom needs a lot of downtime now, and no matter how much sleep she gets, it never seems to be enough. She even goes on to say that sometimes her new mother gets so anxious they have to go to the hospital. The new mother gets a special medicine that helps her for a while. However, she only wants to sleep afterwards, so the little girl doesn’t get much attention anymore.

Humanistic Revelations

Our Mother is a book that might be appreciated less by people who struggle with mental illness and more by their family and loved ones. The unconditional love from the little girl who loves the new mother but yearns for her old one is intense and very relatable. It is important that Howard validates the little girl’s struggles and feelings. After all, there is real emotional upheaval when a person becomes a caregiver for someone with a mental illness, especially when that someone is a parent who is supposed to be the caregiver. This is a terrible burden when placed on children who are then forced to grow up and abandon their childhoods for the sake of their loved one’s well-being.

Ultimately the book leaves us on a happy note, as the little girl realizes that her new mother and old mother are not actually different people. Instead, she comes to terms with the fact that mental illnesses are indeed illnesses, and that while they can change someone's circumstances and personality, the individual is still the same person that has always been loved.

Recommendations

Triggers/sensitivity: This might be a book better reserved for the family of people with mental illness, as some of the content could trigger feelings of guilt or shame from readers who suffer from anxiety and depression.
Recommended ages 13+​

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