Suicide and the mental illnesses that lead to it are not often discussed publicly, save for the occasional sober current affairs piece in the media. This is problematic because the conditions that lead people to take their own lives need not be fatal. Proper treatment and therapy can help prevent the incidence of suicide among those suffering from depression and other associated diseases, but it is first necessary to erase the stigma that attaches to mental illness in our society.
Aspiring to breach the gap in public awareness, Pop Sandbox has produced The Next Day, a documentary graphic novel that is accompanied by an interactive online feature produced in conjunction with the National Film Board of Canada and TVOntario. The book, co-written by Paul Peterson and Jason Gilmore and illustrated by John Porcellino, follows four narrators – Jenn, Tina, Chantel, and Ryan – as they recount the moments leading up to their respective suicide attempts, the attempts themselves, and as the title suggests, how they carried on in the aftermath.
The stories progress in minute scenes, alternating narrators over a succession of six-panel pages that click along like clockwork. Each page illustrates a tiny moment that contributed to a near-fatal decision on the part of people overcome with anger, loneliness, and heartbreak. These stories are interspersed with images of a tiny house and a coming storm.
Porcellino’s artwork is difficult to gauge. It’s too minimal – childish, even – particularly in his characters’ expressions, which are crucial for revealing emotion. What he excels at is symbolism, the patterns of imagery that get to the core of each narrator’s troubled psyche: Jenn’s fractured life is indicated by a broken pint glass; Tina’s negativity is portrayed by a cassette tape that loops inside her head.
The storytelling is most effective at the climax. Here, the pacing breaks from panels to full-page close-ups. The effect is of a brilliant and terrible pause – the kind of moment only comics can pull off, forcing the reader to hang in the balance between life and death, only to be released when the page is turned.
The Next Day is intimate and accessible; it is compassionate, but unsentimental: the authors wisely don’t try to suggest that everything will somehow be better in the morning. Most importantly, it may help those afflicted by mental illness realize they’re not alone.