Page 45 Review by Jonathan
DEPRESSO is best summed up as a very brutally honestly documented chapter in one man's life. Unfortunately for Brick, or Tom Freeman as he's called here, the period of his life he's chosen to share with us pertains to some rather dark days indeed, during which there were times when he was figuratively and literally crippled with depression. On the one hand this is great for us, because it makes for a very fascinating and personal insight into the nightmarish depths where depression can take a person; on the other hand it was obviously not so good for Brick. Not so good at all...
I was rather unsure after the first few pages whether I was going to enjoy DEPRESSO as relatively little seems to happen initially, but I actually realised in retrospect what Brick is doing is providing an overview of himself before the disease strikes, which for those readers who've never come across him or his work before is actually quite essential in understanding just how much he is reduced by his illness, in so many different ways. Similarly, it took a few pages for me to warm to his art style and layouts which are heavily influenced by his years of political cartooning and lampooning of public figures. It's an unusual style for a graphic novel for sure, but once you've settled into it, the energy and unreal elements one associates with a more cartoonish style in fact work extremely well in keeping the overall tone of the work light and humorous, even the when material is anything but. But rest assured, there's plenty of genuine laughs in here too, primarily provided at Brick's own expense.
Once Brick begins to document his downward descent into depression, initially being convinced by a rather strange psychosomatic pain in his testicles that he is suffering from cancer I was immediately engaged by his frankness, and obviously sympathetic to his suffering and sharing his frustration in his battles with the NHS to obtain any form of meaningful or helpful treatment. Why this book succeeds so well is because it is a very typical story, told without hyperbole or embellishment, of a struggle with an intangible and in many ways inexplicable disease, which blights a considerable number of us at some point during our lives. If you have ever personally experienced, or are close to someone who has or is experiencing this level of extreme depression, DEPRESSO will ring very true.
Brick captures the feeling of helplessness, both in terms of coping with the ups and more frequent downs of depression day to day, and the vagaries of the medicine-focused NHS system. But as mentioned it is done with a dark humour, expressed particularly well in the sequences showing his regular visits with physicians, all too keen to try a different medication. And encounters with various counsellors, who with the odd exception, seem to have no great wisdom to bring to bear on his plight except trotting out well worn refrains, that again will make this all too familiar to those in the know, and also probably not shock those who aren't!
This is a very different book from Darryl Cunningham's PSYCHIATRIC TALES, but in my mind succeeds just as admirably in humanising the suffering that mental illness brings. And not just to the individuals in question, but those around them too. Brick pays tremendous tribute to his partner Judy by objectively showing her side of the story too. She's a tower of strength to him throughout his struggles, even though he can't necessarily appreciate it or her at the time, you have to question whether he could have made it through to the better place he's in now without her. As much as anything else to survive depression people need completely non-judgemental and compassionate support, and Brick is clearly very fortunate to have someone like that in Judy.
So, is there a happy ending to DEPRESSO? Yes of sorts, but as Brick very truthfully illustrates, escaping from depression and staying in a happier place is an ongoing process for sufferers. Actually the first thing that sprang immediately to my mind upon finishing DEPRESSO was the Ralph Waldo Emerson quote, 'Life is a journey, not a destination.' For people who are prone to bouts of depression, that's particularly true; it's just their journeys can be rather more arduous than most.