Alyssa Carpenter and Chris Crowe, English
Since I was sixteen, I have struggled with self-harm and depression. One of my coping mechanisms was reading. I would read and read and read in search of a solution where my sadness and despondent nature would be whisked away into a made up world where all the problems were solvable and light always won out over darkness. However, many of the books I read simply thrust me deeper into my depressive state. Young adult literature is always and forever on the cusp of breaking the social taboos that exist in society, which often mean that these books deal with very real, adult problems that youth may or may not be ready to deal with. That was the case for me. Books like “Cut,” “Thirteen Reasons Why,” and “Speak” are all examples of young adult books that helped inspire my project.
For my research project, I have been working on creating a graphic novel that acknowledges the reality of the darkness associated with depression, self-harm and anxiety, but does not dwell on it. The purpose of my ORCA research project was and is to create young adult literature that will help young adults lift their eyes out of depression and see that help, health, and safety are all possible.
Before I began drafting my graphic novel, I read and studied some of the most well known graphic novels and young adult literature that centered around depression, as well as texts that were well known in both areas for having high literary quality. In my study, I researched and took note of where these books succeeded and where they failed. Some of the most notable young adult literature I studied were “It’s Kind of a Funny Story” by Ned Vizzini, “Cut” by Patricia McCormick, and “Speak” by Laurie Halse Anderson. These books all deal with mental health issues in one way or another, and as I studied them I was able to assess how books like these could both help or hurt young adults and their progression. I also studied many graphic novels such as “Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me” by Ellen Forney, “Hyperbole and a Half” by Allie Brosh, “Blankets” by Craig Thompson, and “This One Summer” by Mariko Tamaki and Jillian Tamaki. These books each helped me understand how to convey powerful messages and stories through images, as well as gave me ideas for how to approach mental health struggles through images in my own graphic novel. I also met with some of the fine arts professors at BYU and got ideas from them on how to improve my drawing and graphic design. After all this reading and studying, I finally felt ready to begin my graphic novel.
Writing and illustrating an entire graphic novel has been a much larger and more complex project than I ever thought it would be. I have written and illustrated several short stories, one of which I have entered into several short story competitions. I also presented my short story, along with my findings, at the BYU 2016 English Symposium. The graphic novel I am writing is still in the drafting stages. I am currently focusing on the outline of the story, the creation and illustration of each of the characters, and learning how to digitize my work. This is certainly an ongoing process, and so the results are not yet complete. Eventually, once the first draft of this book is complete, I plan on sending it to a few publishing houses, or possibly self publishing the book using an online service like Google books.
Depression and self harm are incredibly misunderstood and stigmatized problems. As I studied and tried to understand the effect of depressing and negative literature on students, I realized that there was one large problem blocking my ability to find any real, relevant information on this subject. Depression and self harm are so shrouded in secrecy and shame that the impact of these books on teens are almost impossible to tell. Much of my inferences had to rely predominately on my own experience and on the experiences of the people closest to me. There is a great need for literature that helps young adults understand the sometimes harsh world around them while giving them the tools to cope with issues and problems that they have never encountered. There is a need for more books that bring people into the light instead of introducing them to the darkness.
As this is an ongoing problem and experience, there is not yet a decisive conclusion to my ORCA research project. My next steps are to complete my first draft of the novel, to continue reading and studying young adult literature that involved depressing or negative subjects, and to practice my drawing skills. As I continue on this creative path, I have one conclusive and decisive goal. I wish to illustrate and write a graphic novel that a young adult will be able to read and to find themselves one step closer to finding hope in the lonely place that is depression. The conclusion of my project will be when my book is in the hands of a young adult that needs a book that empowers them to heal and to find happiness.