Barking is a graphic novel that crashes into your mind from the first page, the most demanding, uncompromising graphic novel in years. Lucy Sullivan's singular exploration of mental illness and tribute to the National Health Service is something you've never seen before, and that's hard to say for most comics these days.
Barking as in "barking mad," "raving," "nutter." "Barking" as in "dog." The black dog of depression literally stalks Alix Otto, who is in a spiral of grief, depression, and psychosis. She's completely unmoored, unable to tell what's real as the fuzzy black dog chases her and tries to make her kill herself. She's arrested after causing a multi-car accident and sectioned, forced to navigate a mental institution and the labyrinth of therapy and treatment. Haunted by ghosts and grief, she has to find her way out of her spiral of madness. Bad advice from hallucinations and sound advice from the mental health staff vie for her attention as she slowly works her way towards coherence again.
With Barking, Lucy Sullivan has crafted a deeply personal graphic novel that reads and feels like a journey through someone's inner landscape. This is comics as self-expression, not a veiled movie pitch. Sullivan uses black and white to communicate the chaotic swirl of a mind in turmoil, mad scribbles that take a coherent form to replicate a disordered mind's feelings. This is a comic that screamed to be brought into existence, not for commercial success or celebrity.
This is why the medium exists as a democratic art form that anyone with a blank canvas can create from. These are comics created from a deep need to spill the inside of the artist's mind out into the world like an exorcism. To read Barking is to be inside another mind, another world inside that mind as it struggles to re-enter the world on the outside, unhindered by black dogs, ghosts, and screeching voices crying out self-hatred and demanding self-harm. Lucy Sullivan's art uses black and white, line and shadow, negative space to suck the reader into Alix's world. It's not a world that's fun to visit but one that must be seen, understood, and survived. This is an artist's attempt to make the reader feel what mental disturbance and the vortex of mental illness feels like. It's one of the boldest experiments in comics in years, a singular vision, an uncompromising leap into the unknown because of a deep personal need. It is utterly unique and ultimately rewarding. Life can be mad. Life can be hard. Life can be barking.
You can order a print or digital edition of Barking from Unbound.