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Wirick, Katherine – Down & Away


Down & Away

I guess there are probably a few people out there in the world whose lives have never been touched by any sort of depression or mental illness (either their own or that of loved ones). I mean, it must have happened out there somewhere, right? But for the rest of us, who will never forget the sight of _____, or the sound of _____ as _____ (details removed to protect anybody from figuring out any real part of the scarring events mentioned), either mental illness or the aftereffects of it will always be around. This is Katherine’s story of her 2015, spent in a psych ward and/or trying to figure out effective types of medication. She says that the images in here are the sum total of her artistic output from that year, as she tried to figure out reasons for staying alive, to live, to make it through each day. She mentions other people in the same ward (all names removed, of course, although she says it’s because she can’t remember any of them) and their troubles, the difficulty in trying to relax when somebody checks on you literally every 15 minutes every single day, and the slow realization that every single thing in her room was designed to prevent someone from hurting themselves. Saying something is “deeply personal” has maybe been overused over the years, but it’s hard to imagine a more deeply personal book than this. She talks frankly about every aspect of this process, before and after, and refuses to plaster any sort of happy ending onto it. Mental illness is a constant struggle and she doesn’t sugar coat it, although I am glad that she knows of Maria Bamford (who talks frankly about thinking of killing herself in her act but somehow remains hilarious). If you have any of these issues yourself, or know somebody who does, I honestly can’t recommend this book enough. It’s mostly text, and it’s riveting; don’t go into this expecting a normal comic where you get to relax with laugh lines here and there. I’m sitting here now and thinking of more lines that cut right to the core of me or broke my heart a little, so I’d better end it now. Get a copy of this, and then do what I’m going to do: loan it out to loved ones, but don’t be pushy about it. A lot of people could be helped by what’s in between these covers. $7

Wirick, Katherine K. – Nervenkrank #2


Nervenkrank #2

This has nothing to do with the comic (do my reviews ever start any other way?), but I do always love to see a #2 in a series after a bit of a time gap. Life gets in the way, shit happens, but Katherine has a story to tell here and it looks to be back on track with this issue. If you haven’t read the first issue you might be a little lost here, but that’s on you for skipping it, you weirdo. We get to see a sick ward and the level of care that these wounded soldiers get, which is dismal; they’re kept in rows of beds under stained sheets. He starts smuggling a little bit of food out while writing letters to his brother before the two of them are reunited. John’s brother Wieland has been dishonorably discharged and John is much improved from the last time they saw each other, but still skittish and unwilling to put himself out into the world. Wieland attends a small party, and I’m in danger of giving away the entire comic in a review, but he gets into a fascinating conversation. From there he convinces John to go with him to meet an artist he’s heard of but not seen, and anybody familiar with John’s life story would know the importance of this meeting. Which I assume we’ll see in the next issue, coming right up (probably)! Katherine is slowly and meticulously building up these people and their place in this world, and I’m constantly amazed by how much she can convey in a single wordless panel. The look on Wiel’s face when he’s reunited with his brother, the joy but also the concern about how or if he’s recovered, that’s what comics can be when done right. It’s well worth a look, so get both issues and get caught up! $5

Wirick, Katherine – Nervenkrank #1



Nervenkrank #1

I don’t think Katherine has a single wasted panel here, and she has an uncanny knack for capturing a mood or moment in one quick image. Oh, and you should probably read the preview for this series, even though I don’t see it listed at her website, and what the hell is that about… eh, maybe it’s already at her Tumblr page, and technically it’s not required reading. Still, it really helps set up this world. This is the story of John Heartfield (born Helmut Herzfeld). During WWI he told his commanding officer that he was mentally ill and spent the next few weeks in a mental institution. As this was from 1915, the conditions were grim, to put it mildly. This issue starts off with a few brief images of the asylum before John’s relief. The looks on his face as he tries to say goodbye to a few of his friends (who are mostly too far gone to notice him), his halting, terrified manner of speaking, the way he flinches when a guard suddenly reaches out and straightens his hat, every one of those images tells volumes about the conditions he’s been enduring. From there he takes a slow walk back to where he’d been staying and is immediately confronted by the very nice wife of a guy who seems to be a bit of an asshole. She wants to feed him, her husband has nothing but contempt for John (who has a bit of a stutter), and John retreats up into his room. From there we see him slowly pick up the pieces of his old life and decide what he wants to keep. There’s not much dialogue here, but there’s no need for it, as the look on John’s face as he takes down the German flag says it all. Katherine has the confidence of somebody who has been doing this for years, and it’s well-deserved, as she gets damned near everything right. The only place where I could have used a bit of an explanation was an early scene where a guard drops off what appears to be a dead cat in John’s cell before taking him away, but it’s possible that was something from the preview that I’m just not remembering now. Either way this is pretty much flawless, and if your biggest complaint about a comic is that you’d rather not wait another year for the next issue, then you really don’t have a legitimate complaint at all. $5


Wirick, Katherine – The Mayans Were Right



The Mayans Were Right

Katherine sells this comic short a little bit by just calling it a sketchbook. For the new readers, my opinion on selling sketchbooks as comics is that it’s generally a bit of a cheat for conventions, a “look, I do too have a new book out this year!” kind of thing where you don’t have to put a lot of work into it because hey, you already keep a sketchbook. What actually appears in a sketchbook comic varies wildly from person to person, as this one shows clearly. There are some sketches towards the end of the book, sure, but even a good chunk of those have a story to them. Her review of the Avengers movie, for example, is pure personal pain from something unrelated to the movie. The bulk of this book is her travel diary from her trip to the Stumptown comics convention last year, at a time when her father was really sick and the family was getting the impression that the doctors weren’t telling them everything. Her father died during the course of this sketchbook, and the pain and general resentment at the universe for letting such a thing happen is clear on the page (or I’m projecting; I have no special insights into her brain). The convention was a bit of a bust for her (and a slow year in general from the sounds of it), but her observations on her trip and at the show itself elevate this far above the level of your average sketchbook comic. If you are like me and have a tendency to turn your nose up at sketchbook comics, don’t let this one pass you by, that’s all I’m saying. I picked this up mostly because it was the only new book she had at SPACE and I wanted to see what she had spent her time working on after thoroughly enjoying Nervenkrank #1 last year. Also, if she ever puts “No One Is Safe” out in a comics form, I can’t recommend that you get it highly enough. Her father was at the Kent State massacre in 1970 and this is the story of that event, although I must admit that I didn’t read the whole thing. Why? Because right now it exists as basically a large poster, and I felt like a weirdo standing there reading the whole thing at her table. Yes, even though she had it displayed like that to make it easier for people to read it standing at her table. But yeah, buy this sketchbook. If she keeps up on her current path she’s definitely going to “make it big” in this comics business, whatever that means these days. And if she doesn’t keep it up in comics, she’s still going to be a literary star. $2


Wirick, Katherine – Nervenkrank May 2012 Preview


Nervenkrank May 2012 Preview

Whew! I was all set with a general “what the hell is happening here” kind of review, then I noticed that this is a preview for a work that is projected to be much longer. Most preview comics are a bit more slapdash than this, and this looks fantastic, so you’ll have to forgive me for being momentarily fooled. Another thing that led to my confusion was the fact that the person depicted in this comic was only explained after the comic itself, and things open up in a vague “outside Berlin, 1915” fashion, leaving me with very little idea of what I was reading until the actual comic was done. It might have served better, especially for a preview comic, to make that an introduction, but maybe she wanted to leave a bit of the mystery intact. So, technical quibbles aside, how was the comic? Damned intriguing, with two really powerful images in just a few pages of comic. John Heartfield served in the German army in 1915 and told his commander that he was mentally ill. Yes, that’s what “Nervenkrank” means in German, and once again I have to admire the sheer clunky elegance of that language. This eight page preview details his last day in a mental institution, and the conditions in 1915 are a bit shy of modern standards. John eventually plays a role on the side of the angels against the Nazis in WWII, but that’s a long way down the line. Katherine mentions that “this story is not strictly nonfiction, but it is based on fact,” which is a ripe environment for a graphic novel. In terms of the artwork, it’s already clear that she has a perfect handle on the various facial expressions of a man who’s coming out of an institution and the conflicting emotions that come with that, which does give me high hopes for an eventual larger book. She says it’ll be continued in September 2012, although I have no idea if that means another preview book like this, a complete “issue” (of what length I have no idea), or if she actually has this most of the way done and that’s when she’s planning on releasing the graphic novel. I highly doubt that last one, but I am eager to see more of this story in whatever format she has planned. $3