The cartoonists making mental health their muse

Comics are not just about superheroes. Emily Oomen meets the artists shaping graphic medicine – a genre focused on the experience of living with illness. Ellen Forney was in her twenties and working as a professional cartoonist when she stumbled into the world of graphic medicine. The artist had been working for one of Seattle’s long-running newspapers The Stranger when, in 1998 and just before she turned 30, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. She says the diagnosis “sank in like the sun had gone behind the clouds”. Comics had always been a familiar language and format for Forney. She turned to them looking for comfort and was excited to discover a new genre she had never heard of – graphic medicine.

The genre focuses on and discusses topics within the medical field from cancer to Alzheimer’s and anorexia in an engaging and entertaining way. Although developed for patients and medical professionals as a way to explore different conditions, it is now often found in general stores and libraries.

Forney who was comfortable telling stories through this medium, started to create comics for herself about her experience of living with mental illness. “I wrote a lot in my journals,” she says. “I didn’t know that those were going to be pieces of a comic, a memoir later, but it’s kind of how it comes out of me, in words and pictures.” She says it gave her great solace while she learned to manage the condition.

After several years of creating comics for herself she designed a graphic memoir of the experience – Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me. “I felt like I needed to do it for myself and to get it out there to reach other people – because I can, because I’m a storyteller, and I thought it was an important story to tell. “It’s not just ‘here’s my experience, that was a mess’, but how do we put those pieces together? How do we come to heal?”

Lai Chi-Wai raises HK$5.2m for charity climbing Nina Towers

A man has scaled a Hong Kong skyscraper in his wheelchair to raise money for spinal cord patients. Lai Chi-Wai, who became paralysed after a road accident ten years ago, climbed 250 metres (820ft) of the Nina Towers building.
Before his accident, Lai Chi-Wai was a rock-climbing champion in Asia and eighth best in the world. He said that “knowing there was a possibility…that I could be a climber again, I found some direction in life”.

Steelers: How anti-gay row inspired rugby film

Conventional perceptions around sexuality, gender and manliness are challenged in a new documentary about Kings Cross Steelers – the world’s first gay rugby club.

The feature, it was announced on Thursday, will get its UK premiere online next month at the virtual Glasgow Film Festival, after last year’s BFI London Flare Festival- where it was due to screen – was cancelled due to coronavirus. The film is narrated by Ashton-Atkinson, whose personal experiences establish its emotional backdrop.

The Australian’s own story begins with him as a young rugby-playing kid slowly coming to terms with his sexuality. He is then callously outed by another guy at school, who records the two of them having sex together and shares it around. The “unrelenting bullying” that followed left “scars” that took him “to the brink”.

Years later, seeking an escape from his depressive state, Ashton-Atkinson quit his job and moved to the other side of the world. What he found there was a club full of like-minded competitors who helped him to get fit again, get his life back on track and ultimately meet his future husband, John.

‘Discriminatory’ mental health system overhauled

Plans have been announced to overhaul the mental health system – with the aim of making it less discriminatory towards black people. Ministers say changes to how people are sectioned in England and Wales will see them treated “as individuals, with rights, preferences, and expertise”. Black people are over four times more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act, relative to population. The mental health charity Mind said the changes “cannot come soon enough.”

“We need to bring mental health laws into the 21st Century,” said Health Secretary Matt Hancock. “I want to ensure our health service works for all, yet the Mental Health Act is now 40 years old. “This is a significant moment in how we support those with serious mental health issues, which will give people more autonomy over their care and will tackle disparities for all who access services – in particular for people from minority ethnic backgrounds.”

The reforms will also ensure that autism or a learning disability cannot be a reason for detaining someone under the act. In future, a clinician will have to identify another psychiatric condition to order their detention.

Cling film artist ‘overwhelmed’ by Pershore reaction

Large nature-themed murals have started to pop up in a Worcestershire town, painted on cling film. The impromptu works in Pershore have been created by a graffiti artist who goes by the name of Mr Sce.
He said he wanted to “make people happy” with his creations, after rediscovering a love of art during the Covid-19 pandemic. One local person dubbed him the “Pershore Banksy”, although the style of his latest work is very different.
The pieces, featuring different animals are painted on cling film, wrapped around trees – a technique Mr Sce said was inspired by another graffiti artist.

Stammering: ‘I thought it made me a failure

Next week Joe Biden will be inaugurated as the 46th President of the United States. He will also become the first president to have a stammer. It’s a condition that affects around 1.5 million adults across the UK. The BBC’s Felicity Baker reports on what it’s like to live with this often hidden disability.

Milton Keynes robot used for lockdown couple

An app developer used a delivery robot to propose to his partner because of their shared love for the technology. The machines usually deliver groceries and takeaways in Milton Keynes but Ben Hogan arranged for one to bring a ring to the home he shares with Sherri Dawes in Kempston on Christmas Eve.
The Covid pandemic means the couple, who met just before the first lockdown in England, are not yet sure when they will get married. Mr Hogan said: “Actually, even though I’m a geek, it’s Sherri’s obsession with these robots.”

Terra Carta: Prince Charles asks companies to join ‘Earth charter’

The Prince of Wales is urging firms to back a more sustainable future and do more to protect the planet, as he marks 50 years of environmental campaigning. Prince Charles wants companies to join what he is calling “Terra Carta” – or Earth charter. It aims to raise £7.3bn to invest in the natural world.
Terra Carta will harness the “irreplaceable power of nature”, the prince will say in his virtual address to the One Planet Summit on Monday. He hopes the new charter will help “reunite people and planet”.
He is due to say: “I can only encourage, in particular, those in industry and finance to provide practical leadership to this common project, as only they
are able to mobilise the innovation, scale and resources that are required to transform our global economy.” In his foreword to Terra Carta, the prince writes: “If we consider the legacy of our generation, more than 800 years ago, Magna Carta inspired a belief
in the fundamental rights and liberties of people. “As we strive to imagine the next 800 years of human progress, the fundamental rights and value of nature must represent a step-change in our ‘future of industry’ and ‘future of economy’ approach.”

Coronavirus: Virtual Mass tour across Ireland for 107-year-old

A 107-year-old woman from Clonard, County Meath is attempting a virtual Mass tour across Ireland while in lockdown. Nancy Stewart and granddaughter, Louise Coghlan, have been shielding together since March last year, and have set themselves the spiritual challenge.
They are attending Mass services across the 32 counties on the island from the comfort of their own kitchen. Louise said that because they have been shielding for so long together, she is constantly trying to find “different ways of keeping granny entertained”.
She said that when she asks Nancy if she wants to watch Mass her “eyes light up like I’d just given her a million euros”. Nancy, whose favourite saint is St Anthony, said she can hardly believe she is able to watch Mass on a computer or a phone from her comfy armchair.
“I feel so happy and so refreshed sitting happily in my own kitchen, in my armchair looking at Mass,” she told BBC News NI. “I can’t believe it, I’m trying to believe it’s true.”

Dad-to-be hopes embroidered scans will help blind parents

A blind father-to-be, who was given an embroidered picture of his baby scan as a gift, plans to set up an organisation to help other blind parents. Nathan Edge, from Mansfield, was given the tactile stitched picture of his baby son’s 12-week scan by his friend Deb Fisher. He said he had “sort of accepted” he would never see the image and said the present was “a complete shock”.
Now Mr Edge and Ms Fisher plan to help blind parents access similar pictures. Ms Fisher, 44, also from Mansfield, said she had come up with the idea as a simple way to allow Mr Edge to “feel his baby’s face and features”.The pair are now looking at setting up a not-for-profit organisation – and creating a network of embroidery volunteers – to help blind parents access similar embroidered scans.
Ms Fisher said she had already started contacting volunteers to help. “The embroidery community are amazing,” she said. “I’ve already heard from volunteers in the south.
“I was just doing a favour for a friend but if we can get something out there, where we can help other people, that’s my main aim now.”