Originally posted on It’s Nice That to mark World Mental Health Day in 2018, Aleesha Nandhra’s Dark Masks explores mental health issues from the perspective of those whose lives orbit the affected person. Nandhra is one of this year’s 2019 Broken Frontier ‘Six Small Press Creators to Watch‘ and Dark Masks echoes her zine series Thinking in the Dark. Both make similar use of powerfully striking imagery to express intense emotional themes with a quiet authority.
Dark Masks is adapted from personal experience, but presented without specific reference points to ensure that what it captures is the universality of a situation rather than a record of a particular course of events. “Where have you gone?” she asks on the zine’s opening page, “You are so far away , but you are standing here right next to me.” Nandhra’s approach is to combine deeply affecting metaphor with lyrical narration to create arresting and poignantly thoughtful visual poetry; the masks of the title signifying the change of aspect observable in a loved one when overwhelmed by depression as if “another mind has taken over”.
Originally printed at OOMK‘s Rabbits Road Press Dark Masks makes full use of the Riso process to present a mini-narrative that has an ethereal feel which is also suitably reflected in its printing. Faltering mental states drift hazily around the struggling central character with the barrier of the titular mask depicted as a deeper, impenetrable blue. Dark Masks is also notable in terms of comics dealing with mental health awareness for tackling the subject from the perspective of those around the person affected, similar to Ravi Thornton and company’s HOAX: Psychosis Blues or David Biskup’s Seagram.
Embodying a feeling of helplessness that one senses may have been cathartic in bringing to life on the page, Dark Masks is nevertheless not unhopeful in its message. It also underlines that regardless of the breadth of coverage in this area of graphic medicine over the last couple of years the experiences communicated remind us that the conversations around raising awareness of the subject are ongoing. Nandhra’s work, with its immediate and almost tangible impact, is a welcome and important addition to the discussion.
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Review by Andy Oliver