10 YEARS OF THE BF SIX TO WATCH! Before we look at anthology comics collection Mind Over Margins today let us first consider the aims and objectives of Comics Youth, the creative community organisation who published the book through their Marginal Publishing platform. Comics Youth CIC is an initiative led by young people for young people that uses comics, among other mediums, to “empower youth across Merseyside to flourish from the margins of society: Harnessing their own narratives, finding confidence within an inclusive community, and developing the resilience to succeed on their own path.”
Exactly the kind of socially inclusive and proactive kind of platform then that would naturally appeal to us at Broken Frontier given our own “mission statement” of sorts. In the first of a series of reviews of Comics Youth projects in 2024, and in the year that we celebrate the tenth year of our own Broken Frontier ‘Six Creators to Watch’ programme, it seems appropriate that we take a look at Mind Over Margins, a book focussing on issues of mental health awareness that includes work from 2020 Six to Watch-er Dominique Duong.
The specific remit of Mind Over Margins is to look at mental health issues from the perspective of a number of young artists from marginalised groups. As a result the book touches on many important socially relevant subjects including neurodiversity, ableism, PTSD, gender identity and self-harm. It’s a compilation of comics shorts that brings together a number of now well-known names on the small press scene with voices who readers will be less familiar with.
Reviewing anthologies always involves picking out a small number of contributors to spotlight. A difficult process at the best of times but especially difficult with a book like Mind Over Margins which is replete with short comic strips with vitally important messages. A pertinent place to start is, of course, with Dominique Duong’s ‘A Constant Fear’ (above) which is an inspired example of how the specific tools of comics can be used to communicate feelings of anxiety and angst. Visitors to the Broken Frontier exhibition ‘Breaking Frontiers’ at Jam Bookshop that I curated for Small Press Day last summer will no doubt recognise one of the pages that uses powerful visual metaphor to portray the overwhelming nature of intrusive thoughts. But Duong’s uses of lettering and speech balloon placement, as well as colour to convey mood, is equally effective here.
Creating comics that deal with issues of mental health can, of course, effect a symbiotic link between reader and creator. Nytastic’s ‘Anxiety and Me’ (above), for example, has a clarity and openness that implies it was as therapeutic to create as it will be for those in a similar situation to read. Schnumn’s ‘Uh-Oh! It Was Neurodivergence All Along’ also uses a stripped back, and thus highly accessible emotionally, visual style to examine the links between her mental health and neurodiversity in four pages that inform as much as they recount.
One of the standout stories in Mind Over Margins in terms of the language of comics is undoubtedly Mikoto’s ‘Back to Earth?’ which depicts a moment of extreme anxiety as panels and surroundings become a swirling, sticky, spinning and melting moment of perceptive incongruity. Millie Chesters’ ‘Overthinking’ is also notable for the way it uses a scratchy, raw drawing style to bring us fully into the artist’s mind with ever more frantic, frenetic panels eventually replaced by a moment of defiance and creative freedom. R. Somers, too, manipulates perspective and makes use of imaginative meta storytelling components in their account of an ADHD diagnosis.
Mind Over Margins ends with Hanna Gwynn’s ‘Star Jar’ (above) tracing how writing positive notes about her life and collecting them in a jar proved a cathartic exercise. In terms of structure it manages to be both elegantly simple and yet subtly sophisticated in pacing, and also acts as a positive note to end on. Mind Over Margins contains the work of 17 creators and different readers will find different stories that resonate with them depending on their circumstances. A follow-up collection Mind Over Margins: Joy was released recently and we will be taking a look at that in the not too distant future.
Nytastic, Dominique Duong, Erik Monk-Steel, Kaitlyn Lloyd, hesitantdoodle, Jem Fishwick, Eleanor Szydlowska, Merlin Hart, schnumn, Mikoto, Lauren Knapton, Millie Chesters, Soh, Toria McCallum, Rafiel Andrew, R. Somers, Hanna Gwynn (W/A), Hannah Maclennan (CA), Reebecca Horner, Anna Macdonald, Rae Malenoir (E) • Marginal Publishing, £9.99
Review by Andy Oliver