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I’ve been hearing about an epidemic of loneliness for a while now, especially made worse by the past two years of illness and isolation. Book lovers like us tend to turn to stories to feel less alone or to leave behind what completely bothers us. When I’m feeling isolated, I also tend to turn to comics, because there’s something about panel art that can’t always be communicated in writing. Loneliness comics make me feel a lot less alone, oddly.
Comic artists addressing the topic of loneliness can use panels to demonstrate the different stages of being stuck in one’s own head. Whether it’s going through different states or living in your imagination, comic book panels can communicate a lot of turmoil in abstract and specific ways.
Putting words to emotions, especially the pain of loneliness, is difficult. That’s not to say depicting loneliness through art is easier — it’s just a different method of communication. In comics about loneliness, I often come across an image that is very familiar to me: standing in front of the refrigerator, sitting blank-faced in public transport or staring at the sky. Reading comics about loneliness always helps me put things into perspective and remind myself that there’s a world outside of my head.
loneliness in comics
This Is How I Disappear by Mirion Malle, translated by Aleshia Jensen
Getting down and trying to reach out can be like trying to pull yourself out of your own grave. Clara is a young woman struggling with mental health issues after a sexual assault. Even though Clara pushes herself to reach out and go out and be there for her friends, nothing really gets her out of her funk. She is also overworked and unable to write, which was once her best creative outlet. The most touching pages of this comic for me are the ones where Clara lies in bed, desperately searching the internet for mental health coping strategies. This story is very honest about how you can do anything for your mental health, but progress isn’t easy or linear.
Here by Richard McGuire
This is a novel version of the comic book by Richard McGuire here, which originally appeared in the underground comics magazine RAW in 1989. With very little language, McGuire follows a particular corner of a particular room through all of history. Before being a piece, it was so many other places and permeated by every stage of evolution. This one place holds the whole story, and this comic puts into perspective how to remember that the world is so much bigger than our experiences.
Alone in Space: A Collection by Tillie Walden
This is a collection of three of Tillie Walden’s early comic book stories, and it also includes sketches and smaller comic strips from throughout her artistic history. Walden’s stories all focus on people coming to terms with their fears and emotions about the world around them. In classic Walden style, there are giant cats, towering buildings, and abstract depictions of our innermost thoughts. Walden has a skillful way of accessing deep feelings of loneliness and opening them up to the wider world.
My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness by Kabi Nagata
Nagata’s comic about coming out and coming to terms with mental illness is deeply honest and resonates with anyone who might feel stuck in their own spiral. The action of the story focuses on Kabi seeking sexual pleasure for the first time as a lesbian, and hoping it will cure her loneliness. However, it’s also a candid exploration of Kabi’s mental illness, from anorexia to self-harm to depression. This comic beautifully communicates how loneliness can invade your brain when you’re struggling.
Pixels of You by Ananth Hirsh and Yuko Ota, art by JR Doyle
In a near future world where AI is so advanced it can exist in human forms, a human teenager named Indira and an AI girl named Fawn reluctantly form a friendship. When they meet, they are both working as photography interns at an art gallery. Indira struggles with prejudice and exclusion in the art world, and although she originally dislikes Fawn, they manage to find common ground. It’s a sweet comic about feeling isolated and finally realizing that we’re not as different as we originally thought.
Quiet Girl in a Noisy World: The Story of an Introvert by Debbie Tung
While the whole introvert-extravert divide has been dissected on the internet to the point of parody, this comic tells an interesting story about socializing as an introvert. Debbie Tung’s autobiographical comic strip takes us through her life in late college and early adulthood. This is the time when we are all very delicate and taking on new adult responsibilities, so it is important to reach out to people. However, Tung derives most of her energy from being alone, and her comic shows us how to respect that need for alone time while making room for new connections.
Everything is Beautiful and I’m Not Afraid: A Baopu Collection by Yao Xiao
Being alone in a new country is terrifying. Yao Xiao uses her comics to explain the various ways the narrator has been excluded from her communities. When she became bisexual, her mother did not accept her. As an immigrant to America, she struggled with various cultural issues and felt separated from the people around her. Stuck between two cultures and not really feeling at home in one or the other, Yao Xiao uses comics to get out of this uncomfortable liminal space.
Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel
If you’re a comic book fan, you’ve probably heard of or read this graphic memoir. What struck me the most on my first read was how Alison and her dad went through this similar experience that they couldn’t relate to. Alison had the curious experience of growing up in a funeral home under the guidance of her father. Although they failed to connect in person, they bonded remotely through literature. It’s not until Alison steps out that she discovers her father’s secret life as a gay man, and she understands all the reasons why they were stuck in their own lonely world when she was growing up.
Connection Through Comics
When I connect with comics, the most resonant panels tend to pop into my head over and over again. Images about loneliness communicate as much as a paragraph of flowery prose, and even more in some cases.
Loneliness is compounded when we feel like we have no one to contact, due to queer identity issues or mental health issues. If you’re looking for more comics that deal with mental health and mental illness issues, there are plenty of great comics about depression and anxiety.