Writer: Jacques Mathis & Sylvain Dorange
Illustrator: Sylvain Dorange
WHAT IS IT?
Psychotic is an autobiographical graphic novel recounting the buildup, treatment, and afterword of the author's battle with psychosis.
Reflecting on psychosis and institutionalization in a psych word, the story is a grounded version of Girl, Interrupted and One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Frenchman Jacques Mathis lives with mental illness. After suffering from a psychotic break at the tender age of 14, Jacques experienced worsening bouts of psychosis and hyperfixations as he aged. Eventually, psychiatric hospital institutionalizations and medication proved necessary for Jacques' well-being.
Jacques tells his story in dual narratives. In the present day, he wanders through France and Europe, on a mission to break off his current relationship and finish the graphic novel chronicling his life. Flashback vignettes track different stages in his journey with his mental illness. Childhood experiences, his psychiatric hospital stays, and the people he encountered all profoundly impacted Jacques. Each experience and person intertwines in unexpected ways during this autobiographical tale.
Jacques Mathis writes candidly and poetically, building on his points gently through facts and personal reflections without preaching at readers.
Sylvain Dorange complements Mathis's poetic prose exquisitely through a surrealist graphic art style and minimalist backgrounds punctuated by shadows. Thin black lines act as whispers, boundaries only present because Jacques requires boundaries to limit the invasiveness of psychosis in the comic.
Different colors reflect moods within each vignette. Blue represents melancholia, a connotation of the hospital and the drifting dream state Jacques endures while on psychiatric drugs. Harsh reds blanket the panels when Jacques relates his rigid religious childhood upbringing and first psychiatric break. Dorange softens the comics' appearance with a pastel color palette. Orange and teal colors work as undertones, both mirroring Jacques' vivid orange hair color and the blues Jacques wears both in and outside the psychiatric ward.
Lettering looks handwritten, the tight kerning pushing Mathis' unreserved words together above Dorange's illustrations.
Initially, the non-linear vignettes present a sense of discordance. Uncertainty is a key theme in Psychotic, as Jacques cannot distinguish reality from delusion during psychotic episodes. The fragmented narrative emboldens this theme of suffering idiosyncratic fantasies.
Panel layouts alter drastically on nearly every page. Each layout or double-page spread adds to the atmosphere, whether that be one of chaos, refrain, or sincerity.
A repeated layout occurs a few times in the form of a semi-splash page. An illustration, sometimes accompanied by dialogue, appears within a circle. White outlines the circle extending into the gutters, with images appearing around the shape. It's a memorable layout working with the dialogue to increase saliency.
Psychotic guts readers with raw expressions of emotions, positing questions about mental institutions and drug therapy: "Are these chemical straitjackets really necessary? How can you tell if a patient is cured or still needs treatment?"
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warning: Depictions and discussions of psychosis, experiences in a psych ward, sexuality, sex, and derogatory language may trigger certain readers.
Policemen are presented in a generally positive point of view in the comic, which is understandable since Mathis writes about European policemen. The image of police being helpful and understanding doesn’t reflect the American experience of gun violence and incarceration against individuals with mental health issues. This can lead to some immersion-breaking dissonance among American audiences.
Dorange's surrealist, European-based art style may not resonate with certain readers who prefer more straightforward realism.
I mentioned this in the above category as a thematic positive, but the sometimes disjointed nature of the vignettes can be off-putting. While confusing at times, the vignettes eventually connect as the story progresses.
Mathis mentions his sexuality a few times. I would have liked to see this topic explored further since the brief experiences indicated seemed to have affected Mathis in ways that are not fully evident.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Psychotic reads like poetry, supple and poignant with lilting words nearly floating off the page. Jacques Mathis writes prose beautifully. He wants to invite his audience into his mind, utilizing metaphors and similes to act as relatable points of reference if we feel lost along the way. You don't merely read about his life; you feel his emotions.
Jacques Mathis and Sylvain Dorange synthesize together in artistic harmony. Psychotic is a visual endeavor, tangibly showing how mental illness is treated in different environments.
Those unfamiliar with inpatient clinics and the out-of-body effect drug treatments take will view these situations in a different light after reading Psychotic. The graphic novel brings personal revelations about mental illness to the surface in a quiet, teachable manner everyone should read.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray
Chartwell Manner by Glenn Head
Ink in Water by Lacy J. Davis & Jim Kettner
If you like the art:
Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life by William Roy & Sylvain Dorange
Delicacy by James Albon
Crude by Pablo Fajardo, Sophie Tardy-Joubert & Damien Roudeau
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Jacques Mathis – Writer
Multitalented: Jacques is a writer and former filmmaker. He made his first short film in 1994. In 2007, his 11th film Gottvertomi, went on Canal +.
In 2012, his book Ma femme est une connasse was published by the theatrical bookstore in Paris.
Outlander: He currently lives in Strasbourg.
Sylvain Dorange – Illustrator
Sylvain is an artist who studied under acclaimed professor, Claude Lapointe and was educated at École supérieure des arts décoratifs de Strasbourg.
He has previously illustrated the graphic novels For Justice, and Hedy Lamarr: An Incredible Life for Humanoids.
Multitalented: Sylvain created the cover art for singer Sanseverino’s album about the life of French convict, Henri Charrière, created a graphic novel, Sanseverino est Papillon, is a composer, an animation director and a political cartoonist.
Ben Croze – Translator
Ben is a freelance translator.
He has translated for Humanoids Comics and other comic titles such as Metal Hurlant: Selected Works, Versailles: My Father's Palace, and Young Leonardo.
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
All Psychotic characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright La Boîte à Bulles & Sylvain Dorange, Jacques Mathis or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED