On -isms: Look Straight Ahead, Take 2

By | Thursday, October 05, 2017 Leave a Comment
I originally reviewed Elaine M. Will's Look Straight Ahead back in 2013 when it first came out. Derek and I reviewed the original webcomic version last year over at Comics Alternative. In short, it was excellent! I'm bringing it up again now because Renegade Arts Entertainment has picked it up and is publishing a second edition. The first edition was self-published, so in theory, Renegade Arts should give the book a wider availability. It's currently listed in the October Previews catalog.

It's a book worthy of bringing to a wider audience, I believe, precisely because of the subject matter. The book follows Jeremy's descent into... well, I was going to say madness but that sounds a bit trite. And that's part of the problem the book addresses. Jeremy has a mental illness, and it's treated here in a realistic, sympathetic manner. But most of my vocabulary in explaining that here rely on phrases like "going crazy" and "descent into madness" which, while accurate enough, trivialize and stigmatize mental illnesses in general. In many respects, it's a form of able-ism in that we, collectively, dismiss genuine mental problems and lump them in alongside characters like the Joker, who's alternatively depicted as wrapped-in-a-straightjacket-laughing-like-a-hyena-crazy and homicidal-maniac-with-zero-sense-of-empathy-mad.

Much of that has to do with a general lack of understanding of how the brain works, and even more ignorance when it comes to the general population's perception. Which is why we, as a society, ran "insane asylums" for as long as we did. (Although in many respects, we still do. While many people who would have once been categorized as "insane" -- including everyone from homosexuals to those with Down syndrome -- are now given better opportunities and can interact with society, we have shifted the mental illnesses into criminalized behavior, and many people who need treatment are locked up in prisons.

Which is why Look Straight Ahead is important and worth talking about. I think it goes a long way to destigmatizing mental illness, and that's a large part of Will's intent. I seem to recall throwing out the idea at some point that she was leaving the full story available for free online precisely because she viewed it as something of a PSA, and Will later confirmed that was definitely one of the reasons. But with Renegade pushing the book out into venues that Will herself doesn't always have access to, the prospect of reaching a wider audience to talk about mental health issues in an entertaining and engaging way certainly strikes me as a win-win.

You can use Diamond code OCT171765 to order the book through your local comic shop or still check the story out for free here.
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