Author & Illustrator of Mental Health Comics Holly Chisholm
Holly Chisholm is the artist of Just Peachy comics, which Booklist has called "thoughtful and poignant." Her popular Instagram account for Just Peachy comics was her compromise between drawing and journaling; it helped her record how she was feeling at the time of being diagnosed with depression and work through some of the darkness. At first it was scary to put her deepest thoughts and fears out in the open, but the responses and messages of support from droves of fans made Chisholm realize how much it was needed to talk about mental health. After about six months of making these comics, she decided to quit her job and freelance part time so that she could dedicate more time to making and promoting Just Peachy. In the future, Chisholm is hoping to make another book, and would love to be able to do this full-time, while raising awareness about mental health and her personal struggle with depression.
What do you feel the comic book arts medium of storytelling affords the author/illustrator?
About two-thirds of communication is non-verbal so being able to express what's happening visually can sometimes tell a richer story than if it was just written down. Since my comics are about depression and mental health, the medium of comics made sense to me as a way to better convey how I was feeling, even when I couldn't fully explain it in words.
Are there any comic creators or graphic novels that were of influence to you in creating your illustrated book, Just Peachy? For instance, Adulthood is a Myth and Hyperbole and a Half seem to come to mind.
Yes! Hyperbole and a Half's Adventures in Depression was a real awakening for me. I felt that the story perfectly described what it is like to be depressed, but was able to also make me laugh out loud while I was reading it. Another great comic is @obtuseengel on Instagram. His comics often have very few words and somehow perfectly expressed some of the exasperation and tiredness that comes from being depressed. His comics are what inspired to me to start sharing my work on Instagram.
“Just putting pen on paper helped me feel less lousy...”
What was your personal inspiration behind your Just Peachy comics?
I had recently been diagnosed with depression after a pretty terrible breakup. I was living alone in Los Angeles at an incredibly stressful and toxic workplace, and felt like I was slowly falling apart. I finally went to a therapist and psychiatrist. Around the same time, I discovered Josh Engel's work on Instagram, and was inspired. I had been drawing for as long as I can remember but had fallen out of the practice. I decided I was going to hand-draw a comic every day as a way to get through some of the tougher emotions I was going through. Just putting pen on paper helped me feel less lousy and seeing that people liked my comics as my following began to grow made me feel like I was doing something important.
The Mental Healthy Fairy character in your book is reminiscent of an overbearing parent or guidance counselor. Where did you inspiration come from, and why is it so hard to take the Mental Health Fairy seriously?
Mental Health Fairy was basically inspired by a lot of blogs and articles I read when I was searching on how not to feel like a giant pile of garbage.
I think it is really hard to understand mental illness from the outside looking in. A lot of the advice these articles give like, "Exercise every day," and "Hang out with family and friends," can sometimes sound like "Just climb Mount Everest on a unicycle" to a depressed person.
The dark and faceless character of Depression in Just Peachy reminds me of the figure featured on the cover of Osamu Dezai’s No Longer Human, another book that deals with depression, anxiety and loneliness. Why is it fitting that the character of Depression should be depicted in this way?
Weirdly enough I had been drawing this character for a long time before I was diagnosed with depression. I think I must have recognized some sadness in me that I couldn't quite identify in my teenage years, and I would draw him as a way to personify the sadness. The circle where his face is supposed to be is actually hollow, which for me is how depression feels; a big hollow feeling in your chest, that makes it seem like nothing matters. He changes in height and size in some of my comics to show how heavy my depressive feelings were at the time. He is dark with no discernible features because depression feels like something scary and shapeless that I can't seem to escape
“I hope that people suffering from mental illness will feel less alone because of my book...”
It seems that we’ve all suffered from depression and anxiety at one point or another, or at least know people who have… Do you think that people without depression and anxiety can still enjoy Just Peachy? What do you hope readers will take away from reading your book—is there a light at the end of the tunnel?
I hope that Just Peachy can help explain what depression and anxiety is really like for people who haven't experienced it, or who have a loved one going through it. I hope that people suffering from mental illness will feel less alone because of my book, and maybe even be able to laugh a little bit at how silly depression and anxiety can be at times.
How did you find your current literary agent and go on to get published?
Someone from Bored Panda reached out to me and asked if they could feature my work on their front page. I agreed, and the post was very successful. A few days later, you, a literary agent from Trident Media Group reached out and told me you thought my comics would make a great book. You helped me put together a book proposal and it was picked up by Skyhorse Publishing.
What have you learned from the book publishing experience as a debut author?
I have never actually had to draw my comics on a deadline so this was a first for me. I had to take a more methodical approach to writing the comics, as I knew I couldn't wait until the last minute to finish them. It forced me to be a lot more organized.
“It helps to have an audience of people who you think you would be interested in a book before you go out and try to find a publisher.”
Do you have any wisdom to share with writers hoping to become published authors?
It helps to have an audience of people who you think you would be interested in a book before you go out and try to find a publisher. Thankfully, now with Instagram and Facebook, this is a lot easier than it was a decade ago. I would also suggest finding a literary agent who can submit your book proposal for you because they already have the connections and relationships to publishers and have knowledge of what publisher would be a good fit.
What might we be able to expect in the next book from you?
Recently, I have been struggling with my relationship to alcohol. I am now around fifty days sober and would be interested in sharing my story of why I chose sobriety, and how it has effected my depressive symptoms for the better.