Stand In Your Power

This piece originally appeared as part of my weekly newsletter, The Full Lid . If you liked it, and want a weekly down of pop culture enthusiasm, occasional ketchup recipes and me enjoying things, then check out the archive and sign up here.

Rachael Smith is a UK based artist and comic creator. She is, without a doubt, one of the best and most important voices working in the field today. Every page of this book shows you why.

Stand In Your Power is a collection of strips about a break up and what happened next. It covers depression, the desire to self harm, the horrors of having to build a new life and what happens when it finally stops hurting. All of which, written down, sounds grim as hell, right? That’s because it is. This situation, which very nearly all of us go through, is horrifying and Rachael’s unflinching writer’s eye doesn’t blink or look away from a single second of it. But it doesn’t leave you alone to face it either.  The endless time dilation of the days immediately after the break up, the inability to eat anything other than very specific things, the vastly increased gravitational pull of your bed. I’ve been there. Chances are so have you. So’s Rachael, and just as her friends help her through it, she helps us.
This happened, it happens to everyone. It SUCKS. Now what? That question is where the authorial distance comes in, as you can see here. Almost every page has one of these wry asides at the bottom and they manage to do the near impossible; be perceptive and often howlingly funny but never self-deprecating. What Rachael does, continuously, is show us how she reacted and use that reaction not as a punchline but as a bridge. The message here is simple and strong;
This is a rubbish time in your life. You probably did some nonsense to cope with it. This is my nonsense. See? Not just you.
That gives the book a strong bass note of hope that only ever builds as it continues. Rachael uses multiple visual cues here with real elegance as we see her life slowly get put back together. One of my favorite beats is how she draws her new bedroom, week on week. At the start of this phase of her life it’s a bed with a window. By the end of it, it’s home. Once again she tells us that it takes time. Once again, she reassures us that time will pass even as the Rachael on the page struggles.
This is saved under the name ‘my favorite page’ because it is (although the gag about ‘having to hand in my writer badge and gun’ later comes REALLY close) . It’s also a perfect summation of just how brilliant this book is. Rachael the author commenting on Rachael the character’s mental state in a way that never invalidates or mocks it, but is very funny. At the same time, Rachael the artist tells us everything we need to know about how Rachael the character perceives time, stuck as she is in bed for a full page. Everything here is clever, everything here is multi-layered and most importantly, everything here is profoundly honest and profoundly kind.

That kindness, as well as Rachael’s magnificent comic timing, is what stays with you. The section dealing with self harm has different colored page borders so you know where it is and can skip it if you need to. The book finishes with a list of websites and organizations that can help with depression, self harm and suicide. Time and again, the book shows us it’s okay, that things change, that we come out the other side. Most of all, it shows us other people have been down here before and while the way out is different for everyone, the journey is so much better in company.

Stand in Your Power is out now and costs £10. Click through for Rachael’s Etsy store and be prepared to leave with multiple books. I can especially recommend House Party. You can also find Rachael online over here.