Musing about Robin Williams, depression and suicide

In the course of cleaning through things, digitally and otherwise, I've been sorting through papers and came across this piece I wrote months ago shortly after Robin Williams committed suicide. I was a big fan of Williams. His comedy was great. His movies were admittedly uneven (like anyone who makes movies) and his most recent TV show, The Crazy Ones, wasn't a great show, but I watched it and I think it could have been better. Sadly it never got the chance.

It's not an optimistic essay. Sorry about that.

So Robin Williams killed himself.

When depressed people commit suicide, it tends to to have an impact. For those of us who deal with depression, we know a little of what he was going through. Often we've had those thoughts. Some people have even attempted suicide. But it hits close to the bone.

There are a few problems with how people have talked about his death. One is that people should get help. Well, Williams was getting help. He had gotten help. He had fought with this for decades, for his entire life, and he still couldn't get through it. He was 63 years old and he had been self-medicating and he went to rehab and he had family and friends and he was getting help. This idea that he was selfish and if only he could have gotten help, he would be alive, but that's just not true sadly.

Two is this idea that he's free. There's the obnoxious image on social media of the Genie and Aladdin from the animated movie where Aladdin tells the genie he's free now. The idea presumably being that now Williams is free from the pain and torment he went through in life. I fucking hate that sentiment.

Of course I find some people who talk about suicide to be agonizingly self-aggrandizing and obnoxious and painful to listen to. Not the medical professionals who do deal with patients, who see these symptoms, treat individuals and live with their illness. I think we don't appreciate that. How for many of the doctors who treat such conditions, they choose to live with this in a way that we don't - in a way that very people would. I'm talking about people who don't have medical training, who often don't have experience with depression and pain, but who feel the need to hector and lecture about how suicide is always wrong and I suppose it's no coincidence that many of these people are so narcissistic that they've had little self-doubt in their lives and tend not to be nice about their other opinions either. They may think they're important and doing good by taking such a hard line but the truth is they're just being un-empathetic.

Let me put it this way, if I tell you that I feel worthless and am in pain and thinking about suicide, should your response be, your thoughts and feelings are stupid and wrong? Then to badger and lecture me without an understanding of or concern for how I feel? Moreover so many of these people are selfish and casually cruel.

Depression is a strange thing because it attacks your very sense of sense. It does so in ways that you might not even think about because for some of they're such a common part of life. I'm not going to claim that my experience with depression is universal. In truth I have no idea just how universal my experience is.

It begins by telling you that you're a failure. That all you've done is fail and when you haven't actually failed, it's been because of dumb luck or something else that prevented you from being revealed a the complete worthless failure you are. You are one move from being revealed for what you really are. You know what you are, though. These are not thoughts that appear out of nowhere, they are thoughts that we've all had, the kinds of thoughts

Then it goes further and informs views of not just you but others. There's a reason you're alone. You have friends and acquaintances, sure, but only because they don't know you. The real you. If they did, they wouldn't want anything to do with you. Hell, some of them don't even bother to get back to you. They have a sense of what you are and what you're really like. That's why you're single. You sound fine on paper but once they get to know you, they run away.

These thoughts grow slowly and the chilling thing that depression offers you (or at least me) is something like satori. Or at least what i imagine satori to be like. For those who don't know, satori in Zen Buddhism is the experience of seeing one's true essence. The idea that you are seeing yourself clearly. Depression is dangerous and scary because these thoughts are not foreign to you. They are a part of you.


I'd like to write something positive and hopeful and encouraging about depression. I can't.

I'm mildly successful in terms of work - which is to say that people tell me i have a cool job. I'm a joke financially. I've tried to sell out and get a boring office job with a steady paycheck and the possibility of not having to worry constantly about money, but no one's ever been interested in hiring me.

I'm alone. I often think - as most people who are single and over thirty do - that I'll be alone forever. It wouldn't surprise me if I never had a serious relationship - I've gotten this far without one. I haven't had a birthday party since elementary school. I stopped having them because I didn't think anyone would show up. I still don't think anyone would show up if I threw a party.

One thing that makes suicide relatively rare is the fact that it's so hard to pull off. I've often wished for a switch or level where I could just end it, shut down my heart and painlessly stop. Just stop. I suppose that makes a certain sense. I'm not a violent person. But stopping...that sounds like relief.

I'm writing this because I know that I have all the signs of depression. Some people would be troubled by all this. The truth is though that this part of my daily life. I live with these thoughts on an almost daily basis. I'm constantly unsatisfied with every piece of work I do. It's what keeps me trying new things. I'm constantly worried and frustrated. I'm alone - and I probably always will be.

In her magnificent book "Stay," Jennifer Michael Hecht writes about "hope for our future selves" and I understand that. I believe in that. But I also remember what it was like to be depressed. I remember what it was like to not feel as though I had a future self - there was only the present. The present was painful and the pain would never end.

I'm writing this to say that I have all these thoughts, but I'm staying. I'm not going anywhere. I don't know for how long. I'm going to try to stay for as long as I can. But if there comes a point where I can't stay anymore...please try to understand.

Richard McGuire's Here in Publishers Weekly

Richard McGuire published one of the most awe-inspiring books of 2014. Trying to explain his book "Here" is a challenge. I could tell you that it takes place in the corner of his parent's living room in Perth-Amboy, New Jersey, but that doesn't capture why so many people are obsessed with this book. One reason is because it takes place in this corner of the room over the course of the planet. Further looking at the page designs, with windows and insets capturing moments and images from over time.

It's an amazing book and one that people will be reading and pondering for a long time. I was thrilled that I got to interview him. And I'm excited that the piece has appeared in Publishers Weekly.


Looking back on 2014

So it was an interesting year. I managed to talk to a few cultural figures (at least in the sub cultures I move in) like William Gibson, George Romero, and Chris Claremont.

There were interviews with Amanda Palmer, Cory Doctorow, Alena Smith, Robert Boswell, Gerald Vizenor

I had some great poetic conversations with Donald Hall, Mary Szybist, Patricia Lockwood, Peter Gizzi, and Carol Muske-Dukes.

I interviewed some of the great living cartoonists - Jules Feiffer, Roz Chast, Lewis Trondheim, Jim Woodring, Mimi Pond, Gilbert Hernandez, Don Rosa, John Porcellino, Gabrielle Bell, P Craig Russell, Charles Burns, Eleanor Davis, Stan Sakai, Richard Thompson, Zeina Abirached, Mana Neyestani, Olivier Schrauwen, Simon Hanselmann, Ed Piskor, Richard McGuire, and others I've forgotten.

All in all, not a bad list of people.

Goals for the new year:

1. More interviews! Of course when I say more, I mean more people. I'd love to be able to just spend time on interviews. With few exceptions, I never spend more than a couple hours on any single profile. I read profiles in glossy magazines and about how people spend days with the subject and weeks on the article and I just cannot imagine being able to do that. I would love to, though.

2. More reviews. I write very few reviews. I should write more.

3. More time looking abroad. I want to spend more time reading work from the Middle East in particular. Also more from South America.

4. More articles about non-comics topics. I spend far too much time on comics, which quite frankly, yields very little in the sense of....well, anything. There's something incredibly disheartening about putting in as much time and energy as I did to write about a field and get so little in return.Maybe it's because I'm no good. Maybe it's because no one cares. Maybe...I don't know.

Let's just hope 2015 works out better.


CBR's Best Comics of 2014

I contributed to this list, but I was one voice among many. As a result, I can't vouch for most of these books. I have not read most of these books. There are many books on the list, I would honestly eat before I ever read, but that's me. There are also plenty of good books left off the list, which happens.

Gender-Crunching the articles I wrote at CBR in 2014

Over at Comic Book Resources, I write a decent number of articles. 111 in 2014, according to my number-crunching.

Now of those 111, 95 of them were interviews either with individuals or teams about new projects.

Of those 95, 18 were group interviews (involving between 2 and 6 people), so I interviewed about 123 people for the website.

Of those, 35 were women, which works out to just under a third. Which is to say, not a great breakdown as far as these things go.

Now of course looking at the list of people I talked to, it is an incredible list of people. And in terms of the range of people that I talked to, I think that is an excellent breakdown. I talked with some people about their webcomics, others about their debut books, others are veteran creators, there are editors and scholars and writers and artists.

Francoise Mouly and Roz Chast - who are two of the most talented and important individuals in all of comics.

Hillary Chute and Kerry Roeder, who are two incredible comics scholars with new books out this year. Roeder's book about Windsor McCay was incredible and one of those books that was a huge influence on my thinking this year about McCay and his work and about different ways to think about an approach comics.

Plus people responsible for some of the best comics of the past years from Isabel Greenberg to Danica Novgorodoff to Mariko & Jillian Tamaki to Liz Prince. Editors like Shannon Watters and Rachel Richey, who are doing very different but very important work. And then multi-hyphenates like Lisa Hanawalt, who's a masterful cartoonist-illustrator who can now add Production Designer of the acclaimed animated series BoJack Horseman to the list.

Hopefully a few more people discovered the work of some incredible talents like Hazel Newlevant (If This Be Sin), Christian Beranek and Kelci Crawford (Validation), Vanesa del Rey (Hit, The Empty Man) and Aisha Franz (Earthling).

I spoke with Anya Ulinich and Xenia Pamfil about their awe-inspiring debut graphic novels - plus the books by Eleanor Davis and Emily Carroll collecting many of their comics, which are beloved and acclaimed for good reasons.

Not to mention a number of people I've talked to before and who remain among my favorite creators - and some of them, my favorite people (Joelle Jones, Gabrielle Bell, Raina Telgemeier, Christina Weir).

Plus Jill Lepore - to my mind one of the smartest writers around on any topic!

Now of course there was a whole host of women doing an incredible work in comics that I never got to speak with this year from Julia Wertz to G. Willow Wilson to Fiona Staples to Alex de Campi to Cece Bell to Jen Wang to Amy Reeder to Caitlin Kittredge to Annie Wu to Becky Cloonan to Rhianna Pratchett to Babs Tarr to Jordie Bellaire to Jill Thompson to Phoebe Gloeckner to the team behind Lumberjanes to dozens of webcartoonists and god knows how many dozens of people I'm forgetting. (And then of course people like Lynda Barry who just weren't interested in doing an interview) Of course those people tended be covered by other of my colleagues, as were dozens of others, so this isn't an accounting of the website's failings and shortcomings, just my own.

The fact that I can reel off names off the top of my head like that doesn't mean anything. Anyone can write about the obvious people and the obvious books and the projects that get a ton of publicity. The trick is to write about all the non-obvious candidates. That's part of my job. Which is to say that I did an okay job covering comics from my corner of things, but there's plenty of room for improvement.


Articles Published the Week of December 15th

Tim Lane Explores "The Lonesome Go"

Tim Lane crafts some incredible short comics and now Fantagraphics has a new collection, his second, of those comics. It's a mixture of styles and approaches and forms, but the result is something incredible.

Shannon Watters blasts her BOOM! Box

I talked to BOOM! Senior Editor Shannon Watters - who's in charge of titles like Adventure Time, Lumberjanes and many others. She talks about overseeing the KaBOOM! and BOOM! Box imprints.

Donald Hall: At Eagle Pond

I've long been a fan of Donald Hall's work. I read his picture book The Ox-Cart Man when I was around 5, started reading his poetry as a teenager, and have had the opportunity to hear him read on two occasions over the years. We spoke recently about his new essay collection "Essays After Eighty."

Josh Neufeld tackles big data and privacy in "Terms of Service"

Ever since the release of "A.D.: New Orleans after the Deluge," Josh Neufeld has had a great few years working as a comics journalist and telling nonfiction stories. We spoke about his new project, "Terms of Service," a collaboration with Al-Jazeera journalist Michael Keller on a look at privacy and big data.

Celebrating the centennial of Moomin creator Tove Jansson with Drawn and Quarterly

I always love talking with Tom Devlin at Drawn and Quarterly and we spoke about the new book "Moomin: The Deluxe Edition" which is an incredible collection of Jansson's run of the Moomin comic strip. Devlin argues that this is one of the great comic strips of all time. Even if you disagree, it's an incredibly written, beautiful drawn collection of comics. One of the biggest and most important books of the year.

I feel bad for Ayelet Waldman

I feel sorry for Ayelet Waldman.

She reacted on social media to her most recent novel not being included in the New York Times Book Review's list of Top 100 Books of the year. She wasn't happy. Many writers felt that this was a sentiment that most writers have had about something - they just don't say it out loud and in a public forum the way that Waldman did.

Others felt that given that Waldman has published more than a dozen novels form big publishers, been a bestseller, been adapted to film, had Hollywood deals...that complaining about this was a little like a wall street broker complaining that he couldn't buy a yacht to go with his beach house because his bonus was cut because the global economy collapsed.

Don't get me wrong, I'm very sympathetic to the latter perspective.

We're always taught that external factors should not overly influence us. That other's approval and opinions should not define our well-being and our sense of self-worth. This is especially important for writers who will say that you should not be defined by sales or awards.

I look at Waldman. She's happily married, she has children, they have a house (in one of the most expensive places in the United States), she is doing incredibly well as an author by every metric. She's acclaimed, she's a bestseller.

Then I consider my own life. I am alone. I have no children. I do not own property. I am neither a critical nor financial success. I would love to be married - to a successful and highly intelligent person, no less. I would love to have children. I would love to be able to own a home.

I feel bad for her because she has what seems like a picture perfect life. I don't begrudge her any of this success, but I do envy it. She has a life that I envy - and it does not make her happy. It does not make her satisfied. It does not fulfill her. She has a loving spouse, children, material success, and a successful career - and none of it matters to her.

I know that getting married or becoming successful will not make me happy. But if I get everything I want, will I remain just a sad, depressed individual who is insecure and anxious and now and again is crushed by the world and wishes for my life to end? Maybe I will always be like this. There is nothing that I will ever do, nothing that I can ever do, that will help me to change, to transform myself, to make myself satisfied as a human being. No matter what, I will always be sad and depressed and unhappy.

I do loathe taking other people's problems and turning it into something about oneself. It's the epitome of narcissism: To negate other people's thoughts and opinions and feelings, because what's really important is me. I fear I may be doing that here. I wouldn't have expressed what Waldman expressed - I'm far too insecure to ever voice it, though I might think it - and I certainly wouldn't have talked about it at length online, but I know where that feeling came from.

I could laugh at Waldman, but I know the bell tolls for me.

Articles Published the Week of December 1st

Jim Woodring returns to "Jim"

I've long been a fan of Jim Woodring, whose comics work really is unique and strange. I've spoken with him in the past and our conversations are always fascinating. We spoke about the collection of "Jim," his earliest work in comics, which is strange and interesting. What's also fascinating is that the early issues were done while Woodring was working in animation (on some of the worst cartoons ever made, as he himself admits).

Lewis Trondheim and "The End of Dungeon"

Lewis Trondheim is one of the great cartoonists in the world today. Honestly I think the hardest part of this interview was just trying to summarize in brief his career and why he is one of the most important artists in the world today in a brief introduction. One reason I love him - Dungeon. Of course he and Joann Sfar have wrapped the series up and we spoke about it recently - with the help of a French translator because my French is atrocious (and that's on a good day).

Articles Published the Week of November 24th

William Gibson: The Peripheral

I'm a huge fan of William Gibson's work. This is the second time I've interviewed over the years (the first interview is included in "Conversations with Williams Gibson" which came out this year from the University Press of Mississippi) and I was thrilled we could chat about his first novel in five years and his visions of the near and far future presented in its pages.

Shawn Martinbrough: Thief of Thieves

I love Shawn Martinbrough's work. A fabulous artist with a great sense of style and his art is really the highlight of Thief of Thieves for me and we talked about the first 25 issues of the comic. Of course I also want a black and white uncolored book from him (hopefully one of these years) and I can't wait for"The Ren," the graphic he co-wrote, when it comes out next year.

Bobby London: Popeye

I admit that I'd never heard of London or his short-lived run on Popeye until earlier this year when the first of two books collecting his run on the daily strip was published. The second volume is out now and we spoke about his time on the strip and his career in comics. I'd rank his best Popeye stories among the best Popeye stories of all-time just behind Segar himself.

Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda: Critical Inquiry

I talked with Hillary Chute and Patrick Jagoda about the recent issue of Critical Inquiry they edited which is all about comics and even features a cover by Robert Crumb with new comics inside of it in addition to essays and interviews and panel transcripts. It's a crazy thing and while it's easy to nitpick or complain about many aspects of the issue (I have plenty of criticisms) what they did with the scholarly journal is interesting and innovative and puzzling in the very best ways.

The Most Evil Corporations in Comics

Just in time for Small Business Saturday, I made a partial list of evil corporations in comics. There are a lot of them and this is just a small sampling. What's funny is that all the comments about the article that I've read either say "but you forgot X" or they say, "these companies are still less evil than Walmart/Comcast/fill in the blank".

Articles Published the Week of November 17th

Roz Chast Asks "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?"

I'm a huge fan of Roz Chast and her work. Hell, who isn't? Her recent book, "Can't We Talk About Something More Pleasant?" is one of her best works. It's funny and heartbreaking and an incredibly moving experience. I was glad to be able to talk with her. We ran the article before the National Book Award ceremony and though she didn't win,

Lisa Hanawalt is Riding High with "BoJack Horseman"

I love Lisa Hanawalt's work and I'm a big fan of "BoJack Horseman," the animated show on Netflix she works on. She's the show's production designer (I ask about what exactly that means) and I spoke with her about the show, Coyote Doggirl, and her other work.

Reading List: Harlan Ellison's Greatest (Comic Book) Hits

Harlan Ellison is a writer I've been reading for a long time and I can honestly say that the man's work has helped shaped my sensibility. When I lived in Los Angeles many years ago I had the chance to meet Mr. Ellison and while when he was talking he was every bit the funny, crazy, irritable and profane persona that he's put forward. Afterwards though I was lingering in the bookstore with a friend - we were looking over some other books after Ellison signed our books. Before he left with his wife and some friends Ellison came over and was very nice, we shook his hand, we all thanked each other, and it was the kind of nice, genuine moment that people might not expect, but this kindness is at the heart of all his work.

This week, "Batman '66: The Lost Episode" comes out from DC. The comic is based on an episode of the old Batman TV show that Ellison had outlined and pitched. The episode would have introduced Two-Face and now Len Wein and Jose Luis Garcia Lopez have adapted the story to comics. To mark the occasion, we listed a lot of the comics work Ellison has written over the years.

Articles Published the Week of November 10th

Frank Cho and Tom Sniegoski talk about "Drawing Beautiful Women" and "World of Payne"

Cho and Sniegoski make each other (and me) laugh, and then they talk about Cho's new art instruction book "Drawing Beautiful Women," their series "World of Payne" which debuts next year,  and Cho gives a rundown of his upcoming projects over the next few years including "Skybourne," "Guns and Dinos" and "Liberty Meadows."

Aisha Franz blasts off with "Earthling"

I loved Franz's debut graphic novel about two girls and their mother in the suburbs and the flights of fancy the three engage in, in ways that's fun and strange and a little heartbreaking.

Amanda Palmer talks "The Art of Asking"

Amanda Palmer's book really moved me and I was glad to get the chance to talk with her and share that with her. I'm usually not this open about my own feelings in an interview, but Palmer talks about what it means to be an artist and isn't afraid to be brutally honest about her own relationship in the process.

Articles Published the Week of November 3rd

Jill Lepore reveals "The Secret History of Wonder Woman"

I'm a huge fan of Lepore and have read most of her books. I'm a particular fan of her first book, "The Name of War," about King Philip's War. I had the chance to talk with her about her new book which looks at the creator of Wonder Woman, influences on the creation of the character, the history of 20th century feminism and many other related topics.

Michel Fiffe unleashes "Copra: Round One"

Fiffe writes "All-New Ultimates" at Marvel Comics, but he's the writer/artist/colorist/publisher of "Copra," which is one of the best, most innovative superhero comics being published right now. I got to talk with him about the new collection of the first six issues of the comic. I got to meet him over the weekend at Comic Art Brooklyn and he's also an incredibly nice guy.

Scott McCloud and Bill Kartolopoulos choose "The Best American Comics 2014"

Two incredibly smart people talking to me about some of the best comics being published this year. We talk about Allie Brosh, Hawkeye, Sam Sharpe, Erin Curry, Sam Alden, Richard Thompson and the state of comics in 2014.