Interview: Cartoonists Cara Bean Helps You Build Resilience
Sep 26, 2023
Interview by Nicki Faust
The Center for Cartoon Studies presents Let's Talk About It, a warm and engaging comic that highlights concrete tips for dealing with stress, building resilience, facing depression, reducing stigma, and more!
In the following interview, PREVIEWSworld talks with Cara Bean, the cartoonist behind Let’s Talk About It, A Graphic Guide to Mental Health.
You’ve been researching and cartooning about mental health for a while. Why were you drawn to this subject?
I was a high school art teacher for thirteen years, and from time to time, we were offered professional development seminars. One was about adolescent depression and suicide. I’d seen a lot of big emotions in the art room and was drawn to this talk, so I signed up. The speaker was fascinating. I had no idea that you could bring up suicide to someone who was suicidal, in a compassionate way of course, and that this could actually help. I listened and doodled notes in response to the speaker, and later published these notes online. They were the first comic pages I ever made about mental health.
By all accounts, our country is in the middle of a mental health crisis. How can a comic like this help?
Let’s Talk About It: A Graphic Guide to Mental Health is an empowerment and educational tool. It’s meant to be read, reflected upon, and discussed with trusted friends and adults. Everyone’s mental health journey is different, but something they all have in common is that they all take work. A gym dumbbell doesn’t make a person stronger just by being there. This comic can help people be more informed, but they still have to make a commitment to themselves that they want to know more, feel better, and seek comfort in their personal truths.
What kinds of things are covered in this comic?
Let’s Talk About It focuses on anxiety, depression, substance use, and suicide, as well as related topics like stress and coping. It is designed to destigmatize the conversation around mental health by focalizing the narrative through four teen characters: Mia, Jaime, Myles, and Aidy. The book also looks at how the brain affects behavior, shares ways to stay mentally healthy, and directs readers toward resources for those who need help.
Was this comic created as part of a public education campaign?
Yes! My work came out of a collaboration between Stark County Mental Health & Addiction Recovery (StarkMHAR) in Ohio and The Center for Cartoon Studies in Vermont. StarkMHAR was looking for an innovative way to reach middle and high schoolers about mental health, and the result is Let’s Talk About It which is distributed throughout Stark County, Ohio, and available for free online at cartoonstudies.org/mentalhealth.
What advantages do comics have in presenting this kind of serious information, especially for young people?
We want our children to understand what’s going on in their bodies and minds, but not all kids are going to respond the same way. I’m a visual learner, so words and pictures are perfect for my learning type. There’s an advantage in comics for this kind of brain-wiring. For example, I enjoy using comics to tackle these topics because it allows me to use visual metaphors. In Let’s Talk About It, I draw stigma, unhealthy behaviors, and illness as entirely separate from the individual. There’s a subtle but important message that you are not your illness, beliefs, or behaviors. The real you is separate from them.
Comics are also not super intimidating. While researching this comic, I read very dense books that were written for both adults and teens. I’m sure these books are fantastic for some learners, but I’d like to think a visual work has wider appeal, especially for younger readers.
What are you working on now?
I have a new book called Here I Am, I Am Me which comes out April 2024 from Workman Publishing. In it, I play host and narrator and lead readers on a journey through mental health topics.
I have to give a shout-out to CCS here. Part of the journey of making this book was receiving the Center for Cartoon Studies Cornish Residency Fellowship, which gave me studio space in New Hampshire to write and research mental health. They were early believers in my work, and I’ll always be grateful.
Nicki Faust's heart is as cold as concrete in the Chicago winter. When not writing for PREVIEWSworld, Nicki is busy playing Limbo on Twitch, writing about the great robot uprising on Medium, and completing the untitled follow-up to the 2012 best-seller, Sue Storm: A Nude Photobook.