Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Review - Bird Brain (DNF)

Bird Brain: Comics About Mental Health, Starring Pigeons
by Chuck Mullin
Date: 2019
Publisher: Andrews McMeel Publishing
Reading level: A
Book type: comic collection
Pages: 144
Format: e-book
Source: NetGalley

Bird Brain is a collection of brutally honest, brilliantly weird comics exploring what it’s like to live with mental illness... using pigeons.

When Chuck Mullin began experiencing anxiety and depression as a teenager, she started drawing comics to help her make sense of the rollercoaster. Eventually, she found that pigeons—lovably quirky, yet universally reviled creatures—were the ideal subjects of a comic about mental illness. Organized in three sections—"Bad Times," "Relationships," and "Positivity"—and featuring several short essays about the author’s experiences, Bird Brain is a highly relatable, chuckle-inducing, and ultimately uplifting collection of comics for anyone who has struggled to maintain their mental health.

(synopsis from Goodreads)

DNF @ 54%

It's tricky when you're reviewing something so personal. But I couldn't finish this one, and I feel I should mention the reasons why, since it might save someone else an unpleasant experience.

Let me start by saying I have no problem with the premise or the intent behind these comics, at least individually. It's brave for anyone to share their mental health struggles with a bunch of perfect strangers. No, my problem is not so much the subject matter. In the case of this book, it's a quality versus quantity issue... and the quantity is what's causing the problem.

If I'd come across these as web comics, encountering them one at a time, I might have liked them more. The problem, as I see it, comes when they're all put into one place. It leads to overwhelm (especially for those who might be suffering from mental health issues themselves). I felt the same way about The Grumpy Guide to Life, which was a book that collected a bunch of Grumpy Cat memes. One or two are amusing. A whole book of them leaves you feeling like you hate humanity. Bird Brain suffers from the same problem; where one comic might have seemed insightful and witty, a whole bunch of them together feels like the book is starting to beat the reader over the head. I had issues with the "Bad Times" section, because all of those comics about the pigeon getting overwhelmed at parties just left me scratching my head and wondering why the pigeon didn't just stop going to parties if they were that torturous. But it was the "Relationships" section that really put the nail in the coffin for me. One or two comics about relationship insecurities and a great partner would've been fine. Comic after comic about how supportive and perfect the pigeon's partner is comes across as a bit tone deaf (many people with severe mental health issues don't have a partner, and it kind of rubs salt in the wound to see this point belaboured the way it is). I don't think it was the intent, but this section comes across as a little braggy; I don't think I would've felt the same way had I encountered the comics one at a time in some other format.

I'm also not a fan of the huge chunks of explanatory text (I thought I was getting a collection of comics, not a prose memoir) or the way the author generalizes mental illness as if all conditions are the same. You don't see people trying to compare a broken finger to colon cancer, even though they're both physical ailments... so I don't appreciate having all mental illness lumped together, either.

The pigeons are amusingly drawn and, like I said, I might have liked these better if I'd encountered them one at a time. In a collection, it's all just too much. Sometimes comics work better in a serial format; not every comic needs to be collected into a book.

Thank you to NetGalley and Andrews McMeel Publishing for providing a digital ARC.

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