It's okay to not be okay
That's the message a comic, released on World Suicide Prevention Day, delivers with a superhero battling depression
If you are unacquainted with Super Commando Dhruva, a quick Google search will bring up imagery of a muscular man with indomitable spirit. Dhruva was conceived in the late 1980s, and has arguably been Raj Comics' most popular and critically acclaimed character. So, when the publishing house, India's largest for comics, released a short webcomic titled Super Commando Dhruva: The Struggle with Depression in light of World Suicide Prevention Day [observed on September 10], it had fans both intrigued and raving.
The free webcomic was conceptualised in August and took 10 days to illustrate. It also features a colour palette distinct from the other Dhruva comics
The spoiler alert here is in the title. Dhruva is confronted with a depressive episode and that's what the first half of the 15-pager depicts. The memo, for artist Aswin Amarnath R, was to keep the setting hazy. His face buried in his palms, the superhero is occupied with an overwhelming sense of worry and failure; the important question here being, 'How can I be weak when great things are expected of me?'
But it is in his acknowledgment, of being a superhero spiralling downward, that readers begin to wonder, 'Wait, can't superheroes experience a downward spiral? And then the thought sinks in — mental illness is not a weakness, and the belief that depression is for the 'weak' is a fallacy. For writers Manoj Gupta and Ayush Gupta, the aim wasn't to spread awareness about mental illness but instead, to normalise it. "I had been thinking about a comic on the subject having seen friends and family members fight it. By talking to them, I observed that there was this unspoken shame, and understood the importance of seeking help," Ayush elaborates. Among the Raj Comics characters, Dhruva proved to be a good choice for this comic as he's the strongest of the lot, yet doesn't have any supernatural powers. He solves crimes solely by using his intelligence.
Eventually, the superhero is able to pick himself up, which Aswin shares, is evident through the illustration as well. "I made a conscious choice to show that his eyelids were either shut or blank in the first half. As he begins to feel better, that changes," he says. Dhruva's glimmer of hope comes from a stranger, as opposed to a friend or family member, which, Ayush says, was also a conscious choice: "People close to you are not your only source of help. The point is when you help people, you shouldn't do it for the sake of it. At the end, the book provides a call to action with a list of suicide helplines because we don't want you to just read and forget about it."
Log on to rajcomics.net/supercommandodhruva-mentalhealth (to read)
More comics to check out
Laugh & Learn with Dr Parikh: Study and Exam Skills - Written by psychiatrist Dr Samir Parikh, it helps kids deal with social and emotional challenges, such as exam stress.
Log on to amazon.in
It's All Absolutely Fine - Artist Ruby Elliot captures day-to-day struggles with mental health.
Log on to flipkart.com
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