Grief

I should start with two quite contradictory points:

  • I am not the type of person to broadcast their personal problems all over the internet, in general.
  • This blog is the most personal thing I have ever posted.

On this day a number of years ago, I lost someone very close to me. It happened long enough ago that people have started to wonder when I will get over it, but also, long enough ago that I know I probably never will. There are some people who leave a huge hole in your heart that never ever closes. You never stop expecting a call from them; a hand on your shoulder in a place you once frequented; the soothing voice comforting you in the middle of the night.

When you get into that dark, lonely place, there is nothing anyone can say, because the only thing that could ever make you feel better is gone, and it is never coming back. Sometimes the only comfort is knowing that you aren't as alone as you feel. Sometimes all you want to find at the bottom of the great black pit is a name scrawled on the wall, next to yours.

Needless to say, many comics deal with bereavement, and often - most notably with characters like Spider-Man, Batman and Punisher to name but a few - these world shattering feelings of helplessness and loss are what drive the character on to greatness. Feelings of guilt and frustration lead these characters to search for personal atonement, as they dedicate their lives to righting this great inner wrong. Somewhere along the line, most comic book characters seem to come to the same conclusion: that while it is a wonderful thing to be inspired toward positive action by such negative experience, that raw, knotted feeling inside will never go away.

While comics are a great way to escape the day to day problems we all face, it can also be quite comforting to read about a character who is going through the same things you are. It can leave you feeling that somewhere out there, someone really knows how you feel.

The Crow

Eric surrounds himself with pictures of Shelly
Eric surrounds himself with pictures of Shelly

"There is a man playing the violin, and the strings are the nerves in his own arm." - James O'Barr, 'The Crow'

An obvious choice, but no less relevant for that. James O'Barr created The Crow as a way of dealing with his own grief, after his girlfriend was killed by a drunk driver. In this book, O'Barr pours his own heartbreak onto every page, and what results is a very raw, haunting and beautiful work. It tells the story of Eric Draven and Shelly Webster, a young couple whose lives are cut tragically short in a random encounter with a group of thugs. As he lies at the side of the road dying, Eric witnesses the gang beat Shelly to death, and then sexually assault her afterward. He is then resurrected by The Crow, an ancient spirit with a thirst for vengeance.

While deeply traumatized by the events of his fiancee's death, throughout the book it is clear that this is not what truly breaks his heart. Eric's darkest moments come when he is reliving the happier times, and remembering how wonderful his life with Shelly really was. Because, as is so often the case with bereavement, it is not the death itself that rends the soul, but rather the memory of what once was. Eric is tormented by powerful recollections of his love, visions of happiness that plunge him headlong into despair.

As an exploration of loneliness, grief and tragedy, there is no book I could recommend more highly than this one.

Tainted

George's attempt to move on is instrumental in his downfall
George's attempt to move on is instrumental in his downfall

"For a moment, the recollection is so complete that George imagines he can even hear the ponderous tick-tocking of the chiming clock that used to stand upon the mantelpiece." - Jamie Delano, 'Tainted'

Loss is a central theme of this Vertigo one-shot, in which an average white-collar worker is pushed to the very edge of his sanity by his own guilt and obsession.

The story follows a man named George Palmer as he attempts to confront his grief at the loss of his parents, and sister. He does this by renting out two of the rooms in his childhood home, as though doing so will enable to him to gain closure and move on. Unfortunately for George, the opposite happens, and the presence of other people in the house after so long triggers a wave of suppressed memories. He is suddenly forced to confront the truth about his past, and the subsequent feelings of loss and absolute helplessness are too much for him to bear. What truly drives George to the brink of madness is knowing that he cannot go back. What's done is done, and he can never change it.

15 Portraits Of Despair

Grief is a common theme in 15 Portraits
Grief is a common theme in 15 Portraits

"There is joy in there, of course, and love, and touching. The presence that makes the present absence unbearable. Without triumph, without love, without joy, her work would be for nothing." - Neil Gaiman, '15 Portraits Of Despair'

15 Portraits is a segment in the Sandman one-shot Endless Nights, in which each member of the Endless has a chapter dedicated to them which is illustrated by a different artist. This section deals with themes ranging from isolation, obsession, and bereavement, each portrait a snapshot of a tormented soul. To read it is to ache inside.

Though the portraits differ greatly from one another, there is a recurring theme here that the true source of anguish is happiness. There is a sense here that one cannot know the true depths of misery unless one has first tasted the heavenly sweetness of joy. True agony, then, is knowing what you are missing - not the pain of that which you have never had, but rather the pain of missing that which was once yours, and is now gone.

I don't know whether this will help anyone else. Certainly it has helped me to share it. But if ever you want a comic that really knows what it is to lose the ones who matter most to you, you could do a lot worse than reading one of these beautiful, if anguish-ridden, titles.

Rest easy, man, and know that you are sorely missed.

143 Comments