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Kontext: Panic Disorder

A weird request from Kontext, the German Psychology Journal I create comics for. This was the brief:

A client comes to therapy because of a panic disorder. She tells that she fights with her symptoms for quite a long time and has asked herself ever since, what was wrong with her. When she told her medical doctor about her symptoms, he diagnosed a panic disorder. The client told that she was very relieved when she heard about the diagnosis because with this diagnosis she knew that her symptoms were real and that she was not mentally ill. So the diagnosis, as the signum of mental illness, served for her as proof for not being mentally ill.

This one felt like it would be tricky to make interesting as a result of how straightforward it is. Just two people having a chat. I planned to work with lighting and silhouettes, towards a noir effect.

In the next drafts, I tried to keep the details of the room straight in my head, but I really should have planned it first as an orthogonal projection. This would have saved me time overall.

At this point I thought that it would be nice to use animals instead of humans for this comic, partly to create more interest and also to sidestep any issues around gender. There are more than enough stereotypes of women as panickers and men as authority figures.

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In addition, Scott McCloud in his 1993 book ‘Understanding Comics’ talks about the universality of icons and non-specific cartoons, which I wanted to tap into.

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Unfortunately the editor commissioning the cartoon has asked that I revert to the man and woman as he feels this undermines the truthfulness of the situation. I disagreed. If you look at Art Spiegelman’s Maus, for example, depicting the Holocaust from a survivor’s perspective, using animal representation. And that won a Pulitzer, so not a bad template to ‘borrow’ from.


But it turned out this brief was based on real people so they wanted to keep it with the genders I’d already assigned.


And here’s the finished version for print, with German text. Changes include a more painterly rendering style and lighting. Spatial layouts and environments are my weak point. Don’t look too closely and the backgrounds!

Here’s the dialogue, panel for panel:

So that’s what’s been happening.
I’m think there’s something wrong with me
I’ve been fighting these symptoms for a long time
You have a panic disorder
Oh, is that all?
So my symptoms are real?
I’m not mentally ill, then.