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“Grace”, by Emmi Valve, a dive into the murky waters of deep depression

What goes through the mind of a person with profound depression? How does it start, how do you live with it, how do you get by? This is what the Finnish author Emmi Valve says bluntly in Grace, a striking autobiographical comic book album with expressionist graphics, which will be published on March 19, 2021 by Ca et Là editions.

The story starts in a psychiatrist’s office. “All the shrinks’ offices are alike, two chairs, placed so as to avoid face to face. An artificial plant, a doily. Hiding the ugliness of the formal atmosphere. Handkerchiefs. Because we always end up by ending up with it. And more importantly: the decorative painting on the theme of water. We all get fooled by its symbolic canister. We project ourselves in the process of drowning or learning to swim. Like a castaway waiting the calm after the storm to get back to sea. “

Emmi remembers that time in her life when “everything revolved around that”. “It”, it was his pain to live. “There was only that in my life”, she notes, adding that “even with hindsight, things are still unclear”.

How did it all start? “Part of me was like this from birth”, discovers Emmi, a young adult, in this psychiatric clinic. She remembers never being able in her life “to look someone in the eye”, never have done “other dreams than nightmares”, never have “took someone by the hand”… The list of “never” is long and can be summarized as follows: “I have never been quite like the others”.

Emmi Valve tells the story of this life invaded by the mental illness she suffered from since her childhood. She tells straightforwardly the sequence of events, based on her notebooks in which she has recorded over time her feelings, her questions, her doubts, or even the lists of “things to do”, which she established to ward off her anxieties. The text, as dry as a cudgel, tells about the difficulties of living in a world “normal”, nights of anguish, “little voices” who speak to him, the “creatures” who visit him, or sexual relations accompanied by violence.

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Emmi Valve unfolds the map of her life and reveals to the reader the dark folds of her ailing brain, as they have revealed to herself through working there. This journey, which she describes as a “slow and awkward progression, not linearly from bottom to top” but doing “spiral movements” did not bring healing. After a psychotic episode, she finally manages to take a little distance, by putting things in perspective, on the scale of humanity and the universe.

"Grace", page 259 (Emmi Valve / Editions Ça et là)

She subsequently noted that “the normal takes more and more space” and “the part of abnormal is reduced until only a slight structural defect remains.” Colors appear in his life, his senses are awakening. The rest, what about “she cannot act”, she learns to live with it. “In any case, the disease no longer dominates me”.

Through the story of a unique experience, of a daily life “which nobody has idea”, this graphic novel plunges into the murky waters of mental illness. The author, who has already published an autobiographical account with her “comic book diary” on her blog Emmi Valve Fan Club, and in several fanzines, shares here without complacency or pathos, often even with humor, her ordeal, since the depths of suffering to the glimmers of appeasement, passing through nightmare nights, the passage in HP and the various stages of the courageous work undertaken valiantly not to sink, to survive and find a way out of his tormented existence .

Comic book author Emmi Valve, 2021 (DR)

The Finn also occasionally retakes the clichés current on madness (“My creative activity did not benefit from my madness. I did not become an artist thanks to her, but in spite of her.”).

In a small format, full pages or cut into two, three or four boxes, the text is factual, combined with an expressionist graphics which underlines the brutality of the subject. As the pages turn, the line softens, black gives way to colors, accompanying the story towards thinning.

Cover of "Grace", 2021 (Emmi Valve / Ca et Là Editions)

“Grace”, by Emmi Valve, translated from Finnish by Kirsi Kinnunen and Hind Bendaace (Ca et Là Editions, 304 color pages, 15x21cm, 20 euros, publication on Friday, March 19, 2021)

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