MadZines 1: Crafting contention

MadZines 1: Crafting contention

Recently I had a long written dialogue with my friend and colleague Helen Spandler about the ways in which zines, comics, and graphic books can be helpful ways of communicating about mental health. This is happening as I get cracking on writing my next Icon graphic guide which focuses on mental health (and hopefully another zine along the way also).

You can read the first part of our conversation at the Graphic Medicine website here. We focus on how the comic graphics in zines can ‘craft contention’ about mental health: opening up different possibilities to mainstream ways of understanding mental health.

HS: Can you remember how you went about making your first zine?

MJB:  I can. It was back in 2014 or so. I was part of a network, which you’re also engaged with, of Buddhists and mindfulness practitioners who are critical of the ways in which mainstream mindfulness is often co-opted by capitalist systems and doesn’t engage with the social aspects of mental health. I wanted to explore what a more ‘social mindfulness’ might look like. 

I wrote a zine by that name in which I worked through how we might understand suffering as operating on multiple levels of experience (cultural, systemic, relational, and internal). So when we are ‘mindful’ it might involve being aware of those other ways in which suffering is exacerbated, as well as just that sense of how we exacerbate it with our own internal thought processes. The second half of the zine is open, like a workbook, encouraging people to incorporate this into their meditation – or other – practices, and make their own notes about how it works for them.

Since then my zines have become more integrated – words and pictures. This one was a bit more like a series of short blog posts, plus comic illustrations to go with each one. I hadn’t got creative with the format at that point. I was still making that move from more conventional forms of writing to zineing.

HS: Oh yes, I remember you talking about that zine at a social mindfulness event. I loved the way it illustrated the two-way dynamic between our internal and external worlds. Rather than just seeing ourselves as either internalising social norms or externalising our feelings, it’s like understanding that whilst we may be implicated in our own suffering, it’s usually through no fault of our own. These ideas can be hard to get our heads around, so it’s helpful to have a zine which distils this into something useful and meaningful to people’s everyday lives. I think the diagram really helped with that. It’s hard to show complex dynamics through text. Read more…

Meg-John (MJ) Barker (they/them) is a writer, zine-maker, collaborator, contemplative practitioner, and friend. They are the author of a number of zines and popular books on sex, gender, and relationships, including graphic guides to Queer, Gender, and Sexuality (with Jules Scheele), and How To Understand Your Gender, Sexuality and Relationships (with Alex Iantaffi).