Damnation is a semi-autobiographical one-shot comic book that sends its video game-playing anti-depressant-taking hero tumbling down into the pits of Hell where he is confronted by his own innermost demons and ultimately torn apart by them. At least until he wakes, knowing that tomorrow night he will undergo the whole torture again. Created as a reaction to writer Rees Finlay’s own mental health issues and illustrated by Jonny Pearson, it’s a tight, effective piece of comic storytelling.
The writing is spare, the artwork is dark and deceptively simple. There’s a Beavis and Butthead style to Pearson’s drawing, which can be quite distracting at first, but in retrospect is probably the best way to illustrate this kind of horrendous mind-trip. One of the most striking sequences is a brief but neat evocation of a Salvador Dali landscape as the hero begins his hellish descent, drawn like a child would, the few twisted limbs and Dali’s familiar melted clock looking almost like doodles. In many ways, this naïve landscape epitomises the journey through their own psyche that a profoundly mentally ill person is sometimes forced to undertake, when even the images that should be familiar to them don’t feel quite real. Pearson’s art is brave and bold and not for everyone but it is definitely a stylish match for Finlay’s writing.
Ultimately, though, what Damnation says about mental illness and the usefulness (or, in the hero’s case, not) of anti-depressive medication is rather trite and more than a little derivative. If Finlay’s script could have had the courage and imagination of Pearson’s artwork, this would have been a fine story.
Still, having said all that, Damnation’s evocation of the kinds of nightmares that many readers with mental health struggles will unfortunately know only too well is impressive. Meanwhile, for those who, luckily, have never walked those lonely and terrifying hallways, it’s a harrowing glimpse into what mental illness can actually feel like.
DAMNATION: ULTIMATE EDITION / WRITER: REES FINLAY / ARTIST: JONNY PEARSON / PUBLISHER: DAMN DIRTY COMICS / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW