Elle Forney: The graphic mental health novelist

Ellen Forney pointing to one of her cartoon characters
Ellen Forney pointing to one of her cartoon characters Image credit:

Cartoons can be powerful, they can send messages and in some cases spread awareness in a way words can’t, if you need proof speak to an inspiring artist from Seattle.

Ellen Forney was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in her late twenties, at the time she was working on one of her local newspapers, The Stranger but the diagnosis turned her life upside-down.

It was her passion for comics which kept Ellen going, through which she discovered something called ‘graphic medicine’ which gave her a new leash of life.

We guess it would be helpful at this stage to explain what graphic medicine is…It’s a gene which concentrates on medical conditions such as Alzheimers and anorexia in an informative yet interesting way, pay a visit to your library and chances are you will stumble across a section devoted to it.

Forney told the BBC: "I wrote a lot in my journals. I didn't know that those were going to be pieces of a comic, a memoir later, but it's kind of how it comes out of me, in words and pictures."

After exploring this new form of creativity she invented her own graphic memoir titled Marbles: Mania, Depression, Michelangelo, and Me.

"I felt like I needed to do it for myself and to get it out there to reach other people - because I can, because I'm a storyteller, and I thought it was an important story to tell,” Forney explained.

"It's not just 'here's my experience, that was a mess', but how do we put those pieces together? How do we come to heal?"

One of her pieces of work in Memoir, published in 2012, has become a part of the graphics medicine canon. The story depicts Forney when she was put on a new course of antidepressants which lifted her spirit.

In the shower Forney imagines the water droplets as lanterns at a festival when the sun goes down, the image has a profound effect on her wellbeing.

Talking about Memoir Forney said: "I felt like I came to understand [my bipolar disorder] and wrap my head around it better.

"An important part of what we have as a storyteller is...we can offer, if not solutions, at least the possibility of hope."

Forney has also created artwork for Seattle’s Capitol Hill light rail station and collaborated on the award-winning novel, The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian.

Her most recent publication, Rock Steady: Brilliant Advice From My Bipolar Life is a self-help guide for people living with bipolar disorder offering advice and tips to make living just that little bit more easier.

“One of the things that's really, really important, is a sense of humour," Forney believes. "It's one of the ways to give yourself some sort of perspective when you're telling a story."

Elle Forney has taught the art of comics at the Cornish College of the Arts since 2002, for more information visit her website