Wednesday, December 07, 2022

Everything Is OK by Debbie Tung

I think this book was created as a single work; I think it's something that should be called a graphic novel rather than a collection of comics. That's not a big deal - it's purely taxonomy - but I'll start there.

Debbie Tung is a British cartoonist and illustrator, working professionally for maybe a decade now. From what I've seen, her work is often personal in that it's about her as a person, deeply informed by who she is and where she is in life, but she's not an inherently autobiographical cartoonist. Or maybe that's a false dichotomy, but she seems to come from a different place than the alt-comics confessional style - all her work is specific, but most of it is outward-facing, as if she's sharing aspects of her self that she thinks a lot of the audience shares.

She's had short work published in a lot of places, for a number of years, and I've seen two of her three previous books - Happily Ever After & Everything In Between, about her newlywed life, and Book Love, which is pretty self-explanatory. (The third one is Quiet Girl in a Noisy World, which was first - I gather it's mostly about introversion and I think it might now read like a predecessor to this book.)

Her new book this year was Everything Is OK, about depression. I think it's telling a story from a few years back, that Tung now has some distance and can make comics about the lowest point of her life. I do think it's true, in everything important. (No book is true in everything, no matter how hard anyone tries. The world is never that clear, that knowable.)

It's a positive book; it even starts with positivity, as it's about to show us Tung sad and having trouble coping with everything in her life. It's here to say that all of these things are transitory, that life is long and worth living, and that help is always available, that everyone is worthy of happiness. And it circles that message, again and again, as Tung tells how she fell into depression, came to be diagnosed, and then got the help she needed to get out the other side. Everything Is OK never dwells on the depression; it is entirely about the title message.

It does make me wonder what OK means. Is OK better than bad but not as good as good? Does it means that it's acceptable? Is it the bare minimum, or something more substantial?

I don't think Tung is saying "this is fine" here - she's much more positive than that. But it also intersects with a song lyric that's been stuck in my head like a koan for the past year - "I'm fine but I'm not OK." I'm glad Tung is OK. I want to believe with her that everything is. And maybe I'm being disingenuous - she means a less expansive "everything" than I'm backing into, here. Tung's everything is your whole life, but not your whole world. Everything you can control and or influence, but not the things you can't.

But I'm running off into philosophy and analogy. Tung is much more grounded than I am. Her story is about a person, going through a bad time. It's her, in this case, but it could be anyone. That's her point: we'll all have lows, we'll all have bad times. And we all need to know that Everything will be OK, even at those worst moments. This is a book that does that, with clarity and honestly and an underlying sweetness. If you tend to overthink things, or get depressed, or feel overwhelmed, it just might be the message you need.

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