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Book Review: Anxiety Is Really Strange

Written by Steve Haines

Art by Sophie Standing

230mm x 170mm, 32pp

ISBN: 978-1-84819-389-5

Published by Singing Dragon


After I reviewed When Are You Going To Get A Proper Job?, the publishers offered me the opportunity to read and review this book. I was intrigued because it combines my hobby interest of comic books and my day job as a medical copy editor/proofreader. On a daily basis, I read and ensure language/science quality control in a variety of medical materials for various medicines and types of patients, so I was curious to see the result of similar material in comic book format.

The first aspect to mention is the art by Sophie Standing (who has worked with Steve Haines on other projects, such as Pain Is Really Strange and Trauma Is Really Strange, as well as illustrating other medical-based work, such as Forgiveness Is Really Strange). She is an illustrator specialising in human sciences and it is easy to see why: her representational style is the perfect choice for mixing an academic understanding of the science behind the concepts with a bold, colourful realisation of human experience in response to the biology involved. She does include reality where necessary, such as the likeness of famous people mentioned in the book, but her artwork is more about making the reader understand the metaphorical concept; a bit like a much better version of the infographics that dominate the web these days.

The book is an attempt by Haines to explain some of the aspects of anxiety, the effect it has on the body, and methods the reader can use to help recognise and control some of the symptoms of anxiety. There are academic footnotes at the bottom of each page to support the notions put forward, and there is a reference list at the back, but the principle is to get the information across to a lay audience. Haines goes on to detail some causes of anxiety, such as poor eating habits, compromised physical health, adverse childhood experiences, as well as stress from pressure at home, work or social situations. There is a small section on the philosophical aspects of anxiety (Kierkegaard, Sartre, De Beauvoir) before a section focusing on the question, ‘What is emotion?’

The effect of emotions on anxiety is strong and pertinent – anxiety can be a good thing as long as it doesn’t control you because it is ‘a protective feeling of getting ready for action’. This is important because the nature of anxiety is based in the body’s helpful and natural reactions to external stimuli, but severe anxiety has taken other, smaller stimuli and magnified the response. Through learning to recognise the triggers and learning how to respond to the triggers in an appropriate manner, the symptoms of anxiety can be managed to a degree. This will take time and work, but obviously these are not within the scope of the book, which is more an introduction of the area to the general public rather than an actual manual to aid some with anxiety.

I found myself between camps when reading this, part of me as a fan of the medium of comic books to impart information, the other part being the editor of medical materials. The mix of more general explanation supported by academic sources seemed unbalanced, with the academic asides being too dry to assist in the accessible side of the book, although perhaps this was the editor side of my brain, used to a more definite split between the two in the materials I see for work. The comic book side of my brain appreciated the art and the way it presented the ideas, but I was slightly distracted by the typeface – in the body copy, punctuation that normally sits at the bottom of a line (commas, full stops) was situated in the middle of the line, as if floating in the text (note that this was not the case with the footnotes, which are in a different typeface). Any numerals included in the text were also smaller and aligned in the middle, which looked strange, particularly with ‘THE 1960S’ looking more like the futuristic year of 19605. But those are just my niggles – the book provides a good introduction to anxiety and gives some ideas to help, but doesn’t pretend to be a way to cure you. It’s wonderful to see comic books being used so effectively to disseminate information in an accessible and absorbing fashion.

Disclosure: this book was provided for review purposes.

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