Along with doing it yourself and not blindly trusting authority, one of the hallmarks of punk rock is being honest with yourself and your audience. Which, in the case of some punk rock icons, has meant being open about their struggles with mental health. And this has, in turn, prompted some punk rock fans to be open about their struggles as well. In the following email interview, writer and artist Reid Chancellor discusses his graphic novel memoir Hardcore Anxiety: A Graphic Guide To Punk Rock And Mental Health (paperback) and the conditions that led him to make it.
To start, what is Hardcore Anxiety about?
Hardcore Anxiety is about my own experiences in both punk and mental health, as well as mini-profiles on other punk and hardcore bands that have shaped the genre and topic of mental health.
What inspired you to write and draw this comic?
Man. The biggest thing was just wanting to bring awareness to mental health. I’ve read a lot of books about mental health, but I had yet to read one about punk and mental health. A friend had told me to make what you would want to read, and that’s what I tried my best to do.
Also, my wife was a tremendous help and had been pushing me to make comics from the day we met.
Is that why you decided to write and draw it as a graphic novel, as opposed to just writing it as a prose novel?
To be perfectly honest, writing is not my biggest strength. So if I had tried to write this as a prose book it would have been an over-explained mess. With art I was able to express all of the feelings simply and easily.
In writing Hardcore Anxiety, did you consult any mental health care professionals?
Not directly no. I spoke about my writing the book with my therapist and doctors, but we never really dove that deep into it. I wanted to stay away from that side of the topic because I wanted to do my best to keep the book easy to relate to. I feel at times if you get too technical the story can get lost in all the medical terminology and then the book starts to become a textbook. It’s also a personal story of discovery told from my own idiotic and oblivious (at times) perspective. I am not a doctor and I definitely didn’t want the book to feel like I was trying to sound like one.
And did you try to talk to any of the musicians you talk about in Hardcore Anxiety, either to get their perspective or to make sure it was okay to talk about them and their issues in this context?
I sent a few emails out to see what would happen, but unfortunately I never heard back. I wasn’t too focused on that though since everyone I mentioned in the book had been pretty open about their mental health experiences. It ended up being pretty easy to research on my own.
What kind of research did you do?
I ended up doing a lot of reading for this book. I read a lot of books and interviews. I felt like I had a pretty good feel for punk and rock and roll history. But the more I dug into this it became clear I was no expert. Especially in the hardcore side. In the book I discuss a little on how I came to the hardcore game a little late. I was still obsessing over The Clash when I heard Black Flag for the first time. So there was a ton of note taking to be done.
Did you learn anything that really surprised you?
The biggest thing that fascinated me was the amount of practicing and “real work” that these bands did. I played in punk bands, and 90% of the time we only practiced if we had a show to get ready for! These bands (in the book) were work horses. I mean these were dedicated individuals. As I say, I am beginning to figure out why my bands never made it.
And how often did you think, “I get that some people think these guys are punk, but I don’t, so fuck ’em, they’re not going in my book”?
Ha! I actually had more of the opposite. There were a lot of bands that I thought “Nobody thinks these guys are punk, but I do!” I don’t know many who would classify Life Of Agony as a punk or hardcore band, but in my opinion they are one of the biggest influences on hardcore today.
Me and Joe Biel, who is the editor in chief over at Microcosm [the book’s publisher], were talking about how we completely excluded the Sex Pistols from the book. That was not intentional at all! They just seemed to slip our minds! Oh well.
Before you started working on Hardcore Anxiety, did you look at any other graphic novel memoirs for ideas of what to do and what not to do?
I was completely unaware that graphic memoirs were a thing until my wife showed some to me. It definitely helped shape how I was going to approach the making of this book. I read a lot of non-fiction work in comics to help me understand the best ways to go about doing it.
Blankets by Craig Thompson is a huge influence. Marbles by Ellen Forney was a suggestion by my editors and my wife to pick up and man, that book changed me. Box Brown who makes “documentary-style” comics was a big influence on my writing. His work on Andre The Giant is so smart and had a way of pairing images with words that really showcase the story.
Speaking of influences, who do you see as the biggest influences on the writing, and who do you see as the biggest influences on the art?
In writing I have always been partial to Nick Hornby. I think he gets the human mind so well. I also love David Sedaris. I know he is a songwriter but Craig Finn from The Hold Steady is one of the best writers I have ever witnessed. If that man would write a book I would be first in line to read it.
Artistically, I’d say my biggest influences would be Jhonen Vasquez of Invader Zim fame. Craig Thompson, as I mentioned before. Jeff Smith author of Bone is just an unbelievable artist. Kyle Starks is also a fairly big artistic influence. My biggest thing with artists is style. I can appreciate “classic comic book” style as much as the next guy, but if you can put your own spin on it then that’s the most attractive thing.
Finally, if someone enjoys Hardcore Anxiety, what graphic novel memoir of someone else’s would you suggest they read next?
I would probably have to recommend Blankets or Marbles. They are just perfect examples of amazing graphic memoirs. Marbles specifically is great for someone interested in mental health.
I also really enjoyed reading El Deafo by Cece Bell. I didn’t expect to enjoy it as much as I did but it was a great read.