We’re all afraid of something, and we can gussy it up however we want with the most intelligent and elaborate horror movies or books out there, but ultimately our fears seem to come down to a few universal anxieties. One way to deal with these, as with other illnesses, is to shine a light right on them, render them out in one’s own distinct voice, aka “facing your fear”, and sometimes you can make the journey from fear to laughter when you see something taken to its logical extreme. There is, in fact, a whole field of comics dedicated to representing disability, illness and medical struggle through comics. The website Graphic Medicine collects some of the best examples of this work, from such artists as Ian Williams, a British physician and cartoonist.
Although a big part of the approach in graphic medicine is to get the patients themselves to use the language of comics to represent their own illness, illustrator Fran Krause solicits submissions from readers, describing their worst fear, which he then turns into comics. He’s received over 30 of them so far, drawing them all out in some wonderfully creative little strips that hopefully illustrate how profound, and how sometimes ridiculous, all of those fears can be.
For example, here we have a fear of what might be in the dark that there isn’t in the light:
This is one of the many fears submitted to Krause that involve dark bedrooms, a natural enough place for a human to feel wary. We’re physically vulnerable there, deliberately relaxing and letting our guard down. It’s understandable that there would be some sort of lingering fears in the back of the human brain that send us a “stay alert! danger!” message in that environment.
Many of the submissions were about death, such as this one:
Again, you don’t need a psychology degree to understand why death would scare someone. This particular comic, and many of the others about death, emphasize the idea of being powerless, but still “present” in some form. And since we don’t actually have any evidence of what death is really like… Into that knowledge gap we can pour fear.
A very common motif in the fears is body anxiety, such as in this strip:
Here, the anxiety comes from the realization of how much of our society and how much of our technology is built around the assumption that the human body will function perfectly, “As advertised”. It’s very easy to imagine how someone might fear this sort of occurrence, and many others like it, which invite us to contemplate how fragile we really are.
As comics, these strips have great style, not shying away from presenting blood and violence, while also striking a distanced, comic tone with gentle humour. That’s the most useful response to any of these fears: look at them straight on, rationally, and you’ll often find yourself laughing at your own silliness. But that doesn’t take one bit away from what an insightful and interesting project this is, to represent universal human fears through comics. It’s worth a look, and you can even submit your own fear, if you don’t see it listed.
Now, don’t look behind you.