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4.4 out of 5 stars
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on 2 December 2010
Recounting tough times with humour and humility, and sometimes well justified anger (I raged against the short comings of NHS and benefits systems he faces). This graphic novel follows the journey of Brick's depression, taking in its many challenges and treatments - medical and alternative, past and current, as well as Chinese history, movies, music and much more.

Depresso is not in itself depressing - you will smile and probably laugh and certainly have a greater understanding of depression - all told through talented artwork. I cannot recommend it highly enough.
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on 20 November 2010
The title of this graphic novel makes the subject matter clear. However, it's anything but a depressing read. Brick has been the UK's leading cartoonist on development and environmental issues for decades, as well as a cycling journalist. His style and subject matter are eclectic, wide ranging and ambitious. 'Depresso' is a lightly fictionalised account of the mental breakdown he suffered after years of dealing with bleak subjects but hiding from his own demons. The story shows how the NHS deals and fails to deal with depression. The book also stands as a vivid autobiography, told with so much visual flair that the only apt comparison I can think of is David B's 'Epileptic', a similarly ambitious (and wonderful) graphic novel. Brick's account is harrowing at times, but never loses its wry sense of humour. He throws in cinematic and rock'n'roll references (and a superb section set in China) while tackling both the history and science of depression. It's in a different league to any other work I've seen on this subject and I devoured it more quickly than I wanted to, forcing myself to stop every other chapter so as to have some left. I defy anyone who is interested in graphic novels not to devour this book, which will reward rereading many times.
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on 7 February 2011
Clinical depression might seem an unlikely topic for comic book treatment but Depresso is an important and welcome contribution to the literature on a condition which often remains a taboo subject. Depresso, by the political cartoonist and writer Brick, is - according to the blurb on the cover - only a "semi-fictional" narrative account of Tom Freeman and his excursion through the personal experience of depression. From early symptoms and initial diagnosis to various kinds of therapeutically useless treatments, the book charts Tom's anxiety, isolation and hopelessness while at the same time providing a mordant critique of the pharmaceutical industries and a prescription culture in which anti-depressants are the standard treatment. (The book entertainingly references several films and here I was reminded of One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest and its soporific refrain "medication time ... medication time".) One of the important questions which underwrites the book is how the depresso can be defined in a world which has itself gone mad. Here, for example, we find the paradox of a political cartoonist who finds that his original artwork is sought, bought and collected by the very government minister lampooned in the cartoons he has drawn. How do you make sense of that? And how do you make sense of the residual power of an upbringing in an emotionally repressed family together with the English public school system?
But there is another important dimension in Depresso. Although this is virtually by definition a self-centered narrative, we also see repeatedly the ways in which the condition (and often the side-effects of the treatment) impacts on those closest to the sufferer, in this case Tom's longsuffering (and heroic) partner Judy. What is more, this is a particularly helpful book in the sense that it makes difficult and often painful material graphically accessible for us, often in unexpectedly funny ways.
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on 26 November 2010
Having followed the work of the author and satirical comic genius "Brick" for some time I was looking forward to the release of this semi-biographical life story, and it doesn't disappoint. Hilarious and sad in equal turn the tale weaves the the main character's life story as we grow to know his background, views, feelings, relationships and opinions - very often justified! His poignant battle with depression and eventual redemption (of a sort) is both involving and fascinating, and is bound to strike a chord with many other who battle this terrible (and criminally under recognised) disease. This is intelligent reading at it's best. 5 stars.
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on 16 August 2011
I loved this book. It takes the reader through Tom's experiences of his breakdown, allowing us to share his anxieties, bafflement, lostness, despair, frustration, rage, love and eventually his move towards resolution. He shares with us his inner world, where he hallucinates a giant white lizard which appears to him to both harangue and offer insight.
This book has the clearest and most unequivocal judgement on the shortcomings of the NHS system and how people reacting to early trauma and life events are seen and treated in a system that is driven by money and a need to diagnose and medicate, rather than by the human needs of people in distress. And the random, de-personalised vagaries of the benefit system are enough to evoke such helpless rage as would push anyone over the edge. It is a wonder to me that within this alienating, unattuned system more people don't commit suicide.
He is candid about how impossible his self-absorption and anger are to live with. His love for and appreciation of his wife Judy shine through and she emerges as a true partner in adversity: a real heroine.
His own journey gives us as readers, a parallel experience to his own. And his brilliant drawings give us an insight into his vulnerability that the text doesn't show.
In this story we see clearly the splits he has had to make inside himself to disavow his child-needs and the cost this way of coping with childhood trauma has in the long-term.
I would recommend this book most highly. I have read it three times now and have got more from it each time.
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on 17 September 2012
I've been a fan of comics & graphic novels all my life and have been looking for more personal and innovative examples within the medium. Depresso was just what I needed. It recounts the authors realisation of his depression and his struggle to cope with it while it consumes his existence. I won't rattle off the details of the story because it's all the better if you discover them as you read. What I will say is that Brick's tale affirms life as much as it questions it's cruelties, yet never delves into sentimentality or martyrdom. It's rare to read something that has you laughing your arse off while genuinely moving you. He frames the ridiculousness of his state of mind with the kind of humour that you'd only find in the UK. It is filled with pathos and the art is resplendent with bizarre metaphorical comedy, yet he never trivialises the situation. One of the things I loved about the story is how well he shows the passage of time; and his reaction to the world around him and the events within it add a perspective to the story that makes him seem far more sane than he thinks he is. The art is good old school cartooning and is superbly detailed considering the panel size.
Ultimately, if you enjoy comics and want to read about an honest account of a real human experience, then you could do no better than Depresso!
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on 26 February 2011
As someone who hasn't looked at a comic book since reading Tin Tin to my children nearly 30 years ago, and who tends to be rather snooty about the French male addiction to this form of literature, I was in for a delightful surprise. Despite its title, Depresso, is a riveting, rapid-paced read and a manual of hope that normalises depression, highlights the NHS' marginalisation of psychological services and the ill side-effects of pharmacological solutions. And it's all done in a hilariously and subtly drawn cartoons! I was astonished how the medium added expression and showed Brick's extraordinary sensitivity. But more importantly it could also hint about things through a surprising drawing that a regular text would be incapable of, or suggest something by a look that might take pages to convey otherwise.

This book, which presumably is an autobiography, is a tour de force - nay a masterpiece - and deserves wide readership. A riot of creativity illuminated by fabulous graphics -including explain-the-world punctuations in Tim Hunkin style - it follows the author's attempts to distract himself by manic cycling and fell-walking, camping in the wild, visiting China, couch potato TV watching, obsessive one-person sex addiction, graduating to yoga and canoeing. Anything but pay attention to his feelings! Classic masculine crisis here. Finally, he is propelled towards healing by an inner dialogue with a friendly dragon alter ego, a competent psychotherapist, and the despair of his partner, which he belatedly clocks when he discovers how to look beyond her breasts.

Importantly, this book sheds light on two further issues. First, that depression is not just an `illness' - as the billion dollar pharmaceutical industry would like us to believe - it is telling us something: it asks us to pay attention, even while we know not yet where to listen. Hence the dragon.

The second is the harm caused by the British tendency to send their children away to boarding school from a ludicrously young age and expect them to reappear as self-sufficient winners: "I think my parents are disappointed I've yet to be knighted", says Tom Freeman, the depressed hero of the tale, with ironic resignation. Or at the very least these children should emerge fully rounded adults. Surprise, surprise: they do not. See Depresso and take a concerned look at the current UK cabinet. I have myself written about this extensively, from my personal as well as professional experience; but it is very hard to convince the British that some of their habits are nasty. "The Making of Them: The British Attitude to Children and the Boarding School System"

"They didn't see me growing up", continues Tom. "We became strangers, emotionally detached. Home was the school, this medieval cloister. Now and then I visited some acquaintances called Mum and Dad." Getting depressed about it is a sane response to an insane situation, as Ronnie Laing might have said. And a jolly good way to hide the anger about the outrage we do to our children. The problem with the cabinet members - largely ex-public school - is that they are NOT depressed!

Brick's story is a testament to one man's rebel sub-personality having outlived its time and the torment in his soul because, though all the pointers are there, the shame about the 'privileged' education prevents him naming how abusive it was. Easy for me to see this is as a classic Boarding School Survivor double-bind, but it so hard to spot from the inside. The therapist gets to the point, highlighting how Tom displaces his anger through all kinds of left-wing causes: "What if you are the victim of a grave injustice you've been made to feel guilty of? You would be angry as hell, right?"

Boarding school is the worst training for intimate relationships. "I didn't know any women until I was 18, a mother included," says a Siergio Leone lone ranger figure sporting Tom's distinctive spectacles - the device Brick uses to stay vicarious whenever things get close to the bone. Boarding School Survivors have given up on trust. "One mortal wounding is enough in a lifetime," explains Brick. And yet the persistent love of a partner can be the only sure means to healing. Finally, Judy lets Tom know how his unrecognised wounds have been dominating her life, and he begins to get the message.

Great stuff! However, at the end I was less than sure whether the author himself had fully got the point he was making. What a mysterious thing is man!
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on 1 June 2011
This is an excellent piece of work. In many ways I would echo what has been said in previous reviews.
I was impressed with the candour of the story telling and the elaboration of the tale that is made possible with the graphic novel format.

The author's critique of "mental health" and NHS system of care has similarities to arguements in Richard Bentall's book "Doctoring The Mind", but it is much more accessible.
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on 24 August 2012
The story is well-told and the drawings are apt, if you like the cartoonish style, which I do. It's an individual's account of an individual's experience of depression, and where it limits itself to that it works very well. Where it tries to make broader points about depression, healthcare and education it fails, however. Anyone attempting to engage with the arguments he makes around the medicalisation of mental illness etc. will find themselves frustrated by the bias and the lack of detail or proper consideration. It's a nice story but it doesn't (contra a lot of other reviews I've read) help you to understand depression - only one man's experience.
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on 28 January 2011
This is Brick's first outing on a mental health theme. How much of the story is fact and how much is fiction is not known. There is deliberate ambiguity about the identity of Tom Freeman, the protagonist in DEPRESSO, as the back cover informs us that the work " only semi-fictional". Furthermore, throughout the book, Tom has an alter-ego, a white lizard who walks on his hind legs and is a benign companion on Tom's journeys through Scotland, China and despair. Terrifyingly, he occasionally turns into a fire-breathing dragon. Ultimately the real hero in the story is Tom's long-suffering partner, Judy, who has every reason to leave him, get him sectioned or at least never speak to him again, but patiently stands by and learns to understand and accept Tom, with all his faults. This is what the book is really about - understanding the human condition.
DEPRESSO is an intelligent and carefully crafted work of art. It is not only an account of one man's journey, but also a critique of the psychiatric system, a commentary on the side effects of medication, stigma, psychological processes and so on. Importantly, as personified in Judy, the significance of loving human relationships shines through. Whilst the reader is creatively taken to the pits of despair, the ultimate message of the book is one of hope. There are a growing number of books containing the narratives of survivors of mental distress, but there are few that have made me laugh. This book did, yet it also made me cry. In today's recovery orientated environment, DEPRESSO should be a set book for mental health students.
The biggest problem with DEPRESSO is that it ends after 263 pages. I wished it could have continued for much longer. What a brilliant, enjoyable and stimulating read; DEPRESSO is one in a million. I warmly recommend it.

Theo Stickley, University of Nottingham
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