Wednesday, September 28, 2016

REVIEW: Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray

This week sees the launch of Mount Maunganui artist Ross Murray's completed webcomic, Rufus MarigoldA thoughtful, and darkly funny comic about a character living and dealing with Social Anxiety Disorder. Inspired by his own personal experience battling anxiety, Murray successfully obtained funding from Creative New Zealand earlier this year to create a comic strip that would help shine a light on this rarely discussed condition.

Above: Panels from Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray. Copyright Ross Murray 2016.

When we first meet Rufus - portrayed in the artwork as a chimpanzee, visually the odd-man out - we find him struggling to deal with everyday interactions: answering the phone, running into a friend on the street; brief exchanges that are major internal challenges for Rufus to deal with on the fly. We then accompany him on more stressful situations that are relatable to many, like a new job interview. Murray's clear-line art style accompanied by flat colouring works perfectly for this subject on a number of levels. Stylistically, it recalls the artwork of safety instruction manuals: clear and easy to follow visual representation without unnecessary detail, which is fitting given its subject matter and Rufus' internal struggles (remain calm, don't panic). It gives his world an antiseptic appearance: non-threatening, but at the same time distanced and detached. The muted tones invite us into Rufus' head-space, where we get to relate and empathise with him as he experiences anxiety in work and social situations.

Above: Panels from Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray. Copyright Ross Murray 2016.

This visual detachment allows us to enjoy the bleakly funny aspects of Rufus' interactions (eg. announcing his mother's death to avoid a work presentation) as situational comedy without judging or short-changing the character. No doubt drawing on his personal experiences, Murray understands the inherent humour in these situations and uses the 'set-up/punch-line' language of the comic strip to express this with panache. 

Above: Panels from Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray. Copyright Ross Murray 2016.

Yet beneath the humour there is a very carefully calibrated emotional arc. As the strips progress Rufus' anxiety increases; he begins to drink more to manage social gatherings and interactions. Soon he reaches breaking point, when his social anxiety affects his ability to act in an emergency situation. The climax and resolution of Rufus Marigold's journey are both wordless strips which speak volumes. Creativity is what ultimately brings Rufus back from isolation and allows him to communicate and connect with others. It's a story that is probably more common than many of us are aware of, and I'm grateful to Ross Murray for creating Rufus and sharing his experiences with us.

Above: Panels from Rufus Marigold by Ross Murray. Copyright Ross Murray 2016.

You can read the full Rufus Marigold webcomic HERE. And for more information on Anxiety, you can visit the Ministry of Health website HERE and the Mental Health Foundation of NZ HERE for information and helpful links.

- AK!

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