Tuesday, May 8, 2018

REVIEW: Out of the Woods by Brent Williams

Above: The cover of Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

In 2009 Brent Williams was a successful lawyer based in Wellington. He had build a career working in community law, creating services and resources to help vulnerable people - particularly children, and victims of domestic violence. After completing two major projects - the implementation of the Care of Children Act and the Parenting Through Separation Programme for the Family Court, he became unwell and was unable to continue working as a lawyer.

The graphic novel opens with a atmospheric scene of Brent returning home on a stormy night, the darkness of his kitchen enveloping him, growing into a claustrophobic forest of unease. He forces himself to 'snap out of it', he'll find his own solution to this situation - take a test, find the cure to this unseen force robbing him of his life and career. After exploring a variety of medical options, it's suggested that his symptoms point to the cause of his illness as depression. His first response is denial - "you can't be right, I'm a strong person!". He continues to try to work though it on his own, alienating himself form friends and family in the process. But after an anxiety attack, Brent finally acknowledges his illness and seeks help through counseling, to begins the journey of recovery - finding a path through the dark woods of depression back to the light.

Above: A page from Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

Williams' story is well told, and uses the visual medium of comics to its full potential, communicating a difficult subject in a clear fashion that is both relatable and dynamic. He does a great job of relating the world through his perspective during his illness - the colour is literally drained out of him and his surroundings, the artwork become blurry or jagged as anxiety and hallucinations set in. We also get to witness the quiet serenity of his good days, when the joy of simply living and enjoying music or a bike ride keeps depression at bay.

He's found a great collaborator in this project with Turkish illustrator, Korkut Öztekin. Previously known for his work on horror comics like Clive Barker's Hellraiser,  Öztekin is a master of atmosphere; communicating the inner turmoil and dread of depression, while still keeping the story grounded in reality. There's some great visual metaphors weaved into the storytelling, the hanging branches of a tree as a stand-in for the lungs is a nice example of using the visuals to reinforce the text. The spectre of death haunts several scenes at the story's darkest moments without feeling melodramatic; making plain just how high the stakes can be in the depths of depression.

Above: A page from Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

During his counselling, Williams revisits some of his childhood memories, particularly the overbearing presence of his father, well known property developer and philanthropist Sir Arthur Williams. Publicly, Sir Arthur was a respected leader of NZ society, but behind the doors of Williams' Karori home, domestic violence was a daily occurrence. Williams is bravely candid in sharing these revelations which help unlock his depression and sets him on the path to recovery, and will no doubt help inspire others to overcome their own feelings of self-doubt and anxiety about seeking help for depression.

Above: A page from Out of the Woods by Brent Williams, illustrated by Korkut Öztekin.

Out of the Woods has already found international acclaim, recently winning a silver medal at the prestigious Benjamin Franklin Awards. As graphic novels continue to branch out into previously unexplored areas of storytelling, Out of the Woods is a fine example of a graphic novel that uses the medium to tackle a difficult subject, and make a real difference.

Out of the Woods:  A Journey Through Depression and Anxiety
Brent Williams with Korkut Öztekin
ISBN: 9780473390068
$39.99 NZ

Brent Williams will be appearing this weekend at the Auckland Writers Festival, for a free event, Speaker's Corner: Into the Woods. For more information, you can visit the Auckland Writers Festival website HERE.

For more information on Out of the Woods, you can visit the book's website HERE.

If you suffer from depression or feel you are in crisis and need to talk to someone, please consider calling one of the following help lines:
Lifeline New Zealand: 0800 543 354 (Help anyone - 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (Help anyone - 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633 (Help young people & their families - 24/7)
Find a list of specialist NZ helplines here 
The Lowdown – Help young New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety
Depression.org – Help New Zealanders recognise and understand depression or anxiety

- AK!

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