“Anhecomics” Takes Journalistic Comic-Strip Look at Mental Health

Vancouver artist Caitlin Cook is part of the growing “graphic medicine” genre.

Caitlin Cook (Caitlin Cook)

Anhecomics is nonfiction comic series featuring a very sad, bright blue main character in a world that is black and white. The title is a portmanteau of anhedonia—the inability to experience joy or pleasure—and comics, and created by Vancouver, Wash. artist Caitlin Cook. (Her cartoonist name is actually also a portmanteau. She goes by “cooklin.”)

The genderless main character of Anhecomics—The Blue Person—goes to group therapy, tries stand-up comedy, sets boundaries with their mother, self-medicates with alcohol and pills, and more. The storylines are adapted from about 20 interviews with anonymous people about their experiences with depression and related mood disorders.

Sometimes readers zoom past the introduction, though, and think that all 15 comics are about Cook.

“No! My life hasn’t been that interesting,” Cook says.

In fact, none of the comics are about her, though she has struggled with clinical depression since age 14. Cook, now 27, grew up in the Midwest and moved to the Portland area with film-school friends. She also has a master’s in journalism, which is where the idea for Anhecomics came from.

In summer 2021, Cook was supposed to come up with her thesis idea but was struggling with anhedonia, despite having a 4.0 grade point average in her master’s program, two internships, a loving boyfriend, and supportive friends and family.

“I woke up every morning feeling the weight of the world on my shoulders and completely unmotivated to do anything,” she says.

She turned to one of her depression comfort books: Everyone’s a Aliebn When Ur a Aliebn Too by Jomny Sun, about a lonely alien. It was the first time she had felt interested in anything in months and she wondered if she could make something like it for her thesis. Anhecomics was born.

The comics look at the intersection of depression and medicine, immigration, trauma, family dynamics and more.

The first three volumes of Anhecomics are works of graphic medicine, which is a growing genre in comic studies. (Famous examples are Cancer Vixen: A True Story by Marisa Acocella Marchetto, Guts and Smile by Raina Telgemeier, and Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? by Roz Chast.) Cook will be presenting her work and giving a speech at an upcoming graphic medicine conference in Ireland this July.

Upcoming Portland events on her schedule include BwPCon! (Books with Pictures Minic) on June 15 and Summer Story Fest! June 22-23 at Outlet PDX.

One thing she expects at appearances: “I have the most intense conversations at my table.”

"Small Sh*t" by Caitlin Cook/Anhecomics (Courtesy Caitlin Cook)

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.