Mental illness is not always an easy topic to talk about. If you’re the one experiencing it it can be difficult to articulate to others, while those who have no idea what it’s like can find it hard to understand. But cartoonist Ruby Elliot, known online as Rubyetc, is helping to bridge that gap with comics and cartoons about her experiences which mix her unique brand of silliness. For a few years she has been making waves with her work in online but has recently released a book with her cartoons, comics and a series of essays about mental illness called It’s All Absolutely Fine: Life Is Complicated So I’ve Drawn It Instead.
I recently had a chat with Ruby about her work and how her experiences with mental illness plays a part in it.
HTLC: What inspired you to release a book about your experiences?
Ruby: Inspiration is a funny one – I can’t normally list what inspires me because (boring as it sounds) art is just a thing that happens some of the time. But with regards to the book, I was really excited to create something that would be so different in format to how I normally share my work online.
HTLC: Mental illness can be a very hard thing to articulate to those who don’t understand it. Is it difficult to express your feelings and experiences with mental illness in your work?
Ruby: I think because I’ve been using it as a coping mechanism for quite a long time, drawing about my experiences is something that feels natural; in fact sometimes I wish I could draw about anything else that isn’t my feelings! As I’ve got a bit older I’ve started drawing more about my mental health issues in the context of my life and being a person, as opposed to the other way around – issues that I struggle with, but don’t always have to take centre stage.
HTLC: Are drawing cartoons and comics, especially ones related to your personal experiences, cathartic for you?
Ruby: They can be cathartic, absolutely. I often think having a thought or feeling exist somewhere other than your own head (in this case the page) can help you frame it slightly differently. Much in the same way that I find talking to people helpful, drawing can act as a release. In that sense the process of making can be more important and meaningful than the image you end up with.
HTLC: You have a massive following online so it is clear that your work connects with many people. What do you think exactly it is that people connect with?
Ruby: This will sound really obvious, but everyone has feelings, and to one degree or another can struggle to feel they are valid. This is partially due to society’s unfortunate conflation of emotionality and weakness. And also because revealing emotional struggles, or indeed mental health problems can make you as an individual feel very vulnerable. I think my drawings being very honest and also unapologetic about things I go through can provide a bit of that validation. The humour also makes what can be quite scary and intense slightly less so (for me, and then I suppose for people that are reading it). I would hope that it has the same effect for others as art can for me when I see a bit of myself in it; a sense that they are not alone.
HTLC: While there are a variety of tones in your work, a lot of the time you opt for a your own brand of silliness. With a serious topic such as mental illness how do you juggle it with the silliness and humour?
Ruby: I think this is something I was brought up doing, so it wasn’t really a conscious choice and doesn’t feel too much like a juggling act. Humour and being silly is something I enjoy, so I saw no reason to keep the two separate! And the misconception that there can be no funny sides to all these things is what’s really silly!
This interview is part of Comics Chain, a feature in which creators recommend other creators who should be featured on How to Love Comics. Ruby Elliot was recommended by Alex Norris.