In 2017, Rachael Smith published her powerful and inspiring graphic novel, Wired Up Wrong. It was, as I said in the review, “A wonderful, powerful book that ultimately serves as a beacon of hope. As she says: you can do this, you don’t have to give in, it will get better”.
Now, in 2019, she brings you the follow-up with Stand In Your Power. It’s every bit as good, every bit as powerful, every bit as positive and, ultimately, quite beautifully uplifting.
It’s no surprise though, as Smith’s work through the years has always been high on my list of books of whatever year they were published. Whether it was the comedic The Way We Write or I Am Fire, her graphic novels, House Party, The Rabbit, and Artificial Flowers. And no doubt, her currently in progress book, Isabella & Blodwin, will be similarly impressive.
But before that, you really do need to go and read Stand In Your Power, a staggeringly great book about depression, loss, a broken heart, grief over a breakup and the eventual recovery. All accompanied by Smith’s engaging and simple artwork and a fine dash of comedy along the way.
In Wired Up Wrong, we saw Smith the comic artist in a long-term relationship with Adam. She opened up about her mental health issues, her anxiety and depression with candour and incredible bravery. We saw how she visualised her issues as Barky, her own personal ‘black dog’, perfectly capturing the essence of the feelings of self-doubt, crushing depression, debilitating anxiety, in a simple, wonderfully inventive way.
However, Stand In Your Power opens with a devastating moment…
And with that, Smith finds herself crushed once more, the love she thought she had is gone like that and she’s alone. Just the emotional power in that simple page gives you an idea of what Smith does so well here, getting every ounce of emotion, all the immediate heartache and shock, it’s all there in her ever so simple yet ever so effective artwork.
Stand In Your Power goes on to deal with the months following this, as Smith details every painful moment of the loneliness, the lack of self-esteem, trying to figure out who she is, dealing with moving on, the friends who are there for her, and even a new companion for good old Barky.
It’s incredibly honest, but more than that, it’s so relatable. Everyone’s gone through this, everyone’s loved and lost and had to move on. It’s just that few of us have the bravery or the talent to put it out like this, in a book that, just like Wired Up Wrong, is something that anyone in a similar circumstance will find solace and help in, as we all make our way out the other side eventually.
Arranged in four sections, Aftermath, Re-Building, Living, and a middle section dealing with the difficult subject of Self-Harm and cutting, this is a journey we follow, as Smith attempts to put her life back together. And it’s a story we want a happy ending for. But, as we all know, the happy ending takes time. A lot of time.
One thing that is rather incredible, given the subject of the book, is the number of laughs in here. Smith’s an expert in that final panel that cuts across the sadness and gives us a smile at least. Just like this…
Thankfully, she doesn’t set everything on fire, she just gets on with things, slowly, with so many set-backs. But, in time, as we’ve all found, Smith gets better and we spend our time with her wishing she will, so invested are we in her brutally honest storytelling. Towards the end of the book, she finds her life again and here’s where it all gets a little bit better, as she refers back to the list she’d made in the early days of the breakup – a simple call back, but one that says so much, shows us how far she’s come…
As I’ve already mentioned, Smith includes a middle section, Do No Harm, talking openly and honestly about cutting and self-harm. She talks of going to a comic convention immediately after the break up and feeling a total failure and a fraud to have fans come up and tell her how her work helped them with their own issues. It’s yet another moment where your heart goes out to Smith at the same time as you feel amazement in her desire to be honest, in her hopes that sharing her story will encourage anyone going through the same to seek help.
As I said with Wired Up Wrong, Smith writes powerfully about incredibly personal and difficult subjects. That’s impressive enough, but to do it with such style, such simple artwork, and then to make a book that’s full of comedic moments that cut across the subject matter – it’s a really impressive thing to be able to do. She did it with Wired Up Wrong and she does it even better in Stand In Your Power. This truly is a masterful graphic novel, a wonderfully powerful and personal memoir, and something that could be so helpful for anyone in the same dark places.