This piece discusses depression and suicide.
The power to never die sounds like dream—unless you are a person dealing with depression and suicidal thoughts. The character Chrysalis in the comic series Eternity Girl is living just that scenario, and it's a nightmare for her. With pastel-bright colors and dark humor, comic creator Mags Visaggio brings to light two important issues that comics don’t always talk about: depression and suicide.
These themes have been explored in just a few other comics, such as Tom King’s Mr. Miracle and Neil Gaiman’s Sandman #20, but not in the same way. In Sandman #20, Urania "Rainie" Blackwell, also known as Element Girl, can’t die. In the comic, Gaiman explores themes of suicide, and ultimately the character is able to achieve her goal. There are parallels between Sandman #20 and Eternity Girl, but it is important to note that Eternity Girl is not related to Element Girl, and Visaggio's comic is not a Sandman sequel. Rather, Visaggio was inspired by the story to create her own take on a similar character.
“I wanted to do an Element Girl-type book because I wanted to do a follow-up after reading Sandman #20, which is a very famous story about Element Girl being suicidal and her inability to kill herself " Visaggio tells BUST. "And I was just so fascinated by that. But I guess I wasn’t satisfied with the ending because it feels a little blasé about suicide.”
Like Element Girl, Chrysalis has the power of immortality, and she has become isolated. The key difference is that Visaggio didn't want Chrysalis to give into the darkness—her journey is a journey towards recovery.
Chryslais finds her powers a burden, but they also makes her physically look inhuman. Her skin is blue and scaled while her feet are shaped like bird claws. Chrysalis' life circumstances and her power are all elements that contribute to her depression. In order for Chrysalis to blend in with humanity, she must maintain a human form foreign to her birth form; that human form is a mask, and it’s draining on her.
Chrysalis' literal shape-shifting can be seen as the metaphorical mask that all of us who have ever been depressed put on. “Getting to a point where you are passing day to day, that takes quite a bit of work," Visaggio says. "It’s the whole gamut of trying to be someone who’s functioning normally—whatever the circumstances are that make that difficult.”
Those circumstances can be depression, but they can also be what trans people go through every day. As a trans woman who copes with suicidal thoughts, Visaggio says the perspective she brings to Eternity Girl is three different layers of depression. "It’s the fact that my depression is from a couple of different angles," Visaggio explains. "One of them is that I’m autistic, which means that there are nuances to my depression that aren’t necessarily what you’re going to see in Mr. Miracle, another DC book that also deals with mental health. One, it’s a woman’s depression; two, it’s trans depression; three, it’s autistic depression, and all those factors together make it kind of a unique portrayal, at least as far as the comic is concerned.”
“I wanted to portray a much more realistic and grounded take on [depression]" compared to other comics that have dealt with the issue, Visaggio adds. But she adds that Eternity Girl is not a "commentary comic."
“I thought I had a perspective on this issue as someone who deals with major depressive disorder and suicide on a regular basis; I wasn’t trying to say comics as a whole should do this," Visaggio says. "I saw an opportunity with my connection with [DC imprint] Young Animal to do something that I thought would resonate with other people who deal with depression, especially in the Bojack Horseman era where we're socially being a lot franker about mental health. I was like, ‘Well, why not bring that to comics in a way that isn’t bleak, in a way that points towards recovery, that points towards finding the reason to keep going?'”
Visaggio draws from her own experience, so writing about these deeper issues of depression was difficult, she confesses. “It has in a lot of ways exacerbated my depression. I’m really glad that I have a therapist so I can talk about these things with her in an ongoing basis. But writing Eternity Girl, especially the first issue, was very difficult because it required me to locate those feelings in myself again in a way that is not always very comfortable. I think that in the process of finding the ending, figuring out how to ride the plane of this weird story, it was helpful to me in terms of reminding myself of my own reasons for going on.”
It was important for Visaggio to make a comic about a character who, like herself, is marginalized. She wanted those who identify as a belonging to a marginalized group to be able see themselves in a mainstream comic. “I’m always trying to provide opportunities for people who don’t see themselves reflected in books to see themselves,” Visaggio says. “For me, it’s never been about an agenda or trying to provide some sort of resource, as much as it’s been about reflecting on my own experience and feeling like there is something valuable in that that other people may find.”
Visaggio reiterates that she had no agenda when she was creating Eternity Girl, or any of the other books that she has authored. Her only agenda is to write a good comic, and for underrepresented to people to see themselves. She says, “My goal is always that people will enjoy them and will find something in it that is meaningful to them. I’m a really big believer in the idea that the most important text isn’t the text that I write, but the text that the reader has in their head. Because that’s the only text they have access to—they don’t have access to the book in my head, they only have access to the book in theirs. And if they find something meaningful in it for them, that’s work they’re contributing as a reader that’s part of the collaboration between the reader and the writer. I just am trying to provide something that enables people to engage on some level, intellectually and emotionally, and that they might find whatever value it is for them.”
See some exclusive images from Eternity Girl #3 (out May 9) below.
images via DC Comics
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Isabel Sophia Dieppa is a writer and actor. She is a part of the performance duo Of This World in Chicago, IL. Dieppa is the recipient of a 2018 Pulitzer Center on Crisis Reporting grant, which she has used to report on property rights in Puerto Rico. Her interests lie in science, art, and history. Past writing includes interning for the Chicago Field Museum ECCO program, the national theater blog HOWLROUND, music reviews for UR Chicago, and in a former life was a beat reporter for the Indiana Daily Student. She loves archaeology, kitties, and dancing. The next big adventure may include an archaeological dig in Peru. Follow her on twitter @isabelsdieppa.