Mental Health & Comics: An Interview with Tee “Vixen” Franklin

Mental Health Anthology banner

Tee “Vixen” Franklin, known on Twitter as @MizCaramelVixen, creator of #BlackComicsMonth, is now overseeing an anthology of comics focused on mental health. She’s assembled an impressive list of comics professionals to contribute, including  Scott Snyder, Tess Fowler, Gail Simone, Paulina Ganucheau, Tini Howard, and others. Franklin has also been accepting submissions from creators who have mental illnesses themselves, ensuring that her anthology will not be a collection of outsider stories. Below is my interview with her about this anthology, mental illness, and the fact that the proceeds will go to Youth Consultation Services, an organization that works with at-risk and special needs youth.

Mental Health Anthology graphicKat Overland: First off, this is a really great topic for an anthology — are there any comics in particular that inspired you regarding mental health? Any particularly egregious examples of bad portrayals? Or, on the other hand, any comics that you find particularly powerful in their portrayal of mental illness?

Tee Franklin: To be honest, there are no comics that has really inspired me regarding mental health. There aren’t enough and if they are out there, the marketing for it is extremely low. Mental health is a very important topic for me as I survive with PTSD, dysthymic depression, anxiety, paranoia, PMDD and a few others.

I don’t like how certain words are being used casually, like Suicide Squad. The PTSD/domestic violence angle with Harley and Joker. There are so many examples like this throughout comics as well as media in general that sickens me. The title of the CW’s Crazy Ex-Girlfriend doesn’t agree with me. Having villains escape from insane asylums and that’s how they’re a villain because they’re “crazy.” The use of these words so casually just doesn’t sit well with me and others.

You have an impressive list of pros who have pledged to contribute, and all contributors are expected to be folks who have their own experiences with mental illness. Are you expecting this anthology to be heavy on autobiographical stories?

I do. I am blessed to have a great rapport with the comic creators that have pledged to contribute stories. Take Scott Snyder, Tess Fowler, and Marguerite Bennett, I didn’t even have to finish my sentence before they said yes. Truly blessed. As far as the stories, I’m not sure what I’ll be getting from them; it’s all about what’s comfortable for each creator. I trust them all and I cannot wait to see the magic they’ll be bringing to the table.

Can you talk a little about the importance of having creators with mental illness creating stories about mental illness — nothing about us without us?

One in four people suffer from mental illness, these creators involved have thousands upon thousands of fans. Knowing that one of their favorite creators suffers from mental illness and is writing about it could change the tide in ending stigma.

What makes comics the right medium for this project? What is it about comics that makes them a good vehicle for exploring the topic of mental illness?

I chose comics because it’s what I’m involved in and, again, it has to do with the chance that their followers might be able to get help. Comics stays away from certain topics, for who knows what reason, but I push inclusivity. Mental illness falls under that umbrella.

What led you to decide that this should be a charitable project?

I truly believe that a lot of mental illness starts when you’re a child. The rates of children committing suicide are ridiculously high. The rates of children of color suffering from mental illness and suicide are higher. This hurts my heart. My own girls suffer from mental illness and it’s affected my home in ways I could never imagine. I decided that I wanted to donate monies to YCS, Youth Consultation Service, in NJ, with the hopes that enough monies can be raised for houses to be purchased for therapeutic, mental health facilities.

Have you seen any writer/artist match-ups happen on Twitter yet? I know you won’t personally be matching contributors, but I thought it was cool that you’d created a hashtag to let people find one another, adding a sort of social portion to the open submissions period.

I have seen match ups and it’s a beautiful thing. The submissions that I have received so far have been great and they definitely pull at the heart.

What do you hope readers will take away from this project? What do you hope contributors will?

I have therapists involved that will not only go over the book to make sure it’s not too triggering, but I also have therapists who will donate their time in Indiegogo tiers. Therapy can be expensive, but here’s hoping that people will be able to use the tools that will be available in the book if they ever reach a low point. I’m sure that speaking on certain things contributors have kept quiet about will also be therapeutic for them.

The anthology is accepting submissions until October 31st, so there’s still time to get your story heard!

Kat Overland

Kat Overland

Small press editor Kat Overland is a displaced Texan now living in Washington, DC, where she is perpetually behind on reading her pull list. She's a millennial, Latina, exhausted, and can often be spotted casually cosplaying America Chavez and complaining.