We caught up with some of the creators of the latest publication by Comics Youth and Marginal Press, Mind over Margins. In a brilliant and open conversation, we learned about the inspiration behind the project, how mental health issues are affecting young people in our region and beyond and what those most affected think needs to change.

Hi all, thanks for chatting with us. First, can you introduce yourselves?

Raf – I’m Raf, I use He/They pronouns and I’m currently an art student at Liverpool John Moores. I like Dungeons and dragons, reading fantasy novels and Minecraft.

Hanna – I’m Hanna Gwynn, I use she/her. My day job is working in a call centre, but I prefer to spend my time writing, drawing, and reading comics! I’m still persevering as a daily Wordle-r and am a mere impulse purchase away from delving into sudoku.

Eleanor – Hi, I’m Eleanor Szydlowska (she/her). I currently work as a freelance illustrator creating comics, editorial illustrations, and posters. In my personal work, I like experimenting with colour and texture, but usually end up using bright pinks and greens (the best colour combination). Outside of illustration, I like film, photography, video games, and scrolling through Pinterest for inspiration.

How are you involved with Comics Youth?

Raf – “I’ve been involved with CY for 5 years now. I don’t know how to word it because I’ve done so much. I met members of staff at the YPAS sessions where we did art there. I started coming along to Comics Youth and joining in their creative sessions and their gaming sessions too. I have done commissions for CY, including Mind Over Margins, the newspaper, the stay safe club zine, and so many more.”

Hanna – “Wholly unintentionally! They were running drawing workshops at an LGBT youth group I went to, and I (eventually) got the confidence to strike up a conversation with the staff. Right place at the right time.”

Eleanor – “I first got involved with Comics Youth last year when I was commissioned to create an illustration of Lovelocks Cafe for their Safe Spaces trail. Since then, I have also contributed artwork to their Colourful Stories exhibition and Mind Over Margins anthology. What I like about working with Comics Youth is their focus on providing support and opportunities for young people. I’ve always found the team at Comics Youth to be really encouraging!”

Can you tell us a little bit about Marginal Press and its aims/objectives?

Raf – “Marginal helps young people to get published including books and the newspaper. The newspaper was a huge project and lots of young people got involved including interviewing celebrities like Divina De Campo (I did that!). I kind of dabble in everything.”

Hanna – “I find it’s about shaping the potential of the work of underrepresented youth and getting it out into the world! I’ve seen absolutely incredible works in progress from other creators on the same programme as me, and other anthologies such as Hospi-Tales: A Year of stories from Alder Hey are a joy to read.”

Eleanor – “At the moment, I’m currently creating a short graphic novel with Marginal Publishing, and under the mentorship of Comics Youth’s art director, Steven Matthews. The book’s story is based on my animated short film, HAV, which I was commissioned by New Creatives North to create last year and is currently showing on BBC iPlayer. It follows a boy haunted by recurring visions of the sea which start to bleed into his waking hours. Through working with Marginal Publishing, I’ve had the chance to expand upon the story and art, and the opportunity to work on a graphic novel that will be published.”

What’s the story behind Mind over Margins, what was the inspiration and is its aim?

Comics Youth – “Our Graphic medicine project is a huge part of our work as Comics Youth. We jumped at the chance to expand our scope for this project, which started in 2018 with our partnership with Alder Hey Children’s hospital working with children as young as 6 and up to 18.

“For this book we wanted to broaden the age range that we work with to cover young adults aged 18 – 30 and to expand past our own area too, as this book includes stories from all over the UK and beyond. We focused on getting the very important and underrepresented lived experience perspective on mental health issues that young people face, when they have a marginalised identity.

“The inspiration came from conversations our MD had with young people that attend our sessions, as part of our ethos here at Comics Youth is to always be lifting up the voices of young people and making them the forefront of everything we do.

“It was important to us that everyone was paid well for their work, and we set a commission budget and put out a call out for people to submit pitches. We had a huge response, and it was very difficult to choose who to pick for the final comics. Somehow, we managed, and we are so happy with the final result of the book.”

Raf – “The anthology was to get a lot of young people’s perspectives on mental health and their experiences, giving them an outlet to get creative with it and have it published.”

Can you tell us a bit about some of the pieces in Mind of Margins, to give us a taster?

Hanna – “There’s a range of different experiences and mental health issues inside it, including people writing from different stages in their own journey. Eleanor’s is one of my personal favourites for the expressive art and use of line and colour, the stick figure characters with a normal head are a mood. Meanwhile, Lauren Knapton’s taught me about an illness I’d never heard of before too but gained an understanding of through visual metaphor. Everyone consistently uses such a short space to encapsulate their world and experience in disparate but accessible ways.”

Eleanor – “When I saw the callout for Mind Over Margins, I decided to make an ‘almost’ sequel to a four-page comic I made in 2020 called ‘Is This It?’, which followed the start of my hair loss experience and how it affected my mental health. It had been a year since I made that comic (which I submitted unsuccessfully to a newspaper comic callout), and seeing this callout made me think about how my feelings had changed a year on. A lot had changed, but also a lot of my feelings felt the same, or worse. I still felt unresolved, like the first comic was only a snippet of my experience, and that I needed to explore these feelings more.

“To be honest, it feels strange to have this sequel comic published in an anthology, as I’ve been quite closed off about talking about my hair loss through my art. I couldn’t even bring myself to share the original 2020 comic on my socials as it felt like I was admitting defeat and leaving myself open to judgement, especially when it was still an experience happening in the present not the past. I think I was really scared of being vulnerable with an audience, with a lot of that wrapped up in shame and embarrassment about people knowing my personal hardships. I didn’t want to draw attention to it and for people to start looking at my hair. Like, if I just don’t talk about it or acknowledge it, it’ll just go away. For some reason, having this comic published in a book feels a lot less daunting though, and I’m not sure why.

Raf – “My comic was about my experience with depression and going on to medication for the first time and having a bad time with it. I had to get help from Samaritans, and I called friends, who were worried, and my friend came to help me. This was all during covid. It’s called ‘Take me away’ to represent my friend coming to help.

“It has a lot of blues for it all, other than the people so it would be centred around blue = sad. I decided to colour myself in yellow because it’s my favourite colour and I chose the colours for each person to represent the colours that I associate with them. The style is simplistic, and it’s a style that I still use today, it’s inspired by Keith Haring but with my own twist.

“My favourite panel is the one where I’m sitting outside near the fences, and you can see the houses opposite. I make my room at the end in yellow to represent that I have moved on and feel happier now, I do still deal with it, but I have better coping mechanisms and my same good friends who do help me when I need it.”

How do you see mental health issues affecting your peers, what is the impact?

Hanna – “It stops people from being able to reach their goals or potential as easily. Mental health problems throw up one more roadblock amongst already challenging journeys. It can often feel we’re all cheerleading each other whilst desperately struggling upstream, as we know how hard it is when you start to flag in the face of such hard work to regain basic progress.”

Raf – “There’s so many different forms that it takes on. There are people who I currently live with who experience anxiety in a completely different way to me and my other friends too. For example, I can’t use the kitchen if there are others using it, but they don’t have that problem, but they have anxious feelings about public transport. It shows that everyone’s experiences are different and there should be better individual help including all forms of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues in general.”

Eleanor – “I think with my age group (mid-late twenties), we kind of missed out on adequate mental health support in school, and ended up mostly learning about mental health, for better or worse, through internet spaces (looking at you Tumblr). For my peers, I think it’s taken most of our twenties to realise what support we lacked back then, and the things we now have to do to mitigate that. I’m really passionate about young people, especially in schools, getting proper mental health support as early as possible, and them having the proper language to talk about their mental health struggles. One of my very close friends used to work in schools providing mental health support to young people, and we’ve had many discussions about how important that low level early intervention is for them to create healthy understandings of their mental health.

“I think having outlets and a support system is vital at any age group, as well as the language to describe your experiences. If you don’t know how to describe what you’re going through, it feels scary and unknown, like you’re the only person in the world experiencing this, so knowing you’re not alone, and that other people have gone through really similar feelings and experiences, is really powerful.”

How has lived experience of poor mental health or mental ill health influenced your art/work?

Raf – “Ooh that’s a good question. For me motivation plays a big impact on my art. I make art less when I’m having a rough time with anxiety and depression. Sometimes I can make a whole load of art in a really intricate style but if I’m having a hard time I struggle more and it’s more of a simple style like the one in the book. Colours play a big part depending on how I’m feeling.”

Hanna – “It influenced my work by making me want to stop completely; I very nearly did. The only reason I still draw today is that I ran into the team at Comics Youth when I was deciding I should probably quit permanently. Their support encouraged me to try again.”

Eleanor – “I find this question very interesting to ponder on. I’ve always been a bit envious of people who could (from my perception) successfully channel their mental health struggles into their creative work and create something amazing. For me, my anxiety definitely holds me back a lot from just about everything, especially creating art. The worse my mental health, the more my drive to create is affected, and in turn, I lose all desire to share any artwork with an audience.

“As well, the older I’ve got, the more I’ve closed off about my sharing feelings with strangers, especially online and to an audience. I don’t think that’s necessarily such a bad thing, having boundaries with what you say on social media is important, but in terms of artwork, I find work where the creator is vulnerable and open is the most interesting and meaningful to engage with. Examples that spring to mind are illustrators like Frannerd and Kat Schneider, who both create short comics that explore very personal experiences. When reading their comics, I feel invested in connecting with their life and work from them being so vulnerable with their audience. With my own work, I’ve found audiences have engaged more when the art explores something that’s drawn from my personal experiences, especially if they can relate to it. Personal comics in particular lend themselves to this naturally and making these in the past have sparked some really interesting conversations.

“I’ve been finding in my work that I don’t share (just yet), I’ve been able to start venting out my feelings into comics again, without it feeling too overwhelming or anxiety inducing about the vulnerability it requires. At the moment, they’re mostly sketchbook scribbles made with my fountain pen, but they’ve been helping me to articulate feelings that feel all abstract and mushy in my brain, which I guess is like a visual form of journaling. I think this is why I think encouraging people (and especially young people) to create art and comics is an important part of mental health education. They don’t have to be ‘good’, it’s more about the outlet it gives you.”

Why do you think it is important to show the issue of mental health through the eyes of marginalised youth?

Raf – “Especially now more young people are experiencing mental health issues as it’s not as stigmatised in the media. And there’s more influencers actively talking about it which helps other young people feel more at ease with talking about their own mental health and not listening to older people who are ill-advised in younger people’s experiences because most of the counseling textbooks are from the early 00’s and don’t grasp the issues currently facing the world.”

Hanna – “Mental health problems are often presented as an ‘isolated issue’ that springs forth unprompted. The causes and triggers can often be woven deep into the already complicated factors that might affect a person such as race, gender, disability, migration and more. The experience is often alienating enough before the accrual of external marginalising factors. When you feel hopeless at a stage of life you are told has near infinite potential, seeing a spark of familiarity unexpected in the experience of another person like you can open a door you never knew was closed.”

What would you say to another young person who was struggling with their mental health?

Raf – “First of all I’d be confused because why have you come to me? My tutor came to me the other day to discuss his ADHD and I said, ‘oh same’ and we chatted.

“I’d be confused but I’d direct them to young people-friendly services like YPAS as they have good advice or safe spaces for young people like Comics Youth. Their colleges, Uni, or schools and Kooth, even though Kooth was a bit rubbish, but it did help me at the time. Or even I’d be a listening ear for them if they wanted to talk about anything there and then.

Hanna – “I’d say ‘Seek out help’, but that is far too vague. Make a paper trail. Save the email conversations discussing your needs, retain any and all evidence of adjustments, note dates and times of phone call conversations and topics discussed, hold on to doctor notes, keep track of staff members you raise it with, and get it in writing whenever you can. This is a daunting task when even basic functions are a challenge, but I have avoided potential battles by pulling out a handy email or PDF more often than I care to admit.”

What do you think needs to change in terms of mental health support for young proper, particularly LGBT+ youth and those from marginalised backgrounds?

Raf – “I feel like there’s already a bunch of young people I know wanting to become counselors and we could make it so the young people in training could help quicker. My current counselor is in her 60s and she doesn’t understand what I’m dealing with being Trans and neurodivergent and the current issues facing students today.

“We’re in the cost-of-living crisis and students don’t get help with it. My rent has risen, and people assume that we’re getting lots of help. A lot of people don’t qualify for bursaries because of situations with their parents’ finances and a lot of the time it goes before tax is taken that doesn’t make sense because… tax is tax. Just having more spaces to go to too. In my Uni there are three counselors for thousands of students.

Hanna – “Funding. Mental health services cannot feed the 5,000 with how little they have, no matter how hard they try. Crisis centres are constantly on the brink, there’s little to no preventative help, and LGBT+ / marginalised youth are the canary in the coal mine for political violence being wrought across the country. Without change in policy and proper support put in place for the service providers, it will prove more and more challenging to build anew when there is so little to go around for what is already here.

Eleanor – “Everything really, though I’m basing this more off my experience of university and school, which feels a tad out of date now. But I think having spaces like Comics Youth, which are tailored and specific to LGBT+ youth and those from marginalised backgrounds, is really important so that young people feel seen, heard, and supported.

“I remember at school never really feeling like I had anyone to talk to about mental health, and when I did reach out for help, it was put into the ‘you shouldn’t feel like that’ box, so I essentially gave up asking for help. When I think back now, especially at school, you’re in a really small bubble and very reliant on the support your family and school can provide, so it’s important that your school, in particular, can provide proper mental health support and sign-post young people to other more specific services to provide support (like Comics Youth). This is true, in particular, for LGBT+ youth as if you grow up in an environment where it’s not talked about or acknowledged, it can be really isolating. I’m glad spaces like Comics Youth exist now for young people, as I know it would’ve been a really affirming space for me as a teenager. I think it goes back to what I said earlier about providing young people with the safe spaces and the language to affirm their experiences, which can make a world of difference.

Thank you all so much for these amazing, honest answers, we could chat all day! Before we go, is there anything else coming up you would like to share with us?

Raf – “I wanted to mention the Safe Spaces events that we put on through the Comics Youth Safe Spaces project. They are great for young people who are marginalised and the events that I helped to organise were specifically to cater to people who are neurodivergent.”

Hanna – “I heard that there’s a pretty interesting comic about grief and friendship on the way from Marginal Press! Might be worth checking out. :¬)”

Comics Youth – “Big things on the horizon for Marginal, Hanna is too modest to fully mention her book but we’re not! Look out for Without Ceremony by Hannah Gwynn is coming very soon from Marginal. And as Eleanor mentioned earlier too, Hav by Eleanor Szydlowska will be out in early 2023. We are very excited for everyone to see them!”

You can order Mind Over Margins now here:

To find out more about Comics Youth and learn how to get involved visit the website here, follow them on Twitter, Instagram and Facebook or contact the team here.

Image credits:

Pink person with shoulder-length hair – Eleanor Szydlowska

Person in blue hoodie with brown hair – Hanna Gwynn

Black mouse outline on yellow background – Raf Dyas



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