When you first enter his world it may be a bit out of focus. But that’s to be expected from a man who smokes and drinks to stave off the PTSD that’s causing his life to fall apart. It is something to be in ‘The Mind of James Svengal.’ We meet him barely coping, when at an event to promote his art James is faced with what occurred in his recent past. It’s ruining his relationships and his mind is starting to crack. PTSD also known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder tends to manifest after a traumatic event. Veterans coming back from Vietnam have been most closely associated with the effects of PTSD. Imagine diving for cover at the passing of an ambulance or going into the fetal position at the sound of helicopters. Average people can experience PTSD too. A car accident where you come away physically alright, but emotionally, mentally you become undone. And though James knows what’s happening he doesn’t seem to be able to stop.
What grips you from the beginning of this graphic novel is the way James’ life is portrayed. With words by Jordan S. Adams and artwork from Lyndon White reveals a man who is struggling and you want to help him. He’s not a superhero. He’s a guy who’s gone through a harrowing experience, is losing his fiancé and has a homeless man tell him to live in the real world, not the imaginings that are occurring in his head. His therapist doesn’t seem to help. You may think that he should just keep talking to his homeless friend. He’s getting better advice from him that the 50-minute hour session with the professional. The representation of James’ life spiraling down can be best explained in that dream with the old school record players and the lyrics to ‘Don’t Fear the Reaper’ being constantly replayed. Appearing like mermaids on a beach they all seem to be screaming at James. The song that came about in the mid 1970’s talks about how death is something you cannot run from because of its inevitability. There is also an undercurrent of love being the only thing that is truly everlasting. In James’ dreamscape it seems like a drum song to end his torment. Still, he resists the call.
Or, it could be that love is the only thing that can save James from losing everything, including his sanity. The engagement party he goes to, his own relationship, seems to be beckoning him to pull himself together and get to the other end of the ‘Reaper’ song that deals with love being the one thing in this world you can count on. Instead James sees it as another thing he has to bother with. In his world there are people who are happier. Will James ever get that back? And will he have to leave his fiancé to become whole again? When someone experiences a traumatizing episode in their lives, there are those who try to get things back to a semblance of normalcy. For nearly everyone in James’ life, they just want him to get over what happened. But the expectation to heal on someone else’s timetable, is at least unfair and selfish. Sometimes the best thing a people can do is not make demands. Let the person talk and don’t see him as a problem to be fixed. People aren’t clocks.
Essentially you are the only one who can reclaim your power. That road on getting there may be filled with things you don’t like or want, but when an imaginary fox tells you to stop avoiding the bad bits of your life, it’s time to make a change. And if a bunch of talking animals wondering around in your subconscious is what it takes to get your life back, do it.
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