Ross Murray’s Rufus Marigold comic strip began life online – now it’s a book – expanded, new panels, new stories. It’s a wonderful examination of social anxiety. Much like Brent Williams’ powerful Out of the Woods graphic novel it is doing great work for explaining lived-experience with mental illness; for normalising, de-stigmatising.
I’m not an anxiety-sufferer, but, like anyone, I know the simple pit-of-the-stomach concrete-feeling of certain situations, the butterflying effect of others. I can only imagine how deep that can go. But Rufus Marigold, a genius comic creation that surely owes a debt to not only to the great Daniel Clowes but also Adrian Tomine, has helped me to understand some of the truly grueling moments a person can be subjected to; we’re talking moments where a phone call or an invitation is too much – the over-thinking kicking in instantly, the doubt and then an embarrassment. The coping mechanisms – such as drinking – which only deliver further, more brutal episodes if anything.
Rufus is an ape. But he works in an office with humans. This worker-ape is therefore instantly noticeable as being different, as seeming out of sorts with the others; visually we’re told that he presents differently.
One of the greatest tricks in Ross Murray’s work here is that along with being thoughtful, compassionate and wise it is deeply, profoundly funny. There are awkward moments, awkward truths, awkward banter and there are such facile and futile solutions as running away, hiding, drinking heavily. These are dumb moves. But they are the only moves Marigold has. These aren’t so much solutions as just the immediate reactions.
What’s funny, most often, is the situation. And how easily we recognise ourselves, co-workers past or present, family or friends on either side of the dialogues in these pages. We can all feel like Rufus, Or at least know someone who presents and reacts in a similar manner. But just as often we can feel like the people on the other side of the conversation – sometimes well-meaning and aware, just as often completely oblivious, eventually frustrated without much more than a tiny smattering of empathy.
As with Out of the Woods I read this cover to cover and then again. And again. And each time I thought that it should be on the required reading for final years at high school, or a university course.
There are of course plenty of fantastic graphic novelists operating in New Zealand, it’s a medium that probably suits our distinct shrug of self-effacing humour, our she’ll be right and soldier-on mentality. It’s wonderful seeing the other side of that being presented now as well. The fact that things are not often right, barely ever okay, they’re just what they are and though we soldier-on that’s hardly ever the very best way to go about it.
Rufus Marigold feels all at once like a distillation of the best Netflix comedy special, the funniest Flight of the Conchords song, the continuation of John Clarke’s deep understanding of the Kiwi psyche and a spiritual/philosophical text; a guide book then for these curious, confusing, wonderful and heartbreaking times.
^^^^^ That’s me not being able to recommend this highly enough, by the way. ^^^^^
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