Rachael Smith is one of the UK’s queens of auto-bio comics. This month, she is debuting two new books – Glass Half Empty, which delves into her father’s alcoholism, and Snippets: 52 Weeks of Diary Comics; a guide to making diary comics that includes advice and exercises.
I’ve been a fan of Rachael’s work for years, and I’ve always said that the best thing about her diary comics is how personal they are. Her first auto-bio book, Wired Up Wrong, dealt with her mental illness. It was followed by Stand In Your Power in which we see Rachael getting through her break-up with her long-time partner. Glass Half Empty marks the third entry into this series (with her award-winning Quarantine Comix also in the mix).
Glass Half Empty is easily the heaviest of Rachael’s books. In it, she returns to her childhood, where her father’s alcoholism loomed large. Following her father’s death, Rachael finds herself drowning her grief in alcohol as well, with the second half of the book detailing her journey towards sobriety.
If I had to describe Glass Half Empty in one word, it would be “raw”. Rachael leaves everything on the page and little to the imagination when it comes to her emotions. She is boldly open about her life and the mental toll her father’s addiction had on her. The result is a bittersweet tale that I found hard to put down.
All of this isn’t to say that the whole book is just an exercise in navel gazing into Rachael’s dark past. In fact, Rachael still manages to include her signature humour and the feeling of hope that things will get better; for young Rachael, present-day Rachael, and her dad, it is never far away.
If Glass Half Empty is a glowing example of what one can do with auto-bio comics, then Snippets is Rachael’s secret recipe for success. Snippets is a how-to guide for making diary comics. Rachael explains why she likes making diary comics and then goes into her approach. Most of the book, however, is blank panels for the reader to fill in themselves as their own personal diary.
As someone whose artistic talent is questionable at best, the thing I liked most about this book is that it makes it feel like anyone can make diary comics. There is no assumption of drawing or writing skills. It feels like Rachael is just saying “Hey – here’s a way that I found really helped me with mindfulness and finding beauty in the mundane. Maybe you’d have fun trying it too!”
And fun really does seem to be the point. There’s no pressure for the comics to be “good” – just the idea that you have to start somewhere and if you keep at it, you’ll inevitably get better. Who knows – maybe in a year, you’ll find a review of my new book of diary comics on this site!
(But know now that it will be entirely stick figures).
Glass Half Empty is out now from Icon Books and available here.
Snippets: 52 Weeks of Diary Comics will be released on 23 May by David & Charles and can be purchased here.
Both books are also available worldwide wherever good books are sold.