Book Review: Graphic memoir Eyes Too Dry explores mental illness, lasting friendships, and the healing power of art

A true tale of mental illness told from the perspective of both the sufferer and the bewildered friend, Eyes Too Dry is a joint venture from Alice Chipkin and Jessica ‘Tava’ Tavassoli. Switching between Tava, a medical student slipping into a deep depression, and housemate Alice, losing herself in her friend’s darkening struggle, this graphic memoir is an emotional and affecting exploration of mental ill health and its indiscriminate reach and impact.

The narratives are characterised with two distinct drawing styles, with simple line drawings conveying a touching and, I’m sure for many, all too familiar tale. Tava’s increasing isolation and skewed perception of the world is showcased through abstract, almost Picasso like depictions of herself and those around her, and while Alice’s images are stronger and more immediately recognisable, they maintain a sketchy and uncertain quality indicative of her own issues, grief, and confusion – all so often pushed aside as she attempts to care for and understand her friend.

Eyes Too Dry uses its art as a way to process, drawing on conversations put down by Alice during the worst years of Tava’s illness. The frames of the women working together on this book are touching, intimate, and a little confronting, as they come up against the battles each of them has fought, as well as reliving their own. It’s such an important narrative to consider, especially given that depression is an incredibly personal and individual thing – it’s so easy to forget that, like any other disease, it affects more than just the sufferer, and our limited understanding and acceptance of it can often make it worse on all sides. Tava’s guilt over apparently being too privileged to struggle and Alice’s attempts to hide her issues from her friend both pay testament to this, and stick out particularly strongly in my mind.

With any illness, it’s rare we pay much attention to anyone other than the patient, and when it comes to mental health we might not even get that far. Eyes Too Dry addresses both sides, and whether you’re a fighter or a friend (or even both), you’ll see so much truth spread across these often painful pages. It’s a deceptively simple way to tell a profoundly difficult story, but it works beautifully. The end result is a powerful, intimate portrait of a friendship, one that many will see themselves in, and a work that bravely contributes to a conversation that we truly need to have.

Alice Chipkin and Jessica Tavassoli‘s Eyes Too Dry is published by Echo and is available now.