With a title like Straitjacket, you know this has to be a crazy book…
So, I must admit that the first four pages of this graphic novel really freaked me out and I wasn’t sure if I even wanted to read it, but in the spirit of giving anything a decent shot, I kept reading. What I got was a well-crafted, supernatural thriller in a psychiatric ward with such vivid imagery that I may very well have nightmares. The story follows Alexandra Wagner, a young woman who has bounced between multiple asylums and mental hospitals for her schizophrenia, unique in that she shows none of the classic signs of the disorder. Instead, she has a “monothematic delusion” about the Otherside, a dark dimension she claims to see and interact with. She also exhibits a so-called disappearing act and has frequent conversations with her brother’s spirit. Alexandra is being kept at the most exclusive mental hospital in the country to be evaluated by the brilliant, wheelchair-bound Dr. Thomas Hayes. Fresh out of graduate school, he is very relatable and positive about helping Alexandra. His method is to wean her off her medication to get at the heart of the issue, but over time Dr. Hayes notices the medications barely affect her in respect to an actual schizophrenic. He struggles with his own personal demons and Alexandra seems to know it. Another resident at the hospital is Raoul Cimas, a comedian who witnessed a mass suicide at one of his shows. He is very creepy and becomes more involved with Otherworld as the story progresses. As a reader, you know what Alexandra sees as Otherworld and her interactions with her brother, but there are two main questions we must ask ourselves. First, are these just visions caused by mental disorder or is Otherworld real? And second, if Otherworld is real, what can Alex do about it while under the care/control of psychiatrists?
Most of the stylistic choices of this book are brilliant. El Torres writes each character with inherent flaws and issues, humanizing them and showing that mental patients aren’t the only ones with problems. The story is eerie and has a wonderful structure, but it’s the art that is most attention-grabbing. Guillermo Sanna has a gift of integrating startling realism into his main art style. The art will be normal for a while, then all of a sudden, there is a panel of a close up face with such detail in shading and form, it feels like a photograph or a completely different artist. His main work uses a lot of negative space and shading to imply more than what is actually on the page. However, there are times the pages felt like a coloring book due to his minimalist style. Also, the entire book is in black and white, apart from the color red which is only used for blood and scenes depicting Otherworld. Such a bold move! It truly sells that Otherworld is a different dimension coexisting with our plane of existence. I also want to point out Alexandra’s creepy smile and Raoul’s creepier death stare, both of which are shiver inducing. There are some seriously freaky things in this book.
This graphic novel takes many common fears and combines them to create a reading experience that will leave you hungry for more. Not for the faint of heart, Straitjacket is sure make an impression and leaves you satisfied, even if you have to sleep with the light on.
Crazy Good, Four out of Five Stars
Writer: El Torres
Artist: Guillermo Sanna
Cover Artist: Guillermo Sanna
Publisher: Amigo Comics