In the entirely-wordless short graphic novel Constantly, GG presents a woman as she enters her day with trepidation, which manifests in hesitation and avoidance, while taunted by minimal specters that cause her primal pause to escalate as she goes through the motions.
When the story starts, the woman is in free fall, with multiple shadowy forearms grabbing at her as she plummets. Awakening from the dream, she attempts to go through her morning motions, but the forearms don’t leave her alone, and the first thought is whether these grabby forearms arms aren’t the stuff of nightmares at all, but actual manifestations that harass her whether asleep or awake.
The forearms are both, though, and their relentless needling — hence the title Constantly — disarms any motivation the woman has, any self-esteem, any confidence as she prepares to step out into a world that she perceives as filled with these shadowy forearms waiting to pounce on her further.
GG intersperses notes that the woman has written to herself expressing what she doesn’t want, sometimes contradictory and mostly adding up to “anything.” She doesn’t want anything because the shadowy forearms take away her capacity to truly have anything.
This slim story by GG gets straight to the point and still remains elusive. Part of that is because this is a narrative of intangibles and how they manifest themselves in someone’s life. Though specifically referencing conditions like anxiety and depression, GG renders the protagonist’s experience in such a way that you don’t have to suffer from either of those to understand and they can be easily exchanged with many kinds of overwhelming pressure or emotional states that, more often than humans acknowledge, disarm and even destroy without ever eliciting a panicked impulse to help on the part of the people around the sufferer.
Broken bones are obvious injuries and people spring into action in response to them, but the more insular the suffering, the more likely the wound is to remain untended and grow in its capacity to harm. And from the outside to those who have never experienced it, it looks less like a wound and more like self-indulgence.
In this way Constantly is simple and visualizes a condition in clear terms for people who might not understand. It seems easy enough for someone to read and absorb what GG presents in such a way that they could place themselves within the narrative and come to an understanding of how they, too, might feel if multiple shadowy forearms were disrupting their every effort to do something screamingly normal. After all, this is not a story about someone trying to achieve something exceptional and failing spectacularly. It’s just the story of a woman trying to get up in the morning and put herself together enough to walk out the door.
GG’s clear visual realism melds well with the surrealist flourishes that bring two perceptions into one. The metaphorical realm, the one with the shadowy forearms, feels equal to the one in which the woman just tries to choose an outfit, until such point that aspects of the freefall enter reality. That’s when the two perceptions become one and that’s the point that Constantly has brought the reader full circle into the mind of a person suffering on the inside.
In the realm of mental health narratives, Constantly is a small offering, a tap on the shoulder and finger to the lips meant more as a reminder than a protest. But sometimes that’s what needed to get the point across and GG does so with succinct elegance.