In his debut book, John Cei Douglas illustrates the plights of anxiety and depression

Throughout the book, motifs such as the tsunami loop and mirror each other like different waves of anxiety. “Sort of musical refrain, always humming along in the background,” John adds. “The tsunami is a big moment for this, and it was probably the hardest part of the book to get right, in that it’s something like a 12 page sequence which is the culmination of the entire first half of the book”. It’s a triumphant emotionally and visually stunning part of the story, and as the tsunami sweeps up its characters, so too does it sweep up the readers. It’s especially impressive considering the simple black and white style John uses for the book.
“I drew the whole thing primarily with one dip pen (a maru nib) because the drawings are all fairly small and it’s quite a fine mapping pen,” he explains. “The emotion should be more complicated than the art, and it’s the space that leaves the room for thought”. Various details are added throughout, such as an ink wash texture at the beginning, or bits of dry brush, or other parts blended together like the section of the book set underwater. Specific feelings are evoked by the most minimal yet effective of drawing techniques.
Overall, John hopes that “anyone who reads the book can take something from it, or find something hopeful, relatable, or inspiring” within. As something which began so deeply personal to him, John now releases these feelings and thoughts out into the world for many to interpret as they wish. “I’ve always hoped it could be a book that people could sit with from time to time and think about, maybe about themselves, or about the story and maybe enjoy a nice little quiet peaceful moment or two,” he says. “I’d really like to carry on making more in this series”.
“It’s sort of similar to Link in the Legend of Zelda games – he never talks, he’s a cipher for the player to be put into the story, thus the name, and that’s a concept I really like”. The great tsunami that washes over the characters midway through the story was also an important part of the process for John. “One thing that never changed even from my original idea was the tsunami,” he tells us. “There’s lots of instances of things building up, being overwhelmed and then everything comes crashing down and we’re left adrift after the fact”.
In John’s book, characters are intentionally depicted very simply with very basic features. This was a purposeful choice by John, who crafts a distance between the reader and the characters. By opening up space for interpretation, John’s illustrations grant the reader a greater chance to project themselves into the story and therefore empathise with the emotions. “The eyes are just dots, so there’s a certain blankness there, and we can interpret different things from subtle little changes but really it lets us see what we want to some degree,” he tells us.