YA Mental Health Graphic Novelist Returns to Work with Local High Schools

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Provided by Laura Gulledge

When choosing a setting for her latest graphic novel “The Dark Matter of Mona Starr” about a teen dealing with depression, local author Laura Lee Gulledge immediately thought of her alma mater Osbourn Park High School (class of 1997) and its visual twin (then known as) Stonewall Jackson High School because of their shared prison-like design.

“I wanted to root this fictionalized story in my lived experiences by tapping into my memories growing up in Manassas. And I wanted to include the push to change the name of Stonewall Jackson as a plot element in the book. So I was thrilled when just a few months after the book was released the school name was changed to Unity Reed. A moment of life imitating art!”

When both Unity Reed’s librarian Marissa Neal and Osbourn Park’s librarian Rheetha Lawlor reached out separately to Gulledge within 24 hours of each other about arranging a school visit, Gulledge thought she was being pranked. Then even more serendipitously, both schools scheduled their visits for the morning and afternoon of the very same day: May 18.

“Such coincidences feel like a wink from future-me telling me where I need to go. That I’m supposed to return to these places where my art and life are blurred. Such intersections are where stories feel extra alive, malleable.”

Gulledge is especially excited to hold conversations with students about wellness, how creativity and Artnering can support self/ community care. She’s also curious to see if any of her 90s era murals still adorn the walls of Osbourn Park. She wants to check out the school newspaper “The Yellow Jacket” where she first published her work as a young illustrator and cartoonist.

“It’s wild that the things I do now literally didn’t exist back when I was a teen. Like YA graphic novels, graphic medicine, comics journalism, Citizen Artistry, Teaching Artistry, Rest*idencies, Artnering…It really tickles the imagination to tell students YES we can do impossible things. That if you don’t fit into existing categories it’s okay…you’re part of cocreating new ones.”

Laura Lee Gulledge (she/ we) is an Eisner Award nominated cartoonist, teaching artist, and collaborative muralist based in Charlottesville. Her books include The Dark Matter of Mona Starr, Page by Paige, Will & Whit, and Sketchbook Dares. (Abrams Books) She explores visual storytelling at the intersection of wellness, whimsy, comics, neurodiversity, co-creation, and citizen artistry. #artnerlove @lauraleegulledge whoislauralee.com

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