Chapter 1, Page 31


Today’s incentive: a nice long comic about LEVi (the real one, not firstgen)! Since it’s not a spoiler and the technical details were too boring to exposition in this chapter. It might come up later, if it does I guess you’ll all just be unflappably bursting with lore already. April’s gathered incentives are up on Facebook too now.

I hope you enjoyed this surprise 3-update week. I didn’t sleep, just for you all~
Tune in next week for more of this shitshow


  • StephenM3

    Wow. WOW. NOPE. nope nope nope

    Somehow, despite the suicide attempt in the opening pages, I’d come to think Mike was doing better than this. But of course I was being pretty blind. Mental illness isn’t always gonna be in-your-face overt 24/7.

    Goddamn. I hope he gets help. More immediately, I hope Bex gets out of this okay.

    The gear shift from “lonesome pretty martian vistas” to “terrifying encounter with the worst corners of a damaged man’s psyche, out where nobody can possibly help you” was excellently executed.

    • shingworks

      Yeah, tragically, it can be far from overt. I’ve known someone affected to the degree shown here, and had no idea until months later when they decided to talk about it. The isolation caused by this kind of illness is horrifying.

      • Fridge_Logik

        There are a lot incentives to hide mental illness, even without social stigma it’s still very painful and so people get very good at keeping it hidden which almost looks like they’re doing well.

    • Is Mike bipolar? That seems logical.

    • SotiCoto

      Oi now. Calling it “mental illness” is degrading. Belittling.
      For a society that obsesses over feelings so much, it strikes me as more than a tad ironic that less welcome feels are so conveniently categorised away as “illness” like that.

      Nobody ever accuses the happyshinies of “mental illness”…

      • Abbie

        @SotiCoto I think there’s a distinction between “less welcome feels” and actual mental illness. Paranoia (and possibly delusion) aren’t exactly natural, healthy things. Mental illness is a legitimate term for things like depression and schizophrenia and it’s no less degrading than referring to, say, fibromyalgia as a “physical disorder”.

        • Ilmari

          Yes. As one who suffers depression: it is an illness. And psychosis like poor Mike (and some close to me personally) suffers is yet worse. It is not a healthy state of mind and something a person who experiences it should be aware of, and contend with.

  • Skian

    I should have been prepared for this after reading (and rereading and rereading and rereading) Meek but still.
    You pull the carpet out from underneath better than any other webcomic artist I know of.

    • shingworks

      Haha, thank you, that’s nice of you to say.

  • LeChatNoir

    Ohh, I’m trying to figure out if that’s in his head or not, though regardless he is rather unstable.

  • jimpost

    Going off the highway at the insanity ramp.

  • Arianwen


  • Daniel

    Wow. Blindsided. There was plenty of foreshadowing but the way this moment popped still chilled me. Things felt safer than this.

    I really like the stressed attention to safety protocols, the advice about travelling out there safely, don’t step there it’s unstable, etc. etc. All this talk of safety and care and now we ironically reach a point where mike becomes the most unsettling danger.

  • Lennier

    When he said he buried LEVi good and deep, I was thinking it was a metaphor for suppressing his emotions. But maybe it was literal after all.

  • I think we all assumed those pills he crushed were anti- depressants.

    Nooow I’m starting to think they were anti-psychotics…

    • Ryan Schneider

      The problem with most anti-psycho medication is that the side effects make the patient feel like utter crap. Rational crap, but still crap. They also kill all sense of creativity and wonder, which is what a pioneer to Mars would be all about. No wonder Mike is in hell.
      I had a friend who suffered for years from schizophrenia, and said he would rather have been committed then continue on those horrible drugs. But then a holistic doctor showed him the connection between most forms of schizophrenia and some forms of diabetes (what the mainstream won’t tell you), and by carefully treating his diabetes and losing 100 pounds, he reduced his episodes to very manageable, mild, occasional occurrences.

      • Glenn-o-matic

        Great comments! Especially the connection between Physical and Mental Health.
        I think that a LOT of problems can be solved by losing weight. Less is more.

        • Kittenears

          Yes, because you’re subjected to less mockery, less “helpful” comments about how your body is displeasing for other people to view, less nasty comments from perfect strangers.

          I’ve seen it. People with mental health problems who had issues. Lost weight. And then had MORE issues because everyone suddenly expected them to be “better”, or even worse the people who were cruel to them because they were “ugly” and now were suddenly “way hotter”.

          Weight may mask a lot of problems and exacerbate others, but it still doesn’t give you any right to comment on other people’s bodies in any way, shape or form. Sometimes, people can’t really help it- you don’t know. You’re not the doctor.

          Even worse- you don’t go up to someone “ugly” and say “hey, you’d have way better self esteem and mental health if you just fixed your nose!”


          Unless you are that person’s doctor and know that person’s ENTIRE medical history, fat shaming does nothing but HURT the people who you are supposedly trying to help.

          Just don’t. It’s inappropriate.

          • Glenn-o-matic

            -If you’re overweight, especially like the person who was also diabetic, then losing weight (if at all possible) is bound to provide physical health and less anxiety, stress, etc that would tend to promote mental health.
            Everybody has something wrong with them, if you dig deep enough, or subject them to enough stress, like living in a war-zone, or too many close calls in their neighborhood, (or even stress that they provide for themselves like a nasty drug or alcohol addiction, which might seem at first to be an escape but in reality becomes a gateway to hell.)
            If you stretch anyone past their resiliency they will have a difficult time. We live for the most part in a world that is a set of routines that insulates us from the random crap that happens in a jungle, or out where the sharks feed. If you live in a city you get more chances to discern the difference between someone who’s satisfied, adjusted to their life and “sane” by definition, and those who have diverted to someplace else, to maybe some completely imaginary construction in their minds, some desperate hiding place.
            One of the things you pick up about these people is that they tend to think that everything is about them.
            -That when people laugh, they’re laughing at them.
            -When others talk, it’s about them. I suppose there’s a term for that, but I only know the signs. It’s the nature of their world to see and hear things like everybody else but their perceptions tell them that it’s a message, or a sign, or God talking to them. They’re only trying to save themselves, I guess, but it’s all a mistake and they’re just wrong.

          • Ryan Schneider

            Well, my friend lives a rather monk-like lifestyle, and is unconcerned about appearance; he is a very humble man. He simply wants to live as peacefully in mind and body as he can manage. He was rarely even an overeater, it’s just easy to retain calories with the metabolic inefficiencies of diabetes, so losing the weight took extra discipline. Not everyone would be able to do what he did on his own, although he would say God made him strong.

        • Ryan Schneider

          I am not an atheist, but my dad almost is, and I understand the skeptical perspective somewhat. So If I was one, I would argue that there is such a thing as constructive delusion, which is not to say there is no such thing anyway. As a modern Christian philosopher I argue that disorders of the mind fall on a spectrum between the purely physical/neurological to the purely metaphysical/spiritual. Sometimes demons make organic problems worse, sometimes organic problems make demons worse. Sometimes they have nothing to do with one another. But, that said, even if I were convinced that the supernatural didn’t exist, I would still argue that those who do believe have and can be a positive force, and that constructive delusion exists.
          We tend to lump all delusion as a bad thing with no advantage in any age. But that attitude is just a modern skeptic’s prejudice and, ironically, has no basis in a rational analysis of the development of cultural ideals and civilization generally. If visions are wholly of the mind, they need not be stimulating purely self centered fight or flight instincts. If a delusional mind is otherwise rooted in a fundamentally selfless and courageous personality, you end up with Joan of Arc types. Of course, it’s not enough to be that way on your own; they need at least a small following of people to take them seriously or else you end up with a Don Quixote scenario, if they are lucky enough to at least be memorable. If they die in obscurity, well, that’s just a wast of potential legend. So, if I were a skeptic, I would not rush to push brutal reality on everyone all the time, regardless of the consequences. Don Quixote did no one any good lying in bed, and Joan did France no good keeping to only her sheep. Even several prominent Sci Fi writers, usually a skeptical lot, have argued the importance of keeping communities of relatively primitive, superstitious people around, as a kind of adaptive backup.
          The Amish are a popular group for this: in the event, say, the electrical grid is toasted by an EMP solar storm before the current overhaul is complete (A SCARY POSSIBLILITY), among the people least affected will be the Amish, and they will teach the more peaceful survivors of the collapse how to start over. Their faith is the ONLY motivation they have to remain in their lifestyle, and therefore is essential to their status as potential backups. So in evolutionary terms, delusion can’t always be called a bad thing.

          • Glenn-o-matic

            History is filled with examples like Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan, (or take your pick from thousands of others.)
            It never fails to fascinate me how many of those mover and shakers could have been delusional but lucky to be in the right place at the right time.
            It also really brings into question the entire idea of religion and belief in the supernatural.
            No one will ever know how much of human history is due to false ideas and beliefs due to violent, irrational and paranoid humans, who, as far as they knew were completely normal.

    • Lauren

      I thought originally he was just very depressed too, and maybe he crushed the medicine because they weren’t helping/he didn’t WANT to take anything that would make him keep living.

      But the medicine crushing was really suspicious something else was going on–I would never even dream of smashing mine, ever, even at my worst moments. People just don’t react that way to antidepressants. Antipsychotics, however, have a host of nasty side effects that make a lot of people reject them: they often stop the hallucinations but fail to treat, or even worsen, negative symptoms of psychotic disorders. Sometimes people (like Mike, apparently) would prefer to deal with the full brunt of their mental illness than be “treated” by antipsychotics.

      It’s actually a big relief to know what exactly he’s dealing with… I don’t think he is a danger to Bex right now, only to himself. I still think he is really just using her as an excuse to die in a place where no one would ever find him, but I don’t think he plans to take her down with him. He wants her to tell her kids about this trip, after all. The only time he’s smiled is after she promised him she would.

      As an aside, now that Mike’s issues are out in the open, I just wanna say how great the title is. It’s not just referring to the cave… MI is a story about a dude suffering with an MI.

      • Asterai

        One more layer to the title – “The Sea Inside” (“El Mar Adentro”) is a Spanish-language film about a man who wants to end his life with dignity via euthanasia.

      • Oly

        It was GREAT reading you explaining this – I always struggle to explain it, and lose my temper sometimes, and people think that “bad medication” is some sort of movie cliche or some kind of stupid manifestation of pride or something and don’t realise that different types of medications are different. Antipsychotics can be vile, no other word for it.

        • Lauren

          I consider myself really, really fortunate that the first medicine I tried worked for me–I know people who have been searching for a decade for something that helps them and haven’t found it yet. And as much as I’d like to say it was because the doctor who prescribed it to me was good… it was really just pure luck. The problem with diagnosing & treating MI is that even if you have a competent doctor and access to good therapy, it’s rare to have equipment that can tell you exactly what is going on in your brain. It’s possible to “see” depression or OCD or schizophrenia in an MRI, but MRI scans for every patient is prohibitively time-consuming and expensive. So the only choice psychiatrists have at the moment is to listen well to their patients and try to find, sometimes by trial and error, what kind of drug works best for them. And it’s so stressful for patients to go through the process of finding a good doctor and experimenting with different drugs on top of being sick, it’s just too much for them to deal with. All of that, and the medication you get isn’t even a cure. You’re gonna be on that pill for the rest of your life, maybe. These sorts of problems are things a lot of people are familiar with… when it comes to dealing with physical illnesses, particularly autoimmune disorders. When someone doesn’t really get what mentally ill people have to go through for help I usually compare it to celiac disease since it’s something most people are aware of nowadays, or Crohn’s disease or lupus if I’m up to explaining what those are. Those patients have to be on lifelong medication too, which can have very bad side effects of their own. People tend to see it in a different light if they can relate it to what they think of as a physical illness.

          As for antipsychotics, specifically: my hope for the future is that we will find something more effective and Mare Internum will be anachronistic as hell by the real 2084 :P The new generation antipsychotics tend to have less severe side effects than the old, but they’re still not that effective at fixing what most patients consider the worst part of their illness, i.e. the negative symptoms. There’s got to be something better out there.

          • Oly

            Uh, you probably misunderstood me – I mean it’s great you wrote this because it might be helpful to someone else but I’m one of “those people” and I know what you’re talking about and right now I’m really NOT looking forward to going back to my old doctor and my old medication(s) after a break and suspecting I won’t be able to avoid that for much longer so… it’s really ironic, all of it. But reading someone understanding these situations instead of the usual “you should suck it up and eat your meds!!” was good. This is what I was trying to say but I didn’t want to make it y’know, attention-seeking. This place isn’t about me and I don’t need advice but it was cool seeing someone else understanding it.

          • shingworks

            That’s a great explanation. I have some writing notes comparing mental illness to Crohn’s, I’m glad you think it is an apt metaphor… I think it does a good job of communicating the pervasiveness of the disease and the constant toll it takes on a person trying to go through “everyday” functions that able persons might take for granted… To say nothing of the medication issue which can be a terrible burden of its own.

            In the comic yeah it is the same “hope this one works” process that is used today, I also hope that system improves by then IRL!

          • Ryan Schneider

            I am convinced that a lot of secondary physical issues are contributing factors, but mainstream medicine only addresses overt brain poisoning, like lead. What about, say, the diabetes connection? It stands to reason that sugar problems in the brain might cause…visions.

          • Lauren

            This comment thread is old by now, and I’m not sure how to reply individually to people (can I?) but I’m gonna anyway in case anybody’s still checking:

            @Oly: Sorry, I started rambling… I just kinda figured that anybody reading it can go on wikipedia and look at the list of side effects for any given antipsychotic, but they might not know about the whole song and dance you got to go through just to get one that you just have to HOPE will work this time and its side effects won’t outweigh the good it might do. The entire process just sucks in every respect. I hope things start going well for you eventually, you have my fullest sympathies/empathies. :( I’m also sorry if I hurt you with “those people,” I was trying to keep it general… I can’t say “you” because I don’t know your story and I wouldn’t want to put words in your mouth. I didn’t mean to single you out.

            @Shing: I think we might have the same educational background, so I guess it makes sense we might come to a similar conclusion! I really appreciate what you’re doing with this story and all the work you’ve put into it. Mike’s a jerk and it’s set in space but to anybody who knows what it’s like to be stuck neck-deep in the bog, I think it would be hard not to empathise with him. It’s just a really, really good story and he and Bex are really, really good characters.

            @Ryan: Well, psychotic disorders can happen for many reasons, but there is usually a heavy genetic factor to them. Antipsychotics actually target one of two transmitters in the brain which, at this point in time, we think might cause psychotic symptoms: dopamine and glutamate. I think when you talk about “sugars” you’re talking about the glutamate hypothesis. I think it is possible, but far from confirmed, that diabetes might worsen psychotic symptoms, and/or that people with specific genetic mutations of a glutamate receptor might have a poor prognosis compared to people who don’t. Schizophrenia is really complex genetically, and we still don’t have a complete picture of what it is and what can cause it–and there are probably lots of causative factors. Like a lot of mental illnesses, we can only base a diagnosis based on the behaviour we see and what the patients feel at this point in time. We can’t see the root of the problem and can only make educated guesses about what will work. It is definitely not as simple as “overt brain poisoning”–we know how to fix lead poisoning! We have treatments available and we know the root cause (lead). Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. are very different than a poisoning situation.

            If controlling diabetes also controls psychosis in your friend I am really happy about that. But we also have to consider that most people develop diabetes later in life (middle-to-old age) than schizophrenia (early adulthood), and that most people with diabetes never develop psychotic symptoms. Also, there’s the problem of first generation antipsychotics, which can increase the risk of a person developing diabetes as one of their many nasty side effects. As far as I know (I could be wrong) type 1 diabetes, which you can develop very young, does not have much of a connection with schizophrenia at all. There are correlations between diabetes and schizophrenia, but correlation doesn’t equal causation, and we have to remember that diabetes and poverty are also correlated, and so are mental illness (especially schizophrenia) and poverty. Special diets for controlling diabetes will obviously help people with diabetes, and might help people who have a genetic susceptibility to both control symptoms of their mental illness. But I don’t think it will help if the person is not diabetic to begin with, or has a type of schizophrenia that is not genetically linked to their diabetes. So, in conclusion: yes, it might help some people, but unfortunately not everyone suffering from mental illness has the same option. But the glutamate hypothesis (or more accurately, NDMA hypothesis, since that’s the glutamate receptor we’re concerned with) is relatively new and explains things the dopamine theory can’t, so we might see good things come from that in the future! People are working hard to help people struggling with these disorders and find better solutions, even though sometimes it might not seem like it.

  • Ryan Schneider

    Ok, I had thought a human could only love another human so intensely, and subsequently feel such loss. I am beginning to think now that Mike isn’t gay, but rather a robosexual, and is grieving the loss of his beloved.

  • DukeBG

    i’ve told you guys, he’s a real nutjob!
    and they’re out to get him, nowhere to hide, nowhere to hide… and now her, they’ve sent her to charm out everything!!11one

  • Jade

    holy crap…

  • pretty flacko

    Oh god…

  • GEEZ. the emotional intensity is phenomenally portrayed here – couldn’t help but feel taken aback at the rawness of this. You clearly did your homework with this comic – not just with the setting but with the characters, too.

    • also, something about the way he said ‘I came all the way out here for LEVi’ reminds me of bomb-disposal people in the military bonding with their bots to an unusual (and unexpected) degree… random thought, but just wondered if that was ever a topic you explored regarding LEVi.

      • shingworks

        I suppose you’ll find out at some point~

  • …well, putting the pill episode aside.

    this is Mars. Some 8 months away from Earth, with a travel zone every 2 years or so.

    Right now we don’t yet fully understand the mental stress of very long stays on the International Space Station. And it has an emergency pod that could (theoretically) get them back to Earth within a few days anytime if needed.
    Mars gotta be psychologically much, much worse for long term inhabitants.

    I think Michael didn’t need to be unstable to begin with, it may as well be something that could develop in anyone out there.

    Now how long has Michael been there ?
    I assume 10 years ago was when he started working on the LeVi system back on earth ; so at the very least he’s been there for 3 years + 6-8 months of travel.

    • Oh. Apparently, the minimal distance EarthMars actually seems to vary a lot on a 15 years cycle, in addition the 26 month) short cycle.

      • shingworks

        Yeah, it does. Most travel (in this comic) is limited to that peak once-every-26-month window though. Mike’s been on planet for nearly 4 years, and is supposed to be headed back to Intersection to wait out the last few months until the next big migration.

        • aah, thanks ! Was browsing the archives again to try to find dates ^^

        • Lennier

          Although if the work on the EmDrive pans out, trips to Mars will be a seasonal affair instead of half a year.
          One could also assume that if there is a steady flow of personel and materiael to and from Mars, the vessel that transits might be a permanent one with delivery shuttles (ala the ISV Venture Star from Avatar, but never stopping to loiter), rather than a series of cramped capsules.

    • Aha, found it.

      According to the glossary, he’s been up there since 2084
      And we’re in… ?

  • iowawa

    I can’t stop reading (and rereading, and rereading) this page. Wow.

  • Kittenears

    Oh, poor Mike. It’s devastating to feel so alone, especially when you suspect your own mind.

    • Being enclosed in spacesuit probably doesn’t help, either.

      • Kittenears

        It depends on the person, really. When things are very, very dark for me I prefer the smallest, darkest place I can find. I have, before, actually curled up in a blanket wedged in the corner between my wall and the bed.

        Alas, I don’t think the confinement helps Mike, though. Especially not with all the… bits that come with the typical space suit. Evironmental controls, radio, etc.

        Regardless of personal preferences, I’m really, really loving this comic so far. As someone who deals with depression and anxiety, having a protagonist who is suffering from mental illness portrayed in a realistic manner is amazing.

        I really hope I can buy a bound copy in the future.

  • Oh, this page feel so heavy. I am reading some comments that the pills earlier were probably not for depression and that was my first thought too.

    I also really enjoyed the incentive for this page. I am getting more and more amazed how much details and researches are placed into this project. I kind of wish you’d do more of these types of incentives! I think it’s neat knowing about concepts you explored for developing this martian environment. There was a detail that made me curious: what about the longwave signal is making it inadequate for transmitting data? All I got is stupid, uneducated guesses.

    • shingworks

      Haha, thank you! I’m glad you enjoy the researchy stuff, too bad it’s too dry for the comic.

      So I’m definitely not an expert by any means… I have a book about EMS I’m working my way through right now, although I do love the concepts and think it’s super interesting. As far as my understanding goes, info is transmitted through waves via modulation, which is linked to frequency. A wave with a high frequency has short cycles (like, the time it takes for the wave to return to it’s original position) so it’s frequency/ amplitude can be modulated faster than a wave with a low frequency. The increased speed means more information can be passed. However, rock absorbs high-frequency waves, which is why you can’t use a cellphone underground. The larger waves take a long time to complete a cycle relative to a higher frequency wave, so it would take a ton of time to get the info from point A to point B. People do use longwaves, however. If you look at the spectrum, at the low end you have baby monitors, walkie talkies, some radio, that kind of thing. At the other end you have UHF and VHF, which is like… cellphones and Wifi. In the comic/ future they’re using SHF, which is a technology that is starting to be utilized more heavily now… to be honest I am not sure how well it would work on Mars. A lot of waves (longwaves especially) use the ionosphere like a mirror to reflect to where it needs to go, or they use a satellite to bounce for them. Since Mars at this point doesn’t have an atmosphere or a ton of communication satellites, it might not actually work… That’s why I gave them a big antenna outside, and since the area is flat I’m assuming the signal can just be sent in a straight line from the Skylight to Devotion. Another issues is localized magnetic disturbances (Mars doesn’t have a planetary electromagnetic field either), which might mess with things even more. BUT LETS IGNORE THAT and pretend my stupid flying robot actually makes any sense, haha.

      • Vert

        The SHF range would probably work pretty well on Mars, given the general lack of interference and the fact that we’re already standardizing on parts of it (5Ghz). In fact, an emerging WiFi standard allowing for *very* high-speed communication runs on the 60GHz (EHF) range, which suffers from atmospheric attenuation, but reflects off of rock rather than being absorbed by it. In the thin Martian atmosphere, beaming down a long tunnel, *and* using repeaters? It would be perfect.

  • Ceceoh

    Oh, Bek, I hope your good at the “talk ’em down” tightrope.

  • Oly

    It’s a good page. And I was dreading to read the comments under it, for personal reasons, but they made me feel better. This isn’t easy, and “getting help” isn’t simple, and side-effects aren’t fun. I rarely see webcomic writers handling these themes well, and see readers responding to them maturely even less.

    • shingworks

      I have to agree with this wholeheartedly… I haven’t gotten a single content-trolling message, and overall the response has been very thoughtful and insightful. The same is mostly true for The Meek… I’m not kidding when I say my readers are the best.

  • Nony

    I really, really hope the “LOL INSANE SO DANGEROUS” comments stop here, or at the very least addressed as they should be — with a firm hand asking readers to please not harm other minorities in their offhand comments. And I really, really, really hope that this isn’t going to be another trope about how those with mental illness are ‘oh so dangerous’ when the statistical, scientific averages and research say that the mentally ill are mostly victims of violence, not the ones to actually commit violence — no more than alcohol or drug abusers are. I have a lot of faith in you, Shing, but I really hope you know what you’re doing here and you don’t just contribute to more stigma, shame and fear of the mentally ill, because that’s all I’m reading in the comments so far — how “Scary” and “Insane” (ableist language) Mike is isn’t going to make anyone who is mentally ill feel like they’re depicted in a fair light. :(

    • shingworks

      Well, the story has been scripted for several months now, and I have no intention of changing it. All I can ask is that readers realize that I have done my utmost to research and apply my knowledge and experience in a thoughtful way… And to realize that a single fiction story should not be used to represent a complex subject affecting millions of discreet individuals. I have and will continue to write stories responsibly. If my handling of the subject ever offends you, I definitely respect that, but I will not have my content policed by anyone. Nor is it my job to lecture… I’m just here to tell a specific story. As for other readers, you’re free to initiate discussions with them if you want, but I also agree that everyone has a personal responsibility as far as learning goes.

      Either way this narrative may not be going in the direction you expect so I guess we can wait and see.

      • Nony

        And everyone has a personal responsibility as far as depicting minorities goes. It would be irresponsible to post racist, anti-gay, etc. fear-mongering content as it is to post anti-mentally-ill, fear-mongering content. I’m not here to police your content, I’m here to say that you may deeply wound many individuals and that your story could be yet another long line in the ‘mentally ill people are violent’ tropes that we don’t need. I understand we don’t know what story is going to be happening YET, but considering how your comment was worded, I’m getting the impression that there IS going to be some problematic material and you don’t have any interest in talking about it or resolving it, or even learning from the people, scientists and countless researchers who know about it. You may have a lot invested in this story, but I’ll say that people with mental illness have a lot invested in OUR LIVES and we don’t deserve another negative depiction of ourselves. I wish you luck.

        • shingworks

          Hmm… You are making a lot of needlessly aggressive (and exclusionary) assumptions about me and my reason for making this comic. I have no idea what you’re basing your opinion on, but I do feel like I’m being pre-chastised for a problematic story you’re convinced I’ve already written. I think I’d rather be lectured over something I actually did, and not some anticipated slight.

          • Nony

            Actually, my original comment was just based on the comic and the comments attached to it, and I was just concerned for the content and pretty sad. I said I had faith in you, but you jumped in with something extremely defensive and dismissive to a minority group. Naturally, I assumed you were being defensive because you had something to be defensive about — my emphasis was on the fact that none of us know where the story is going YET, but your comment made it clear that you didn’t much care for being critiqued on the issue and that the burden of education was on individuals and not on you as a content creator. It sounds remarkably similar to what happened on Tumblr a few months ago wrt to a very racist comic being pointed out as racist, and the creators getting very upset about anyone speaking up about that fact. It’s extremely disheartening to hear it coming from you in this vein, regardless of whether the story itself has disagreeable content or not. I’m not lecturing you — or being aggressive, I’m simply disagreeing with what you’ve said so far. I don’t think the burden of education is up to the public if every single depiction of the mentally ill is a trope that you contribute to. I think it’s a content creator’s burden and one to correct if their media is being used in a problematic way, to depict minorities in a negative light, without any education on the subject to their readers. The comments you’ve gotten so far prove that the fear-mongering is already starting and it shows no sign of slowing, especially with your comment that you aren’t about to change your story if it is indeed problematic. I disagree with you wholeheartedly, but neither that in or of itself is aggressive or a lecture — it’s just a solid disagreement on your projected stance and the tone that the story might take, which would hurt and isolate a lot people.

            Being hurt as a minority — any minority — and standing up for yourself (especially in a rational, even-toned way, without threats or even curse words) isn’t ‘aggressive’ — it’s just what we have to do to be heard and to educate others. I’m happy if I’ve managed to educate some of your readers on the topic of mental illness, I would assume since you’re advocating education, you are too.

          • shingworks

            I’m defensive because you’re critiquing a story that doesn’t exist outside of your imagination. Feel free to critique my actual content at any time, I have 37 pages of it so far. Archive is on top. New pages Tues and Thurs.

            My opinion is that the burden of education lies on the group that stands to benefit from their privilege, not on the minority group. Expecting the oppressed to teach the oppressor on top of everything else is a shitty system. Feel free to disagree.

            As for me, I was a teacher. I know something about pedagogy. You want me to teach through… What. Policing my readers? I’m here to encourage discussion, that is how meaningful change is made. I will not censor or yell at people who are at a different stage of their education than I am. Unless they are clearly trolling, they have a place here to express themselves- including you. Feel free to run your own site however you want.

            As for you, you have the absolute right to stand up for yourself. But if you’re going to do it at me, on the site which exists solely due to the strength of my personal beliefs, without even considering for one second that you are not the final word on the subject, and certainly not the only “minority” voice in this conversation- then I have nothing more to say.

          • Ryan Schneider

            I think there should be a new term, “rumpling”, derived from “Rumplestiltskin”. Have you ever had a discussion with someone online who mostly seemed a proper conversationalist, but over time seemed to insert suspiciously troll-like elements into the give and take? I would call that rumpling, as Rumplestiltskin was a subtle manipulater and bully who only pretended to be a friend. The skilled ones can be hard to spot, as no one is completely immune to bias 100% of the time.

    • Oly

      With respect, and apologizing for butting in (I don’t think Shing needs defence here, especially not mine) and as another mentally ill person, I didn’t think comments were so bad – there are always some people saying “lol crazy” and thinking it’s funny or original but I noticed more thoughtful, sympathetic and understanding comments than I expected. I’m also anxious about where the story is going but I don’t think slapping wrists of readers is going to help – let people watch, let people think, and maybe they’ll learn, and they’ll learn faster if they aren’t shouted at in process. :) Educating someone always involves thinking, and not just replacing one notion with a more likeable one, for better or for worse.

      But honestly I just skipped over the “lol crazy” comments and read only the ones that actually expanded on why some people don’t like anti-psychotics – something many sources aiming to educate about mental illness fail to mention, by the way. Reading any comments online is always a gamble so I know I sometimes end up feeling frustrated and hurt too! :P

      • LameFox

        Speaking as yet another person who is mentally ill (this is such an expansive term, isn’t it?) I would just like to point out somewhat tangentially that it is possible to be one of those people making silly jokes about something not only as part of some healthy majority but even when it affects you personally and severely. Some of the sillier comments are the sort that I would make myself if I were more inclined to comment at all. Making light of serious things is a great relief to me. I treat life and all the problems that come with it exactly as seriously as I have to in order to survive, and I also treat them exactly as lightly and irreverently as I have to in order to survive. The more I act as if difficult or tragic things deserve this constant sombre gravity, the more I truly feel that way about them. Unfortunately it turns out there are rather a lot of them to go around and consequentially it is a really miserable and unpleasant way to exist. I wouldn’t recommend it.

        Of course, this doesn’t work for everyone. To a lot of people, treating serious things seriously is important. Doing otherwise might for instance make them feel that their suffering is being trivialized, as if one were saying ‘no, you’re just too weak to cope with it’ (and it doesn’t help that a lot of people really do seem to believe this). It’s kind of a difficult conflict to resolve. An appropriate situation for jokes and levity to some people—like the comment section on a webcomic’s site—might be a terrible place for others. I’m not going to pretend I have a way around that conflict. Mostly because I don’t think there really is one. I do think, however, that it’s worth bearing in mind that not everyone who doesn’t take something seriously, even in such a case that they’re not directly affected by it, is necessarily out to invalidate any difficulty you might personally have suffered. That few seconds of humour may well be making a world that contains some pretty terrible things that little bit easier for them to live in.

        PS – this isn’t directed at you as an accusation, you just happened to make me think of it.

        PPS – sorry for my punctuation it is beyond help.

        • 'ell's Belles

          Another mentally ill person here! I would agree with LameFox that while I struggle with Depression ever single day, I find that one of my best coping mechanisms is to find humor and levity in my life. Because, you know what? I spend too much of my time being sad already. So that’s why I’m not offended by “LOL CRAZY” comments, because laughter is a nervous reaction that then eventually gives relief to tension, which is what this particular situation needs.

          I will also say as far as the minority argument…MI is a story about one man’s struggle with mental illness, which, as we’ve discussed, is a huge umbrella term that described a variety of distinct illnesses. If shing were to portray ever single one of these, it would take her more than a lifetime. And, besides, I don’t think that Mike is getting violent here, I think that just being in this familiar place it dredging up memories that are difficult to handle with his condition. I know that I have had severe episodes most frequently in places and on days that have caused me pain in the past…I think at most he could become a danger to himself, but I do not think he will be violent towards Bex.

          On another note, I’m intrigued by the LEVI plot element. I suspect that something more than just Mike’s mental illness is going on here. Perhaps there is something else on Mars that is influencing LEVI, and Mike has not said anything because he would never be believed? I think that something is trying to contact him through the AI, but Mike thought he was hearing voices and hid LEVI in a cave system far enough away that he wouldn’t be able to hear them anymore. Maybe he brought Bex down her because he thinks she can help somehow, to get to the bottom of the mystery of who is trying to contact him through LEVI, or to at least get some closure.

          • aliens trying to contact humans throught LeVi ? I kinda like that theory.

          • Ryan Schneider

            On the page Mike decided not to hang himself, l posted a quote by one of Englands most legendary journalists, G.K. Chesterton. As a young man he suffered severe depression following the death of his sister and the aloof reactions his uppity construction family had about it. What was the meaning of life? He later found meaning with a vengeance, and became one of the most psychologically satisfied persons I have ever heard about, which makes his struggle with suicidal thought as a teen all the more amazing. He summed up his struggle with the poem I posted here with the kind of humor I think you are talking about. See Ballad of Suicide.

        • Oly

          Yeah, no, I get it (and didn’t see it as an accusation at all before I got to the point where you said it even). I think the trick with jokes that you always have to know the audience or at least the audience to be aware of what they came to see (kind of like with stand-up – I love Adam Hills and his disability-related skits, look him up on youtube, but I don’t expect people just wander in his shows while expecting to see a Broadway musical) – I joke about my own issues and mental health and disability in general in my own writing and with people I know closely but I try to phrase things more carefully when not “on home field”, if it makes sense. Like I probably would say at least something sarcastic about myself or my own characters having that huge metal breakdown with speech bubbles all over the place but it’s very different when it comes to Mike – a character of someone I don’t know, and followed by an audience I mostly don’t know either. Especially in text, no intonations, not enough context, how do we even communicate I just don’t know.

          But yeah, like you said, there’s no SINGLE solution and different people have different levels of comfort or something (sorry, I’m probably all over the place, this week has been a mess so going on about webcomics is about the only fun thing I get to do). Each writer can make decisions about what to write, each reader can make decision about what to read, comment section is a kind of grey area (I dunno about you but I read comment sections involuntarily half the time, or I wouldn’t be here now, haha).

          But the good thing about it all is that we got to discuss it all and maybe understand it better – all this wouldn’t happen if it wasn’t for this page and this comic. Cool, huh? :D

      • Ryan Schneider

        I wouldn’t even call “lol”ing a sensitive topic, whatever it is, trolling. It’s more like “pixing”, that is, annoying little bugs of no substance fluttering about. Just wave them away, and ignore them.

  • Glenn-o-matic

    Oh-oh. He’s pouring out his troubles at least, but there might be skid-marks in the short-term future.
    OK, what happened to him? Was it the isolation, stress, danger? Or is this just something that started when he was 12 years old and he’s been carefully hiding ever since?
    So LEVI was an “evil entity, used by those who wanted to control his thoughts?” That might be a good reason for getting it down somewhere deep and turning if off. But what he’s saying now isn’t the same as what happened to him then- only the rehashed and rationalized excuses. More story PLEASE!!!
    Also, thanks for the triple this week, (but I’m guessing that you really wanted to get to this part.)

    • shingworks

      Lol… That’s a good guess

    • Vert

      It’s also possible that turning it off (and/or killing it somehow) didn’t stop the messages. So either LEVi is transmitting to him from beyond death using technology Mike can’t fathom, or the messages are coming from somewhere else. Either possibility is terrifying for Mike; it’s a wonder he didn’t smash this older LEVi, too.

  • nandadevi

    Oh man, the pill crushing scene makes sense now.

    Man, idk if there is a canon diagnosis, but if it’s schizophrenia, poor Michael. That’s a hard one to struggle with. You can really feel the anxiety/frustration/fear all at once. Panel 4 shows, in particular I feel, how alone the poor guy feels.

    Hopefully he isn’t going to hurt himself in front of Bex. That last line is pretty ominous D:

    • Ryan Schneider

      It is not easy to hide even mild forms of conventional schizophrenia for very long these days, and by 2080, screening procedures for the space program will be beyond anything we have now. So, I have to guess that he is suffering from a new form of schizophrenia brought on specifically by the Martian environment, something they were unable to screen for as it is unprecedented. I had a friend with schizophrenia who showed me that it is rooted in different neuro-metabolic sugar processing dysfunctions, often, (but not exclusively) triggered by diabetes.
      In Mike’s case, since even a hint of prediabetes would have been caught early on earth, something unexpected about Mars and the artificial environment is likely triggering a sugar problem in his brain.

      • Vert

        Or it could be he was a stable individual who responded well to medication, and some accident rendered him without it for a short time. A common trope in fiction (and in at least 2 instances of reality that I can personally attest to) is that people who need medication for a mental problem often feel “better”, at least briefly, when they don’t take it, and so may be reluctant to start it up again. Even if he responded well to them in general, Mike probably feels like he started doing his best work once he got off the pills, and of course once they became available again he might not trust them any more.

        • Ryan Schneider

          Unless Mike has exceptionally powerful friends that helped cook his medical books to get him to Mars, (a possible twist), I just don’t see the screeners allowing him along, regardless of expertise. If the system is not corrupted somewhere, then Mike’s mind was pristine when he launched. So, really, the only possibilities are misguided nepotism (and maybe some blackmail), or something unprecedented about the environment on Mike’s particular physiology. Unless aliens are invading his brain, but I have a pretty good hunch that we aren’t going there.

          • Vert

            Remember, though… looking at his medical records was illegal. I suspect the future equivalent of medical privacy laws and equal opportunity employment kept him from being locked out as long as his problem was under control.

            If we follow Niven’s example of mental health laws in the future, then he’s now guilty of criminal negligence for any crimes he commits, as he was responsible for keeping his psychosis under control.

  • Jojo

    The lead up to this was perfect. It really does all come unhinged at once even though we saw it coming. Everything in this comic is so incredibly well thought out, from the colors, to the character quirks, to the overall plot and the pace at which the reader arrives at different points. I could see this being adapted into film one day. Truly incredible. Thank you for posting this.

    • shingworks

      And thank you for reading!

  • dream-piper

    Oh Boy!
    Saw this coming!
    Let the Feels Train begin…
    Can’t wait to see where this is going! Hopefully not to where I think it may lead!

  • Distraught~Sleep

    Must say, I am much more in love with this comic than I had initially anticipated- which is fantastic, of course.

    The characters are already so incredibly fleshed out and you’ve already established them as so much more than two-dimensional, web comic stereotypes. I think I appreciate this the most with Mike’s personality, especially considering how tempting it has seemed for some authors to portray psychological stresses and illnesses as a simple, constant state of being that never changes. At best, the character is bland and annoying to listen to, while at worst they are infuriating to a point, due to the blatant lack of understanding on the writer’s behalf.

    I think that is why I am so elated to see an already diverse spectrum of Fish’s emotions. Just like an actual person, he’s not defined by a single, arbitrary emotional state or disposition; instead- despite being definitively ‘insane’, as established by the earlier panel that he destroys his medication in- he has still shown various kinds and amplitudes of emotion that make him so much more than the “crazy guy.”

    Once again, loving it so far, Shing, and I can’t wait to see how the story develops!

    • fox-orian


  • Tod


  • Kass

    I bet the stress of living in an airless desert for 10 years made Mike have a psychotic episode. It reminds me of how my boyfriend’s best friend/college roommate had it happen to him at the end of a semester. He’s a fun, intelligent dude before and after, but for a couple weeks he thought God/the universe was beaming him instructions to attack people. Very odd.

  • nato

    “if there were two astronauts on the moon, and one astronaut killed the other one with a moon-rock or something, would that be fucked up or what?”

  • Ryan Schneider

    Bix in the last panel is an astounding mix of feelings, fear, compassion, huntress defensiveness, racing thoughts. Speaking as an asperges man, I am thankful to have artists like you around to help me expand my horizons in this way.

  • Gabe

    Just found this comic today. It always amazes me how I can keep up with over eighty webcomics on a daily basis but absolute gems like this comic can still elude me. This is excellent and I can’t wait for more of the evocative story, stunning artwork, and masterful grasp of pacing, framing, and composition.

  • The third panel really gets to me. Amazeballs.

    How did you come up to that position for the body?

    • shingworks

      Haha, I usually act out my scripts while writing them. After some trial-and-error I settled on that pose.

  • Lora

    This page is BRILLIANTLY executed. I’m just so in awe of your work. Wow. I could tell right away this comic had amazing potential but this page especially really seals the deal for me. Such powerful expressions. The way you’ve planted visual information and such, you got the sense that something like this was coming but it still is such a great payoff. Especially the ambiguity of not knowing yet whether or not there IS some conspiracy out there we don’t know about. I’m really invested in finding out.

    Not specific to this page, but I love that even the science banter in this comic is so well-informed-sounding, but not so overly technical so that we can’t follow it. The exposition flows so naturally – we learn all the details we need to by following the characters around (rather than getting bulk details on their scenario in tiny text from an omniscient disembodied narrator perspective or some such). I’m getting a bit long-winded here, so I’ll sum it up by saying just, great work. Thanks for sharing this comic with us :D

  • Siarles

    The incentive link seems to be broken.

    • shingworks

      Yeah, it’s not me, TWC is having issues on their end unfortunately.

  • ysucae

    So the physical “going down” was also the mental down for Mike. I like the parallel.

    • Patmoose

      Interesting. I hadn’t made the connection.

  • Borg

    I’d say something about antipsychotics working better if you actually take them, but I know better than to make premature assumptions about whether or not apparently paranoid ranting is actually incorrect.

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