New Hampshire

An Innovative Program Uses Cartooning as a Tool to Help Struggling Veterans

An innovative program embraces cartooning as a tool to help veterans heal from the wounds of war.

A partnership between the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in White River Junction, Vermont and the nearby Center for Cartoon Studies encourage veterans to communicate, comic book-style, in periodic classes and multi-day seminars.

“I've come a long way,” said U.S. Army veteran Mitzi Frazzetta, who served in the Iraq war and took part in a recent cartooning seminar.

Frazzetta said returning home to New Hampshire following her deployment overseas was really rough. She said she a suffered an injury after she was thrown from a vehicle that hit an improvised explosive device.

This month, the cartooning classes found her turning a new page: away from the illegal drugs and fears that had driven her in unhealthy directions.

“It was scary to put myself out there, because I was vulnerable,” Frazzetta said. “But it definitely helped me move past that moment in time, where I could go on and look to the future, and not be so stuck with the war.”

Frazzetta said she also has participated in other forms of recreational therapy through the VA facility, including a kayaking trip and rock-climbing.

Brooke Robinson Drew, a recreation therapist at the VA hospital in White River Junction, said she saw participants in the cartooning seminar start to open up about their challenges. Those struggles may include PTSD or traumatic memories, such as the loss of friends.

“Seeing it on paper, I think, gives them a lot of courage and strength when you share your story and are able to overcome them,” Robinson Drew said of participants’ personal struggles.

The instructors from The Center for Cartoon Studies, Kane Lynch and Kurt Shaffert, aimed to encourage honest and heartfelt communication rather than stressing technical mastery.

Lynch said the style of cartooning has an ability to convey emotions through simple drawings. Even a smiley face, he said, can effectively communicate a feeling.

“There is a direct emotional connection in a way there isn't with other mediums,” Lynch said of cartooning. “You can do a brilliant comic with a very simple drawing.”

The work of six vets is now part of the new comic “Meeting of the Minds! Soldiers’ Stories.”

In it, Mitzi Frazzetta documents her path from a drug arrest to sobriety—now more than 20 months clean.

“I’m very proud of this,” Frazzetta said of her experience with the project.

The VA Medical Center and the Center for Cartoon Studies invited the public to an open house Thursday, June 29 to celebrate the release of the new comic. The reception is at 3:00 p.m. in the lobby of Building 1 at the VA hospital complex in White River Junction.

Next up for the partnership, the VA Medical Center said, is a grant-funded workbook for veterans on using comics as a coping skill. That is due out early next year.

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