A TRIP TO THE ASYLUM’s Cycle of Trauma
By Jean Chen ∥ Translated by Joshua Dyer
Dec 21, 2021

(This article is a condensed version of one originally published at Fountain.org.tw.: https://www.fountain.org.tw/tag/mind/article/a-trip-to-asylum-by-pam-pam-liu)

A Trip to the Asylum is the first full-length graphic novel from artist Pam Pam. It is her attempt to explain reality through fictional characters. The idea for the story had been percolating in her mind over ten years of working on original comics, during which she built up her confidence that she could do this story justice in graphic novel form. The seed of the graphic novel consisted of a single sentence: “The whole world is your asylum.”

Pam Pam relates, “Sometimes I feel that all of the so-called ‘normal’ people who get societal recognition are actually far more messed-up than those who get labeled with a diagnosis, to the point that the ‘normal’ people are actually the source of other peoples’ mental illnesses.” Told in 15 chapters/336 pages, the story begins when a little girl’s uncle enters a psychiatric care facility for treatment, and ends when he finally leaves. The man who has undergone “treatment” at the facility emerges as someone who still looks like her uncle, but also doesn’t seem like her uncle anymore.



During his “trip to the asylum” the uncle encounters a diverse cast of characters. Number One has an overblown self-image, Little Yu is kind and definitely crazy, and long-haired, sweetly charming Ting-ting is hiding a big secret, but in each of them we also recognize ourselves, each wound-laden heart wrapped in layer upon layer of memory. As expected, Pam Pam skillfully laces these harsh realities with offbeat humor, helping readers understand the ways we are all shaped by childhood trauma.

A reading of The Body Keeps the Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma provided both the needed knowledge-base and motivation to complete this graphic novel. The little girl witnesses the way her uncle turned violent whenever things didn’t go his way. But does that mean she will repeat the same pattern of violence in some future moment when she is pushed to the breaking point? Our psychological traumas are remembered in the body and childhood wounds remain embedded in the psyche.



At what point does the heart turn cold? When does it become overburdened with the scars it bears? A Trip to the Asylum dispenses with preaching, instead patiently unveiling the inner world of the so-called “insane” through humorous stories and wry observations of their inter-personal interactions. Along the way we are forced to question, are those who appear normal truly normal? In a world where violence begets violence, none of us can avoid trauma, nor can we avoid passing that hurt on to others. So, in the end, what standard is there to judge who is sane, and who is not?



Read more:
- Pam Pam Liu: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/authors_info.php?id=344
- A Trip to the Asylum: https://booksfromtaiwan.tw/books_info.php?id=389