RACINE — Tony Kinnard communicates with the world through art.

So when the 27-year-old comic book artist wanted to share what it really means to suffer from mental illness, he turned to his pen and gave Mike Boticki, executive director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County, a call.

Having learned how to cope with his own combination of depression and social anxiety — and having seen friends struggle with illnesses likes bipolar disorder — he wanted to shed light on the struggles of those with mental illness.

Kinnard, who’s from Burlington and has been involved in NAMI support groups, also wanted to make sure kids who might be struggling with mental illness know help is available.

He knew a comic book was the way to get those messages across.

He decided Mischa, a counterculture college girl in her early 20s, would be the character best suited to tell the tale of a young person struggling with mental illness.

In the beginning of the comic book, Mischa finds herself overcome by her illness. Drawn to bad behaviors, she uses drugs to numb the pain. But as the comic book pages turn, she finds help and ends up going to college.

Boticki said when Kinnard contacted him about getting the comic book published and distributed to local schools, both men thought it could be good way to reduce the stigma around mental illness.

“Anybody can have a mental illness and there are some people who have learned to live successfully with it,” Kinnard said. “I wanted to emphasize that if you yourself have a mental illness, you shouldn’t feel ashamed about it. You should know you are not alone.”

On Wednesday, seated in a conference room at the NAMI-Racine County office, 2300 DeKoven Ave., Boticki said he thought Kinnard did a good job of telling the story of mental illness, especially when it came to the struggles youth experience, such as the yearning for acceptance.

“Most teens appreciate comics and I think teens also learn when they can identify with an adult who has been there before,” Boticki said. “It is a personal means of connecting with teens.”

NAMI-Racine County volunteer grant writer Madeline Carrera has applied for a $10,000 grant to get the comic book published. If NAMI gets the grant, the money would pay for 5,000 copies of the comic book to be printed and distributed to high schools.

Boticki said he would love to have “Tony co-present the book” at various schools and “possibly tell a part of his story.”

NAMI-Racine County should know by some time early next year if it has received the grant. If it does, the nonprofit’s leaders hope to get the comic book into schools by fall of the 2014 school year.

Although his main hope is to help kids with mental illness, Kinnard said he also hopes the comic dispels stereotypes that paint the mentally ill as being dangerous or mass murderers.

“I want somebody like Mischa to be the face of mental illness,” he said, “Not everybody with a mental illness is going to shoot up a movie theater.”

Existing mental illness help for youth

While the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Racine County is still waiting to see if it will get the grant dollars it needs to print and distribute Tony Kinnard’s comic book, Executive Director Mike Boticki said young people seeking help with or insight into mental illness are encouraged to attend the nonprofit’s Teen Talk Support group, which meets twice a month in Racine.

What: Teen Talk Support Group

When: 4 p.m. on the first and third Wednesday of every month.

Where: NAMI-Racine County, 2300 DeKoven Ave. in Racine.

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