Shawn Coss Creates Creepy Drawings of Mental Health Conditions for Inktober

Every October, artists from around the world challenge themselves, as part of “Inktober,” to create one ink-based illustration for each day of the month. When deciding what to draw this year, Shawn Coss, an Ohio-based illustrator known for his work on the “Cyanide and Happiness” webcomics, turned to his fans for suggestions.

“I was asking my fans for suggestions since last year I did characters from ‘Nightmare Before Christmas,’ and someone mentioned [mental] illnesses as an idea.” Coss thought the request over, ultimately deciding to commit to drawing one mental health condition per day.

Creepy illustration of bipolar disorder featuring a skeleton like man on his knees shrieking in pain with another creepy figure crouched on his back.

“I have a medical background that has given me some firsthand experiences with some of the more severe and dangerous illnesses and disorders, but I myself am not formally diagnosed with any illness,” Coss told The Mighty. “But I believe that there’s far more undiagnosed out there than diagnosed. Like Cheshire Cat said, ‘We’re all mad.’”

Image of creepy figure staring at an ominous door.

Coss researches two to three conditions at a time, taking an hour to learn about each batch of conditions he plans on drawing. “I’ll start focusing on the symptoms and kind of plan out the concept I want initially,” he said. “Afterwards I’ll start toying with basic figure poses and try to find the most dynamic that will help tell the story of that chosen illness.” Many of his drawing is done over Facebook Live, he said, as he loves being able to interact with his fans.

So far, Coss said, the feedback has blown him away. “Wow this is perfect,” a woman with borderline personality disorder (BPD) commented on the BPD drawing Coss posted on Facebook. “I’ve been suffering with BPD for a while and couldn’t really draw what I felt. What I wanted people to understand. You captured that in black and white. Thank you.”

“People from all over the world have reached out to me to let me know how much the art means to them, and it’s overwhelming hearing some of the heart breaking stories they tell me,” Coss said.

Woman with two skeleton-like ghosts floating around her

His work has faced critique too.

Controversies sparked over the way he’s illustrated obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and schizophrenia, as well as his choice to include autism spectrum disorder in the series.

Coss defended his decision to include autism – which is a neurological difference and not an illness – referencing the way people with autism were treated decades ago. “What many seem to forget is back before we had a lot of these neurological discoveries is that children with autism were considered sick in the head and shipped off to psych wards to undergo treatment,” he said.


Coss has also been critiqued for featuring the words “clean, clean, clean” in his drawing of OCD. “With OCD, people jumped on me about the whole cleaning portrayal, stating it’s not what it’s always about,” he said, noting the misconception that all people with OCD have a compulsive need to clean. “I agree, but when you have one image to portray a wide spectrum of symptoms, I wanted to use one that people commonly associate OCD with.”

Illustration of OCD, Creepy figure scratching at chest saying "clean, clean, clean"

Once October is over, Coss plans on turning all of his mental-illness-inspired illustrations into a book, which he hopes to have available for Mental Health Awareness month in May. In the meantime, all of Coss’s Inktober illustrations will be available for purchase on his website at the end of the month.

creature illustrating major depressive disorder, looks like he is on the floor almost melting in pain.

You can see more illustrations and view the rest of the series on Coss’s Facebook page.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

a woman with a tear running down her face

What We Can't Forget When We Praise People Who Hide Their Feelings

I feel like there’s this huge misconception that sharing your feelings makes you weak, and holding everything in makes you strong. I’m sorry, but I have to disagree. I’m not saying if you’re someone who keeps your emotions and thoughts inside you’re not strong. Rather, I’m saying there’s nothing wrong with sharing how you feel. I’ve heard it before, and [...]
group of people walking towards light

The Most Distressing Part of My Life With Mental Illness

Most people know what it’s like to feel isolated. At some point in our lives, nearly all of us have felt alone, left out or not included. For many people, this is a temporary feeling or something they have experienced in specific situations. For somebody with mental health problems, the feeling of being isolated may [...]
woman writing in a notebook

To My Family and Friends Feeling Alone in Mental Illness

There was moment back in February when I was sitting in a conference meeting in Houston, Texas. I remember the keynote speaker making a statement that has stuck with me ever since. He said, “There are things in this world we are passionate about. Things we want to change. What is your passion?” The first [...]

How Therapy Helped Me Transition to College

When dealing with a mental illness, one of the hardest things to do can be asking for help. Specifically, a teenager with anxiety can find it especially hard to ask his or her parents for help. That was me a few months ago. Actually, it still is me. But now as a college student, I [...]