Sweaty Palms promotional image (courtesy of the editors, Coffey and Enright)
When I joined Geeks OUT! I immediately thought I want to tackle issues in the gay geek community that might be largely untouched, mainly behavioral health and mental illness. I was elated when I found out back in May at Chicago's Token 3 that comic creators Sage Coffey and Liz Enright have been compiling an autobiographical anthology zine titled Sweaty Palms that deals directly with issues of anxiety. Being an anxiety sufferer myself, I have been greatly anticipating this new work with over 50(!) contributing creators. It is an impressive feat of representation for an oft taboo subject matter.
Tomorrow, August 17th, Sweaty Palms launches its Kickstarter, which they have created a Facebook event page for. Check out the Sweaty Palms Tumblr. Look over the list of contributors which includes alt-comics favorite and queer ally Kevin Budnik as well as queer Afro-Cuban writer, illustrator, and cartoonist Joamette Gil. They have even produced a brief teaser trailer here. Consider backing this Kickstarter tomorrow when it goes live!
Enright and Coffey (photo courtesy of the editors)
I reached out to editors Coffey and Enright with some questions, à la my 7 Questions format, and here's what they had to offer along with some preview pages:
1: Can you discuss your struggles that brought you to create this anthology?
Coffey: I actually used to be pretty in denial about my anxiety. I'd just smile and pretend everything was okay because if I wasn't the happiest person I dreaded no one would want to be my friend. I remember when I first started therapy recently I had told an acquaintance (I was proud of myself! Seeking help isn't easy) and he said, "What are you, crazy now?" Those fears were coming up again. The conception of the idea [for Sweaty Palms] sprung up the night of a "work-party" with Liz. Liz saw me walking to her place when there is a bus stop right in front of her apartment and asked why I was walking. I pulled the cord too early and the bus was crowded enough for me to fear departing on a later stop. I felt all of them staring at me and started to panic, so I just got off that stop and walked the rest of the way. After that we tossed around some ideas for the anthology but overall, we landed on Sweaty Palms based on what was going on with both of us at the time.
Enright: Mental illness exists on both sides of the family and I recall feeling anxiety from a pretty young age. My childhood was tumultuous at times and instead of dealing with the issues head-on I’d withdraw from others and take a pen to paper. Making comics played a huge role in how I coped with my anxiety because for long stretches of time I could get lost in the fiction. Drawing compulsively also provided me with a sense of control over my life. The idea for the anthology came at a time when I was probably feeling my lowest. Last year I lost my dad just weeks before starting grad school. I tried burying myself in my work instead of just being honest with myself and riding the wave of grief. Inviting Sage over for a “work party” was my idea of compromise. It wasn’t quite work and it wasn’t quite a hangout, but it was a step in the right direction. We casually discussed the idea of collaborating on an anthology and tossed around ideas like “bad first dates” and “sitcoms.” Once we started catching up it became crystal-clear that opening up about our anxiety was not only empowering, it had the potential to be meaningful to a large number of people.
Preview page by Rachel Ordway (image courtesy of the editors)
2: What were conversations with contributors like?
C: I'd say conversations are very casual with contributors. It's important to be supportive as an editor, especially with such a hard, personal topic to share. These aren't just names on pencils drawing on paper, the contributors are people who've lived everything you're going to read in the anthology. They're so brave for telling their stories. It was very important to me that me and Liz be involved and supportive with the contributors, opening up communication not just for work but to talk personal stuff out if they needed us.
E: It was pretty daunting to be working with so many fantastic artists! Sage and I really lucked out with how generous and supportive each and every contributor has been. Their willingness to be so honest and open has resulted in a deeply moving body of work. We communicated from the start that we wanted to help them tell the best version of their stories. The integrity of those memories needed to be intact. Our job as editors was to help them achieve the level of impact they were aiming for.
Preview page by Justé Urbonaviciute (image courtesy of the editors)
3: Why do you feel the graphic storytelling medium is well suited to exploring a polarizing issue such as anxiety?
C: Sometimes the words to describe how you're feeling don't exist proper and comics provides an alternative to that. You can draw exactly what you're feeling without having to try and articulate what you're going through with words. I also feel the process of creating it is therapeutic but that varies artist to artist.
E: From a visual artist’s standpoint I completely understand how it’s easier to show rather than talk about something as painful as anxiety. It’s therapeutic to give a face to something so abstract. Sometimes the exercise of visualizing internal feelings can spark self-discovery. I was totally stumped when it came time to thumbnail my own story for the book so I cracked open a sketchbook and doodled away. Those drawings helped me find the connective tissue my story had been missing in order to define what it was truly about.
4: Is there anything in comics that you can compare Sweaty Palms to?
C: There isn't much that comes to mind. Maybe Deep Dark Fears by Frank Krause. Krause illustrates other peoples' fears that are anonymously submitted to him via tumblr, email, what have you. They're beautiful watercolor strips and I highly recommend you check them out. I can't really think of anything with such a range of voices all sharing their own personal experiences with mental health like what we have in Sweaty Palms.
E: I recently came across a fantastic anthology called Cringe (which I highly recommend!) The editor Peter Conrad did a stellar job of picking stories that reflected moments of extreme embarrassment, which is arguably a cousin of anxiety. I think the glaring difference is that embarrassment can be isolated and brief while anxiety can be long-standing and unrelenting, but there’s definitely some crossover.
Preview page by Kevin Budnik (image courtesy of the editors)
5: Can you discuss where else you've seen anxiety explored in comics?
C: Sea Urchin by Laura Knetzger is a favorite of mine. Laura explores her own anxiety in a really simplistic but meaningful way discussing the person it's shaped her into. Extreme bouts of anxiety can drastically change a person and she really captures what the process of yearning for who you used to be is like and its eventual transition into accepting yourself.
E: To my knowledge anxiety is most often explored in autobiographical works. An instant favorite is Kevin Budnik’s graphic memoir Handbook, which follows his experiences as a young man living with anxiety and disordered eating. An example from fiction is David B’s graphic novel Black Paths, which takes place in the city-state of Fiume in the years following World War I. The character Lauriano is haunted by his time in the trenches and constantly treads the line between a dream-like state and reality. His fears and irrepressible feelings of guilt take a toll on his relationships with his close friends and lover.
6: What do you hope to say to those suffering from anxiety that they might not already know?
C: It's okay to feel not okay sometimes.
E: If there’s one thing I’ve learned in the last quarter of a century it’s this: It is okay to ask for help. Nobody gets through this life without feeling their fair share of vulnerability.
7: What are plans for future installments?
C: Hopefully! We've received a ton of support and even questions about a second volume from folks on social media too! We'd absolutely love to do a second one.
E: We’d love to organize Sweaty Palms Volume 2. The amount of interest spurred by the project gives us hope that others think there's as much a need for stories on the topic as we do. If this Kickstarter is successful it's a go! We’ll just have to wait and see!
Preview page by Miranda Harmon (image courtesy of the editors)