Beth Evans has been posting comics online for a few years now. In the comics, which range in length, she uses a fairly simple style to tackle anxiety and depression in ways that range from the strange to the funny to the disturbingly true.
Evans’ first book, I Really Didn’t Think This Through: Tales From My So-Called Adult Life came out this month. The book is part memoir and part self help guide, part comics and part prose, Evans talks in depth about her own life and details her struggles with mental illness and ways to cope and find stability.
How did you come to comics?
I had been doing drawings and illustrations of TV shows and movies and I was putting them on Tumblr. I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do about college at the time. I was in community college and I had gone to a portfolio review. One of the admissions officers at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago asked, have you tried doing comics? I had never thought to do that. I started doing it and posting them online and it took off from there.
You make this combination of single panel comics, longer essays pieces and when you started, what were you trying to do in those initial comics?
I had no idea at all. I’m very much the kind of person where I keep trying and hope it sticks.
Did you have a model for what you were trying to do?
I think my biggest model is Life in Hell by Matt Groening. It was a really biting, sarcastic look at life and things not going right. It was in black and white, which appealed very much to me. I think that was probably the biggest influence just because you find so much humor in things not going right.
That’s interesting. I don’t think Life in Hell would have occurred to me as an obvious influence but how you describe it, finding humor in things not going right, is very true of the strip and of your work.
Sometimes people will see my stuff and be like you must be into stuff I’ve never even heard of. It’s interesting that people take different stuff from it.
You make very personal work, it’s about your life and experiences, but you’re not making diary comics.
Right. The big thing I’ve tried to do with my work is not necessarily to write about experiences, but more the emotions that go with it. Not everyone can relate to X problem you had, but they can relate to the feeling you had from X problem.
Was it easier for you to talk about the feeling of anxiety as opposed to what was causing it?
Probably, yeah. When I started doing this I wasn’t seeing a therapist at the time. [laughs] This was definitely an emotional outlet.
As you’ve been doing this for a few years, has your understanding of your own mental illness and how to communicate it changed?
I guess so. Some of the stuff isn’t as scary to talk about with people in my own life anymore. I think I’m more likely to speak up if I feel like things are headed on a downward trajectory. I’m willing to do things to make things better a bit earlier rather than waiting until things are in shambles. I think it’s helped, in that sense. I’m better at recognizing signs that things aren’t going right.
The book is part memoir, part self help guide, part comics, part prose. Where did the book came from?
I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do with the book. The title was what I saved the draft document as. I never came up with a proper title. [laughs] I always struggled with writing in school. I never thought of myself as a good writer. Writing was a challenge, but my editor really helped me with that. I tried to reflect on what was the time in my life I needed help the most and I think that bridge between high school and college was just pure hell. I really wanted to speak to that time when I felt like no one understood. You’re not quite a full adult yet, and you’re depressed, and you’ve got anxiety and all this stuff is going on. I tried to go from there and talk about those experiences.
It’s funny that’s how the book got its title because it doesn’t really refer to anything – except maybe making a book.
[laughs] Yeah. I just felt so “deer in the headlights” about it. I had never made a book before and the entire time I just kept thinking, what have I gotten myself into? Can I actually do this? Will it all be okay? Like I said, the title was just what I saved the word document as. They were like, that’s a great title. I was like, okay, cool.
But from the start your editor and publisher wanted the book to not just be comics.
Yeah and I was surprised about that because all I could think of was how much I needed extra help in high school with writing. I was like oh my god what if I can’t do this? What if it’s terrible? It was pretty scary.
Your initial thought was that the book would collect your comics, maybe you’d make some more. Something along those lines?
Yeah, but at the end of the day I’m really glad that everyone pushed me to try something different. It was a really good experience and I don’t feel quite as doubting as the writing. Obviously everyone is going to read it and have their own thoughts on it, but I don’t feel as worried. It’s done, it’s out there, I did what I could.
How do you draw the comics in the book?
I just use sharpies and paper. I don’t draft, I just go all in. I hated those classes in high school where you had to draw something five times in pencil before you could ink it. I just go straight to inking now. [laughs] It’s nothing fancy. No extensive operation. No tablets or anything of that. I wouldn’t know what to do with a tablet if you gave it to me. It is what it is and it seems to work so I’m not going to question it.
You’re trying to capture something direct and unfiltered.
I think the comic is very much me. I’m a very bad liar. I feel like when I’m not honest in my work, it’s just garbage. I think I’m pretty transparent. The reason it’s in black and white is because I did these full watercolor comics a couple years ago but it’s much faster just to do it in black and white with pen. I think that’s just more from a pure laziness standpoint. I was doing really in depth things with lots of linework and inking, full color, and layers, and taking days at a time.
Now that your book is finally out in world, are you thinking about wanting to do something else, or more of this?
That’s a really, really good question because people in my real life ask me that all the time. I still feel pretty “deer in the headlights” about it. I’m just taking things as they come. I don’t really know. I’m just trying to be open to everything right now and just keep moving forward and see what happens.
I’m writing now more than I ever have in my life. I never thought to do it because I never thought I was any good at it, so I never really tried. I just sat down and I worked on a fiction thing for my own amusement. I wrote stories. I’m writing just because I feel like it. Now I highly doubt anything ever happens with it, because I’m still pretty secretive and afraid to show anyone. I know that’s crazy to say, but I’m still so worried about being critiqued. But right now I’m just doing stuff because I want to do it, not because I need to post it online and get validation form people. It just feels like fun.
I know that you’re a fan so I have to ask, any thoughts on Eurovision this year?
I had a bunch of friends over for a viewing party. Everyone was completely split on who should win. At the end I was really rooting for Austria because I have friends there and it would have been really easy to go next year and stay at their apartment. [laughs] It was a tossup of a year. It really could have gone to anyone. I don’t think we’ve seen that much division between the jury and televote since 2011 – which I’m still bitter about! It was really down to the wire this year. My unattainable dream is to do the commentary on television one day. I have the whole thing worked on what I would say, with just the right amount of sarcastic humor. I’ve really thought about this over the years. [laughs]
So last words. What’s your pitch for the book?
If you like my stuff, maybe you’ll like the book, too. What do I even say? I’m not a salesperson. Just the fact that I feel okay about people reading it now that it’s out is great. I don’t know. Please buy it if you feel like it. I appreciate it.