Terian Koscik on When Anxiety Attacks

Comic book creator Terian Koscik has sent over a holographic message from Oregon explaining the background of her graphic memoir, When Anxiety Attacks.

The book depicts Koscik’s personal struggle with generalised Anxiety disorder and her decision to speak to a therapist about what was going on.

Playfully serious and seriously playful, When Anxiety Attacks uses cartoon and colour to visualise the sufferer’s spectrum of emotions, balancing chaos and calm to find a humour that is so often lost to fear.

Get to know Koscik and her cat below and be sure to read our full review of When Anxiety Attacks.

Steff Humm: What’s your cat’s name and why is it “the best”?

Terian Koscik: I’m so glad this is the first question you asked! My cat’s name is Unix and she’s finest cat I’ve ever known. She is extremely large and demands regular hugs. She is also somehow both very filthy and very refined. I like to imagine her as a human child wearing elaborate petticoats but also covered in chocolate ice cream.

SH: Can you tell us a bit about your background in comics? What inspires your art?

TK: I grew up obsessed with newspaper comic strips and manga. They’re quite different, but I love how both kinds of comics try to convey the most information and feeling in the simplest way. On good days I think I have a style that resembles a mutated combination of Calvin and Hobbes and Ranma 1/2.


SH: How did When Anxiety Attacks come about?

TK: I got a degree in comics in 2013, and after that was doing a lot of small pieces while looking for something bigger to work on (in between walking back and forth to the pharmacy and all that).

My stepmother is a therapist, and she heard from other therapist folks that Jessica Kingsley Publishers was looking for comics submissions. I thought it was a really cool idea for a publisher focused on mental health topics to be printing comic books.

At first I wasn’t sure I was qualified to write for them since a lot of their authors are super accomplished mental health professionals. I thought a lot about what I could write that would be meaningful for other people, and realised that I really could have used a book that talked about going to therapy in a lighthearted way when I was deciding how I felt about it.

SH: The comic is your own story about coping with the condition. What was it like to approach it from such a personal point of view? Did you ever consider creating fictionalised version?

TK: Finding the right balance of fiction and non-fiction was one of the hardest parts of working on this story. Part of it was that I was writing about real people who I still talk to and who are among the best people I know, and I really didn’t want to portray them in a way that would make them uncomfortable. I also wanted to make sure that I conveyed the right tone of “this stuff is serious, but you can still laugh at it.” So all of that together resulted in some omissions and some alterations of actual reality.


SH: You describe the book as being about “having Anxiety and feeling ridiculous about it”. How does your natural inclination towards humour affect the way you manage your condition?

TK: I don’t think I am capable of existing without finding something funny in everything around me. It’s hard for me to go grocery shopping because every five seconds I will grab my boyfriend and be like, “Haha look at this weird little drawing of a pig they have on this cereal box,” or whatever dumb thing I’m amused by.

I try to approach anxious feelings the same way, and remember that there’s something silly in everything. Predictably that can backfire sometimes, and I find myself thinking about how the things I care about are ridiculous. But then it’s just a matter of finding enough weird cereal boxes to rejuvenate me.

SH: Your choice of colour and the monstrous imagery you use to personify Anxiety are incredibly powerful. Why did you choose to represent those feelings and the opposing force of calm in this way?

TK: I’ve always been interested in how colour alone can communicate a feeling or an atmosphere. My favourite uses of colour in comics storytelling are Asterios Polyp and Night Animals.

I like to mess with color because there are a lot of different ways to show extremes, and it’s a way that you can add a lot to a story without making the composition too cluttered or having a bunch of words getting in the way of your art. It helps that I literally hate words, my final project for my comics degree was wordless and I have to force myself to add text to anything I make.


SH: What do you hope people take away from reading your story?

TK: I hope that people reading my story can see that people go to therapy for all kinds of reasons and that your particular reason is completely fine. I have a “big moment” in my story where it’s “finally clear” that I would probably benefit from going to therapy, but you don’t need to wait until you feel the most horrible you’ve ever felt to give yourself permission.

SH: What’s next for your career as a comic book creator?

TK: Since I finished working on When Anxiety Attacks, I’ve been busy working on lots more small projects again. I think they suit my attention span. I self-published Sailer Skowts, a collection of Sailor Moon fan art and comics about Sailor Moon characters doing things like looking at each other’s butts.

I also self-published “Heart Guts,” a collection of short comics about Anxiety and boys and other serious/silly topics. I got to use all of my best nihilism that didn’t really fit with the tone of When Anxiety Attacks for that one.

You can find those at Tiny Ornithopter, which is an online store I share with my boyfriend. I wrote and illustrated a guide for programming Twitter bots and am working on another illustrated programming tutorial involving programmable vibrators (I am really excited to make some people delighted and/or uncomfortable with that).

I have a short piece in an upcoming issue of The Recompiler, a magazine about women and technology. I can’t wait to see what butt jokes I’ll be drawing in the future!

This article was originally published on badcantina.com

When Anxiety Attacks is available from Singing Dragon, an imprint of Jessica Kingsley Publishers. For more on the book, read our review.

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