For people with anxiety or depression, it's not always easy to get in the mood for cracking jokes. So when you stumble upon comics about depression — or about any tough situation you might be going through — that actually do make you feel better, you bookmark those gems. And that's exactly why a series of illustrations by an artist who goes by the pseudonym Shenanigansen (Shen for short) are resonating so strongly for so many people across the internet right now: Shen's comic describes exactly what it feels like for people to be told what to do with their emotions. "It's (about) any range of emotions that people feel that they aren't necessarily comfortable with sharing or having out in the open," Shen says in an interview with Bustle. It turns out that a lot of those emotions — anger, irritability, regret — are present in depression, and as such, that's what a lot of his viewers have interpreted the broadly themed comic to be about.
Shen is the artistic mastermind of the Tumblr page Owl Turd Comix, where he shares original comics that he draws almost daily. Shortly after Boston Comic Con in August, he tells Bustle, he drew this particular comic in one sitting; he says this is typical for most of his comics, which take anywhere from two to six hours to complete. So far, this comic has 34,584 notes from people who liked or reblogged the post. That's a lot of people who identify with just one comic. Recently, he's worked on longer comic projects that further explore human emotions.
Shen says he purposely tries to make his comics more general so people can draw their own conclusions and apply them to a host of different situations in whatever way that makes the most sense for them. For instance, another comic that Shen drew was originally about what it's like to part ways with someone, but several viewers took it to be about immigration. "I just let people roll with it," Shen says.
The core idea of the comic started out with the idea of brainwashing, which usually means one is being indoctrinated or reeducated to follow certain values or beliefs. "I took that word and thought, wait a sec, brainwashing doesn't sound too bad. It's like you're washing your brain. That actually sounds kind of adorable," Shen says.
Like for many artists, a lot of Shen's comics are inspired by personal experiences. On a particularly stressful or bad day, he'll try to identify "a glimpse of humor" and capture it in comic form. On the day that he created this comic, "I just [had] a lot on my mind at the time and I was trying to sort of get stuff together," says Shen, who likes to keep his comic persona separate from his "real life identity" as a web developer. "My house was a mess and I was just trying to clean up, and at the same time, [I was like,] if only it were just as simple to clean up my mind as it was to clean up my house. And that's sort of where the brainwashing idea came from."
Shen says the purpose of his comics is to remind people that their emotions, however strong or seemingly unusual they may be, are all very human and natural. "What I hope that people get [out of my comics] is if they're feeling a certain way, they know that they're not alone," Shen says. "[There's an] inherent silliness of certain thought patterns that we get into our heads, that they are unreasonable and have no real foundation in reality, but we sort of get into them [anyway]."
One example is over-exaggerating consequences, such as feeling like the world is ending if you fail at a task. Similar thought patterns can manifest in anxiety and depression, and lead to what Shen calls a "slippery slope."
Shen's comic shows that the frustration that people with depression may feel when loved ones tell them get over their emotions or simply dispose of their feelings, as if that's easy — "Like shelving anger and throwing away envy and sorrow like you can throw away a box," he says. "But actually that stuff takes time, and it's a matter of changing your mental habits."
What's great about Shen's comic is that even though the illustrations themselves use simple concepts and designs, they represent much more complicated everyday situations where we're just expected to go with the flow — both external events and internal struggles.
If anything, Shen's comics will get a chuckle out of you when you realize that there are, in fact, people out there who do really "get it." You're not alone.
Head on over to Owl Turd Comix to check out more of Shen's work.
Images: Courtesy of Shenanigensen/Owl Turd Comix