Everyone deals differently with the emotional twists and turns of life; Seattle artist Janie Stapleton channels those feelings of stress into fiery, inventive likenesses of rodents.
Currently, Stapleton is working on a mental health comic book called “Adventures of Anxiety and Mouse,” a mission she started in 2019 to showcase that even adults sometimes need an imaginary place to decompress and poke fun at their inner anxieties. “I'm mostly aiming toward people in their mid-20s-early-30s who are kind of trying to figure out their emotional intelligence for themselves,” Stapleton said.
Stapleton is originally from Petaluma, California, but has been living in Seattle for the last two years. She said she knew that she had a knack for drawing at a young age, and most of her artwork is detailed drawings of various animals like rabbits, gorillas, pigeons and smaller rodents.
Stapleton uses the old newspaper-funny-page style and anthropomorphic creatures, like mice and possums, to simplify and make more sense of complicated human situations. Stapleton explained that she chose to draw mice in particular because they have really good little hands and feet to pose like people.
“‘Mouse’ is kind of a stand-in for all of our even-keeled, adult selves,” Stapleton said. “The part of us that shows up and answers emails within a couple of business days and does the laundry and takes care of business. And then ‘Anxiety’ is this miniature little possum that follows Mouse around, and he represents your inner child, like the part of you that is still upset about stuff that happened in grade school.”
After Stapleton’s own bouts with anxiety, she wanted to find a way to help people negotiate their neuroses that wasn't heavy and academic. Stapleton thought comics would be a perfect medium to further the conversation.
“They’re not pretentious,” Stapleton said. “It’s like this really easy way to just be entertained by joining this whole other world. ... You can approach all these deeper topics and still have it feel fun.”
Unlike other art mediums, with comics there’s also a unique relationship between detailed art and dialogue that conventional art can sometimes lack, Stapleton said. She sees more people in her circle of artists moving toward independent comics, in part, she believes, because they’re very versatile and interactive.
“All the voices and all the action happens in your head … I think that makes comics surprisingly powerful, where it’s not just all about the artist — it’s also just as much about the people reading it.”
Stapleton has intentionally not created comics that are pandemic-related but, like most people, has experienced new heights of anxiety during the pandemic. “I guess it does make sense that this character would sort of pop up right now,” she said.
Stapleton said this is her first project with developed characters and a storyline. Stapleton added that her artwork tends to gravitate toward somber humor. Her first comic series was an anthology about a collection of animals conversing about life, love and death called “Animal Logic Book.”
Stapleton posted her Kickstarter for “Adventures of Anxiety and Mouse” May 1; within five days, she was a thousand dollars over her $16,000 goal. Stapleton’s work is self-published, so this is her third Kickstarter campaign.
She began drawing and posting a Mouse and Anxiety Possum cartoon every day on Jan. 1 to see if there was audience interest for the two characters. There was, and that was her deciding factor in moving forward.
Stapleton wants to spend the summer making more comics for the book and hopes to have it printed and ready to ship by the beginning of November. The comic book will be 8” by 8” and filled with 100 pages of vignette-like stories of Mouse and Anxiety Possum.
Stapleton hopes she will finish drawing 200 comics for the book. So far, 181 people have backed her Kickstarter, and she’s ecstatic over the intense interest. “I’ve just been working on it basically around the clock since then,” Stapleton said. “I want to see this comic really grow.”
Read more of the May 19-25, 2021 issue.