Articulating struggles with mental health through art can seem like a daunting task, but illustrator Jen Epervary broaches the subject with warmth—and occasional references to the Travel Channel’s “Ghost Adventures.”
“It’s about this super buff Hot Topic cashier that yells at ghosts, but [it’s] this idea that there is a different world living within our world that souls live in that really pertains to me,” Epervary says about the show. “Mental health is one of those things where it’s so real when it’s experienced, but explaining it to somebody is like explaining ‘Ghost Adventures.’”
In Epervary’s comics, holes in bus station ceilings have personalities, nocturnal goblins with insatiable appetites for Vine compilations haunt bedrooms, and giants roam freely across the woods and suburbs as protectors.
Epervary only began illustrating and developing comics full-time within the last year, but their ability to effortlessly meld the painfully human with the fantastic began at a young age.
“Before I’d go to therapy as a kid, I used to draw myself in the corner of all my workbooks,” they recall. “If I felt something I couldn’t process, I usually drew it. I have this makeshift Barbie journal with tigers in it and then a huge picture of an emo kid crying.”
Their self-reflective doodling eventually translated into a spot at the Art Institute of Boston and a job as a junior studio designer for an advertising agency after college, but drawing for the fun of it had to take a backseat.
“When I’d go home and want to draw for myself, I was so drained,” Epervary says. “I was making all of this really cool work for my job and they were thinking about giving me a promotion, but I had to quit because I thought, ‘Is this worth the anguish of not being able to make what I want to make?’”
Epervary credits the community of illustrators that frequent events like Boston Hassle’s Black Market arts fair as instrumental in their move to creating full-time under the name Cloudy Days. Epervary believes Somerville’s scene shows an “unreal” supportiveness as artists continue to find their voices, noting Julia Emiliani’s “super bright and feminine style I want to try for myself,” Liz Bolduc’s ruminations on mental health, and Tiffany Mallery’s years of friendship and collaboration.
“I think it’s such a great time to be in, figuring your stuff out and making a bunch of trash,” they add with a laugh. “I used to go to the Black Market a lot in college and I’d see other artists figuring themselves out in a space with very professional artists who have been vending for a very long time. When I leave [Black Market] now, my heart is full … I come home with more stuff than I brought.”
Having created commissioned work for The Stranger, Emerson College, and the recently discontinued Take Magazine, Epervary is now working on a web comic called “What Comes After Hunger.” The comic centers around a poem by local librarian Meg Ramette that ties together themes of growing up in Salem, the witch trials, and “the ecopsychology of the woods and how they can refresh you.”
“I really like mixing the reality of interaction and human experience with this weird, almost surreal universe that lays over us,” Epervary says.
They are working on their “Haunted” comic series alongside “What Comes After Hunger,” continuing to contend with the mental goblins and ghosts lying under the surface of everyday life. When asked if it’s tough to recreate the struggles of mental health in comics, even after years of self portraiture, Epervary is certain.
“A lot of my journals as a kid were me processing emotions and crying a lot. It was a way for me to figure out how I was feeling,” they conclude. “I know how I look and I know how I want to reflect myself, so drawing myself has always been so easy.”
This story appears in the Arts & Architecture issue of Scout Somerville, which is available for free at more than 220 drop spots throughout Somerville (and just beyond its borders) or by subscription.
Like what you’re reading? Consider supporting Scout on Patreon!