“I’m an anxious person. I have a lot of anxiety. From everything. It’s just hard to be alive.”
Coming from anyone else, such a declaration would be cause for concern. But Marco Kelso is laughing as he speaks. His wife Clea Eppelin is snuggled up next to him in this cozy Queen Anne pizzeria and they’re drinking red wine as rain falls outside. The pair couldn’t be more charming with their mellifluously accented conversation. Yes, it’s hard to be alive, but these two make the challenge look like a joy.
Which is, not coincidentally, the name of their recently launched zine. The second issue of The Joy is filled with engaging pen-and-ink drawings by the duo and two friends, Tony Agüero and Pablo Rojas, each offset with a sometimes funny, sometimes poignant caption in scrolling script. The Joy’s final page is a QR code that leads to a triumphant, cinematic electro-rock song by Rojas called “Hay Tantas Muertas”—“There Are So Many Deaths”—composed specifically for the zine. The 36-page publication is available at Elliott Bay Book Company, Push/Pull in Ballard and on the website for the four artists’ fledgling multimedia collective, Love and Anxiety.
“The tension between the love and anxiety is that you are going to die,” Kelso says. “And you only live this moment. The Joy is that everlasting second.”
Kelso and Eppelin launched the collective last year in Seattle, but it’s rooted in Costa Rica, where they met more than a decade ago, she a documentary filmmaker and daughter of Chilean intellectual refugees, he a Tico graphic designer working at international advertising agency Possible. Agüero, a graphic designer, and Rojas, an accomplished musician, were part of their tight-knit circle.
When Possible offered Kelso a creative director role in its Seattle office in 2014, he and Eppelin relocated with their three young daughters, looking to shake up their lives. Their first stateside creation was a short film called Cerca, or Close, written, directed and produced by Eppelin with assistance from Kelso. Shot in black and white, the 16-minute film follows the couple’s daughters while Eppelin’s voiceover meditates on the girls’ differences, their role in shaping her adulthood, their modern upbringing contrasted with her fractured childhood. Its elegant cinematography, Rojas’ stark soundtrack and Eppelin’s elegiac musings are simply gorgeous, the film emotive but clear-eyed. Since its release, Cerca has shown at Northwest Film Forum and the Costa Rica International Film Festival, where it won Best Short Film in 2015.
The Joy came a short time later, incited in part by the election of the United States’ 45th president.
“It was very sad,” Eppelin says, “and I think you need the sadness, sometimes, to create.”
As the illustrations that fill the zines’ pages began to flow, Kelso and Eppelin coined the Love and Anxiety moniker for this new chapter of creativity. They commissioned music from Rojas—each issue will get its own tune—and enlisted Agüero, who’d relocated to Portland to work for Possible, to oversee layout and production.
Taken together, the quality of this stuff is astonishing. There’s more on the way—more music, a graphic novel, new issues of The Joy, the feature-length documentary about her family that Eppelin is working on. And it’s all produced by newly arrived Seattleites who see the city in a wonderfully refreshing light. To them it’s not a place of rampant change or trampled memories but of open artistic possibility and inspiration.
“It was very important that we came here,” Eppelin says, “Because here we had this space to create again, when you’re out of your reality of all of the day’s… how do you say?”
“Routine,” Kelso suggests.
“The routine. When you go out [of it] you can absorb. So for me, this city is incredible. It’s a jewel. I think it’s important to notice that this city contributed for me.”