If someone had told me just two weeks ago that Bergen, a small coastal city in Norway would have become one of my favorite places on earth I probably would have said: “are you f-ing kidding me?” And now, shortly after my return from the six-day visit to Bergen all I want to do is go back. I have to admit that I knew close to nothing about Bergen, or Norway, or the entire Scandinavia for that matter; as far as I was concerned it was all Ikea, Abba and Swedish meatballs. Boy was I mistaken.
I was told that to truly experience Norway one should visit smaller places, like Bergen for instance. For starters, the city is breathtakingly beautiful, set within the fjords, with cobblestone streets and charming architecture, surrounded by seven mountains covered with lush evergreens. The first thing one immediately notices about the streets of Bergen is its people, who do not seem to rush to places but stroll, and appear relaxed. I found the people I met to be friendly but not fake-friendly, hospitable and welcoming.
Norwegians seem proud of their history but do not come across as nationalistic in the least; they enjoy boasting about their free healthcare, virtually free university education and the lack of homelessness. Listening to Kazima (young lady who moderated one of the panel discussions I participated in) boast about paying a measly tuition of $90 per semester I understood how my American friends feel whenever I approach the subject of our free healthcare. Let me take this opportunity and apologize to my friends south of the border – I feel for you. Another thing I loved about Norways is their attitude toward religion – it is considered impolite to talk about it. I think I may have found me a new home.
This year’s installment of Raptus took place at the Literature House in the heart of old Bergen. The majority of guests were women creators since this year Norway celebrates one hundred years of women being allowed to vote. There were panel discussions, presentations, talks, workshops, concerts, cosplay competitions and booths selling comics and collectibles. In short, everything you would expect to find at any comic con worldwide but smaller and more intimate. My first engagement was a panel discussion on the theme of female voices in comics with Lene Ask, Terhi Ekebom and Sarah Oleksyk, all incredibly talented artists and all-around fabulous people. My second engagement was the presentation of my work and talk with Paul Gravett, the king of comics criticism. I have met Paul before and was very much looking forward to seeing him again, and meeting his lovely partner Peter Stanbury.
The highlight of my stay in Bergen was making friends with a bunch of good people but will have to single out the ones I had the most pints and the most laughs with: Mike Perkins, Mike Collins, Howard Chaykin, Magnus Aspli and Laszlo Seber (one of the participants of the workshop organized by Howard and Perkins). Not in my wildest dreams would I have anticipated such fun, mostly thanks to Chaykin, who happens to be one of the funniest people I have ever met, and the very same guy who came up with the “cheap blonde” bit. Truth to tell, I am not even sure if the “cheap blonde” bit applied to me, but I took it and ran with it for the remainder of my stay anyway, since it sounded a bit classier than “Howard’s prison bitch”.
The sign I am holding in these pictures was made by Mike Perkins for Ana Voronkova to hold up in the audience during my talk with Gravett. Anna chickened out but handed the sign over to me when the talk ended; for the rest of the day I walked around with it, posing with it, showing it to people, anything to get attention.
Many thanks to Arild who was the most gracious host and one of the most beautiful people I have been fortunate to meet. Many thanks to Arild’s partner May whose smile made us all feel welcomed, and whose bar/coffee shop Bar Barista provided a home away from home for many of us during our stay in Bergen. And many, many thanks to the rest of the organizers and volunteers. If I have missed anyone please forgive me. I hope to see you again real soon.
Hey peeps, sorry for the lack of posts; I’ve been too busy working on my next book which, I am glad to say, is three quarters done already. The working title of the book, and I think most likely the title I will stick with is Fatherland. The book is due to come out in the summer of 2014 with Cape Graphic/Random House. I’ll keep you posted about the progress.
Working on the full-length graphic narrative has proven to be a bit of a challenge since I generally prefer the short-story format. I expect Fatherland to have approximately 120 pages, broken into two parts, which will eventually come together near the end. I’ve chosen the two-part format for the simple reason that it reflects duality presented in the book: maternal – paternal, nationalist – communist, old country – new country and so on.
Even though the content is biographical, and partially autobiographical, I did my best to remain neutral as a narrator, as well as reduce the levels of “sentimentality”; the same goes when it comes to expressing my own political views. I found this approach liberating; the neutral stance allowed the story to unfold organically and the characters to express themselves freely; it will also allow the reader to form his/her own opinion. The last thing I want to do is create a propaganda pamphlet. We’re already bombarded by propaganda one way or another, day in and day out. An honest account of how the opposing religious and political ideologies have affected, and continue to affect one family should be enough for the readers to draw their own conclusions and project it in whichever way they choose to.
While we’re on this subject of the “organic unfolding of the narrative”, let me just say one thing: the book as it stands now, with its 85 finished pages does not resemble the final draft (of about a dozen in total) of the manuscript, whatsoever. Perhaps this is the case because the story is so personal or because I have no recollection of any of the events described in the book. In actuality, the entire narrative has been composed out of first and second-hand testimonies, from my mother, my sister, my grandmother and a handful of relatives; any existing gaps were filled with historical facts in order to familiarize the reader with the political climate surrounding the events as described. The original manuscript took about a year to complete. When I began working with pencils the book took on a whole new life – it began reflecting the events in the exact same sequence as they came to my knowledge in real life; the best way to describe how the narrative unfolds is to compare it to a giant jigsaw puzzle which took thirty five years to solve.
I’ve never been a big fan of puzzles; partially because I was never really good at solving them. Also, this ability to remain objective while reconstructing the events that have shattered my family feels very much like finding myself in a psychiatrist’s office while playing the role of both, the shrink and the patient. It’s freakin’ exhausting! And that’s all on top of twelve-hour work days. Twelve hours of cross-hatching and stippling; twelve hours of slipping into what most people assume is a meditative state. No, that is twelve hours a day of facing shit! And twelve hours of working up an astronomically large chiropractic bill.
A few days ago I posted an update on my Facebook page: “Drawing Tito and Draza Mihailovic on the same page. Fuck both of them! After I’m done with this book I’m switching to comedy.” To which a friend replied with: “Tragicomedy”. And I was, like: “yeah, whatever…” Because I knew he was right. The truth is that after a full day of working and “facing stuff” I go off to bed, and I slip into the dream world while planning out the layout for Fatherland II. And then I dream about it. Call me crazy but there’s nothing else I would rather be doing right now. Love you all.
Top photo by Anna Khachatryan; bottom photo by Dave Lapp (downloaded from TCAF 2013 Flickr photo-stream)
The 2013 installment of TCAF will be special to me for several reasons. This will be my first year of holding a table of my own, but not entirely, since I’ll be sharing it with my dear friend, the one and only Dave Lapp.
The second reason I am so excited about TCAF 2013 is the line of jewelry I’ll be introducing. A little while ago I teamed up with the Toronto-based jewelry designer BBJ to create a small but exclusive collection of pendants, brooches and key-chains that feature my art. This year the festival falls on the Mother’s Day weekend, so come by and pick up something nice for that special lady in your life. And if that special someone in your life is not a lady or that special lady is not a mom, and you would like to treat yourself or someone else just for the hell of it, at any time, all of these pieces will be available through the shop section of my website within a week or two.
The third reason I am so excited about TCAF 2013 is my nomination for The Doug Wright Award in The Spotlight category, also known as The Nipper. A friend of mine who shall remain nameless for now calls it The Sethy. Whether or not I win me a Sethy doen’t really matter, I am more than honored to be nominated and be surrounded by such amazing talent. I also look forward to meeting lovely and talented people I have only so far communicated with online, and seeing people I don’t often get a chance to see. So come by and pick up a signed copy of Heartless, or Mineshaft #27, or some fancy jewelry, or just to say hi. I swear I’ll be on my best behavior and won’t get into any fistfights.
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