Tuesday, October 9, 2018

SWF 2018 - Interview with Aisha Franz

There are so many good comics out there these days that it is hard to keep track, especially those from Europe and not translated into English. I wish I could read French or German, but I can't. So I am glad that publishers like Fantagraphics, Self Made Hero and Drawn & Quarterly have been translating these new graphic novels. Aisha Franz is one of the most exciting comics creators from Germany in recent times and we will have a chance to interact with her when she is here for the Singapore Writers Fest next month.

Her bio:

Aisha Franz is a Berlin-based comic book artist. In her work, she explores the possibilities of self-publishing while trying to push the boundaries of storytelling within the comic medium. She has published three graphic novels, her latest being Shit is Real. She teaches illustration at Kunsthochschule Kassel, a college of fine arts in Germany.

Here are a list of her panels:




How did you get started drawing comics? I understand you only got into comics when you were in art school.

In my first year as a student I was moving in between illustration and animation but wasn’t really aware of comics as an option because I had such a limited idea of what it was. Our professor Hendrik Dorgathen who is a comic artist from the 90 German avant-garde introduced us to everything there was aside from the mainstream and it instantly made so much sense that that was the thing I needed to do!

What happened after that?

Earthling was my thesis project which then got published by Reprodukt, a Berlin-based publisher of independent comics. Kassel, the city I studied in, is quite small so I was eager to move to a bigger and culturally interesting place with a bigger DIY scene. So Berlin it was.

I visited the Millionaires Club, the annual comics and graphics festival in Leipzig, in 2014. What is the German comic scene like these days?

You might have gotten a pretty got idea of the German comic scene if you went to the Millionaires Club - that’s definitely the right festival to visit for that. In the meantime, I think the scene has been constantly growing, more young artists joining the game, small publishers becoming more established and style-wise it has gotten more diverse I would say. The Millionaires Club is still happening every year and has moved from a complete diy project to a funded event which now manages to invite international artists and therefore bring the community closer together. The German comic scene has definitely gotten more international. Many artists from all over Europe and overseas have been moving to Berlin (it’s still relatively cheap here).

Can you tell us more about the Treasure Fleet comics collective (now defunct), and Colorama and Clubhouse?

Treasure Fleet was a distribution collective. We were 7 comic artists self-publishing our own work so the idea was to get together and promote our work at international festivals as a group rather than each of us trying to do that on their own. You create more visibility this way, you share cost and it’s just more fun! It’s important to have a project or a close community to give meaning to what you do. The Clubhouse project is trying to do a similar thing in essence - to provide a reason and platform for all the artists scattered around in the city or close-by to come together. It’s a collaboration project co-curated by me and the riso studio and publishing house, Colorama. Several artists are invited to come in person and collaborate on a small zine or book (clubhouse week) which is printed on the risograph right after being finished. As a publishing house, Colorama has managed to bring the Berlin comics scene closer together and to publish projects that wouldn’t really fit into any other publishing house.

Tell us about your first long form story, Earthling which was published in 2011 and translated / published in English by Drawn and Quarterly in 2014.

As I mentioned, Earthling (orig. Alien) was my thesis project in art school so I already had the ambition to make something longer. I didn‘t plan it to be that long though, the story and content just kept evolving in the process and I was happy to take on the challenge of developing an entire storyline from beginning to end.

Your second book published by Drawn and Quarterly just came out, Shit is Real. How is it different from Earthling?

Shit is Real is my third book published in German (2nd in English) so there was quite a big time-gap between the two. During that time my drawing style certainly changed (and keeps changing constantly) but also my interests and ideas. Not sure how to answer this question otherwise though - it‘s a whole other book so it has to be different from Earthling?

How has the response like for Shit is Real so far?

I guess quite ok or at least the bad reviews haven‘t reached me yet :)

Both books deal with alienation and the worlds that may or may not exist only in our minds – are you a fan of Philip K Dick and alternate realities? (you said you are a fan of David Lynch and Haruki Murakami)

I wouldn’t say I’m a fan of Lynch and Murakami but I can say that I‘m interested in how they deal with reality and dreams or parallel realities. For me, it‘s a very natural thing that in our lives these two collide sometimes or get mixed up - the lines are not always clear.

I Philip K Dick‘s work a lot but I wouldn’t place it next to mine. His work is very universal and touches bigger philosophical ideas and problems while my stories circulate within very personal and small universes of the (female) character‘s mind and issues.
To me, Earthling is about growing up and Shit is Real is about adulthood and loneliness. Is there a connection between the two books?
Not intentionally but, well, they come from the same author. I guess it‘s all here. These are the things that occupy my mind that I feel I have to deal with. In general I would see certain themes reappear in my work over and over again and I wouldn‘t even have to do it intentionally.

Male figures seem to be marginal in your stories. (even for the character of Anders in Shit is Real – Salma ‘chose’ Yumi over him..) Is that intentional?

Not really intentional but then again yes. It’s more like my focus lies strongly on the female characters so that there’s not so much space left for the males. Sorry guys :)

I’m happy though to enforce positive and empowering female representation in comics as a female comic artist in a still male dominated industry with very objectifying imagery.

I found your comics to be quite different from some of the other German artists I have read, Mawil, Sascha Hommer or Carolyn Walch. For your comics, you are going for a raw and almost naïve art look, especially the pencil drawing in Earthling. Is there a movement? (I am thinking of someone like Chihoi and Jesse Moynihan..)

Not sure if there is a movement as such but like in any other subculture there is certainly a connection between a certain group of people creating work simultaneously and sharing particular aesthetics. In my case I was inspired a lot by Art Brut and ”trashy” diy aesthetics but also by the bareness of only needing a sheet of paper and a pencil to spontaneously create whole universes.

You used the comics form to tell your stories – using panels instead of just words to push the narrative and emotions. Is this a conscious decision to tell your stories this way?

Of course! Not everybody would be crazy enough to start making comics :D I would be far better off mentally, time-management wise and probably financially if I had decided to be a writer but I’m bad at writing so I hardly had a choice. On the other hand anybody who has discovered the comic form for themselves will have to admit that it’s the most magical and most fun to work with!

You have said that graphic novels are mostly about historical things, autobiographical stories and famous people, but not so much fiction. Have things changed?

It’s just that these are the type of graphic novels that sell. Fiction is still niche on the market but I’m optimistic it will keep changing as there are more people who get into reading comics.

Graphic novels have entered the literary festivals like the Singapore Writers Fest. What are your expectations of SWF?

To be honest, I have no idea of what to expect! I can say though that I really enjoy being part of events that exist outside of the comic bubble. It’s a very recent thing that comics are being represented elsewhere as an artform of iots own and I’m very glad it’s happening. The comic form can only grow and be enriched by stepping out and meeting, mixing up with and competing with other art forms. And the other artsforms would also benefit from meeting us comic nerds! :)

When you do your presentations and slideshows, you will play music to create moods. What sort of music do you play during the slideshows and what is on your current playlist?

I write the music and record sounds for each specific scene I’m reading/showing. Image + music works very well together and is super fun to do.

What kind of future do you think we will live in?

Um... my guess is a very dark one. Unfortunately.

What kind of human relationships/ interaction will we have in the future? Will it be like what you described in your books?

Shit is Real is not so much about the future actually. It is already happening now. The social dynamics are pretty much the same from what I experience right now: individualistic and egotistical tendencies. If I think of human relationships in the future my guess is that we will have to rely much more on one another if is in times of actual war or nature catastrophes - not to mention surviving on planet earth without any resources...

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