As the 31st Helsinki Comics Festival arrives this weekend, Karstein Volle and his Vinossa collaborator Knut Nærum interview each other. They discuss contemporary comics, form and trends.
KARSTEIN VOLLE INTERVIEWS KNUT NÆRUM
Vinossa is a playful anthology of relatively traditional fictional short stories experimenting with genres and formats. The general trend in comics seems to be towards non-fiction and autobiographical – either as short strip form or expansive novel form. Do you feel we made things harder for ourselves by working outside of dominant trends in contemporary comics?
KN: Harder to reach a big audience? No. Most comics exist on the margins of culture anyway. Harder to get good reviews? We’ve had enough good reviews to refute that.
Harder for us to make the damn thing? Not really. I’d say autobiography would have given us less room to manoeuvre.
Vinossa was released simultaneously in Finland and Norway. Has there been a difference in reception between Norway and Finland?
KN: Yes siree bob. After two excellent write-ups in large Norwegian papers, the rest of the reviewers seemed to struggle with the way we use genre fiction and with relating to the craft of the book. Still, I think it says something for the position of comics in Norwegian culture and journalism that we got more newspaper reviews for Vinossa than I’ve had for my last five non-comics books combined. The Finns seemed more relaxed with the genre thing, less concerned with dystopia and more appreciative of the joy of nostalgia and storytelling.
You have written for the stage, published a plethora of books, as well as worked as a comic artist since the 1970’s. Are there fundamental differences between writing for comics, plays or traditional novels? Are there stories better suited for each mode of expression or is the medium irrelevant?
KN: Comics writing to me is about writing what can’t be written, that is: making a script that gives the artist an opportunity to show stuff that words can’t show. Much like what theatre writing supplies to the director and actors. As for mediums and their modes, there are differences. Some things that comics do best: superheroes (and I do mean comics do them better than movies), exaggeration, dreams, dry humour. I think there is much good writing in comics that doesn’t make for good comics. The “two or three guys chewing the fat” school of comics, not using the instruments at hand. Like a radio play transmitted by television. Theatre: emotion expressed through motion. Novels: introspection, shifting perspectives, dialogue, the all-seeing narrator. And films, although you didn’t ask: car chases, slapstick, sunsets, fear of heights, fighting, jump scares.
Are there aspects of Vinossa that have been overlooked in the general reception of the book?
KN: Two things that few reviewers latched onto: The interplay between the frame stories and the single short stories. And the artwork, how it changes from story to story. Strangely, most comics reviewers don’t seem to care about pictures.
Do you see a difference between the Finnish and Norwegian comics scene?
I know too little about either to answer that. Both seem to be made up of people that are above averagely nice.
KNUT NÆRUM INTERVIEWS KARSTEIN VOLLE
What are you up to?
KV: I’m finally at the end of a year-long renovation of my flat. Tears, blood, sweat and other bodily fluids have been mercilessly spilt. It’s turning into the best spaceport in eastern Helsinki. This weekend I’m turning in a 102 page coloring and texting job for a Norwegian graphic novel. It’s a swashbuckling adventure intended for a younger audience called Seven (no relation to the movie). I’m in the middle of a script for a graphic novel of my own, which I hope to be drawing during the autumn. Also at the start of the script of another graphic novel and hoping to squeeze in time for my long neglected bands The Towers of Romance and The Telomeres.
What makes you say “I wish I had made that”?
KV: When I get into a story so much I almost forget what the medium is. That the storytelling craft goes past the stage, canvas or printed page and you are just drawn in. Happens too many times, thankfully. There are times I enjoy being a fanboy more than being an artist. Especially around tax report time.
During a project, do you read good stuff for inspiration or do you stay away from it to avoid having it influence your own work?
KV: Tricky. I have a tendency of becoming a cultural sponge, for better or worse. Sometimes consumed stuff can disturb a project, because I feel other work is expressing what I want to do in a better way and then I’d like to incorporate that into whatever I’m doing. Then again, that happens just living life too.
Are comics better than ever? And if not, what was the best year – and why?
Comics are more diverse than ever. It’s both exhilarating and confounding trying to catch up. In Norway twenty years ago, you’d have to go to the bookstore maybe four times a year to keep up, now comics are popping up everywhere. So with the amount of comics being produced going up, the odds are good that the quality goes up too. There are the odd times I get nostalgic for the “underground” period. That urge usually lasts ten seconds, then I grab another graphic novel and gawp at the artwork/storyline.
If you didn’t have to do other things for money – for three years – what would you have made?
I am afraid I’d do exactly the same things I am doing now. Which speaks volumes about my financial acumen.
The 31st Helsinki Comics Festival takes place at Kansalaistori between the 2nd-4th Sept. Free entry. Find more details from their webpage.
During the festival, Karstein Volle will be discussing Vinossa and more on Saturday the 3rd September, 12.30 at Kirjasto 10.