This week One Quart celebrates the Helsinki Comics Festival and the joy of the visual narrative with a series of artists who we think you should know better – hand picked by Karstein Volle. Today Ronja Svenning Berge.
Karstein Volle: Hi, how are you?
Ronja Svenning Berge: Hi, I am very good – or as good as a neurotically inclined person can hope to be. I don’t have much to complain about, except the tingling sense of impending doom. I am doing farm work full time in the summer season to get to do comics work full time for a bit this winter.
KV: Of all the more lucrative and less work intensive disciplines within the visual arts field, why comics?
RSB: I always loved drawing and reading. Me and my brother got the Donald Duck comic every week and my mom collected Asterix and the Valhalla comics and my grandmother kept Agent X9 and the Phantom comics and my aunt was a comics nerd (she could stand-up straight on a galloping horse, which is unrelated but just so cool). She had a neat collection, so I read a lot of comics from a young age. I got a closer look into the comics world when a friend took me to the Raptus festival in Bergen when I was 14, until then I hadn’t made the connection that this was something people actually did, you know, something that was maybe possible for me to also do, other than for fun I mean. And I met all these really cool artists and comics people and I got to know some of them better. I remember exactly where I was when Lise Myhre called and asked me if I wanted to contribute to the new Nemi magazine. I was by the Public Library in Bergen and I just had to sit down in a sort of ditch thing there, I was so overwhelmed. I was 16 I think. When I was at Egmont after having started doing comics for Nemi, my editor sent me into another office to get something, and the person sitting there was the editor of the Phantom comic, going by the name “The Boss” in the magazine, and I got more starstruck than I have in my entire life when I realised who she was. And she gave me a skull ring and I just pride myself in not fainting. But yes. I guess the answer to your question would be a bit of a lot of things, like being a fan and all of a sudden getting a sense of possibility, and that it just sort of happened, and maybe it would have anyway – even without these encounters, just later – it’s a discipline where you can combine pictures and words, and any silly idea you get, you can just try it out. Without a camera man and a director and actors and props and tons of $$$, you just need a pen, a piece of paper, and some patience. That’s what’s so wonderful about comics. It’s just so possible. And yeah, well, who’s in comics for the money, so it has to have some other sway right? – something that keeps you doing it.
Me and my brother got the Donald Duck comic every week and my mom collected Asterix and the Valhalla comics and my grandmother kept Agent X9 and the Phantom comics and my aunt was a comics nerd (who could stand up straight on a galloping horse, which is unrelated but just so cool).
KV: What is your dream project?
RSB: Tons of stuff. I recently had the opportunity to do what I would definitely call a dream project, but I just wasn’t able to free up the time, and there’s the money thing, it’s often like that I guess. Too big, too uncertain, timing. I have one that is just my own, it’s a really really slow brewing one, it will probably just run quietly under the radar for years yet. But I love every second of working on it and reading up on related things, collecting information, writing page upon page just stuffed with everything and looking forward to the distillation process. Text most often comes first for me. And it is more thematically oriented than strictly artistic if that makes any sense. And I mean, I probably have hundreds of “dream projects”, like if someone said “make a book about rocks”, I would jump with joy, once you start diving into something… it’s more about that feeling, when you work, maybe listening to music, and you just don’t want to do anything else, it’s just so fun. That’s the dream state.
I probably have hundreds of “dream projects”, like if someone said “make a book about rocks”, I would jump with joy, once you start diving into something… it’s more about that feeling.
KV: Tell me about an unfinished project of yours. No matter if it’s going to be finished, in progress or if it crashed and burned.
RSB: I am working on a graphic novel right now, I still haven’t quite gotten the elevator pitch down, but I have the written manuscript and a pile of sketches. I have a go from the editor and I have to just sit down and start making pictures. It’s at such a comfortable stage right now, because before the pictures exist, it could sort of be anything. It’s just a million possibilities. It’s a scary phase, this sort of… locking down the look of the thing, that I’m entering into. I’m at a stage now where I try to simplify the drawing style. It’s hard but it’ll be worth the trouble… but yeah, it’s a little story about some people, it takes place over the course of a couple of days, and it just tackles some stuff. Haha, worst pitch ever! Ask me in half a year.
KV: Where will all this end?
RSB: I hope it will end somewhere where I have food on the table, good coffee brewing in the kitchen, can pay my bills, have the occasional beer with friends, and spend a good chunk of my time drawing and writing while listening to great music. It is of course extra wonderful if someone wants to read the stuff too. I every now and then get a letter or a mail or something from people who have read and liked something I made, and that’s just the best. So if I can dream freely, it would be something like that. I love the farm work as a contrast to the more static drawing table work; I have no wish to be sitting by my desk full-time. A lot of the comics work gets done in the head, for instance while painting a wall or mopping a floor or whatever. My best thinking usually happens while on the move, or doing physical work. I’m like those old professors in films who walk in circles when they think, except I mostly walk in some sort a line, or at least longer stretches, also often upward, I’m lucky enough right now to live at the foot of a mountain, and behind it is just more mountains, and on the other side of the house, the sea. Makes for good thinking time.
A lot of the comics work gets done in the head, for instance while painting a wall or mopping a floor or whatever. My best thinking usually happens while on the move, or doing physical work.
Ronja Ragnhild Svenning Berge was born in 1984 on the west coast of Norway, in a small town south of Bergen. She has been publishing comics in some form or other since around the end of the last millennium. Most of the comics work has been for the monthly Nemi magazine in Norway, and other odd jobs here and there. She runs a production company together with the Swedish film creator Clara Bodén, whom she met during MFA studies in Gothenburg. The newest project will be found under www.ruralistas.se (most content is in Swedish). Right now though, most of the day consists of maintenance work on a farm out by the ocean (right where thick Norway turns to thin Norway on the map). This winter she’ll be working on a graphic novel for the Norwegian publisher Minuskel, that hopefully will see the light of day in 2019 if not before. She’s terrible at keeping her internet presence relevant, but hopefully she’s a tad better at physical presence and other things also.