“I always think: how can I make The Artist’s life more horrible?” Anna Haifisch on her new book The Artist: Circle of Life from Breakdown Press
Anna Haifisch’s comic strip The Artist, has become a small press favourite thanks to its series of evocative stories about a life suffering for your art. She is back with a new collection of strips starring her bird like muse and we asked her what we can look forward to in The Artist: Circle of Life:
You’re releasing a new collection of your strips about The Artist – has the character changed or evolved since the previous volume? (It feels like he might be a bit more successful than he was in volume 1?)
Anna Halfisch: Not yet! He is going to be very successful in the 3rd volume. I am working on it right now. But for the 2nd book he didn’t change much. It’s only his hair which he grew out. He is the same miserable artist as he is in the first book. There are just more awful things happening to him.
The strips feel quite personal in places, are they based on your own experiecenes of being a struggling artist? Or of people you know?
AF: None of the episodes are autobiographic. Some of the stories are taken from my own or my friends’ experiences. But I am exaggerating a lot while I am writing and drawing the episodes. I always think: how can I make The Artist’s life more horrible? Often I feel like sadist, because I love him a lot.
What inspired you to start telling stories about a struggling artist?
AF: I often find drama amusing. And being an artist is quite dramatic. It is the perfect breeding ground for stories that are funny and sad at the same time. Also I love to play around with old fashioned artist myths.
Why did you choose to represent the artist as a bird? Is there some deep meaning? Or do you just like drawing the bird like character?
AF: I wanted the character to be fragile and frail. Birds are both. His father is a crane and his mother is a swan. Both are birds with long limbs. That makes The Artist extremely flexible and bendable. It’s fun to draw him.
Do you find your comics appeal to fellow artists who recognise their own struggles in the stories?
AF: When the series was weekly on Vice.com I got a lot of responses from readers who found themselves in his place or who wanted to give him a meal. I think lots of them weren’t artists themselves. The feeling of being a failure seems to be universal.
Although the story can be quite sad and tragic at times, you also seem to give the character a sense of optimism and fun at the same time. Is it important to add some humour to the book?
AF: Oh, of course! I don’t want to depress anybody. Also being an artist can be very great despite economic threats. I really don’t want to keep anybody away from choosing this path. I think that every good or even sad story needs a bit of humour in it. Thats my duty as the creator. I can’t just unload my depressing trash on possible readers and hope they can connect with what I am trying to say. I need to prepare my message a bit.
The Artist seems to be in both the fine art world and also the small press comics world. Is small press a rich source of humour and stories?
AF: Oh yes! Both of these worlds. You are meeting the craziest people. And it feels almost normal that everybody has more or less a screw loose. Most of the time it is funny. But of course it can be annoying. especially when you have to deal with tyrants or egomaniacs. These people can be dangerous. I think when you are tabling at a comic fair for one weekend you meet a good cut of characters approaching your table. And then you don’t need to see another human for a while. After this it is great to hide in the studio for a bit until I find people fine again.
You feature things like social media in the story, do you think things like this have made the life of a struggling artist easier or harder?
AF: Totally!! One old artist myth says that it is absolutely acceptable to disappear in the studio for a while until you emerge with a new masterpiece. This is impossible nowadays. Imagine a mediocre successful artist not posting anything in 2 months. People might think you quit or something bad happened. The responsibilities have changed dramatically. Publishers and Gallerists used to be the only ones who would do the public relations for artists. Now it’s up to the artists themselves. It’s a big burden, but also a big chance to spread their charm and talent.
Can you tell us a bit about your process? Do you plan your work out, or is it more instinctive?
AF: It changes a bit from time to time but mostly I start with the writing. This takes the longest. Then I make rough sketches to match possible drawings with the text. The most relaxing part is inking and colouring. Kind of the old school way of drawing comics.
We love the opening pages you have to each strip. Do you design them to connect to the story? Or do you just choose images or compositions that inspire you/you like to draw? (Like the Lion King parody or the Van Gogh image?)
AF: They are always designed for this specific story. I want them to function as a recap and preview at the same time. I enjoy drawing them because I can put a lot more detail in it. They might be my favourite thing to draw in the whole series.
Do you work on any other series as well as the Artist? And will there be more Artist stories to follow up this volume?
AF: I am working on the 3rd The Artist book. It’s going to be a bird opera – the story of the rise and fall of The Artist told in songs. I feel very stupid when I have to lay it out like this, but I guess this is what I want to do. I just finished a collection of 5 animal stories for my German publisher Rotopol. This might be out in English, too. But I don’t know when. Lately I started a series of water colour drawings I have no clue of what to do with them. But I enjoy drawing them. It feels like a little vacation from comics.