"TRY YOUR BEST TO THINK WITH YOUR OWN HEAD"
– Interview with Nina Bunjevac, Canada –
Nina Bunjevac is a Canadian author of Serbian origin, if we may say so. She's had the experience of growing up in socialist Yugoslavia, while developing as an artist in Canada. Her cooperation with the Balkans comics scene somehow initiated changes both in her career, and in the shape of the wider Balkans/European alternative comics scene.
RP: 1. Your last book, entitled “Heartless”, was a collection of short stories that, among others, feature the character of Zorka. She was discussed about quite a bit in different interviews that could be found around the internet. However, I don't think anyone asked you the following question: what kind of a being she actually is? Her appearance is reminiscent of an early 30's cartoons character, with animal-like characteristics; one might easy think of her as an aunt or a step-sister of Disney's Goofie - a comparison that might add some meaning to her psychological traits also, not only her visual appearance.
NB: As a kid I read a lot of comics, mostly Disney. I used to run to the kiosk every week, I believe on Fridays, and get new issues of Mickey's Almanac and Mickey's Digest. Those characters are deeply ingrained in my mind. Mickey Mouse was the first cartoon character I did a drawing of; Zorka's features are certainly influenced by that. Basically, Zorka is supposed to be half cat, half woman - and was intentionally based on Irena Dubrovna, the anti-heroine from Jacque Tournier's classic noir feature Cat People. The film portrays Irena as a sexual deviant who devours her lovers in moments of passion. Her behavior is directly caused by an ancestral curse - her ancestors being from a small mountain village in Serbia. I guess that Zorka is a satirical hybrid of Goofy, Mickey Mouse and Irena Dubrovna - if that makes any sense.
RP: At the moment, you are finishing the work on your next book, Fatherland, which is due to come out in summer 2014 with Cape Graphic/Random House. The book has less fictional than documentary elements. It also features a longer narrative... Considering your dedication to detail when it comes to drawing, and that each panel you create takes a lot of effort and attention, was this experience pleasant or painful for you?
NB: Truth to tell, the most difficult part of working on this book was the narrative, not the actual artwork. I generally prefer the short-story format and find longer narratives stifling - when reading as well as when writing. In order to deal with this problem I broke the book down into two parts and these parts further into chapters. There's still a lot of detail present in the artwork, but I've managed to balance it with solid black and solid white. I've also replaced stippling with crosshatching, using dots only for the lightest grays. Switching from extra fine nib to fine helped a great deal as well. But yes, working on this book is a bittersweet experience. Sixteen-hour days are doing my head in.
RP: Which methods do you use in your work, which steps do you take until the story is complete?
NB: Sticking to the script doesn't seem to work for me, no matter how hard I try. I've written about a dozen drafts of the script for Fatherland; now that the book is almost complete it does not resemble the script in the least. The process that seems to work for me is doing three pages at a time. I start with the general idea of what needs to be communicated on each of the pages; next comes an outline of what the narrative will be, and the layout of the page. This part of the process is almost always done in my head, right before I fall asleep. I don't know why, that just seems to be the perfect time for problem-solving. Next stage is pencils. I start with a sketch, trace it on a piece of tracing paper, turn the paper over and correct the drawing on the reverse; this is done two to three times. Once I am happy with the drawing I trace it on to a sheet of vellum. The penciled page is then inked and scanned. Lettering comes last, assembled in photoshop. I use the font created with my hand-lettered characters. Each page is saved with layers in a separate folder in order to do the final edit of the text once the whole chapter is completed.
RP: Can you reveal some elements of your new story to our readers?
NB: “Fatherland” is based on my family, particularly my father, and my early childhood. Some of your readers may know the story already, but I'll repeat it. My father was a member of an anti-communist and ultranationalist organization Freedom for the Serbian Fatherland. The organization was founded in 1965 in Paris, France, but its core was moved to USA that same year; their aim was to overthrow Yugoslavian government through dissemination of propaganda-based literature and by organizing a series of explosions in homes of prominent Yugoslavs in North America as well as Yugoslavian consulates and embassies. My father was responsible for assembling the explosives; he died in an explosion in Toronto's west end in 1977. The leader of Freedom for Serbian Fatherland, Nikola Kavaja, would later become known for the 1979 high jacking of an American Airlines airplane, which he planned to crash into the Central Committee building in Belgrade. The mission failed, but years later Kavaja would make a statement that Osama Bin Laden had stolen his idea. It's an insane story, and it sure affected my family a great deal. I grew up in Yugoslavia, raised more or less by my communist partisan grandparents. Growing up sandwiched between two ideologies is also something I explore in this book. But more than anything, the book is about piecing together a picture of my old man, whom I do not remember at all. The overall experience is like playing detectives and psychiatrists to me.
RP: Have you already received some feedback about the book? From your friends, audience, unknown followers?
NB: My editor at Random House seems to like what I sent him so far. I work in isolation and seldom show my work to anyone; at least not once it's lettered.
RP: 6. History, society and the world in general constantly put different ideological demands and pressures on an individual, sometimes even to the point of roughly shaping or breaking its backbone... How do you deal with such experiences or, at least, what would you suggest as a good survival strategy?
NB: Try your best to think with your own head and be willing to listen to what people have to say. Be informed but stay clear of biased media, popular opinions, mass-mentality, cults, conspiracy theories, political parties, or anything that uses fear or demonizing to influence your opinion. Don't be afraid to speak out, surround yourself with people who are able to think originally, and those who are willing to tell you what you NEED to hear, not what you WANT to hear. Though it's difficult at times, try to see good in people, because there's a lot of goodness in this world. Once you give in to negativity, fear and hopelessness - you are screwed.
RP: If your life was a rock song, which one would it be?
NB: "O lucky man" by Alan Price - if it is Rock. Is it?
See more of Nina's art on: http://ninabunjevac.com/