What was the first comic you wrote? When I was at university the local trendy clothes shop started selling rough-weave, rustic-styled beanies with the slogan FREE TIBET on them. I had set up a magazine with a mate, which included a well-balanced polemic we’d written on Fredric Jameson’s theory of complicit smiles, talking about how advertising was capitalising on Leftist ideals for profit, promulgating an ironic worldview on real life atrocities to sell more stuff. I felt this perspective needed something to balance it, and wrote a cartoon at the end of the magazine called ‘What a bunch of c*nts’ where they all burned in hell.
Who are your comic heroes and influences? I don’t read a whole lot of comics. My heroes come from elsewhere. Nic Jones has the kindest voice in folk music, and I love his songs with my whole heart. Rob Macfarlane, Richard Mabey, Jay Griffiths, David Abrams, these are the voices on my bookshelf who mean more to me than just great writing, who have really affected the way I see the world, and act within it.
What was the last comic you read? Polina, by Bastien Vivès, who is brilliant.
What helps you write? Space.
What’s your favourite Woody Guthrie song? With artists that you love, its less about individual songs and more about their entire perspective, the atmosphere they produce. Woody Guthrie’s atmosphere is one of playful, old-timer anarchy, that puckish sense of mischief whose tone and delivery, let alone the lyrics, represent a natural undermining of hegemony and status quo. I always loved the silliness and sarcasm of ‘Do Re Me’, and Woody’s version of the ‘Lonesome Road Blues’ (called ‘Going Down the Road’) has the best spirit to it. ‘Pastures of Plenty’ feels great to play and sing, as does ‘Pretty Boy Floyd’.
But really, the one that touches me the most is one that I hadn’t heard until recently. A very generous man by the name of Whiskey Mick, a pillar of the Camden busking movement, played me a Woody song in his garden as the sun was going down. Woody wrote the lyrics, and Billy Bragg wrote the melody; it’s called ‘Way Over Yonder in the Minor Key’. The lyrics are Woody all over - they are simple and plain and evoke a young love in the place he did a lot of his growing up. But they are also abstract and bold, and pure poetry - they sound so good to sing, and they harden like cement in your head. His lyric “there ain’t nobody that can sing like me” rings less like arrogance and self agrandising, but more like a celebration of the self, a strengthening of the soul. That song follows me everywhere.
Nick Hayes is the author of The Rime of the Modern Mariner, an updating of Coleridge’s famous poem and among the most highly regarded of recent British graphic novels. He has also published two collections of his short comics, Lovely Grey Day and 11 Folk Songs. He is the founding editor of Meat magazine, a periodical which has been showcasing new writing, comics and illustration for the last six years – and has won two Guardian Media awards.
Graphic memoirist Alison Bechdel has been named one of 21 winners of a $625,000 MacArthur “genius” grant for “changing our notions of the contemporary memoir and expanding the expressive potential of the graphic form”.
Given out yearly, the no-strings-attached stipends are paid out over five years and are intended to allow recipients “maximum freedom to follow their own creative visions”. They are widely known as “genius” grants, and have gone in the past to literary names including Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Junot Diaz, and William Gaddis.
Getting the call was, said Bechdel, “crazy, like someone had almost hit me, like a physical blow”. “I thought I was going to faint,” she said. “I feel like I’ve been in a state of shock. Getting this kind of recognition from the MacArthur Foundation, I can feel it already changing my life. I’m having to adjust to the fact this has happened, so I must be doing something worthwhile. To have that kind of confidence put into my work is a huge gift, and I’m going to work very, very hard to live up to those expectations.”
It’s Q&A time again! In the second half of 2014, we’ve got an incredible line-up of books by new & classic Jonathan Cape illustrators. Nina Bunjevac’s Fatherland, is an autobiographical graphic novel about terrorism, family and Serbia’s dark history.
What was the first comic you wrote? Opportunity Presents Itself, a 24-page novella based on Kafka’s America, which follows the adventures of Selma, a beauty-school graduate from the Balkans who travels to North America in pursuit of the American dream.
Nina Bunjevac started her art training in Yugoslavia, at the Djordje Krstic School for applied arts; in 1990 she moved to Toronto, Canada, where she continued her studies in art at the Art Centre of Central Technical School. In 1997 she graduated from OCAD in the Drawing and Painting department.
Formerly a painter and a sculptor, Nina found her calling in sequential arts, a form that seemed to naturally evolve out of the narrative component in her sculpture installation work. Pen and ink became the medium of choice. Her comic strips were published in a number of international anthologies of graphic fiction and literary magazines all over the world: her debut, Heartless, was published in 2012.
What was the inspiration for your book, Fatherland?
My family (particularly the women) and the history of the Balkans. The story of my family is a story of two opposing factions, paternal: royalist and nationalist, and maternal: Titoist, socialist. Somehow, sandwiched in between, I have managed to find my own path.
Fatherlandby Nina Bunjevac is published by Jonathan Cape on 28 August.
You’ve probably heard of the Eisner Awards by now and if not, suffice to say they’re about as high as you can get in the comics world.
So you’ll understand why we’re over the moon at the news that The Propertyby Rutu Modan just scooped the Best New Graphic Novel award this past weekend. Hurrah!
Writing in the Observer, Rachel Cooke said, ”I know it’s only July, but I feel certain this will end up being my graphic novel of the year. Modan has it all. Her drawings are fantastically expressive, with the result that her characters are as many-layered as those you’ll find among the pages of a traditional novel. She is witty and wise, cool-headed in a world of feverish opinions. Most impressive of all, though, is her technique when it comes to matters of pace and deep emotion.”