Interview with MAWIL
As I mentioned in the last article I infiltrated myself in a workshop held by the German comics artist Mawil at MNAC’s last floor in the space usually occupied by Libraria Jumatatea Plină. After the class, when almost everyone left and the sun was setting down quite aggressively into my eyes, I asked Mawil to have a little chat with me and perhaps answer some questions. He was kind enough to [humor] me. This should have been the plan all along, but I realized that I had this opportunity just around lunch, so during the exercises I scribbled a few questions on the notebook that the workshop provided us.
I started with some warm-up questions, more for my own sake.
Alin: How long have you been doing comics and how did you start?
Mawil: Since forever. I made my first comic when I was eight, when I was a kid. When most teenagers stopped drawing, I was always drawing and drawing. When I was 13 I was doing my first fanzines on a copy-machine. After the fall of the Wall it was possible to copy your own fanzines. Before you weren’t allow to use any machines that could reproduce some printing because then people could have done some underground magazines. In East Germany, all printing, all publishing was official.
A: What are some of your favorite comics?
M: Christophe Blain from France. Let me write that down for you. Some are published in Germany. Two very nice comics, Isaac The Pirate and another one Gus, it’s about cowboys. It is super classical, when you see his comics it could have been from the 60s or 70s but it is from now and I like how he puts movement in one picture. It’s just one picture, it’s amazing how he can show expression of the face or people talking just showing the hands, it’s a big pleasure just watching him draw hands. Lewis Trondheim, also some of his stuff.
A: Do you teach many comics workshops?
M: Mhm, yes. I’m traveling a lot, I’m also doing a german-french workshop with a german-french cultural exchange program and I also teach in art school.
A: Do you feel that teaching workshops helps you in your own comics?
M: Yes, I think that because you start to think about some details, you start thinking about each line, because when you are very critical to the participants, then you recognize that you have to be critical of your own work. I can’t point some mistakes in the works of the students and then on the next day work on my own stuff and make some lazy mistakes and get them printed because then the participant would come to me and say that “Hey, you taught me not do this and this and this and here you are doing it in your own comics”.
A: And how did this workshop compare with others you’ve held?
M: Oh, there is no difference! The only difference is that it’s the biggest building I’ve been in and you have the most beautiful view. For me it always is a lot of fun doing workshops all over the world in America, in New Zealand, in Europe, in Asia so the questions and the problems are always the same. Sometimes you have cliches you’ve heard about different countries but doing the workshops is always the same all over the world.
A: Is this your first time in Romania?
M: No, it’s my second time. I was here interrail traveling in the middle of the 90s.
A: So, when you came for the first time what your expectations and what were your expectations for when you came back?
M: Oh, I didn’t have so many expectations. I mean, I was born in East Germany so I knew about Eastern Europe, we had similar experiences so I wasn’t surprised to see many left-overs from the socialistic system and now i’m really surprised that it changed so much, that I see so much new stuff. Mostly I’m surprised that so many people can talk English. In the other Eastern European countries that isn’t usually the case. Not even in my home country, for my parents’ generation not everybody speaks English because the official English was Russian.
Then I was going to ask him if he would visit again if the opportunity arises, but he spotted the question on my notebook and enthusiastically asked me to write a big YES.
A: Did you see the exhibits?
M: Yes a little bit. I was walking around this morning.
A: Anything interesting?
M: A lot of professional, beautiful stuff. I was wondering, at the polish section, the lady was not from Poland. Why did the polish people put the exhibit in French?
A: I think that for the same reason that Maria Surducan, a romanian artist, is in the czechs’ exhibit. Different people from different nationalities publish in different countries so there’s that.
M: I really enjoyed the exhibition of Sempé. Le Petit Nicolas, I recognized his work very late and it’s funny that I have to go to Bucharest to see his work. Somebody told me that he is from Romania originally?
A: I have no idea…
M: Me neither.
On Lambiek it says that Sempé was born in Bordeaux.
M:It’s a super nice place. Do many people drop in here, or do you really have to see the see the flyers?
A: You really have to see the flyers and be interested in comics. Because it’s quite secluded. It’s hard to get here. You have to walk on foot for half and hour or wait for the busses and know their schedule. And then you get inside and see the airport like security.
M: This is also the problem for Germany with the comics scene, when you are selling a book, when you find a new customer, if you aren’t taking this customer from another comic publisher, then for each customer you have to make a new reader for comics in general. Because very few people are reading comics in Germany so you don’t have to only advertise your own book, you have to advertise comics in general. While we have many beautiful comics festivals, some are in cultural places and people who don’t know about them don’t go there. So it’s why last year we’ve started this independent festival which was in a place on a huge corner, where the people are passing by because they are going to some flea-market and they see that there is something going on. And since it’s for free they check it out. It’s important for the comics festivals to be free so that people can enter even though they don’t know what it’s going there or if they don’t know anything about comics.
A: That’s kind-of our experience, too. There’s something like that in the summer, in the center of the city, only at the back of an alley and people kept passing by the festival. It was quite sad for the artists attending and exhibiting.
M: Just as a trial we started a comics festival in a flea-market. We booked just three stands. Because people were just walking by, and people were buying clothes and records. If new readers don’t come to us, then we have to go to them, to the places where people are spending money.
A: Was it successful?
M: It was just a simple try, but it was working out, it was something new. So you have to be creative to get new readers. For example, we are having comics readings, so people are coming to a place where we are putting the comics pages on a wall and we get sound effects and two or three people reading the voices, one is doing the female voices, one is doing the male voices so it’s like watching a movies. And afterwards people are buying the comics.
A: What more can you tell me about the comics scene in Germany?
M: We have the classical comics underground scene. The most successful comics artists, the artists recognized in other countries, are guys like me who went to the art school and studied graphic design. We don’t have art schools with pure comics workshops so most comics artists are going to graphic design classes because there they learn how to handle pictures and words or to send information with pictures and words. But after graphic design you should also take, and I would have liked to take, something that studies storytelling, like movie writing. That is why we have many artists well known for their pictures, for their drawing, for their rendering while their stories are more poetic and it’s more about the graphics than the stories. I come from the independent underground scene so I see myself more as a storyteller.
And a very big part of the comic scene over the last ten years it’s the manga scene. So ten years ago, there was this big manga boom, with young kids watching anime movies and TV, and in every comic book shop there are these little cheap manga books. And this is also a big influence. Many young teenagers, many girls were influenced. Most of theme are trying to make their own manga, most of them are just copying the japanese style but some of them are interested in comics in general and that is why we are now having a lot of young and female comic artists, which is very good.
A: That’s a worldwide phenomena. In France there was this movement called “nouvelle manga”. Recently they made this movie ”Blue is the warmest color” and it came from that scene. The comic wasn’t necessarily a manga, but it was very manga influenced in style and in tropes.
M: Even I was influenced because twenty years ago it was usual to make this big format album (lifting a piece of paper we used at the workshop to illustrate the size and format) like Tintin where you on one page you have two or three different scenes, but now you can have this little books, very small, but super thick that on each double page you can start a new scene. You have a page when it’s dark and you turn the page and it’s morning, and you can get more out of the page turns. My new book has three hundred pages because I wanted to tell a big story like this.
A: You keep saying independent underground comics. Is there a mainstream scene?
M: Not really. I mean. It’s just called like this because we aren’t selling so much. It’s very hard to tell the difference. There are many people between the independent and mainstream. Maybe ten artists or even five could be really considered mainstream. Very few. Mainstream is not always a bad word, because mainstream is the stuff that most people like, but it can also be good stuff. Tintin and Asterix are mainstream, but for a good reason because they are very well made.
Afterwards we kept talking a little bit more about comics and comics shops in Romania, some small-talk, but the interview was more or less over, as abruptly as can be seen. I enjoyed very much talking to Mawil and I really hope I could get to do this again sometimes.
by Alin Răuțoiu