Original short interviews with notable, rising or overlooked
figures from comics or the larger entertainment field by Bill Baker.
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BAKER'S DOZEN for 11/28/2007
Naomi Nowak talks about House of Clay, her creative process and ... the accordion
Naomi Nowak is a child of this modern age. Originally hailing from Stockholm, Sweden, like many of her generation, Naomi grew up in the media saturated last two decades of the past century, showing an affinity for both movies and manga. She also showed some real artistic flair, and was soon making a name for herself as a painter and illustrator.
However, the call of one of her original loves proved to be too much and Naomi soon began making her own complex, richly textured, beautifully painted and yet easily accessible graphic novels. The first, Unholy Kinship, was released a few years back by NBM/ComicsLit to some real [and wholly deserved] critic praise and press. Her second original graphic novel, House of Clay, hit the shelves a few weeks ago and has also been garnering more good reviews and kudos. And, once again, they are all accolades which are well deserved. Yet, instead of celebrating or hitting the book tour trail, Naomi's already hard at work on her next, still unnamed, comic. Although she still finds the time to talk about her work, and even indulge her other passion... playing the accordion?
And, just case you haven't guessed it yet -- yes, Naomi Nowak is every bit as complex and original as her work.
Bill Baker: How would you describe House of Clay?
Naomi Nowak: It's a colorful comic in a handy format and style-wise it blends European and Eastern influences. It's basically a story of friendship and integrity with some fantastical and some violent elements.
BB: It's become a cliché that you should "write what you know" when creating a tale. Is that true in your case? Are the events in this and your previous book, Unholy Kinship, based on your own or other folks' experiences, or is it a bit more complicated than that?
NN: Some of the thoughts, emotions and dreams of the characters are based on me though I wouldn't say one of them specifically represents me. This is true for both comics. In House of Clay the environments are also loosely based on places I've visited, mainly in eastern Europe. One of the main themes of the book is the friendship of two women, one young and one old who find they have a lot in common despite the age gap. When I finished the comic I'd never had that, but oddly enough I experienced it this year and had a major (and wonderful) "life imitates art" moment.
BB: So how do you approach creating a graphic novel, and how much of that process is guided by thought, how much is suggested by unconscious urges or impulses?
NN: It's all stream of consciousness, free association -- with thought and structure applied on top. If I didn't exercise a certain control of my impulses my stories and artwork would become completely unintelligible (my editor might agree here, hehe) and while that might be fine in a painting it's not always ok in comics, at least not for what I'm trying to achieve.
BB: So, exactly how long does it take you to create one of your stories?
NN: A long time. I'm not sure how long exactly, but before I put a story down I do a lot of thinking and take a lot of notes. Then I discard 90% of those notes and what ever I'm left with eventually becomes a story.
BB: I've gotten the impression that play is important to your process. Is that true, and if so, why?
NN: I'm not sure how you would define play in this case, but if you mean being playful with colours, imagery, symbols .. then very much so. Drawing comics is a great opportunity to play and it compensates wonderfully for all the hard work!
BB: How do you know that a story is worth investing all the time and effort you put into it? Is there some sort of feeling, or perhaps a kind of knowing that tells you what is worth investing your energy into, and what might not make for a good graphic novel?
NN: I don't think I can possibly be sure until I've already done quite a bit of work on a story -- but I can be sure whether I feel for the characters or not. If I want to draw them page after page and think about them every day for months on end, that's a pretty good indication.
BB: One of the things that really struck me about House of Clay was your use of seemingly fantastic images, which I took to be a sort of interweaving or even interpenetration of Posy's inner world with outer reality, in many scenes which were otherwise wholly realistic. What lead to your use of that effect, and what were you trying to accomplish with it?
NN: Pretty much exactly what you said! I want to make it possible for the reader to know the main character inside and out, to communicate her thoughts and feelings. I'm not sure I know what lead me to use it though. It seemed to want to be that way.
BB: If memory serves, you've said that you're influenced by manga as well as film. What aspects of each of those arts caught your interest?
NN: Yes, both of those, but European comics first and foremost. That's what I grew up reading. What I liked most about manga when I discovered it (in my teens) was the way the layouts were so...free! And lots of pages with full bleeds, all very dynamic. As for movies, the way colour and light are used, symbolic imagery, the way a new panel in a comic can work the same way as a cut in a film.
BB: What's next for you, and when might we be able to see it?
NN: I'm working on a new comic and planning on finishing it during the summer of 2008. So some time after that! In the meantime you can see my paintings in various shows.
BB: What do you get from creating art, in general, and from making comics, in particular?
NN: Finally after all these difficult (but very good and interesting!) questions, something that's easy to answer... I get satisfaction. Pure and simple.
BB: What do you hope readers get from your work?
NN: I hope they enjoy it visually and that they think about the characters and perhaps feel something for them. I hope they want to go back and just look at the pictures even when they already know what the story is about. Or flip through the book quickly just for the colours.
BB: Anything you'd like to add before I let you get back to work?
NN: First of all I'd like to say thanks for interviewing me! Second, my neighbours wouldn't agree but the accordion is a wonderful and sexy instrument which I can hardly do justice. The old lady in House of Clay is a wonderful accordionist though. Write what you know, right! Oh, and my website is www.naomi.se, and House of Clay can be ordered from Amazon.com. Thanks again, Bill!
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