Welcome back to another fantastic installment of 9Q9A! and with it we’re lucky to have the very talented Noora Heikkilä of the beautiful webcomic Judecca. Judecca stretches all the way back to 2009 (an eternity in internet years), so there’s plenty of good story to slake ya. Seat belts on and buttons tight as we dive right in!
Q1] What are you working on right now, art-wise?
I’m working on the webcomic Judecca (http://judecca.co.uk) with my co-writer Jonathan Meecham. It’s kind of a melting pot of things we’re obsessed with, a mundane life narrative in a big epic afterlife noir horror backdrop. It’s very much a Greek tragedy, with lots of nods at religious and mythological history, but it’s not set in any specific time of human existence. Originally we got obsessed with the poem “Inferno” in Dante’s Divine Comedy, and it served as a layout for what we wanted from the island of Judecca. Over the years, we’ve busily added to our mental database of mythological beliefs of all kinds of cultures, and it’s become a story about this common denominator amongst us mortals, that nearly all cultures have these concepts of afterlife. It all exists because we believe it would.
But it’s also a story about mundane human things, emotional baggage, fear, bravery, friendship, romance, sexuality, and so on! The anchor to human stuff is important, otherwise it just gets too big and ponderous, nobody should mistake us for smart people.
Q2] What is your workflow like?
Most of the work-time goes into planning and scripting between Jonathan and me, I think! We’ll go get lost in woods for hours and throw back and forth lines of dialogue and gestures, and just mull over everything to find new things out. We’ll rewrite scenes until they feel right, and get up to silly method acting over it. We probably overthink things too much, but we want the characters and scenes to be just right. After we got an outline, Jon writes it to a scene, and I get to drawing.
I do the pages 100% digitally in Photoshop, and not much of the process is set in stone, as you can probably see the pages tend to change a lot visually. The most important thing to me is that the pages are concise, are visually readable by glance and flow with good “camera work”, and each have their own drama arc per page. I also think colour is important, so I’m yet to update without them, though I’m often terribly tempted to. The colouring stage easily adds the biggest and most tedious phase of the work. I am sitting on unfinished colours for the next page as I type this!
Q3] Who are your top three influences (any medium)?
Oh jeez, the top three probably changes weekly. There are some musicians that, when I hear their work, I instantly drop whatever I’m doing and run off to do creative stuff. I think one song has been on my brain for a good while now, “One Of These Days” by Doves, when the vocals hit I am outta here and in my happy drawing place. Is that an influence?
I am really into artists who give their everything to the craft and don’t make a big deal out of it. There are a lot of young people of my generation that are so passionate and modest, the joy of hard work is very infectious. Sometimes I sit back and think in amazement of how much amazing talent is seeping out of the internet, I’m very happy to partake in that world.
Books! I’d love to be that kid who goes “oh yeah, I learned to read when I was 4, I grew up visiting libraries and know my Isaac Asimov and my Homer”, but in truth I am a terrible literature starved bumpkin. I only really found reading in my late teens-early adulthood, but since then it’s been a tidal wave to my brain. I am trying to catch up on good reading now. I am big into poetry too, the more dramatic the better. Stephen Crane’s and Lucille Clifton’s work have been particularly influencing to Judecca.
Q4] What is the one piece of indispensable advice you would give a comics creator for getting their work out there?
Haha! If somebody has some good advice on that, I’d love to hear!
I am the worst with PR, I constantly get told off for it by my very patient friends. I try to think that as long as you work hard and from your heart, then at some point you will have an audience for what you’re doing. I guess try to give your work and your name to others, but don’t be too defeatist about it (“Oh it’s nothing, it’s just rubbish but here you go”), but I’m kind of terrible about this myself. I bite my tongue and try not to apologise for my work existing. On a good day you can go “I made this, and I would love for you to see it”. Oh, and never take your followers for granted? How absurdly amazing it is that this person, with their own full lives and adventures, did something or wrote something for you? Think of that every time it’s time to say thank you for fan-work.
Q5] What do you think your duty is to the reader (if any)?
I do think we have duties to the reader. Maybe they are very small duties, but they matter still. Somebody somewhere quoted that “it’s not always about fun”, and that resonates with me very much. “Because it’s fun!” doesn’t always cut it, we got to have some line of responsibility. Sometimes reading or seeing something terrible or serious brings a catharsis and if that isn’t the tightest shit about fiction to you, then I can’t help ya.
It’s hard to sit down with your immediate social circle and talk about the blobby and intangible emotional mortal matter inside you. Fiction is the nobody with a personality that will sit down with you and go through with you about your feelings of isolation, or fear of death, or weird sexual urges that make you feel shame. We all come out of fiction with something more, even if it’s all on a very subconscious level.
That said, I do also think that it’s my responsibility to be entertaining. Entertaining doesn’t always equal fun, but it can’t be a waste of the readers time. It has to hit some key with the reader, whether terrific or terrifying, or just fun with responsibility.
Q6] If you could do one thing better, in regards to graphic storytelling, what would it be?
Just one thing? Probably to not be so brainless with digital media, actually! It took me several years to understand the implications of file resolution, I am still utterly lost with how print media works, I am just so terribly unintuitive when it comes to software. I don’t use any fancy grids for my comic pages, and that will probably mean that any printing of it would be a complete graphic design nightmare. You live, you learn…
If we’re talking strictly storytelling, then I just hope that I’ll keep improving across the board. I hope I can learn to do more varied kinds of characters convincingly, and get better at what I can already spin. My ideal scenario would be that I can make somebody laugh, cry or aroused at a creation in our works. Oh, all at once!
Q7] What, if anything, do you prefer to listen to while you work?
I *think* my preference is pretty much across the board, with maybe slight inclination towards indie and pop? But then I go on binges of Tool’s psychedelic metal or British rap like Scroobius Pip. I like mellow and melancholic stuff (Sigur ros, MSMR, Placebo, Björk, The xx, Massive Attack) and what I call sad beardy dudes from UK music (Elbow, Doves, the National, Manchester orchestra)((I’ve been informed that National and Manchester Orchestra aren’t from the UK. My life is a lie.)) Then I do a 180 and go for amazing tacky dance, Kesha, Lady Gaga, Marina and the Diamonds, Lana del Rey, that sexy-time album from Deadmau5.
Most importantly though, Florence + the Machine is my spirit animal and I scrounge through fan blogs held by 16 year olds about her with burning passion.
Q8] What is the one comic story that has stuck with you throughout the years?
There was this one hardbacked graphic novel I brought on a family trip to France when I was about 14? I can’t remember the artist of it, and I think the name translated to “Chronicles of the Immortal”. It was a comic installation of a book series. It had an incredibly melancholic maybe-bad-guy-maybe-good-guy male lead who went shirtless a lot and travelled through plague-ridden towns and lush forests, dispensing some justice all the while. It’s definitely not the most innovative thing to exist story wise, but visually it was an epiphany to little me. Each panel was crafted with meticulous grandeur, beauty was most beautiful and ugliness was fucking terrifying to look at. It’s still with me, that feeling, it sneaks into my art process. And the shirtless dudes. (Max:
Did my best to find this to link up, friends. No dice though. Sorry. Update – Here it is at the author’s source – Chronicles of the Immortal)
I must add a more recent comic, Lucie Durbiano’s “Red Suits You” (rough translation, I think it’s not been translated to english). It’s only been a few years since I read it, but it’s my favourite graphic novel ever. It’s the moment where I realised, wow, it’s not a creative loss to be born a woman. There’s a lot of stuff to tap into that is legitimately interesting about being feminine. It’s easy to get discouraged about doing comics in a male-experience focused field, but every time I think of Durbiano’s works and feel energized again.
Q9] What do you consider to be the greatest power of graphic storytelling?
That you get to do it alone, or in a small trustworthy team! It’s great, it means comics can go really weird and experimental, there aren’t that many rules and regulations. It’s also the middle ground between literature and moving picture, so it gets its strength from both worlds. Both written and filmed media offer great help in creating good comics, so the pool of direct influences isn’t just other comics, it’s a wider collection of media.
The thing that makes it to me is that you are choosing what gets immortalised on the panels about every sequence. It’s such a fantastic play between low-key and high drama, what you choose to put in those panels. In that sense it’s probably like directing film, every visual decision counts towards what the viewer will put their attention and thoughts to. I am very human interaction-oriented when drawing, and I enjoy that a comic panel translates a micro-cosmos of information about body language, emotions and expressions that you can’t necessarily keep bringing up as consistently with written text. The mood lightning and colours can change panel to panel for emphasis, whereas in a movie that might turn out to be jarring.
Really, I am just learning the basics of comic storytelling, and I can’t wait to get to improvise on the strengths of the medium. It’s the coolest journey!
Wow, let me proffer a deep tip of my hat to the amazing Noora Heikkilä for her wonderful, absolutely heartfelt answers. The best thing for me about doing these interviews is that I’m getting to see such a wide variety of answers from creators that I resonate with, yet there are a few salient truths that seem to assert themselves over and over. Noora went above and beyond, now go get lost in/on Judecca.
(Judecca images © Noora Heikkilä and Jonathan Meecham 2013)