The Interview Series continues with an interview I made in person with illustrator collegue and comic artist Irma Eriksson, behind the great Webcomic Imy the Comic, at Espresso House Coffee Shop at Götgatsbacken on Södermalm island in Stockholm, Sweden. Originally from New Jersey, now lives in Stockholm. It became a much longer interview than first anticipated. Several hours. We covered issues on creating art, illustration, comics – and how to make money on Online WebComics.
With no further ado, it´s a pleasure to welcoming Irma, and hope you all enjoy the conversation we had over coffee. Irma had a Grande Caffee Latte, while I had a regular size brew coffee with a tad of milk. Dont know how I could miss out buying a cinnamon bun.
WEBSITE of the great Comic Artist Irma Eriksson
Irma Eriksson website: http://www.imycomic.com
Welcome and thank you for participating in the interview series on my blog.
I got the idea for this interview series many years ago, around 2003-2005, when I got in contact with several other CorelDRAW users, on Coreldraw community forums. I saw how all these people were great in what they do on a daily basis in their profession using the same graphics software programs as I. It was initially the common factor, and you is the first who don’t use the same software suite.
When did you start drawing and creating comics?
– Thank you. It’s actually a difficult question for me to answer. I was of course always drawing as a kid. And I enjoyed it. I never took art classes at school or anything, and I didn’t really do much of traditional drawing with charcoal, any special pens or brushes, things like that. But at my freshman year at college, my room mates boyfriend just happened to have a copy of Photoshop 4.0 on his computer. And illustrator 3 or 4 as well. So he just decided to put it on my computer. I later started my computer at the time and looked at them, and I had no idea what I was looking at, and shut them down. I had never used graphics programs like that before. I had done quite a lot of drawing using the more simple Microsoft paint, learning how to use it to my best ability. And I was only using a mouse then.
The very first comic strip episod of Imy the Comic 2007, by Irma Eriksson
And I thought of Photoshop and Illustrator, well I didn’t understand the tools and features and didn’t understand a thing of it. That was back in 1998. But then I just started little by little test things in both programs. And then a year later I bought my first Wacom drawing tablet, a Graphire 2, I think it was. They came in different colours and I bought a green one. And that’s when I started to practice and really learned to draw using a graphics program. And that was in 1999 or maybe 2000. After years of practice, and I really didn’t get in to it until, I think it was in 2007. And that´s when things really took off as I started to draw my first comic. And it was also then when I really started to draw all the time. So it´s a bit difficult for me to tell exactly when and how I started. Can´t really say specifically when it was.
It evolved with time?
– Yes it was more of an evolving thing
Would you say that it was through the work with the comic that made it all become serious?
– Yes. It was. Because before then I would draw a bit here and there. And I had a blog where I wrote about my life, and was drawing casually about things that went along with what I wrote on the blog. It was really just a light comic and I enjoyed it, but for some reason I couldn’t really get my self into it in the beginning. But the comic gave me a schedule, or I gave myself a schedule. And from there I absolutely had to draw everyday for a week, and so on. So that´s when I really started to draw a lot. Everyday. And the quality of my work very quickly increased, and started to go up as a result of that.
I can totally relate to that, being an artist as well. Drawing everyday give results. You said you started to draw and write a comic about yourself and your daily life, in your first comic. That it is not one of the same comics you create today, is it?
– Oh, no, I was doing a blog before I started drawing my comic, basically on a website where I wrote about my daily life. But actually, yes, when I started my comic on my blog, it was about me. Well sort of. I had no ideas. I didn’t know what I was doing. At the time I didn’t have any specific ideas for a comic. I didn’t plan ahead on where the comic was heading. And people who create a comic, well, you are supposed to come up with a plan. To create the characters from the start. But I just wanted to draw a comic. And it was me, brown hair and so on, and it was about ten comic strip episodes in, when people really wanted to know if it was about me. And I decided, no, it is not about me. So I changed her hair from brown to red. And that´s the comic I still do today: Imy the Comic.
And of course that’s okay. I mean that is what we all do, somehow, isn’t it. Taking reference from our own life and experiences. What we read, see and experience in life, and start to tell a story. And it doesn’t have to be about oneself just because of that. And I think that is good. The story can evolve, like life itself, and talk about more issues than just ones own life.
– Exactly, and that´s what it is. Because there are parts of me in that comic, all over, and not only in the main character, but all characters in the comic. But she really is her own character. It is a different world. But like they say, write about what you know. It´s the easiest thing.
Todays look, style and feel of Imy the Comic, 2015, by Irma Eriksson
You started your comic in 2007. And it is online, equally on your website one can buy printed editions of your comic, right?
– Yes. My comic is online for people to read. And then I have my printed editions which people can buy on my website, and in which I always have extra stories only found in the printed book editions. And I also add some extra art in there. For some years for example I would have illustrations made by my illustrator friends in america and other places, to submit something. I appreciate it so much that they do. They would have to take my characters and draw them with a theme. And you only will find this in the printed editions. The printed editions are Compilation editions of my comics for each years episodes. And I also sell them at Comic Con´s in New York, and in London in a few weeks from now, and Swedish SPX. I have five printed book editions now. I have one out each year.
I share a table with a friend at the Comic Con in New York, and where people can buy them. And it is great. You get to talk with people about your art and your comics.
This years book is a bit different, in that I had a comic running in Göteborgsposten daily newspaper for 1 months now, and I had it translated into Swedish by my husband.
How did that feel, to suddenly see your own comic character in another language, in swedish?
– That was very strange. I loved it, and it was very cool of course. I can write in Swedish of course but it’s not my native language, and I would had wished I could have written the words in swedish myself of course. But it came out very good. And then I took one comic and had friends to translate it to various languages, and had it in the back of the book. To show it in different languages. Same episode, but in different translations. And it had a sneeze in it also, so my husband and I had fun to try to find out how to write a sneeze in Swedish. We had several swedish friends write in swedish the sneeze, and they all wrote differently. So we made one which we felt had all versions in it, somehow, and into one swedish sneeze. It was very funny.
– So you can see it in, I believe, six languages: italian, french, german, spanish, dutch, swedish and english of course.
– Yes, I posted a comic drawing on my twitter, and it went kind of viral, in that it got attention from NASA, who posted on my twitter about how they loved it, the comic drawing I made. And I love space and the universe and so that was great fun of course. I made one with the Shuttle and Orion that they loved!
What would you say is one of the biggest differences between the Comic expo SPX /Small Press Expo) in Sweden compared to the Comic Con in New York? I know, it sounds like an obvious question doesn’t it. But someone have to put the question out there, right.
– I would say that New York Comi con is the mad house. It is crazy, crazy and I can’t even try to explain it for you. Other than just crazy. But, what´s good about it, New York Comic Con versus San Diego Comi-Con, they still promote comics much more than the San Diego version does. And I give them much credit for this. New York have an artist alley. And they do a really good artist alley. And its in the separate part of the convention center and apart from the rest of the madness at the convention with all the celebrities. And there you have artists selling and showing their work, and not together with all the computer games, celebrities and all that. So those who step in there, come for the artists work. And it’s very good. So, to comparing to SPX, would be to say that the New York Comic Con artist alley is comparable with the SPX. And SPX is more independent, with less known artist than the big names at the Comic Con in New York.
– Another difference then of course is the share difference in size and amount of visitors, New York Comic Con simply being a bigger expo. With a guarantee of 150 000 visitors. But one other thing that is also different is, that in Sweden, visitors to your table, where you sit with your comics, more like to watch first and discover by themselves. And then maybe start talking with you. Whereas at the New York Comic Con, the visitors more instantly start to talk, first, and discuss the comic and art and everything. So it clearly is a difference in that respect of course.
Comic artist´s Irma Eriksson & Marc Lapierre, at New York Comic Con
– And in the Comic Con in America it is more about colours. Bold colours. Commercial I guess you can call it. Whereas Swedish SPX is more darker and black and white. Both literally and figuratively. And that’s fine, with the style of black and white drawings. They are beautiful, and you don’t need colours all the time, but they are also more longer forms of stories. More serious topics over here in Sweden. Some really kind of dark stuff. And it just is a very different comic scene. And that´s fine of course and no problem with that. Just different in that respect.
– I spoke with a friend of my husband, who is a swedish artist who make a lot of concept art for Hollywood films, And he said there is a reason for that. And if I remember it correctly, he said that it was a reaction to the stories like Bamse and all playful, not dark or anything, swedes read when they were kids and growing up. And comics especially back then, seen more like something for kids, only. And that comic artists in Sweden today, wanted to tell real stories with maybe more grown up subjects, and way of drawing.
I can actually agree a bit with that. But I would probably add that society as a whole has changed quite a bit as well.
When you started making your comic, was it something special, a turning point in life, like you walked into a glass door, or event that made it take off to what it is today?
– Haha, glass door, no. But yes there was a specific moment. I always wanted to make a comic. And I had been reading webcomics. And as a kid I loved Garfield. I never thought I could make one myself. Thinking that I couldn’t write like that. I was really into reading the Elvis comic by Cronstam and Nemi by Lise Myhre, the norwegian comic artist. And those two especially, made me feel I really wanted to that. But I felt I couldn’t come up with anything special, any ideas. But then I just drew for myself a fun image for my Facebook, an image of myself listening to my Ipod. And put it up as my profile picture. And one of my friends commented, she said: “This one really looks like a newspaper comic. You really should do a comic about yourself living in Sweden”. And I don’t know why, but for some reason her writing that, was that moment. And I said: “Okey I´ll going to do it!”. And I wrote my first comic, and so silly, but I wrote it anyway. And today when I look back at it, the art and feeling “o my god”. But the point is that I made one, and her writing that. And I think it was that morning I made my first comic. And it was all very quick: draw it and put it up online. I didn’t want to wait for anything, I just wanted to put something out there. More like “so, look what I did”, and feeling I did this.
Must have been a fantastic feeling
– Yeah, and I was just thinking I would do 5 comic strips. And when I saw I had done 5, I felt well, now I can do a few more. And I kept doing it. So her comment and seeing me doing it, it was a great feeling. Yes, so that was the moment when it all started, 2007.
You make the comic inspired by your own life and events and things happening, but would you say there is also a sort of red thread going through the story. Something that is kind of always present?
– Well, I mean, I started it more like a newspaper typ of comic, in the beginning, like a fun story. But it is based on a character, her apartment and her friends and a fictitious city. Not saying it is any real town or city in the world, in which she lives. So there is a thread about her life. And if there is any people who have read the comic for years, from the beginning, they will recognize characters, and some they like to come back again. I have a character who is a fish in a coffee pot which come back now and then. I don’t know if there is any specific thread, but it’s about her life.
For a while I thought that the Swedish SPX, the Small Press Expo comic festival, had vanished, I´ve been busy working. But like you said it is still around. There was that Stockholm Comic Con that felt odd, when they never came out with any real information at the beginning. What would you say about the SPX instead. I used to like SPX and I wrote a blog article about it a few years ago. Do you think it is still a great expo?
– Yes, SPX is still around. Sometimes its in april and sometimes in may. It´s still at Kulturhuset in Stockholm, and it is getting bigger. And they have a lot of guest from various countries. Every year there is a theme. One year there was american guests, and last year I think it was Canadians. I don’t think it is always country themes. There are other themes too I believe. And I think it´s a great show!
– It´s all independents and no big names. Just independents and many people come back.
Being a swede meant when I was growing up, that I read a lot of comics from France and Belgium, and for that matter unknowingly a lot of from Italy – Cowboy comics. The comics from France and Belgium: Asterix & Obelix, the Smurfs, Lucky Luke and so on. And when I talk with american friends, they never heard of Lucky Luke. Which is a huge comic here in europe. But at the same time I got exposed by all the american comics as well of course. The super heroes we all know about – and comic book stories in Agent X9, as its called in Sweden. More crime and real world type of crime stories. I read tons of Modesty Blaise as a kid, up until the spanish comic artist kind of destroyed it with his way of drawing Modesty.
It continued of course with Disney, and later on in my teens, the underground comics from america and in the 80´s and 90´s the Noir-ish comics. Frank Miller Sin City for example. By the way I really just need one Frank Miller book in my book shelve from the Sin City comics, and that’s “The Yellow Bastard”. Brilliant art and composition. Very inspiring. Okay, Mike Mignola also of course, who is another huge personal favorite, together with Mobius (Jean Giraud) and Jean-Claude Mézières
Is there something you as an american think we should dig into? To find out about, different to the genres and style I mentioned?
Or is american comics just about Super Hero Comics and nothing else…
– Haha, yes its ONLY about superhero´s. NO, of course there is lot more than just that. But of course when you specifically go to a Comic con in the US you will see a lot of superheros. Really, a lot.
Unfortunately with super hero comics is the female characters drawn with huge silicon breasts and small mouths and so on. A quite tiring view on women. Gets a bit boring, to say the least, as you grow up.
– Yes, I know what you mean, but I would say there is a big change going on now. People demanding and saying you should´nt draw women in comics like that. Be more creative and give more depth to the characters, better costumes, better ideas, and things like that.
There is one notorious comic artist, Rob Liefeld who is so bad. You might first think they look well drawn, but then you see how he make drawings of women in twisted positions, unreal looking, just to show both boobs and buts in the same frame. And people has started to react against that.
And I think the reason this change and critique have started, is because of the Comic Cons. I have a friend who used to go to every Comic Con from the beginning, when there used to be only comics and basically only men visiting the conventions. And now that has totally changed. These days it is more 50-50 women and men. And families. And the visitors of course start to demand things. Saying: “well, that’s too old fashion these days”. Things are shifting and there are a lot of discussions about that online.
They also want more female stories, and better dressed females. And they want that change, now. But there is also a lot of resistance towards this new change of things as well. It´s a comics revolution going on.
I guess it’s also a lot of men in the world of comics sitting in front of their computers, doing whatever they are doing, feeling they are being somewhat invaded into their own space. That they are loosing something. And then react I guess.
– Yes, and a male friend of mine, who is a comic artist, always wanted to get women to be part of all this, the comics world. And now when women are participating, and it is just a few of course, not all men, they start to complain about it. And his thoughts about it is that when they were younger, the women rejected them. And now when they are here, these same men feel bitter. It seems.
I think its true what you say, but I suspect it can also be part of men fearing loosing their realm of things, and ultimately loosing their control. And men don’t like loosing control, as an ingredient to what you said. And when they lose their control, they act out. It doesn’t have to be physical violence, but mind game and building their own imagined world instead. To re-gain control.
At least from my personal experience of the Swedish comic scene, it feels like women comic artists are taking over, or at least getting more exposure in the media right now. And that’s okay with me. Although 50/50 should be the ultimate goal. Equally what I can feel, and I am not criticizing it, just noticing, is that a lot of swedish comics are about me-centric issues. I´m missing a broader diversity of issues and topics. Whats your thought?
That´s why online comics, self publishing online have really blown up in the last five years. And have changed everything. And where you can find diversity and deeper stories. That´s where people can write and draw whatever they want. And that´s were you will find everything you are looking for.
I mean, there is a lot awful stuff, and lot of shallow stuff, and a lot of fluffy stuff, light comics. And maybe mine is a bit fluffy and light
No, I am not against light comic stuff or humour. I love it and read it. And humour often have a deeper thing in it. I just want to be able to read more diverse stories. So I am not criticizing. And I like your comic, and the style, which is one of the reasons I like to have this interview.
But I mean, it´s also because newspapers are disappearing, and they like to keep the old stuff. More like Peanuts and Garfield. And they like to create more space in the paper for other things, and that’s one of the problems. But Garfield, a great comic, it´s been published now, for how many years, 35 years or so? And they are still creating more new Garfield, and for example Blondie. My mom who is 75, who loves Blondie would be devastated if they remove Blondie.
But there are so many new people in comics, who ask why they can´t get into the newspapers. On the other hand, there is so much happening in online web comics and the possibilities, therefore many simply don’t want to go into the newspapers anymore. And one being that they are disappearing as well.
And the comics is one of the things people read in the newspaper, so they basically alienate some readers, and have them go elsewhere. Odd and seems a stupid decision.
But again, in online comics, which is shifting and changing everything, is where it’s happening, and we don’t know where its gonna wind up right now.
That leads me to a new question – money. How do you make money from online comics. If they are out there easy for everyone to read? Being a freelancer, an artist, illustrator, is tough work. How to make a living from it. Whats your take on it?
It´s the constant question everyone is asking, of course. It’s not an easy answer, especially as its online. There is a lot of freedom to publish online, and to make it available to read their comics. And while some charge money, many other people give away their comics for free, and people reading them expect to read them for free. And I am one of those people who put them online for free. Because in the beginning I just wanted to put them out there. And really no one really know how to make money from their comics. But those who do make money have been the lucky ones. Of course they have good stuff also, you can’t beat quality. You can’t make crappy comics either, and then expect people to pay for it.
But do you think we should go offline, and maybe just offer a teaser, create a cliffhanger and then if people like to read more they have to pay?
Should we go offline? It’s hard to say. But really, it can’t go offline. The world is online and it’s already out there.
PayPal? Have you heard of Patreon? ( www.patreon.com ). it’s a new thing that got started a few years ago. I havent really tried that out yet, but more and more people are getting into that. Using Patreon, and its working for some people, is like a monthly subscription, where people sign up. You can put your comic up for free, like I do. And then you the creator have an account. You can then let your readers know, that if they like your comic and like to read it, they can go to Patreon and pay whatever amount they like for a month and subscribe. Be it 1 dollar or 5 dollars a month and so on. And maybe, not necessary, you have different levels. Offer them extra stuff. View and read something before its released. And it has started to be quite successful for a lot of people, making money from their comics. And some people lock their comics on a website, so you can only read it if you subscribe. People use it differently and what works for them. This have been the best way so far to make money from your self published comics online. It’s a new thing and starting to take off.
In what way is that different from PayPal Donate? If you can pay to Patreon and then when you like your money, you can have them transfer it to your PayPal. But that is kind of double fee for those services. For you who sell your comics and want your money into the bank.
I think people get more involved when they have a Patreon account. They are logged in like a member of your comic. I am not entirely into that myself right now, but its an interesting new thing. Before Patreon it was mostly just advertizing on ones website. But all the banners and advertizing just become so saturated and the money involved in placing them to your website have fallen. So, it’s not working quite as before. Advertizing on your website doesn’t make much, unless you have thousands and thousands of readers on your website or blog or comic page everyday.
One don’t expect to make so much money on ones comics these days, it’s simply hard to do. Originally, for me, I didn’t even go into comics for the money. I went into comics purely for my own reasons to tell comic stories.
One thing of course could be to self publish your comics, on print as well, on Amazon. One thing with Amazon though is that not all people in the world can sell on Amazon, unless there is a dedicated amazon domain for that country. Simply because Amazon doesnt transfer money you have earned as a seller, to any bank account, unless it’s a country with a domain Amazon use. For example Sweden with one of the absolute strongest economies don’t presently have an Amazon domain, which is “.se”. But equally this could be one interesting thing for many self publishing creators out there. Many who read comics don’t necessarily hang around the usual comic reader crowd.
One of the reason of course for regular publishing houses, is that e-books don’t cost as much as a printed book. And so they don’t get enough revenue. And people lose their jobs and publishing businesses go out of business.
And now for the final question, Irma, the “important” one everyone get in this Interview Series, do you drink coffee or tea for breakfast?
Plain fresh water
Excellent, wouldnt had thought that for second.
Thank you very much Irma Eriksson. This interview has been great fun and inspiring. And I am very happy you accepted to be part of my ongoing Interview Series here on my blog.
Illustrator, artist & graphic designer
www.canvas.nu & www.stefanlindblad.com
Irma Eriksson, illustrator and comic artist