Amanda Vahamaki Interviewed by Blaise Larmee

Posted by on April 8th, 2010 at 12:01 AM

Amanda Vahamaki explores wandering, dream-like narratives with lucid characters and lush pencil drawings. Her debut graphic novel “Campo di Babà” (“The Bun Field”) was originally published by the Italian Collective Canicola and has since been published in a number of languages. Currently active in Finland and recently published in Drawn and Quarterly Showcase and The Comics Journal #296, she is truly an international artist. Her work transcends borders of place and time, revealing a space that is as universal as it is unique.

Blaise Larmee: Can you tell me a little more about your life right now? What is it like where you live?

Amanda Vahamaki: I live in Helsinki in a district called Eastern Pasila, famous for its dull ’70s architecture. I live on the 11th floor of one of those ’70s concrete buildings. I try to work as a full-time comic artist. I usually work at the comic studio called Kutikuti, which is run by a collective of 12 people, all comic artists more or less. It’s located in the basement of the Helsinki Comic Center (Finnish Comics Society & Pitkämies comic store). Here’s some links:

www.kutikuti.com
www.pitkamies.net
http://sarjakuvakeskus.fi/in-english/

Right now I’m on a maternity leave, staying home with my 4 months old baby boy.

BL: You are also a member of the Italian collective Canicola. What interests you in collectives?

AV: Well, I’m not exactly so into collectives as one might imagine. I lived in Bologna, Italy for six years and studied arts. I started to realize I was more a comic artist than a regular artist when I almost accidentally went to a Canicola meeting. The collective was formed because Edo Chieregato (a critic) and Andrea Bruno (a comic artist) had talked about the situation in Italy and they thought there was nothing interesting going on and that something should happen. I think I just was there and thought: Why not? The first issue of Canicola came out in 2005. It was a very intensive project, mostly because all the details were always discussed together. The stories were supposed to be drawn exclusively for the anthology and again discussed. I graduated in 2006 and soon after that I decided to move back to Finland. Right now Canicola isn’t much of a collective any more, because all its members started to have so much other things to do as well. Mostly because in Italy it is impossible to make your living out of comics like that. But it is still an anthology and a small publishing house.

Anyway, I went to live in Helsinki where the Kutikuti collective roams free. I think Kutikuti is, above all, a studio where you can work. The actual collective work takes part occasionally when we are asked to do something together for an exhbition or a publication or what have you. Then there’s Kuti magazine, a free tabloid that comes out four times a year, and everybody takes part in that process, but it’s of course very different compared to working on an anthology.

I wanted to have a studio because all that working home alone started to drive me crazy. Usually when I go to the studio I still mind my own business most of the time, but somehow I need the messy environment and the other people as well.

I don’t know if this was an answer to your question … but now that you know the historical facts I could say I’m very happy about the Canicola experience but I’m also happy it’s over. I find it difficult to collaborate with anybody. I’ve tried to avoid it, but it always emerges. It causes me pain, but I must say sometimes the result is worth it. I had to collaborate with Michelangelo Setola to make that Souvlaki Circus book and all that time I suffered enormously but I think that the book is beautiful.

Kutikuti is more free and there’s not much suffering. There’s plenty of practical stuff to do though, like cleaning up and paying the bills etc., which, of course, sometimes is boring.

BL: Do you feel any solipsism as a creator? I am reminded of dreams when I look at your work, and the solipsism of dreams.

AV: No, absolutely not. This solipsism doesn’t sound like my cup of tea at all. It’s more that I’m a quiet and slow worker and sometimes I feel exhausted by others and their ideas. I am one of four children, maybe that’s why …

Honestly, I find this idea very strange and somehow useless. I think dreams are of a social nature. I mean, yes, when you dream you might be in your own dreamworld, but it is necessarily related to everyone else’s dreamworld, it has to be, otherwise it would all be senseless. I tend to think that dreams are very important and they all make sense. I like to use dreams in my comics for this reason. I think they reveal something essential about us human beings without being too harsh and direct. They might seem strange, but there’s always something very familiar in them

BL: What is a/the dreamworld? Where are you in relation to this world when you are drawing comics?

AV: I think I used the word just to indicate how you feel when you are dreaming: that you are somewhere and something is happening. In a way you are there and something happens. When I’m drawing comics I am in this world, the “real world.”

BL: “You are somewhere and something is happening.” This is a very interesting way to describe the sensation of dreaming. Do you not feel this way in the “real world” as well sometimes?

AV: Sure!

BL: Could you also describe this sensation as being in the present moment? When you are remembering dreams/experiences, how do you translate the past into the present? For example, I remember having been in love, but I cannot remember the actual sensation (being in the present moment) of love. In this way, it reminds me of a dream.

AV: I started writing down my dreams at the age of 10. Writing the dream down helps a lot and when I read my old dreams, I’m also reminded of the sensations, the feelings that can’t be translated into words, I had while I was dreaming. I think I can remember actual sensations, how I felt when this and that happened. Of course I can’t be sure that these memories are exact, but I don’t think that it really matters.

BL: Can you tell me a little about your baby and what your pregnancy was like?

AV: Well, it was all very special to me because he’s my first one. But

I guess it doesn’t have much to do with my professional life except for slowing it down a little. I mean, of course it has changed me in some ways but I don’t know how it will affect the things I do.

BL: It’s funny, because you talk about comics as if they are just like “work” for you, but I don’t get that impression when I look at your books. The characters in your comics seem like the opposite of the word “professional” — they are young, romantic and curious. Do you identify with these characters at all, when it comes to making comics?

AV: There’s work and work. Drawing comics is work for me, there’s nothing bad about it. It’s a very important part of my life and I like to call it work. “Young, romantic and curious.” Wow, this makes them sound so appealing. I was hoping they might not be so appealing. Most of them are children. I do identify with them, but I’m trying to move into a direction where the characters would be more themselves and less me.

BL: Could you please describe a dream you had recently.

AV: I dreamed we had had seven babies at once like Apu

Nahasapeemapetilon, but I was only staying with my son and the rest of the babies were with Magda, the cleaning woman of one of the characters of Sex and the City. We also had a lot more cats that were hiding all over the house. We were staying in some rich people’s house for free. I said to my husband we should spend more time on the terrace, but my husband said: “Why on earth?”

Images ©2010 Amanda Vahamaki

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