WEBCOMIC INTERVIEW: Maria Photinakis

Maria's comic honoring the victims of the Boston bombing.
Maria’s comic honoring the victims of the Boston bombing.


Thanks for joining us!
Wee! Happy Valentines day! Hope everyone is enjoying some chocolate or something.

So tell us a little bit about yourself!
Hi, I’m Maria. I live in grumpy/lovely Boston, Massachusetts. You could loosely describe me as “fearsomely geeky,” but Michael you know that you and I often have Twitter Star Trek TNG quote-offs (which, granted, you usually win, but I put up a good fight!) Video games, comics, anime, general computer nerdery (I was a compsci major for a few years) — all of that is my jam. Traveling isn’t really a hobby so much as it’s a thing I make sure I do as much as I can – my parents are Greek and I studied French and Japanese in my schooling so getting out and experiencing other places and cultures is something I do a lot, and I feel it’s crucial in informing my work.

Great! So tell us about your comic!
My current project is a comic called Red Flag, which I will have hot off the presses at MeCAF (and online of course). It’s about a woman who really, really wants to live in space, and has been dreaming about it since she was a kid — and we see the lengths she’ll go to (and the problems she’ll endure) just to get there. But on a higher level, it’s really about what drives us to pursue our dreams, and how much we’ll doggedly hang on to our dreams despite lots of setbacks… and how far we can go before hitting our breaking point and inevitably (gasp!) give up on our long-held dreams.

I also have an online diary webcomic, so to speak, called Between Sleeps. Which admittedly is a poor webcomic because I break The Cardinal Rule of Webcomics in that I just update it when I feel like I have something to say. Big no-no, right there. But it’s what I work on when I’m not working on other major projects, and I plan on making it more of a regularly updated thing once Red Flag is finally in print.

I’ve also done some work for anthologies as well as a mini one-shot called “Silent Fluency,” which is about immigrant-kid-angst about not speaking your parents’ native language.

What was the origin of the project? Was there any specific event that happened that made you want to create it?
Red Flag is rooted in my own experience recently in being a part of a brand-new art community that went belly-up in a rather catastrophic way. It was my first time having my own dedicated art space, and it took so many long nights and many hours of manual labor just to get facilities functional. I’d always wanted to be part of an art community (artist studio, what have you) and when it fell apart, I was pretty sure that I was done with the whole idea. It made me question my own artistic abilities and what the heck I was really trying to accomplish here, if I was really worthy of it. It sucked. So I decided to try and make a comic loosely based on that turmoil I felt, but I changed the premise of the story because, let’s face it, painting walls and moving tag sale furniture doesn’t make for suuuuuuper interesting comics.

Maria's comic honoring the victims of the Boston bombing.
Maria’s comic honoring the victims of the Boston bombing.

How did the style of your project comic come about? Are there any direct styles or inspirations you draw from?
I have an amalgamated style that reveals some of my old-school manga influences (like a lot of 90s kids I just gobbled that stuff up!), but a little bit of Byzantine iconographic style has found its way in to my work. It’s an old form of narrative illustration, basically, that didn’t rely on text much at all, since it was assumed that the people viewing the images were illiterate. When I’m pencilling, I try to give my work the Byzantine test and see if I can still follow the story and loosely figure out what’s going on just based on those images. If it’s not clear what’s going on, I need to go back and rework.

How do you come up with ideas for your (comic)(webcomic)(project)? Is there any special way you approach the creative process of the comic?
I do a lot of writing professionally in my day job, so a lot of practices and principles there help in the comic world. For example, I’m an obsessive journaler. I am never without a notebook or two and I’m always always jotting down notes and doodles. Almost none of that ever goes anywhere, but sometimes a phrase or an idea will lead somewhere. And it’s always when I least expect it — I mean, seriously, like in a boring business meeting that’s been going on for 5 hours, someone will just use a word or phrase that sends me down an awesome rabbit hole for an idea, and I’m writing it all down furiously. And then, I sleep on it. Get a tiny bit of distance between myself and the concept, and start building it up or poking holes as needed.

Do you listen to music or watch tv when you work? Is there a specific (tv show)(music album)(insert media) that gets you in the zome?
I just can’t do TV when I’m working. I tried the whole Netflix-marathoning-thing and I get totally zombied out. My current studio doesn’t even have wifi and it barely gets cell phone coverage and it is LITERALLY the best thing for me. No distractions! But yes, music is so crucial. Generally anything chillout or trancey works really well for me, as I’ve been a nut for techno (and its ilk) since the early 90s…lately I’ve been really into Japanese chillout that has a heavy hiphop and jazz influence, so Uyama Hiroto and nujabes have been working wonders for me.

Who is/are your favorite artist(s)?
In terms of comic artists, Adam Hughes completely blows me away. As does Kevin Wada. Their works are just SO delightful. Faith Erin Hicks and Kate Beaton exemplify comic creators who tell great stories with fantastic art with a very clear and distinctive voice of their own.

Do you consider them a strong influence on your work?
I think of a lot of them as a guiding light… these are creators that weren’t really doing work that had been seen (or that wasn’t super popular) before they came along. It was either you were really indie and obscure or you did superhero work, or so it seemed. They paved the way for a lot of other people to do what they felt was their calling and break new ground. They didn’t feel the need to pigeonhole their work — you know, spandex or GTFO. They figured they have interesting stories to tell and they were gonna tell ’em, their way. Plus I really like that Hicks and Beaton both still use traditional media a lot of the time. I love how digital processes have allowed people to things out the door more quickly, but I’m still really attached to pen/pencil/brush on paper and the look that gives. Sometimes I think I’m crazy for still making comics the ‘old way,’ especially as an indie comic creator, but they give me courage that it can still be done.

How do you juggle your daily life with the comic? Are there ever any challenges?
It’s constant push and pull. I work a very challenging day job at a software startup, and my work day is rarely 9-to-5. But I’m lucky that my day job involves quite a bit of creativity and publishing in general, so some of my day job experience has really come in handy in comics. Plus I’ve even had a chance to do comics FOR my day job, which is pretty amazing. I got a lot of inspiration from Summer Pierre’s “The Artist in the Office” and worked hard to bring a lot of the practices in that book into my day job. It felt weird and almost forced at first but once I got into the habit of making my day job more creative, and letting people I work with know that I’m a comics creator, it was amazing the support I got and the new opportunities that started coming my way. It’s a struggle every day to find time and energy to do all of this, absolutely. Comics are a second job for me. But I would go completely crazy if I didn’t make comics, I just love doing it and it’s worth every moment. I wouldn’t draw and make comics if I didn’t completely enjoy it as much as I do.

ranma-photinakis

Where do you see your comic in a year, in five?
November 2012 was basically when I “premiered” myself as a comic artist out there in the world. I literally just dipped my toe in the water to see what would happen. Before that point I’d never really put my work out there, even though I’d been creating for years and years. In that short amount of time, just a smidge over a year at this point, I’ve had works published and art in art shows and am working on things on a scale I never would have thought. It really blows my mind how much things can chance in basically ONE year.

By the end of this year, I hope I am more comfortable using color. I predominantly work in b/w and I feel it’s become a crutch for me. Color is so far outside of my comfort zone right now but I keep forcing myself to use it.

In five years? I sincerely hope I’ll be a few years into a regularly updated long-form scifi/fantasy webcomic at that point. I just got married last September and my life’s been super crazybusy since then, so I just need things to calm down a smidgen so I can get into that routine you need to get that webcomic backlog started and start publishing on a dependable, steady schedule. I try to only concern myself with things I can control, like the work that I do — recognition and whatnot really just comes or it doesn’t… I don’t want to get too precious about what I’m doing or what I want to do. I just hope I’m telling the stories I want to tell and continually pushing myself to try new techniques and improve my technical skills.

Do you have any upcoming events you’d like to share, such as signings, Cons or art shows? l
I’ll be participating in the Somerville Open Studios (in lovely Somerville, MA), which is May 3 and 4. Anyone in the area can come by and see my studio and what I’m working on.
I’ll be tabling at MeCAF (Portland, ME) on May 18, 2014! I’ll be premiering my new book, Red Flag, here!

I hope you enjoyed this interview with Maria Photinakis, and make sure you connect with her on social media outlets so you can stay up-to-date with the latest news on her projects and cons!

Websites:
Maria’s Website
Maria’s Facebook Page
Maria’s Twitter Account

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