Veslemøy refuses to become an apathetic machine of society. Instead of sleeping through life, she poses critical questions that engage and challenge. The series has been featured in newspapers, magazines and school books and is followed by thousands of people on social media. In the author’s debut book “Veslemøy” from 2015, Vantina collected her best comic stripes.
Communicating a message is more important to me than the drawing itself
When did you start drawing?
-I’ve always drawn. I started drawing as early as I could keep a pencil in my hand.
Artists often feel the call to express themselves. Do you think this was the reason why drawing became your path?
-Probably so. I started writing and drawing “books” as four-year-old. I was fascinated by stories and how images convey them. I had a lot of vivid images in my head that lived their own life. Communicating a message is more important to me than the drawing itself though.
An artist’s path is often not going in a straight line.
An artist’s path is often not going in a straight line. For instance you began to study something completely different from drawing. What happened?
-I never thought I would work with something creative. I had no ambitions beyond dreaming of becoming an author. Since I love books, I studied to become a librarian, but I quickly found that this was not right for me. A few years went by, working in a bookstore, before I attempted working as a cartoonist. As soon as I started, I became obsessed and it soon became my main focus.
I started drawing “Veslemøy” during a very dark period of my life. I felt my life was going in a wrong direction and I realized that I had to do something drastic to change it. So, I drew my first fifteen cartoons sent them to Side2.no.
Expression of opinions
Where did the idea of the character Veslemøy come from? Was it a reflection on yourself?
-I didn’t think too much about the character, I just started writing about things I cared about. Veslemøy became my voice and has been ever since. I have not attempted to give her personality traits that are separate from my own. But I have not created a biographical series either. I have simply written down my thoughts and she has conveyed them.
When I began working for Side2.no, I had no idea how the comic would turn out. I tried to make a comedy series at the start, with black humor and oblique views on society, but as my life became harder, the series started to reflect that and became darker. I began to express opinions in Veslemøy that I hadn’t dared before, and this made me discover the possibilities of the format. I allowed myself to let go of the idea that comics always have to be a fun experience.
-The reactions in the beginning were very negative. Both readers and publishers / agents told me that I used the format incorrectly. That I had to make longer pieces if dark and heavy themes were to be expressed, but I didn’t listen.
How did you react to the resistance? Were you sometimes tempted to change the series to comply with the wishes of others?
-I was frustrated by the reactions, but I still had the feeling that it was right to do as I did. I felt I needed to make the comic my way. It was helpful to me and I realized it might even be helpful to others if I dared say the things that were really on my mind. Besides, Side2.no was not pressuring me in any way. They never complained about the content and did not interfere with what I made. I’m extremely grateful for that. If I had been working for a publisher at this time, it would have been harder. Then the possibilities for support and further publication would be too tempting and the threshold for giving up under pressure would be lower.
View from infinite angles
-It’s tough to stand alone, it’s tough to resist pressure and it’s tough for artists to speak their truths. But after a few years of struggle, I started to receive pleasant feedback on the darker cartoons. Many people started to identify with Veslemøy and were grateful for her voice. We live in a very superficial time because everything we do might be published in social media and we feel we have to be presentable constantly. We are on stage all the time, being observed and judged in a way that was not possible before. It affects us, bringing us partly closer together and partly further apart in strange ways. It’s an enormous pressure we have to live with, unless we step completely out of today’s norm and embrace more old-fashioned alternatives.
I can recognize that, at the same time we are living in a time where it is also possible to come forward with these perspectives that the Veslemøy series conveys. I am experiencing greater openness now and that more people dare to be open about their thoughts and experiences. In the same way, I experience your series as very complex. It illuminates the shadows in society, but also gives hope and new reflections and offers new ways to think about life.
Where do you pull this wisdom from? Is it only from your own experience and journey, or have you researched teachings from spiritual teachers, been inspired by Buddhist thoughts, etc.?
-You’re absolutely right. This is an exciting time. That everyone (at least in the western world) actually has the opportunity to express themselves now is amazing and very new. It boosts human development and I’m excited about where it will go.
“It is difficult to illuminate the shadow sides while trying to convey hope.”
-I’m glad you experience the comic as complex. It is difficult to illuminate the shadow sides while trying to convey hope. I feel frustration when I write about a topic and feel at the same time that I need to be careful with what I express. All topics can be viewed from infinite angles, and I strive not to be one sided. For example, by writing multiple stripes about the same topic over time to illuminate the nuances. When you put comics on Facebook you quickly see people’s reactions. Through feedback I discover if I manage to get the point across or not. But it’s the funniest thing as well, how differently one person will interoperate a message compared to another. To explore topics and have a dialogue with my readers are the greatest reward in this job.
Where do I take it from? I read a lot and my development reflects into the comic. I’ve gone from writing misanthropic and atheist cartoons to talk about collective consciousness and meditation. My head is never quiet and I want to explore as many perspectives as possible. I strive to challenge my own views and the opinions I get from others. In order to do that, I listen to everything from old philosophers and writers to spiritual teachers and read professional literature. I have read a lot of Carl Jung, Blavatsky and Anais Nin in recent years. I’m also inspired by movies and TV shows.
To give a voice to those who doesn’t have on
-I really felt the commitment from my readers back in 2011 when Veslemøy was a guest strip at Dagbladet.no. After this I created a Facebook page of the series and since then my followers have grown. Veslemøy has mostly become known through Facebook and I think it’s a comic that people get used to. I’ve been doing this for ten years now and in 2015 I published a cartoon collection from my first seven years. That was very exciting!
You preferred to do a written interview, not being interviewed on video or through a podcast. Is it important to you to stay a bit in the background?
-I like written interviews because it gives me time to think before I answer. I think it makes the interview better, but there is also a need in me to stay in the background. When the book came out, I had to challenge myself in that area. I feel no need to be recognized on the street.
“I’m hoping to give a voice to those who doesn’t have one”
What is your intention with the series and what do you want the series to change and possibly contribute to?
-With this comic I’m hoping to give a voice to those who doesn’t have one, giving light to topics that most people don’t want to talk about, and to express things that I feel needs to be expressed. If the series can change something, I hope it can make it easier for people to stand up for themselves and to be who they really are. It’s allowed to struggle with things, it’s part of being human. I strive to contribute to a broader perspective and I want to encourage people to have greater acceptance and as many perspectives on a topic as possible. I want to convey an antidote to narrow mindedness.
What are your dreams for the future?
-My dreams for the future is to get the cartoon translated and published in the world. I also dream about writing more books.
Interview by Jannecke Øinæs