From Varoom! magazine, 2017
Anna Haifisch’s twitter photo is unnerving. Her head and shoulders sit bust-like among seals in a museum diorama. And reading her latest book is equally unnerving. If you skip ahead to the last answer in the questionnaire, you’ll find out how Anna Haifisch regards the notion of rhythm in drawing. So I’ll try to avoid the word while writing about The Artist, which initially appeared as a weekly strip on vice.com.
A proxy for all struggling creatives, the strip is full of painful situations. Here, the excitement and unfettered creativity experienced at art school runs smack bang into the ugly realities of life, from the failed attempt to shrug off internet browsing – so work can actually be done – to the jealousy that colleagues’ success provokes.
Talking to herself and her peers honestly is what Haifisch’s The Artist does. In it, her bird-like character, thin and pale, travels through the world of commissioning editors and gallerists, never at home, never at ease. Anna herself invokes Steinberg, Tove Jansson and Walt Disney as influences. Occasionally, a title page of a new strip will reference great art – Matisse, Munch, Caspar David Friedrich – as a background for The Artist to appear in, each done in the shaky line that characterises her style.
Haifisch gets a lot of mileage for a straightforward six-panel page formula with limited use of text. “I think repetition is essential for comics. I don’t know how many times I’m drawing the same thing. From panel to panel, making sure the reader can follow my thoughts. You can’t be lazy; there are no shortcuts to repetition.”
She marries her penwork to an unusual colour palette, which partly came about from her work as a screen printer. She spoke to one interviewer of her colour rules: “Don’t use red, yellow, blue and green together unless you want your work to look like an ugly children’s book – get rid of at least one of them (Goodbye green.) / Use the colors that’ll emerge when you mix them (that’s where the purple and pink are coming from) / Pick one colour that bites one of the chosen colours from above and add it to your palette (here and there you’ll find an awful brown in my work).
Haifisch goes for the big themes, too: “The religious or mythological tone is my favourite part of writing The Artist. It’s pure honesty. When I talk about artists as saviours and saints, I really mean it (and every other word, too). It’s me giving a speech. I deeply believe that art is mankind’s last straw before it sinks into brutality and chaos. If we let go of art, the world is lost, and we will all die not soon after.”
It’s funny, acute and smart, but like many great strips (Matt Groening’s Life is Hell, Bob Burden’s Flaming Carrot, Ali Fitzgerald’s Hungover Bear) she captures the secret melancholy of a life examined, and what at first appears simple slowly begins to reveal its complexities. The saddest frames are the ones that have no words, where the viewer effectively reads ‘between the lines’ to feel the awkwardness and loneliness The Artist trades in.
A Q&A with Anna Haifisch
Materials: Dip pen, ink
Research: Haikus, BBCs’ The Nation’s Favourite Poems, comic books, friends and art shows.
Process: Going to the studio around eleven to see what’s up. Bohemian style. No steady rhythm. I work pretty much every day and like working late. But I don’t like to call drawing work, because it doesn’t feel like it.
Resistances: Drawing comics can be very boring. There’s too much repetition involved. I like to change it up with drawing other things. Also, I like to do some printmaking from time to time.
Insight: The Artist transformed from a flat character on paper into my mate. We really became friends over the last two years. I care for him a lot. Often enough I feel bad for him for throwing him into all these horrible situations.
Distractions: The internet, emails.
Numbers: Six panels per page, three pages per comic. That’s pretty much the maximum of attention the reader is willing to spend on an online comic.
Rhythm: I find it repulsive when people talk about a ‘rhythm in the line’. I think that’s the worst one can say about a drawing. Then I always picture an artist wearing a poncho and dancing barefoot in the studio. Swinging a wet brush.
*The quotes are taken from an excellent interview with Shawn Starr and Oliver Ristau for the blog Left Me Wanting More. [leftmewantingmore.blogspot.co.uk/2016/09/unleashed-in-east-interview-with-anna.html]
There’s also a video here of Anna talking at an It’s Nice That event.
Reprinted by kind permission of Varoom!