“Kristina Gehrmann, age 29
Hi, I’m an illustrator and graphic novelist living and working in Hamburg, Germany! 🙂
What do you do? (Write, draw, edit, publish, promote etc.) How did you get started doing that?
In digital painting and drawing, I’m fully self taught. I started working with a graphics tablet in 2002. Back then there weren’t as many tutorials on the internet as today, so I relied a lot on experimenting and figuring out things on my own. I still worked with traditional media alongside often, right until I finished my courses of classical academic art at Angel Academy of Art (Florence, Italy) in 2011. From about 2012 I worked mostly digitally. I never had a Plan B for any other profession, and I’ve never been employed. Since I’m hearing impaired even many „simple“ jobs are not an option for me, so I consider myself fortunate to be able to support myself with freelance illustration and comics.
How did you get your start in comics? What was your first project and how did it come about?
I “got into” comics with my first project, “Im Eisland” (published through Hinstorff Verlag in Germany in 2015-16). It’s a 3-volume graphic novel telling the story of Franklin’s lost expedition. Since early 2018 I’ve been posting it on Tapas in English as well, since we couldn’t get an English-language publisher interested in it.
The story of the Franklin Expedition was something I randomly found on Wikipedia in 2012, and after I read more about it – including novels that tell the story – I realized I wouldn’t be satisfied until I had somehow re-interpreted it on my own through creative means. However, digital paintings didn’t seem to be the right medium. Although I have always read comics, I had very little experience drawing them so told myself it would probably result in disaster. It seemed like a crazy idea. But I kept wanting to try it, so in 2013 I gave in, telling myself, “if it doesn’t turn out good, I don’t have to show it to anyone”. I bought Clip Studio Paint (a software for drawing comics, because my usual Photoshop is not well suited for ink-like line drawings) and learned using it during the first few pages which were really awkward. After a few months, I had found my routine, and knew, “Who would’ve thought that drawing comics is so much fun!?”
The story is, of course, historical fact whenever possible, and I reconstructed it from reading many different sources and interpretations about what could have happened on this fateful expedition. The whole thing is like a 1,000-piece puzzle of which only 100 parts were found. That’s what makes it so fascinating!
(These thumbnails really don’t do these justice–find more of her fine art on her website!)
Any current or upcoming projects we can find you on?
I also made a graphic novel adaptation of Upton Sinclair’s “The Jungle”, published in March 2018 through Carlsen (Germany’s biggest comics publisher). It has been licensed to Ten Speed Press in the USA and will be released there in summer of 2019.
(Kristina’s graphic novel adaptation is available June 2019; Preorder it!)
Do you work solo or do you collaborate with others? If so, what are some of your favorite types of collaboration? (People you’ve worked with, style of creators you get along with etc.)
So far I have exclusively worked solo, because I like having full creative control over everything.
What are your favorite genres/styles of comics to work in? Are there any you definitely will not do?
I grew up reading Franco-Belgian comics as a kid, and manga as a teen, so my strongest influences come from there, with some classical Western art inspiration thrown in. My favorite subject is historical adventure: “Im Eisland” (Icebound) is 19th century polar exploration, “The Jungle” is an early 20th century immigrant tale, and my next project will be about the Tudors in 16th century England.
It’s a purely personal preference, but I can’t really get behind superhero-style US comics, because I find them confusing and exaggerated in their storytelling, so that’s something you probably won’t see from me (though I love many US cartoons and graphic novels)!
(Minna Cauer, early feminist journalist/activist; Kristina’s entry to the “100 Women” project commemorating 100 years of women’s suffrage in Germany)
Where do you draw your inspiration from? What is it you hope to accomplish with the works you help foster?
Inspiration: see above! ^_^ I love history and trying to figure out “what were things like back then?” In a way, I want to bring it to life on paper, as far as that is possible. To achieve this, I enjoy researching almost as much as I love drawing, and use many primary sources (photos, art and texts from the era).
Manga artists whose work I admire in this regard are Yoshikazu Yasuhiko (Jeanne d’Arc, Jesus), Makoto Yukimura (Vinland Saga) and Kaoru Mori (Young Bride’s Story). They’re my idols when it comes to making history alive!
(A series of escape room puzzle books she illustrated; get them here–in German.)
How do you feel about the current comics industry’s state? What gives you hope for the future of comics?
I can only speak for Germany, and only for comics in book form (graphic novels), but I’m quite confident that they’ll be around for a while. It is still a niche market but much better known than 10 years ago.
Who are some of your favorite/most inspirational characters to read? What about in other media (novels, TV, movies, pop culture)? Why?
In comics: Yoko Tsuno
In TV shows: various characters from Orange is the New Black, Claire from Outlander
In movies: Ripley in Alien
Do you have any advice to aspiring creators?
I like this quote by Moebius: ““It is difficult to give any advice to aspiring artists. There are so many things one should say. It’s difficult to be brief. Every artist is different, and good advice for one artist is bad for another. My best advice would be, ‘Be what you must be, and do your best.’ Anything more precise, more specific cannot apply, because everyone is too different.”
(Some of her more fantastical works; read about commissioning her here!)
What do comics mean to you?
A way for me to interpret or tell a story that isn’t just one painting or illustration, but uses text as well and follows a series of events. Very pragmatic, I know. XD But I love telling stories above all, and both illustrations and comics are tools for me to do that.