Conversation with comic book author Gaja Smilevska: Comics give me the opportunity to tell a story

Gaja Smilevska's comic was presented at the "Comic Trip" festival / Photo: Sašo Dimoski

At the second edition of the "Comic Trip" festival, which took place last weekend at MCC, we met the young comic author Gaja Smilevska, who presented her comic strip "Break what fate builds", and told the story of its creation.

The comic author Gaja Smilevska was born in Skopje in 2001. He is currently a psychology student, and in his free time works as an illustrator and comic artist. Art has always been a part of her life, but about nine years ago she started getting more serious about drawing and writing short comics.

Her works mostly focus on the mutual actions between people and the impact we have on each other, and the story in the comic book "Break What Fate Builds" takes place in that line. The motifs of the story in the comic are from the time of the Byzantine Empire, and through the characters the author thematizes the relationship of young people with the home, building an exciting imaginary adventure in the design of the dramatic action, which gives the work a uniqueness characteristic of historical metafiction that combines the believable with the probable.

At "Comic Trip" in Skopje, your comic "Break what fate builds" was presented, and before that a promotion was held in the organization of the publisher "Flipbook Books". In what period was the comic created?

– I started thinking about the idea for the comic in 2022, but initially it was just an idea that I didn't think I would be able to carry out at all, so I stayed on it for quite a long time. Towards the end of the summer of that year I finished the first part, and although I thought it looked fine visually and wanted to tell the whole story, I had no intention of publishing it anywhere but online.

Later in the year I was contacted by Flipbook Books and suggested that we do a physical edition of the comic, and from then on I got into work a little more seriously. In about a year and a half the comic was finished, followed by press optimization, some technical work, so all in all it was finished in a year and a half.

Cover illustration of the comic "Break What Fate Builds"

What was your narrative inspiration for the comic?

– Many different, unrelated things. During the period when I was writing the comic, I watched a lot of historical series and movies, so I think that little by little there are traces in the comic. I can single out a movie "Min Bala" by Akan Sataev and a series "My Country: The New Age" that had the biggest impact on me, and I believe that anyone who liked comics would also like these deeds.

From the local culture, I can highlight Siljan the Stork, a story we all know and whose motives were constantly in my head while I was drawing and writing the comic. I believe that almost all of us have read the story as children, but I highly recommend a re-reading of it in older years.

What research did you do on the subject, given that your story takes place in the 13th century?

– Quite a lot, and at the same time not enough. I researched on the internet - mostly for the visual aspect, what costumes, cities, pagan rituals and the like looked like. Although it is a bit difficult due to the fact that there are so many external influences on how we perceive our history today. Also, through conversations with my grandparents - although the story takes place in the distant past, in the thirteenth century Macedonia as we know it today did not exist. Byzantium was a huge power that dominated territories and cultures, but I still wanted to create a world that is somewhat recognizable to all of us.

Most of the comic has a soft contrast dominated by grays

Based on what inspirations did you make the visual design of the comic?

- Although I wanted the entire work to be in color, it quickly became clear to me that it was not feasible, at least not for now. In any comic that I make, the characters are in the foreground, so I have paid the most attention to them, I made sure that they were all striking and unique, that anyone could find themselves in someone.

Most of the comic has a soft contrast dominated by gray colors, I wanted to keep a slightly dreamy and surreal tone in the illustrations. The films I listed above offered a lot of visual inspiration, but I'll also mention the concept art of the animation studio Dreamworks, specifically the works from 2005 to 2007. I don't think to this day there is anything that drives me to improve in art more than their creations.

What are the further plans related to this comic?

– Second and last part. I don't know exactly when it will be finished, I'm still kind of getting used to the fact that the first part is actually finished and released, but I want to wrap up the story and see what happens after it ends. I know where the story is going and have key scenes written, I just need to sit down and match the written with the visual aspect.

The characters, of course, will remain dear to me even after the end of the comic, just like numerous others that are from previous works that are still in my mind to this day, so from that aspect these characters will also exist in future illustrations, short comics, etc, regardless of how the story itself ends.

Comics as art also includes a visual aspect that conceals the author and offers a richer experience for a story / Photo: Sašo Dimoski

How did you get into drawing comics in general, and what does The Ninth Art mean to you?

- From a young age I had a great desire to be an animator, I can list on my hand several films whose dialogues I can recite by heart. Unfortunately, I practice doing everything myself, and animation is a huge task that calls for many different skills and lots and lots of time. The most important thing for me is to tell a story, and comics offer me that opportunity.

In a written work, like a novel or a short story, I think that the author is somehow forced to leave more of himself in the work, it is more visible. Comics also include a visual aspect that disguises the author and offers a richer experience for a story. I think it's a great format to express and communicate any thought.

(The interview was published in "Cultural Press" number 235, in the printed edition of the newspaper "Sloboden Pechat" on 15-16.6.2024)

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