Friday, January 13, 2017

Backstage Pass January:Tantz Aerine

Psst! Slip Behind The Curtain! Here's Your Backstage Pass!

And Just Look Who's In The Dressing Room! It's Tantz Aerine!

In a time when the world seems a little dark and quite a few people are throwing around the terms 'Hitler' and 'Nazi', here's a creator brave enough to tell the true stories of Nazis, Resistance Fighters, and what it really cost to fight for the soul of your country.

Tantz, will you introduce yourself?

I’m Tantz Aerine (IRL Tanya Geritsidou), a Greek psychopedagogue born in Quebec, Canada. I specialize in educational policy and have a background in psychology and a long experience in teaching methods. My science aside, I’m also a professional author, mostly of high fantasy. I’m most known for my high fantasy trilogy The Art of Veiling,
but I also write short stories and scripts. The past near decade I also am very seriously invested in creating webcomics, mostly graphic novels.

Main Projects 

My main webcomic project is Without Moonlight, which is definitely one for the long road.
WM is basically a tour of the visceral underbelly of Greece’s modern history starting with the occupation by the Nazis (and their Italian and Bulgarian allies) during WWII, and, if I am able and live long enough, reaching up to the 1980s, in successive volumes-units as the story advances and characters come and go. All of it I plan to explore through Fotis, who is one of the main characters.  It’s his life we follow, hopefully until he becomes an old man. I say hopefully, because sometimes the story surprises even me, and Fotis might give the torch to someone else to carry on to the 80s, through all the torrential, extremely dangerous circumstances of Greek modern history.

Other Hobbies, Guilty Pleasures and Obsessions

I love baking cakes, coffee cakes… basically any kind of dessert.
My guilty pleasure has to be binge watching series.
I’m not sure about obsessions actually… unless… well, I want to keep my activism out of this interview, but you could say I’m obsessed with having International Law and Human Rights actually applied to everyone without exception. A simple adherence to these laws would solve immediately an astounding amount of problems. It just wouldn’t help the minority we all know make money as it does anymore.

So, tell me about your early experience. How did you fall in love with telling stories in pictures?

I always loved to draw and expand my drawing skills. I’m self taught, so that entailed me basically doodling everything and at all times. When I was in high school I had a large notebook where I wrote my stories, and a lot of loose papers where I doodled my characters and other things I found interesting.
I used my cartoons and general love of sketching in my classes as a teacher, in various ways to keep the children engaged and motivated. That led to me making short comics of my students as characters in stories that they built over the week, serving as their reward for their hard work.
And well, one thing led to another…

What media and programs do you work in to produce your project?

Up until recently, I used Photoshop. But then the program got corrupted and wouldn’t run in Windows 10, so I was obliged to transfer to GIMP.
I work 100% digitally: GIMP + Intuos tablet.

Can you tell me about your typical day or strip-creation session? How does your work process flow from idea to finished page?

The plot for WM is already sketched out and complete for the entire project, as I said barring any unexpected twists or turns the characters might throw my way.
I have the script for the next few scenes already penned down (so that’s about 2-3 months’ worth of updates, assuming I update once per week).
When I feel ready to sit down and make a page, I re-read the scene I’m currently making to get in the mindset and the mood I’m going for. Then I make the layout of the page, by matching lines to panels: that way I know how much of the script is going on the page, and how I’ll illustrate it (i.e. how many panels, angles, etc).
Then I work linearly, going at the first panel of the page and finishing it completely (i.e. colour and lighting) before I go to the next one. So by the time I’m finished with the final panel of the page, the page is also finished and ready for lettering.
The entire process usually takes about 8 hours. I like to be able to make a page in one sitting but usually with my obligations I work in 4 hour sessions over two days.

What’s the most difficult part of your work?

A big part of my comic is dialogue- characters talk and argue and fight. The action is intense but in short bursts, just like in real life. Things happen very fast and with absolute effects, but they don’t happen all the time. In between, characters run around and ruminate to be able to set up the circumstances so that they will win next time, in the next action burst.
So the hardest part of my work is to avoid talking head syndrome. I want the talking to be just as intense as the action and engage the reader, and that has to happen through body language and the nuances to be discovered as the characters talk.

Can you tell me about your storytelling process? Do you prefer to script your stories, fly by the seat of your pants, or somewhere in between?

I prefer to have my script ready by the time I put pen to tablet, and that’s because my story is basically a historical graphic novel. I can’t afford to fly by the seat of my pants, because I have to be certain everything is as accurate as possible in terms of the story fitting the history.
I had made a comic, Wolf, 100% flying by the seat of my pants, and it was super fun! It also helped me learn how to make webcomics and for that I’ll always have affection for it, even though it’s ghastly art wise.
But Wolf was a bio-science thriller story in a fictional contemporary city, and I felt I had free hand to do what I wanted without anyone fact checking on it. WM on the other hand, isn’t nearly as forgiving.

 I have to make everything just right, fit it just right so the story would plausibly be one that could have happened in 1942 Athens, time it just right to hit the dates I have to hit, so I feel I have to have good control of the story. Hence, script is necessary

How much of a buffer do you like to keep?

Ah… I would like to keep 2 weeks’ worth of buffer (i.e. about 3-4 pages). I have never managed it. I work with no buffer, and my readers understand that I make a page as quickly as I can, and upload it immediately.

Has anyone told you that you'll never be a successful artist and you'd be better off studying a real field and/or getting a real job?

No, but that is probably because by the time I started making comics and being an artist (including my author side) I already also had my degree and worked a ‘real job’. So I did used to get a bit of shade or side looks, but nobody felt they had the right to tell me anything. I think though that the times are different than the 90s and the 00s. Especially since ‘real jobs’ don’t pay as much lately either, what with the global recession craze, and a successful freelance artist might be in a position to make the minimum wage at least.

What message do you hope readers take away from your work?

“There’s so much more to history than what I’m taught in school, and it might give me new insights about the world!”
“There’s more to Greece than her ancient history and her contributions to the world continued beyond Alexander the Great.”
“War isn’t just the battle theaters of the fronts, but also the occupations, the devastations, the silent annihilations that don’t make the news.”
“Fascism rhetoric is uncannily current and way too modern to feel at ease that it is dead. There was a time where the swastika was just another flag among the rest.”

So much of your story is historical in nature: how do you go about researching it? What's the research to art-making  ratio in your work?

I prefer direct sources to secondary ones. Those aren’t very easy to find if you don’t know where to look.
Greek boys who were part of the Athens Resistance

For that reason, I did most of my research (and bibliography compilation) before I even started creating the plot, let alone the script or any page.
Accounts of what took place in Greece during WWII (and especially during the occupation which is when WM begins) are abundant but relatively superficial if you try to research the daily life of the people in the cities and in the country, the smaller events that took place, etc. History, when packaged for international audiences, tends to record only big hallmarks, such as the first ever sabotage in Europe that took place by the newly formed resistance in Greece, but neglects to document the daily smaller events of resistance, such as demonstrations of unarmed people against fully armed Nazis, the food-supplement network to battle famine, and a lot of other things.
So what I did was go right for the direct accounts and records of the events as recent to them as possible. I began with state archives of the impact of the occupation in Greece, compiled by the ministry responsible in 1947. Then I researched all the documentation printed and issued by resistance movements of the time. I have books and newspapers that used to be illegal at the time (on pain of death) documenting stuff about daily living and other issues that I wouldn’t otherwise know.
I also have big collections of photographic evidence of the era, ranging from photos of atrocities to photos of daily living (e.g. a picket of Nazis at a tavern having lunch, with some other Athenians sitting around in other tables numbly, and so on).

An Athenian being harassed for the amusement of Nazi soldiers
I also have collections of propaganda and anti-propaganda, newspaper clippings and front pages, posters, you name it.
I keep researching though, and every new source or document that falls in my hands, I collect and keep. Sometimes I even adjust my story’s plot to incorporate it, or just make sure to illustrate it in the background.
Methods of research to amass all of that include of course intense internet research but also a lot of diving in old bookstores that specialize in old authentic books and newspapers (there are a lot of those here in Athens), attending events presenting such evidence, interviewing survivors (some are still alive today), going out at the actual places where WM takes place and taking photos (the city center hasn’t changed since 1930), and then looking for the changes in the areas of Athens that HAVE changed, so that I may depict Athens during the 40s as faithfully as possible.
How do you go about doing your research? What are some of your favorite sources?
Favourite sources (newspapers and clippings aside) include:
(in Greek)
    A Greek soldier holding his daughter

  • The Greek Resistance, as revealed by the secret archives of Wehrmacht in Greece by P.K. Enepekides (1964) (also available in German)
  • Greece under the Swastika, documents from the German archives, edited by Martin Seckendorf (also available in German) (1991)
  • Testimonials Regarding the Greek Resistance, by D. Gyftopoulos (1984)
  • Light in the Darkness of the Occupation, National Resistance 1941-1944, Heroism & Sacrifice, Decadence & Treasons, by N. Antonakeas (1947)
  • White Bible, May 1944 to March 1945, by E.A.M. (National Liberating Front) (1945)
  • Photos of the Occupation, photo evidence from the German archives about the heroic resistance of the Greek people, by V. Mathiopoulos (1980)
  • (in English)
  • Hitler, a biography, by V. Ulrich, (2013)
  • Report of the FAO Mission for Greece, by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (1947)

Partisan fighters lauded in their home town in the mountains
One thing I really want to mention is that the older the sources, the more emotionally charged they are, and the more politically skewed they are. I have sources written by royalists, by communists and by democrats, all giving accounts of the same events. All of them try to support their take on those events by documents and other evidence. It is fascinating to see not only what happened at the time, but how much and how viciously political parties vied for power over the interests of the Greeks or Greece herself- and just as heartbreaking and touching to see that all the people in all those groups were shedding their blood for the very same cause, unaware of the political machinations of the few in every political party’s top tier.
I strive to demonstrate that in my comic. It’s too early yet to see more than hints, but I will touch on that directly soon.

You deal with very difficult source material; are there things that you get nervous about discussing? Is there anything you've ever decided not to depict?

A partisan girl strutting her stuff
Right at the beginning of WM I was attacked for being unfair to the Nazis and ‘depicting them in a negative light’ (I kid you not). Very vehemently might I add. After that, I have no nervousness depicting anything, simply because the subject matter is such that some toes will be stepped on, no matter how careful I am. So I’ve decided to just depict things are they were and not beat around the bush.
As for anything I’ve decided not to depict- yes. I have decided to sanitize the atrocities some. You can’t believe the stuff I have read and seen in the photos. It’s so grotesque and insane, so extremely sadistic and evil that I’m positive no person would believe me if I depicted such things in the story. So I have toned down the manners of punishment and manners of reparations where I felt it would come across as too fantastical and a fabrication rather than historical fact. I also don’t think I have it in me to draw such things. They hurt too much.

What keeps you devoted to telling the story you’re telling?

My love of my own people, and a need to showcase as much as possible their acts of immense heroism in the face of unthinkable odds and stakes- it’s time they stopped being unsung, at least as much as I can help it.
But aside that, I also wish to show to the world what happened not too long ago, and get across the feel of day to day living in such circumstances, the rhetoric of those circumstances and how easily, how silently, how suddenly we may wake up to find ourselves in the same or similar situations. It’s my bid to warn, to plead for these things not to happen again, as unfortunately they’ve already begun being applied.
Finally, WM is a story that I intend to end with the optimism that these people had through all the adversities, and that I still have about humanity. No matter what, we will prevail over the darkness of the world.
Nike, Winged Spirit Of Victory: A Statue Honoring The Resistance

Thank you and μπράβο Tantz. We need your story more than ever today, and we are lucky to have you telling it! 

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