Last month I found myself in a packed, dark room, lit by Christmas lights and comic book imagery projected onto the back wall. It was the Canadian release of Aisha Franz’s graphic novelEarthling, and Franz was on hand to guide us through the masterful book she had created.
Earthling chronicles a 24-hour period in the lives of three women from the same family - the youngest daughter, her older sister, and their mother. The narrative is borne through the unlikely friendship between the youngest daughter and an alien she finds stranded in a field near their suburban home, and it explores the unique challenges that each woman faces during this particular moment in time.
Franz was both soft-spoken and articulate during the book launch, and she brought new life to the comic that I had already come to loved and even respect. I was fortunate enough to send Franz some questions via email that she responded to while on her cross-Canada tour, and these three touch points - her book, the event and the interview - have transformed Earthlingfrom a static novel into something alive for me. As she explained during the event, and as we see in her interview, that life in Earthling is something Franz is keenly aware of as well.
Your bio tells us you are a freelance illustrator and cartoonist, with an education from the School of Art and Design in Kassel. Can you elaborate on the path you took to becoming a full-time artist?
I always knew I wanted to draw and do it as a “job.” I just didn’t know what it actually meant and what possibilities I have. So I would say it just developed step by step by experimenting and as a result I ended up making comics. I never really thought or worried about the financial part of it, I take it as it comes and just hope I’ll always have enough time to work on my stuff.
As you know, Shameless is a magazine for young women and teens. As someone who has succeeded in becoming a full-time artist, what advice would you have for our readers?
Like I said, it is essential to just do what you feel passionate about and not worry too much - just have faith that you will always find a way. The most important thing here may be to have a creative community and stay in constant exchange. A good network is not only supportive and nourishing but it can also open many door when it comes to working more “professional.”
Throughout your career as a cartoonist, do you find your style has changed with time? What do you find are the biggest ways you’ve grown as an artist?
My style has been changing a lot and will always keep doing it. At some point I stopped ‘trying too hard” to find and elaborate a recognizable style because I realized this wasn’t taking me anywhere. I started focusing more on what I wanted to show and tell and then both style and story would influence each other. They always depend on each other and would hopefully create a symbiosis but also a little challenge for you as a craftsperson. I would get bored always working with the same techniques, knowing what to expect.
Many people have commented on the simple art style used in Earthling. Can you tell us about your style, and why you felt it was particularly suited to this story? (Or, alternatively, why this story was particularly suited to your art style.)
Before I created Earthling I started drawing a lot with pencil, I liked working quick and rough. I was bored of making very elaborate and nice drawings, therefore naturally developed a trashy style. Then of course, working on a huge project like Earthling it only helps if you don’t have to dwell too much on the drawings. It allowed me to work more intuitively and spontaneous rather than create a whole storyboard and then ‘machining’ it down.
Your book is masterful in the way it depicts three women at very different times in their lives. The other books I have read that capture this type of intimacy are typically semi-biographical, which seems is not the case with Earthling given that the women are at three very different stages in their lives. How were you able to relate to each of the three women and tell their stories as intimately as you have?
Well, as fictional as it may seem, it is still very personal and mostly inspired by emotions and events I experienced when I was growing up. Both sisters in the book are basically me when I had their age, one dealing with the first signs of adolescence and the older one struggling with identity and isolation after finishing high school. The mother could be understood more like a projection of fears, but of course, she is a fictional/universal and maybe the most stereotypical character in the story.
Many of our readers live in urban and suburban areas similar to those depicted in Earthling. Did you grow up in a similar environment? How did you deal with some of the themes - fitting in, isolation, regret - prevalent in the book?
Yes, as I said, it’s very much inspired by the environment I grew up in, which were mostly small villages with not many possibilities other than to dream yourself away. I still kept it very unspecific in the book, because t was hard for me to actually name the place (and the characters) since I was more interested in a general atmosphere. The experiences Mädchen and her older sister make are pretty much like the ones I made around that age so other than talking consciously about specific topics it ended up being reflections about all these issues all of us can somehow relate to.
I noticed that throughout the book the characters relax with a variety of media. Radio plays a large part in all the stories, the older sister reads magazines, and the younger sister watches television with the alien. Despite this media consumption, though, only books are ever given proper titles in Earthling. These, including Complete Family Health, Against Interpretationand The Hitchhikerʼs Guide to the Galaxy, have clear ties to the storyline. Was there a reason you chose to title the books, and not the other types of media the women listen to and watch over the course of Earthling?
There is no specific reason, that is really just a little gimmick I wanted to use. I like the idea that if you are at someones place for the first time the bookshelf actually tells a lot about that person. Or sometimes you look at your own bookshelf and realize “Oh, yeah, that’s me,” or “That was me.” The bookshelf I’m showing is a sort of a summary of the mother’s past and present interests and life situations.
Finally, do you have any upcoming projects that you share with us, either by yourself or with other members of the Treasure Fleet comic collective?
The Treasure Fleet split up this year, which doesn’t mean there are no collaborative projects coming up. It was just a letting go to make space for something new. But there are no concrete plans yet. I’m currently working on a new book, but it’s still going to take a while. It’s again like Earthling: fiction but strong autobiographical topics like femininity, alienation and “sinnsuche” [search for meaning] appear again. But this case the protagonist is a woman around 30 living in a big city, somewhere unknown.