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Comics artist Stuart Kolakovic talks art and books

Readersvoice.com aims to collect a few good reading tips. Stuart Kolakovic once created a nine to ten metre comic: a mural around the wall of a Manchester art gallery. It portrayed a year in the life of a late 19th century Eastern European village. He has created a number of comics, regular size, based on his European family heritage. I asked Stuart Kolakovic about his art work, and picked up some good reading tips.

To see some of Stuart Kolakovic’s art work and read about his latest activities, see stuartkolakovic.blogspot.com.

READERSVOICE.COM: I really liked the colors in the 9-10 metre Never Been art work around the gallery walls at Projekts MCR in Manchester. Do you have a kind of instinctive understanding of colour and how colours work with each other, or how did you learn about color?

STUART KOLAKOVIC: I guess it must be instinctive- people are obviously conscious of the way colour can create a mood. I think the great thing about the whole “slavic” folk theme that Never Been was based is that the culture itself has a great sense of vibrant colour. Since i was trying to depict a whole year in the life of a village, I had the added bonus of being able to use colour as a major tool in depicting the seasons, and thus the idea of passing time.

I deliberately wanted to go overboard with Never Been because I knew I wouldn’t get the chance to do whatever I wanted for a long time. Colour plays an important part in my work, but I think at the moment I’m more aware of using limited palettes, which some people think is an easier or quicker way of producing work; I find it far more difficult.

How can you depict different moods or setting using only the same colours? It’s possible- cartoonists that I love such as Seth use maybe 2-4 set colours for a whole comic.

RV: Where did you research these pictures of a year in the life of a late 19th century Eastern European village?

SK: A lot of old family photos that I managed to salvage from my Dad and my Uncles was the initial inspiration for Never Been. Most of them were took when my Grandad went back to Serbia for the first time since WWII,in the 70’s, and i couldn’t believe this was how people still lived. Out in the sticks, roasting whole pigs, drinking home made brandy- it was like they lived in some sort of “Olde” world.

Then I started looking at Yugoslavian folk artists – all of which are very patriotic and romantic artists that revel in their country’s strong sense of tradition. In many ways it was the only way I could find out how people would of lived pre-WW1 in that place of the world.

RV: Your 80-page comic Milorad was based on your Serbian grandfather who died when you were quite young. What would you ask him now if you could?

SK: So many questions! But honestly, I don’t think he would of enjoyed telling me stuff about what he did during WWII- he certainly never told anyone about it when he was alive. He was a Chetnik, meaning he fought for a Royalist Yugoslavia. No matter how many books I read, I’ll never find out exactly what happened in Yugoslavia during WWII, or indeed any other war in the Balkans- there are just too many sides and it’s far too complicated for me to even figure out which group I agree with.

I’d love to find out if he really knew what he was fighting for; if it was purely just about protecting Yugoslavia from the Axis forces or a political battle between themselves and the communists. Many soldiers left the Chetniks or simply became inactive but my Grandad fought for them the whole of the war. I’d love to know why. Personally, I’m extremely conscious of having any political bias towards anyone who fought during WWII. I think it’s impossible to pass judgement on whole groups of people who are only doing what they think is best to protect their country.

I have had emails and met people that have very strong political views about past and present Serbia, and although I have learnt a lot from speaking to them and respect their views, I refuse to fall into a category and sympathise with only one side. I think the country’s inability to drop grudges has a lot to answer for.

RV: You’ve said that narrative is very important to you in your comics. How did the story for your comic A Gosling come about?

SK: I constantly have ideas for short stories floating around- most which come from just doodling or sketching when I’m not working. Like I might draw a character or a scene that will suddenly present a story or a scenario. I enjoy making short comics- mainly because they don’t take as long to physically make, but also because you know you have to have a solid understanding of the story to be able to tell it in just a few dozen pages. It’s almost like a shorthand language and you have to figure out new and interesting ways of getting the reader to figure out the role of each character in the story. You have to be more “precise” in the sense you can’t faff around with pages of panels just to set a scene. Instead you have to present the story in a much quicker and direct way.

RV: For your mini-comic A Gosling, 16 A6 pages, how did you go about manufacturing, printing and distributing it, and how many copies did you print up?

SK: A Gosling (which will be available once again on my online etsy shop www.stuartkolakovic.etsy.com/ in the next few days) was originally dispensed from a hand made vending machine at my solo debut show. I wanted to create a piece of “art” that was truly affordable, only £2.

What a lot of people don’t realise is that the way I plan to produce a mini comic dictates how I tell the story – not the other way round. I’ll try and figure out a way of producing a full colour comic as cheap as possible so that people who might not normally read comics might be more inclined to buy it if they ever saw one.

Ja Ljubav Te, a matchbox-size mini comic is 42 colour pages long, which I sell for only £1. I don’t really bother too much with the distribution thing; if people see my work in magazines or online then great, they can get some stuff from my online shop. I’d much rather be working on new comics than spending my time trying to get my work stocked in shops were only super hero buffs frequent.

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