Arne Bellstorf ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
It’s quite fitting that Arne Bellstorf lives in Hamburg, Germany, the same city that helped to shape the early development of The Beatles. Fitting, because Arne’s graphic novel Baby’s in Black introduces us to The Beatles at the beginning of their stardom. Arne shows us a very different group, when there were five members, Pete Best was the drummer and artist Stuart Sutcliffe was their bass player.
Long before John’s charisma and Paul’s sensitivity captured the world, it was Stuart Sutcliffe who captured the heart of a young German photographer named Astrid Kirchherr. Their tragic love affair is the axis of Baby’s in Black.
Arne Bellstorf’s art is simple and expressive. With just a few lines he captures the essence of each character, and – believe me – that’s easier said than done.
Baby’s in Black is published in North America by First Second, and has been translated into 7 languages. If you haven’t had an opportunity to read it, now is the time.
Check out Arne’s lovely technique in the gallery that follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art
Arne Bellstorf: Of course I read comics as a child, a lot of Disney and French/Belgian stuff. I drew comics as well, producing my own comics as a young teenager, but it was only when I was studying graphic design in Hamburg that I picked up drawing comics again. I met other people who were into comics, like Sascha Hommer, and we started publishing comics and working together. He already had his magazine Orang and I became sort of a co-editor, before we eventually founded our own little publishing house, Kiki Post. I did a comic book as my final year project and it was published the same year in Germany (by Reprodukt), and I guess since then I’ve been a “professional” comic artist.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
AB: I studied at the design department of the University of Applied Sciences in Hamburg, which is a state school for graphic design, illustration and fashion. I graduated in 2005 with a diploma in design, with a focus on illustration.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
AB: As far as European artists in the age of print are concerned, you have to name Rodolphe Töpffer and Wilhelm Busch, of course. But since sequential art has always been a part of human culture, it’s difficult to come up with pioneers. You always end up with cave paintings, I guess.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
AB: A narration in pictures? I think the term is quite self-explanatory; however I wouldn’t call animation or film sequential art. Basically, I go along with the Will Eisner definition, it’s “the arrangement of pictures or images and words to narrate a story.”
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
AB: If I felt constrained within the medium, I wouldn’t have chosen or even been attracted to sequential art. I find it rather inspiring and challenging to work with just paper and ink. I wouldn’t want to work in another medium.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
AB: Well, I’d say it really depends on what kind of story you want to tell and what your approach is towards drawing in general. There’s a wide range, from artists like Moebius to such as Marjane Satrapi. I think the same applies for any visual storytelling and maybe for “art” in general, it’s always about the combination of form and content. But I think the focus should always be on the picture, the visual language.
JM: How do you approach your work process?
AB: I sit down and start to draw, scribble, erase, have a cup of coffee and start again. For stories longer than two or three pages, I’d do a storyboard first, but it often begins with one single image I see – it suddenly appears in my head or on paper while drawing – and then I just add further pictures around the first one.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
AB: I don’t draw every day. But usually I’m most productive in the evenings and at nighttime.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
AB: It still is.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience
AB: Working on Baby’s in Black for three years was a far-reaching experience. It really changed the way I think about my working time and my own limitations.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
AB: Everything I see, hear and touch from the past, especially mid-20th century. I think it was the heyday for a lot of things, culturally, in western society.
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
AB: I prefer to read off-screen and touch books; the physical, haptic experience.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
AB: Destroy capitalism? I have no idea. Sometimes I wish there was an audience and an acceptance for comics as in France or Japan all over the world, but just because I’m tired of explaining what I do.
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
AB: Certainly not a cartoonist. Maybe Hitchcock. Or an Italian renaissance artist. But if I could travel back in time, I would look for all the artists we don’t find in our history books. I guess there’s a lot to discover.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
AB: I’d be happy if I were to find the time and energy to do another book. There are a few stories growing in my mind. Basically, I hope I’ll be able to go on making a living from drawing.