From University to Illustrating Comics; Interview with Anna Morozova

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From studying comics at university to being commissioned as an artist for one of the most prestigious magazines in British comics. Artist Anna Morozova has become a rising star within the comics industry since graduating with a Masters in Comics and Graphic Novels.

Born in Russia, Anna came over to study Digital Interaction Design at The University of Dundee, and only began to consider a career as an artist for comics during her fourth year. After her undergraduate degree was completed, Anna joined the universities prestigious Masters in comics and graphic novels course, which she completed in November last year.

During the course, Anna was commissioned to work as an illustrator for 2000AD’s Future Shock, after her course leader sent them samples of her work. The section of the magazine showcases new and upcoming talent, and she illustrated a story entitled Juncture, written by Andy Ewington.

Since her graduation, she is becoming somewhat of a rising star within the comics industry. Not only has she been commissioned as an artist for 2000AD, but Anna has also been invited back to illustrate a strip for Comichaus.

Just recently, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting down with Anna, when she attended a sketching and signing session at Asylum. As an artist, Anna’s work is incredibly interesting and I was honored to view some of her pieces so far and get to know more about her and her career;

“You recently graduated from the University of Dundee, and not long afterwards you worked as an artist for 2000AD, how did that come about?”

It’s a long story…Well, not that long, but it is an interesting one. Essentially when I started my studies it was a bit of a gamble, as I wasn’t really sure what would happen next and I knew that it would be tricky. So at some point, I can’t remember which semester it was, I was meant to have my supervision meeting for my comics work. Then Phil, the course leader, told me that he had some news for me and says that, because the university has some connection to 2000AD, that students could do a live brief with them. So, 2000AD gave students a script for them to illustrate it for the next year. So, essentially Phil sent them our work, and apparently they got back to Phil about my work and asked who I was, and for me that just sounded crazy.

Once I graduated I received an email from them and they asked if I would like to do a script, and I was like, ‘Of course!’. So, they just gave me a script and that is really how it happened.

“Had you read any work from 2000AD before and were you quite familiar with their work?”

I started getting familiar with their work when I moved to the UK, but I had sort of heard of them, and during the course I read more and my favourite story was ‘Nemesis’. With 2000AD, the more I read with them, it was actually the stories that I loved the most. The art is amazing as well but the actual stories are so clever and cool.

“I read somewhere that you were born in Russia and you came to the UK to study. Was there a reason why you chose Dundee and the UK in general?”

Well, it was an accident! Somehow I always knew that I would like to go abroad for  my studies, and I didn’t know if I would want to stay in the country once I had finished my course. Somehow, I just always knew that I would go somewhere and I was looking at different universities. Initially I was studying something completely different, I was going for digital media and then I found a few different courses in Glasgow and Dundee, and Dundee was my second choice. In Glasgow it was Digital Media and in Dundee it was Digital Interaction Design, and I chose the latter because it was more fun. It was design, electronics, a bit of coding, and a combination of product design and digital technology. It was in my fourth year that I got back into drawing and I realised that it was something that I really fancied, and then I decided that my final project was going to be something comic book related. Then I pitched the project to some people, and I showed it to Phil who runs the Masters in Comics course, who then asked me to join the course. At that point I had a choice to either go and work as a designer, because I had been giving an offer to be an intern, or I could join the Masters and draw comics. I then decided to join the Masters course.

“I know you have done a lot of art work before you came over here to be an artist, but what was it that initially attracted you to drawing illustrations for comic books?”

To be fair, I have always been drawn to art first. Then one of my favourite artists ended up drawing for DC and that got it in my head that this must be a great career for an artist. So, I just started researching more comics, and I was reading them, but there was not much choice essentially. Back home we didn’t really have a shop to buy comics from and I didn’t really read much, I didn’t even know this option existed! Then, once I got to know that you can draw for comics, I realised it is a really great field to really express artistry, if you know what I mean? Then I started reading them more and collecting them eventually, and that is really about it.

“During your time at university, and just in general, would you say that anyone had provided you with some good career advice that had helped you?”

To be honest, not really! Probably my history teacher who told me, ‘go study in Scotland, because many of my students did and they are really happy’, so I kind of went with it. That was the first thing. For my career, I don’t think that there has been any motto that I have lived by. I think you start figuring out your own path once you start listening to people who have already been there and lived through what you are experiencing, especially when you talk to people in the industry such as the writers, artists, and editors. People who are related to comics but they are not necessarily involved in the production. All this information comes together eventually into this whole experience, so I wouldn’t say that there has been any particular advice. People just share advice and eventually there is something similar that everyone goes through, and sometimes that can apply to other careers as well, particularly other creative careers. So, I can’t really think of any particular advice because there is so much.

Mainly, the only thing I hear from the best artists that I have met, is that they all hate their work once it is done, and that makes me feel so much better! Usually once you stop drawing you just wish that it is buried in a cupboard, but apparently that is quite common. I know that is not necessarily advice, but it’s sort of like they have been there as well.

“Would you say that Dundee city has provided you with a lot of opportunities to work quite creatively?”

Yeah. Obviously I didn’t know when I first came to Dundee, but when I started living there and meeting more people, I realised that this place is the home of British comics. There is so many links, and we have this joke, that everything comes back to Dundee. What ever comic related thing you take, somehow it all comes back to Dundee. You’ll have famous people who read The Beano when they were kids, or there are famous editors who worked for DC Thompson, and the more people you talk with the more you realise how amazing it is. Dundee has so much comics history and background that it is really inspiring. It brings people who are interested in this to the city, so it provides some good opportunities for people.

“Do you plan to stay based in Dundee for the future?”

For the next few years I think so. There is so much going on and it is a really good location as well, because you are in the middle of everything. You can go to Edinburgh, Glasgow, and Aberdeen and it’s not going to take to long. I think it is perfect.

“Would you say that there is anything in particular that has inspired your work?”

I draw inspirations from everywhere. I think the more you see and the more you read, the more inspiration that you get. You learn a lot from other artists, not necessarily in a copying way, but more like a visual advice you get from them. The more creators you meet, if you go to big events and cons, and you speak to them. So, yeah I think that everything is essentially inspiring. Even if you just observe people around you. Artists always do this, they look at stuff and try to copy it! So, I am inspired by everything, I wouldn’t say that there is anything particular. The more you live the more you lean.

“I know we had a conversation earlier about your work for 2000AD, but you have also illustrated a short story for Comichaus and have been invited back for another strip. Can you tell me a little more about that?”

Oh yeah, that’s how everything comes back to Dundee! For Comichaus we did a live brief for them and they gave us a script, and it was a competition for the Masters students. We all had a go, and it was a pretty open script so you were free to design it and do whatever you wanted. All of it was essentially my first sequential art. I started drawing and running out of time, and when I submitted it I thought that there was no chance that I would win the brief, and I did…..Somehow! The editor for Comichaus got back in touch and asked if I wanted to draw another script for them, and I am much happier with this second one. I think it is a little better.

“Are you able to tell me a little bit more about your next one?”

It’s written by a very talented writer and it is a very nice strip. I don’t know how to talk about it without giving it away. It is a romantic story about a very famous ageing actor and it has a fantasy twist to it. It’s really good and I enjoyed illustrating it because it is a very nice strip, and it has a ‘to be continued’ thing to it as it is left on a cliffhanger. If there is another, I don’t know if I will be doing it, but hopefully. I’ll give you a hint, if you are into vampire things, read it.

“Can you tell me a little bit about your process as an comic book illustrator?”

That’s a good one, because when I was working on the 2000AD Future Shock, the editor sent me the script and then I drew the work. Then later on I realised that, at some point, I had received a message from the writer which basically said that I could contact him if I needed to discuss anything. By that point most of it was already drawn and it felt incredibly awkward, because  I didn’t know if I should speak to the writer during the process or not. After I submitted the piece to the editor I got back in touch with the writer to let him know it was done. At that point I didn’t know if people were meant to be working together. I think of you are creating something obviously you are going to be working with the writer, especially if it is an independent thing. If you are working for a publisher it might be a little bit different. I think that everyone has their own approach. Plus, the more people are in the industry they probably already know writers, artists and they have this contract, so they probably approach each other.

So far I have not been communicating with the writers….even the writers that I know! One of them is behind me – When we work on the more social projects I know the writers and they are just like, ‘you just draw it; We trust you’. I think it all depends on the people. Some collaborations they might work out really well, and sometimes it can be a bit distracting, because the writers can have their own vision of it and then the artist might have a different vision. I think it all depends on the case, obviously there might be conflicts in those cases. So far, I have just been enjoying drawing it and then getting the feedback. We’ll see how that goes in the future. I think if the writer wants to see some things in particular they would probably include it in the script. This is what happened with Comichaus, because it was a very clear and nice script, and the writer did hint at some things that he wanted to see; Like an idea for angles and how the character should look. For some scripts people don’t include it at all and that is where the artist is essentially left to their own devices.

“Is there particular writer that you would really like to work with in the future?”

I am quite intrigued by Ian Edgington. He writes for 2000AD and he wrote many interesting things, so I think that would be an interesting collaboration. At this stage, because it has not been that long since I started drawing comics, I am pretty open minded and I would like to experiment quite a bit and draw different topics. I think at this point that it is also to gain experience of reading different scripts as well, because it’s not just about the style of the writer but also the way they write scripts. Some of them, obviously more experienced writers, they know what an artist can potentially draw in a giving time frame, and sometimes the way it is written, some people don’t understand that it is difficult to draw 2000 people in the city square when you are giving a week. Things like that tell you if the writer is pretty experienced – Their panel structure, pace structure is very good. Whereas amateur writers try to fit in so many different things into one page and one script which is very difficult to draw. So, at this stage, I am quite open to challenging scripts and not perfect scripts, just to experience it and figure out what would work for me potentially.

“I don’t know if you can answer this just yet! – But as someone who has recently graduated what can we expect from you and your work in the future. Do you have anything planned?”

I do. Hopefully in the New Year you can expect a new story in 2000AD. Fingers crossed. Apart from that, there might be a few collaborations, but I can’t really give to much away because it is all still at the communication process. It’s in the development stage, so there might be something really interesting, and I am hoping for it because if that works out then I will be very happy. I am just going into the New Year hoping that it will happen.

Also, if you are in Dundee and you like The Odeon, which is now being re-branded and re-furbished, which is going to be Odeon Luxe, they are doing a luxury thing where you can actually drink alcohol at the movies if you like! We are working on a massive mural for them, which is essentially a big canvas, and the design is inspired by the original DC Thompson’s characters and local Dundonian things, such as mythology and characters. This is now going to be part of Odeon Luxe. We are actually doing it live in front of the audience and it is going to be a big, big project. We will be live painting, inking, and it is going to be two by three meters, and it is going onto the wall in a weeks time. It was a good exercise to work, I don’t want to say under pressure, because it was cool to do it and it was interesting, because people were seeing it at the ugly stages. They were seeing it right-through. It was fabulous to see peoples reaction; On the first day some people were confused about it. Then on the third day, once we had started working on the shapes and the characters had become more recognizable, people became more positive about it and were approaching. I think, as an artist, it was really cool. I mean, many people don’t enjoy drawing live, they prefer their own space. I quite like working in front of people but I have not worked on such big scales yet. Even this was a bit new. Just like with scripts, I am not saying no to many things, I am wanting to do this and that, and the more frightening it is the better, because then you know what you can do potentially. When they told us the approximate size of the mural, and then I got to know the client and read the brief and I was like, ‘I don’t know how I can fit this all in one brief’, but we somehow managed to get to this stage of painting it. So, something is going well so far.

“Well it sounds really good. I am sure it will be great!”

It’s not because Odeon is paying us, but please come to Odeon Dundee Luxe!

“What piece of advice would you give students who are doing the same course that you done, or just art students in general?”

I will tell you a few things! I am actually currently doing it as a job and giving them some feedback. We are trying to come up with something interesting, get some interesting guests in, stuff like that. The main advice, I would say, is not to be afraid of commercial work, because, I don’t mean this in a patronizing way, because as a student I faced this myself. It’s really cool to have your own style and experiment with things and come up with your own ideas, but it is also pretty dangerous, because people tend to get locked up in one specific bubble and they don’t want to leave. Unfortunately, quite often, even talented people can’t earn money on it and can’t agree to commercial work, because they go, ‘I don’t really want to do this’ and ‘I can’t do this gig because I have my own style’ and that’s it. It’s just about saying that no one is saying don’t do your own thing, it’s just to try and be more experimental, a bit more commercial, try to turn your hand to different things even though they might not sound like the perfect gig, because the perfect gig might never come along. If you want to make it a career you need to answer the brief and listen to the client. If you want to keep it as a hobby then sure. This is something that we are hearing quite a lot, ‘This is my style and this is what I do’. Even if you give people something interesting to work on they don’t think that it is their cup of tea, or even something that they want to do. Why do the course then? Why learn if you don’t really want to change? So, that is the problem, and my advice is just to not be afraid of other things and try to be a bit more flexible and listen to what is being asked by the client. Quite often you can see really talented people who can do one thing, and they don’t really move any further from it.

“”I actually think that is very good advice and it’s definitely something people can learn from?”

Because, like, I have done many murals before? No – But so far it has went pretty well, touch wood. That is the thing, there is nothing to scary about it, but it shapes your style even better, instead of finding just one niche thing and sticking to it because it locks people up. I think the internet is a good thing as well because we have so much space to share our art, but unfortunately people think that if they have the internet they have all the audience, and this is simply not true. When it comes to the internet and your personal blog, you can reach a certain number but there is no guarantee it can go any further than your circle of family and friends, maybe a few random people but that is about it. When it is one particular style that is where it stays, that is the shelf. That is my rant over.

“I know you are saying that some people have their own style. Would you say that you have your own style for your art work?”

It is very confusing for me to say, because what I hear when people see the art, they say that they see the style in it. When I look at my work I think that every time I try to go a bit further as an artist. I guess, there are certain things and signature things that are transferred from one project to another because that it is what you do. At this stage I am just learning a lot and there is so far to go, I think I am still very much developing style wise. I see a few potential areas it go but it is so unpredictable. I just think that every time you should try to a better job than your previous one, or maybe try something new and a bit more challenging. I think the style is up to the audience, because ultimately they are the ones who are going to recognize it and either like it or not. I can’t really describe my own style because I dislike everything that I have done, like so many artists! I see so many flaws in it, so to me, it is very difficult to say if it is good or not. If people like it then good, I will take the compliment. It’s very difficult, because one thing you see when you create something and then it’s a completely different thing when people read it. When I read the reviews for the Future shock project, people saw completely different things to what I thought they would see, and I heard such unpredictable comments about my own art, which were positive, but people would compare my art to things I never would compare my art to. So, I think it’s totally up to the audience to judge.

You can keep up with Anna and her work over on her Twitter. You can also spot her Mural at the Odeon Luxe in Dundee.

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