Every year, in the countdown to the Lakes International Comic Art Festival in October, we bring you a series of interviews with guests at the event. This “Festival Focus” for 2019 is with Árni Beck Gunnarsson, a comics creator whose goal as a promoter of the comics form is simple – to promote what he thinks are good comics and to help creators, who have little or no time, to promote their works internationally.
He’s also the Danish translator of the highly acclaimed Mouse Guard series by David Petersen, ApocalyptiGirl by Andrew Maclean, and Icelandic translator of Mortensen’s Escapades by Lars Jakobsen – as well as being the English language translator of Arminius: The Battle of Teutoburg and Weneetryhl.
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Árni Beck Gunnarsson: I am currently working on a follow-up to my Do Monsters Brush Their Teeth? – but I also have a few short stories and longer works that I work on when I have time. I’m also working on several translations which I hope will see print next year and as an agent I am working on getting an amazingly talented group of Danes noticed by the larger markets.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Árni: I am proud of all the projects I’ve been involved in, mostly translated works, but getting books out with stories that I’ve written is what I’m most proud of.
Do Monsters Brush Their Teeth? will be out at in English the Lakes Festival – and I’m looking forward to seeing it.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Árni: Haha, I wish. I work full time as a teacher (Danish second language) and organise Art Bubble, so what little time I do have is spent with the family. The stories germinate for a while, mostly in my head, and then in insane bursts I write when I feel that it needs to come out.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Árni: People telling me they’ve enjoyed the stuff I’ve worked on, written or translated, and getting to see my name on the same website as people whose work has inspired me. I translate books that I’ve loved reading and enjoyed, so others getting a good experience from reading my translation is very satisfactory.
And the worst?
Árni: Lack of time.
What most distracts you from getting your work done?
Árni: Life in general, I think. But I recently read how the late, great Terry Pratchett worked and am going to try a similar approach. Wish me luck.
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Árni: That depends on what you mean by young, because all newcomers have the same options. We can choose to publish online – one page at a time or shorter stories. We can print more cheaply than in the “old days” and we are able to reach a wider audience, if we take the time and make the effort. So there are certainly things that are easier, but I also think it’s gotten harder for creators to get published by the established companies, regardless of which country you are based in.
Have you ever been to the Lake District before and if so what did you think of it? If you haven’t, what are you expecting?
Árni: I had the pleasure of coming over last year, 2018, and experiencing the most horrid rain. We got in on the last bus before service was terminated. But aside from the dangers of flash flooding and comics floating in the streets, it was a wonderful event and I got to meet a lot of old friends and make some new ones.
This year, I will try to prepare myself slightly better for that fickle English weather…and if that doesn’t work, I’ll make my way to the Blind Bus Driver – and stay there.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Árni: In 1999, on the off-chance that it might happen, I picked up Preacher #1 in Gosh! in London, and fantasised about meeting Garth Ennis, Steve Dillon, Glenn Fabry and Matt Hollingsworth. Which I have, aside from Matt. And this year I get to see Garth again, which is great and hopefully he won’t mind me buying him a Guinness again.
These days, it’s harder to say who I’d like to meet the most, because I’ve gotten older and realised just how many fabulous comics there are out there and how many I’ve yet to read – I really enjoy meeting people whose work I don’t know yet and getting to know them and their work.
Having said that, I’m really looking forward to meeting Becky Cloonan at the Lakes – does she drink Guinness?
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Árni: Festivals help in all sorts of ways, but there has to be method to the madness. As one of the organisers of Art Bubble, I can say we are always looking for new ways to get people who aren’t in the know to get into the event. That’s one of the reasons Art Bubble is a free-admission event, hosted at two of the most fantastic locations imaginable in Denmark – The Round Tower of Copenhagen and Dokk1 in Aarhus. Dokk1 doubles down as a library and has play grounds for kids, indoors as well, so there are plenty of people coming through.
Getting to meet the creators and having your books signed is just one aspect of it, but the one most people associate with festivals. That’s why it’s important for the festivals to keep evolving, to create some interesting programming, to involve as many people as possible and inspire one another. I’ve been all over the place these past couple years, observing and learning more about running a festival and how much can be done. And this year, I’m sure I’ll have something new to bring with me to Denmark that we’ve picked up from the Lakes and see if we can’t adapt that to Art Bubble.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Árni: Get to it. Don’t wait, don’t make excuses, just get something done. One page, two pages. Then some more. It’s work and it’s a start. I’m not saying it will be easy – as you’ve already read, I have a full-time job and this is all on the side – but if you love doing comics, even when it takes a long time, you’ll be happy you got started.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Árni: Right now, Belzebubs by JP Ahonen. If you haven’t picked it up, you can check it out at Belzebubs.com, or order it through your local store from Top Shelf. It’s out in Spain, Italy, Greece, the US, Finland and on its way in Germany.
And when you get it, get the LP from the band as well! Hellz yeah – Belzebubs is an actual animated band, with a full album out named Pantheon of the Nightside Gods. Go on Youtube and see the Blackened Call and Cathedrals of Mourning videos.
Oh, and the US introduction is written and drawn by Becky Cloonan.
Árni, thank you very much for your time and we hope you enjoy the Festival!