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 a Belgian author of graphic novels Judith Vanistendael, whose credits include Dance by the Light of the Moon, When David Lost His Voice and Mikel (which will be published in English in September 2019).
Her themes include refugees, love, cancer, terrorism, and bodyguards and their sunglasses and her books are published in the UK by SelfMadeHero.
She also illustrates children’s books, but as they are only 40 pages long, she considers working on them something of a holiday!
What are you working on, comics-wise, right now, and when will it be published?
Judith Vanistendael: I finished a book called Penelope, which has just been published in French and Dutch earlier this month. I hope other languages will follow!
It’s a story based on the Odyssey, set in Brussels in 2014, where Penelope is a surgeon. She works for Docters without Borders and does missions in war zones. She also has a husband and a daughter.
When Penelope comes home from a mission in Syria, she has difficulties adapting to the normal life and to being a mother. She will have to decide what kind of life she wants to have.
Which comic project you’ve worked on are you most proud of and where can people see it or buy it?
Judith: When David Lost his Voice, published by SelfMadeHero.
How do you plan your day as a creator? (Do you plan your day?)
Judith: I work from nine till five. from Monday until Friday. I have a studio, 10 minutes from home. So it seems as if I lead a normal ordinary lilfe. It helps me to focus.
What’s the best thing about being a comics creator?
Judith: Being independent. Working with my hands. with paint, with pencils. Getting dirty.
And the worst?
Judith: The pain in my hands, arms, and shoulders. Drawing is very physical and repetitive. It hurts like hell!
Do you think it’s easier or harder for young comic creators to get published today?
Judith: I have no idea really. It depends on what you make. If you make something that touches the public, you will get published, I think?
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?
Judith: I have never been there before. But for me, it is mythical. My grandfather was born in Newcastle, his parents were Belgian refugee in World War One, so I have fondness for Britain. My whole family has this. We drink tea with milk and make pies and we love misty weather and sheep on hills.
I expect to stay a little longer to have some beautiful walks. I expect to have tea and eat scones. I expect myself to fall in love a first sight with the region.
Which one comic creator would you most like to meet, and why?
Judith: Posy Simmonds. Because she makes such good stories, with incredible dialogues. Because she seams to me witty, intelligent and very interesting to listen to.
How do Festivals and other comics events help creators most, do you think?
Judith: By inviting us, so that we come out of our drawing caves and meet other authors. By showing us that we exist beyond the drawing cave.
What one piece of advice do you offer people looking to work in the comics industry?
Judith: Make good stories that matter. We live in terrible times, we need important stories.
What’s your favourite comic right now and where can people get it?
Judith: Heimat, by Nora Krug. You can get it in the bookshop, I hope!
Judith, thank you for your time and enjoy the Festival – and the Lake District, too!
JUDITH VANISTENDAEL ONLINE