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    Interview with Koren Shadmi

    By Tim Leong

    A group of crème-de-la-crème illustrators from the School of Visual Arts worked together to create a comic anthology. Sound familiar? It was a success for Meathaus back in 2000 and it’s working now for Koren Shadmi and his peers with their new book, Critical Citadel. Shadmi, an experienced member of the group, published his first graphic novel when he was 17. With Critical Citadel still fresh on the stands, Shadmi is continuing more comics work and pursuing editorial illustration.

    How did SVA shape you artistically? Specifically?
    SVA was a type of visual lab for me. I tried various approaches to creating my work, each time absorbing something new from a different professor or artistic influence. It was a form of trial tasting, and I kept what I liked. The great thing about SVA’s illustration department was that I got to study with some of the top illustrators in America, like Steve Brodner or James McMullan. My sketchbooks are the best “historical documentation” of the changes I went through. The first one is exclusively ballpoint pen, somewhat immature and very conservative. the last one, from before I graduated looks like it was made by a completely different person and is much more diverse in content and mediums.

    What was the best thing you learned from your time at SVA?
    I learned to keep an open mind, and that that you need to make the creative process interesting for yourself, at any cost. It needs to be fun – it’s almost as simple as it sounds. This means that at least when your creating your personal work, there is no room for timidity. What interests you the most is what you should be dealing with, even if it’s embarrassing. If you feel passionate about certain subject matter and you have the guts to deal with it - this will show in your drawing, it will be born out of desire and not tedium. We all tend to fall on what is familiar and easy for us to approach, we take the same route to a finished drawing which we took a hundred times before – but sometimes you need to surprise yourself in order to keep the process diverse. Go against yourself and play a different role for a day.

    How did Critical Citadel come about?
    It was born in a party/rock show of Citadel member Ray Sohn’s band, Banana Oil. As Ray was shoving his guitar through the ceiling, Me and Jon Vermilyea (another member of the group) were talking about how we should really start some group project. This was one of the strongest cartooning classes to come out of SVA in years and we felt like it would be a waste no to take advantage of that opportunity. After that point we started to have group meetings to discuss the project’s look and direction and then all the members began work on their stories. At the same time I applied for a Shakespeare & Co graphic novel grant. We won, and could now go ahead and print the book.

    What was your main objective for the anthology?
    We wanted to have a general air for experimental spirit. At the same time we did not want to restrict any of the members, so the decision was to turn the format into the binding element - a horizontal “widescreen” that is sort of abnormal for comics for the most part. We also wanted to make it a diverse collection - generally speaking, the group is split into two — there’s the more refined/controlled artists and then the crude/primal artists. We did not want to discriminate – still, what we aimed for was an overall high artistic quality, no space fillers, everyone had to be in top shape.

    How does the Israeli comics scene differ than the American scene?
    Apparently the Israeli comics industry had been flourishing in the past couple of years. The problem in Israel is that it’s so small, and there’s absolutely no way of reaching a wide audience with such a specific medium, none the less you see groups like Dimona and Acrtus which have had international success, but they have to write their comics in English, which sometimes makes it a bit odd, especially when the stories have a very local atmosphere. Still, people like Rutu Modan and Tomer Hanuka are getting a lot of exposure worldwide, and it makes me proud to see that we are on the map. About the comparison with the American industry, I would say that the comics in Israel lean much more towards the underground direction, its very diverse and there’s no real mainstream. Some people are making superheroes and manga comics, but they seem to have nothing original about them, and don’t bring to light any of the authentic Israeli character.

    Why was it important to print the book in Tel Aviv?
    It was cheap! We got good materials for the book, good paper and binding, and all for about 30 percent less then any of the printers in the US or Canada. I don’t know if I would recommend this to anyone though, I had my friend supervise the printing over in Israel, otherwise it would have been much harder to produce the book.

    You also do a lot of magazine work. Which is harder — illustrating for comics or for magazines? Why?
    Comics by far are harder! They are laborious and demanding, and you feel very little satisfaction when they are done. A comic is a complex creature in addition to having drawings it has to have a story, pacing, rhythm, structure. It’s much more bound to fail then a single image narrative (as in illustration). Sometimes I question myself why I keep at it, but I guess there are some things that are too complex to be able to convey in one image. A comic is like your personal home made film, with an unlimited budget.

    I think at this point I enjoy doing illustrations more, even when its for clients, but I’m not about to give up on comics yet just because of that. For me its refreshing working on one image for a longer period of time, and also working from written material, giving your own interpretation for someone else’s writing. In comics all the weight is on my shoulders.

    A previous SVA anthology, Meathaus, produced some big names in comics.Was that something you thought about?
    I know some of the Meathaus guys, like Tom Herpich and Angry Jim, and they are really great guys with incredible amounts facility. I don’t see Meathaus as an intimidating obstacle, the more the merrier, the better image there is of SVA being an incubator for great talent. The comparison is natural, but I try not to make it, the biggest goal for me was to create a really great collection, regardless of what’s going on right now in the world of comics anthologies.

    How did you manage to publish your first graphic novel by the time you were 17? What was that experience like?
    My first book was a collaboration with my former comics teacher Uri Fink, who is probably the most renowned cartoonist in Israel, I took care of the visual side, doing the drawings/color of the story and he basically wrote it. Uri had published the first Israeli superhero comic back in the ‘70s, and this book was basically a view of what had happened to the guy since. Its essentially a critique of Israeli society - the former hero is now a slacker officer in the Israeli army, and does his best to avoid using his powers. I think this was my last venture into the superhero world, and it’s a good thing it ended when I was 17.

    What’s the most important thing you’ve learned since entering the comics industry?
    Don’t count on comics to pay your rent!

    Posted by Tim Leong on November 7th, 2006 filed in Story Archive |

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