Andrea Offermann’s story “24 Hours” in the “Flight,” Volume 4 anthology is her first published comics work, but she’s far from a novice. A graduate of Pasadena’s Art Center College of Design, Offermann has been exhibited in galleries in Los Angeles, Chicago and other cities across the country. Her wordless story “24 Hours” is one of the highlights in Volume 4 of the “Flight” anthology and CBR News spoke with Offerman about her contribution to the anthology, art school and how two years of med school pushed her to a life of art.
Your bio in “Flight” tells us that you went to med school for “two terrifying years” which of course leads me to ask the obvious question of why.
I went to Med school in Lubeck, Germany. When I graduated High School I wanted to get an education in art, but was afraid of the reality of making a living as an artist. I was afraid that I would struggle and loose interest in making art if I “had” to do it every day to pay the bills. So I enrolled in Med school because I was always very interested in the subject matter.
Studying the subject was really cool, but the two years were also terrifying partly because I was confronted with exams in many subjects I was terrible in, such as Chemistry and Physics. The subject that took up the most time was Anatomy, which actually was my favorite. But studying for that subject involved dissecting bodies every day for hours on end. It was very interesting, but also tore on the nerves to be one of 10 people huddled around one body cutting and tearing and pushing each other aside to find muscles and nerves. I remember many macabre moments.
I left because I realized over time that while I loved studying the subject I did not want to become a doctor. Art was always in the back of my head and through my time at med school I was so busy with studying that I hardly ever had the time to draw. I applied for Art School (Art Center College of Design) and when I got in I decided to go and try the entire opposite of what I had been doing so far: devote myself 100% to art and see where that takes me. I’m very happy I did.
Why did you end up going to art school and in Pasadena specifically?
Well, art school because art had always been a part of my life. I decided for the Art Center specifically out of a few different reasons. I had visited the Art Center in Switzerland because my sister went there to study Product Design. I really liked the school. But by the time I was looking for an art school they had closed the school in Switzerland and I had to apply to the school in California. Since I never had any education in arts I wanted to start by learning skills and I felt that Art Center offered a very good skill base. Also, I wanted to major in illustration, and most schools in Germany only offered graphic design with illustration as part of that. Art Center had a great illustration department.
Through a friend of mine, Catia Chien, who has contributed to “Flight” several times. I had often wanted to write and draw a comic and see how my work would translate into that medium, and she encouraged me and suggested me to Kazu for “Flight,” Volume 4.
Did this story begin as a comic? Did it start with an image? Where did it begin?
Well, the first image of the comic existed before the story existed. I painted a painting for a show called “Pink Elephants.” Many people asked me about the story behind the image, which shows elephants carrying cities inside of them. When I got the opportunity to draw for “Flight” 4, I immediately knew that I wanted to write that story and show what this painting was about.
Was the intention always to tell the story without dialogue?
Yes. I did not want dialogue, it did not fit, in my opinion, and I wanted the images to speak for themselves. I also did not want the story to be too straight forward, I wanted the reader to be able to find himself in it and interpret it the way he saw it. Dialogue would have limited that possibility.
What led you to use the T.S. Eliot quotation?
Actually Kazu suggested that I put text on the last page to indicate that it was the ending. I agreed with him ,but I did not want to just write “the end.” I searched for a quote that would support what I wanted to say with the story, and when I stumbled across the quote from T. S. Eliot, I immediately felt it was perfect.
For you, what was different in terms of creating a narrative story through multiple pieces. Because it’s not as if you simply painted multiple pieces, but you’re also dealing with composition in terms of the page and how it would read, and how the images fit together. What was your process? How did you approach it?
Actually it was very satisfying to be able to tell a story this way. For once I could show all the aspects I had usually tried to cram into one image. I loved being able to show the reader exactly the angles and images I wanted them to see, to design the pages and lead the eye. Of course I had absolutely no idea what I had coming for me when I sketched out 22 pages and started drawing. It was pretty huge, and I hardly made the deadline.
My process was mostly trial and error I would say. I wanted to draw this comic the way I wanted it and not be too influenced by rules. I sketched the pages out as thumbnails in a car on a road trip through the US with my friend Mimi. From those sketches I went almost directly to final drawing.
I usually do this with my fine art. If I work from the thumbnail the composition is set, but the image itself is evolving while I’m working on it. Of course that working method isn’t the most economic. Sometimes I didn’t like the outcome of the final drawing, then I threw it away and started over. This working method also meant that I couldn’t show Kazu anything until I had the line work for about half the pages finished, since there were no clean sketches. He was very patient and encouraging!
What was the appeal of not using words and what do you think that a wordless story possesses that it wouldn’t ordinarily have?
To me visual communication seems more direct than language. It also reaches the viewer in different ways than words, speaking to the subconscious and the emotions in addition to the mind. It was important to me to keep the place and time of this story, and the voices of the characters, undefined. In that way I hoped to make it possible for the readers to see themselves in it.
Where did the Elephant carrying the city come from? Cause that image was part of the Systema Naturae show at Gallery Nucleus earlier this year, if I’m remembering correctly.
You’re right, it was in the show, by specific request of the gallery. I wasn’t planning to have it in the show, because it wasn’t new work. Originally I created the elephant painting thinking about reality and what it means to us. I think we accept things too easily as reality. For centuries philosophers have discussed that matter and tried to come up with answers to what we can actually establish as reality. The painting contains several worlds with different aspects making them impossible to be “real.” Which do we choose as the real one? And, isn’t it the choice that makes the world real? But I’m not sure if this answers your question correctly.
When I saw the elephants carrying the cities on their backs, I thought of the old Indian folk tale about how the planet rests on the back on an elephant standing on a snake standing on a tortoise.
There are many different folk tales and religious tales about the elephant, it’s interesting that most of them involve the elephant carrying the world or different gods. That was definitely on my mind, but I wanted to take that image further. The elephants seemingly carry the debris of the city away, but through their metamorphosis they create a new world.
What do you think is the influence of M.C. Escher, on this story and your work more generally?
I admire his work, the easiness with which he creates realities that turn out to be impossible only on the second glance. It’s mostly that surreal sense that inspires me.
I asked specifically about Escher because there’s that beautiful full page image you have, on page 19 of the story, where the elephants have come apart into birds and there seemed an echo of him in the image. Was that your intention?
Well, I knew all along what I wanted to happen to the elephants when they fell. But only when I started drawing that page I realized that it reminded me of Escher. I liked that. The story deals with surrealism in a way that I think Escher might have appreciated and so I thought it fit to pay homage to him in this image.
For you, in terms of the work you’ve done so far, where does this comic fit?
I’m not sure how to answer that. I’ve been out of school for two years now and I have explored different paths so far – fine art, children’s book illustration, magazines, graphic novels. I definitely don’t want to limit myself to one area of work yet, if ever. I like the challenge in something new, a different medium and the comic was one of the most important projects for me so far.
Had you completed the story before moving?
Well, I would say I completed it while moving. Just before I left the US, I took a roadtrip with a friend from LA to New York. During that road trip, I wrote the story for the comic, or I should say, I sketched it out. Then I moved, and the sketches were left untouched for about 2 months while I was trying to settle back in Germany. I think when I finally started drawing I also started the process of adjusting to the new life. When I finished the comic in December I also felt that I was finally feeling at home in Germany again.
Does the story and the Eliot quotation sum up your feelings on the move?
I guess you could say that. More than refer to that specific event though I wanted to relate to terrifying moments everyone has in their lives. You go through them and realize that life as you knew it has ended. You and everything around you has changed. But that doesn’t have to be negative.
Why have you moved back to Germany?
I had always intended to move back, even though I thought about staying a lot, because the art scene in LA and the US in general is very interesting. Especially for illustrators and comic artists, the US is much more interesting than Germany. But the scene in Germany is growing and I am very excited about the new work coming from here.
Tell us about the art and comics scene in Germany.
It’s not as big as the US of course, but there’s very interesting new stuff coming out. There have been some very good graphic novels, Bellstorf’s “Acht, Neun, Zehn” for example, and the art scene is enormous. Lot’s of fantastic galleries, and new smaller ones starting to show up especially in Berlin. What’s still missing is the excitement about art I felt in LA, but it’s getting there.
What’s next for you?
I have several new projects. I am working on a children’s book and on a new body of work for gallery. I also wrote a new story for a comic and this time there might be words.