NYCC: Guarnido, Dialynas & Ahonen on Creating Comics the European Way

With Heidi MacDonald moderating, three talented European cartoonists -- Juanjo Guarnido ("Blacksad"), Michael Dialynas ("The Woods") and J.P. Ahonen ("Sing No Evil") -- gathered at New York Comic Con to talk about their influences growing up and the differences between working in the United States and other countries.

Dialynas, who grew up in Greece, said his mother gave him a copy of "The Killing Joke" when he was eight and "destroyed me." In recent years, self-publishing and small press comics have taken off in Greece, and there's one big independent comics convention every spring. As far as how he made the jump to American comics, he joked, "I used technology."

"I was used to being in Greece where people do not reply to emails," Dialynas said, explaining that even though he lives near the biggest comics publisher in Greece, they wouldn't let him drop off his portfolio. He emailed them, and they promised they would reply within three months -- five years ago. "I e-mail people in the U.S., and they replied in hours," Dialynas joked.

Ahonen grew up in Finland where he attended the University of Lapland. "It's funny that I went to university to study graphic design. I don't know why, but there were a lot of people who did comics, so we did this self-published anthology," Ahonen said.

Guarnido was born and educated in Spain, but has been living and working in France for years. He moved to Paris to work as a Disney animator, but he always wanted to be a cartoonist. "'Tintin' and 'Asterix' were the main influence on me," Guarnido said. "They leave something in your soul."

"Blacksad" was published in France first because the market there is not simply huge, according to Guarnido, but comics are at the root of the country's culture. "Families will inherit comics collection. Maybe because for a long time the albums have been hardcovers."

MacDonald mentioned the fact that funny animals are so prevalent in European comics, and in the comics the three panelists have made. She asked whether the fact that Donald Duck and Disney comics are so huge overseas was an influence on their own work.

"In my case, I was already doing a weekly comic strip with people. When I got this satire strip in a magazine, I felt like it had to look different," Ahonen said. "It didn't have a main character. It was based on celebrities or politicians so it would give it another layer of storytelling. Drawing a politician as a pig or bull or snake says a lot."

"We use animals as a mirror," Guarnido said. "You can say so much in one image. My scriptwriter says that the animal characters gives you so much information at one glance and comics are a visual medium."

"I love comics that make good use of the medium, and use symbols and semiotics," Ahonen said, praising Guarnido and his work on "Blacksad."

"This is my first time doing a monthly," Dialynas said of his current gig on "The Woods." "If I had the chance to do albums, I would do that, because to turn out an issue in three weeks can be a bummer sometimes."

"Research," Guarnido said. "That's the big difference. Authors don't have the physical time to research [on a monthly schedule]."

"This is my research time right now, for [my] next issue," Dialynas joked.

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