Xenia Pamfil is a Romanian cartoonist who, like many young, modern artists, has spent years writing, drawing and releasing her work online. Much of it can be seen on her blog, including her webcomic “Papoi,” and in the pages of local publications. Her first graphic novel, “Mishka and the Sea Devil,” published by Action Lab Comics, is making its global debut at this week’s New York Comic Con. The book is eleven chapters long, with each chapter, drawn in a different style, representing a single day of the title character’s adventure on a mysterious island.
Pamfil, who will be appearing at NYCC to celebrate the book’s debut, spoke with CBR News about the book and her work, while offering some insight into the Romanian comics scene.
CBR News: Just to begin, have you always been reading comics? Have you been making comics for a long time?
Xenia Pamfil: Since I was a little girl I was drawing stories on every single piece of paper I could find around the house. I’ve always loved to tell stories through my drawings. So you could say I’m doing this for a long time.
I have an art education; I studied art from High School through University. While there, teachers always tried to keep me away from doing commercial art. They insisted on a traditional approach. I always loved cartoons and comics, so I’ve never gave up on drawing them whenever I could find time for it. I’ve grown up with French comics like “Pif et Hercules.” That magazine fascinated me throughout my childhood.
What is “Mishka and the Sea Devil?”
Everything starts on the shiny surface of the sea, a place where something menacing lurks, just beneath. Mishka finds out exactly what, as out of nowhere, a strange creature, red as the flames of fire, attacks Mishka’s tiny fishing boat, smashing it to pieces. It’s not a random event: the attack has purpose. The Sea Devil senses much power in Mishka, and manages to steal a part of her soul, vanishing back into the depths. With the Sea Devil gone, Mishka finds her way onto a strange island with many secrets. This is where the adventure begins.
Where did this story come from?
The story developed over six years. It started with the idea of the main character, Mishka, her one eyed cat, and the lost island. In time, Mishka began to transform as I got to know more about her, like in a real relationship. First you meet someone, then as the time passes you get to know that person in detail. Mishka and I have been through many adventures over the years!
Mishka is the main character of the story. She is a fisherman’s daughter who learned her family’s trade and now supplies her village with fresh food. Captain Furrball is the most famous pirate that has ever lived on the island. He is fearless, and his brave deeds are well known by the indigenous people. Admiral Ghost is a mysterious character caught between two worlds. She is not alive, but not dead either. In their adventures, she and her crew, had faced many perils but none as deadly as the Sea Devil. On a stormy night, the Devil stole the crew’s souls-all but hers. Awaweko is an indigenous tribesman on the island charged with helping Mishka find the fragment of her soul.
Why did you decide to draw each chapter in a different style? And how did you craft the different looks?
At first, I published bits and pieces in different magazines as individual stories and in different styles, then it occurred to me it had the potential to become an interesting graphic novel. I started researching different comic books and I loved the collective ones [anthologies]. I would never get bored reading them over and over again, these books by different artists with so many different styles. That’s how the idea of different styles started to take shape in my head. I wanted to do a book that you could read over and again. Each time the reader looks at the book, I want them to discover something new. It’s a crazy idea, but I can’t thank the people that have encouraged me enough. This book is a dream of mine.
The book is a collection of mixed traditional and digital media. Some chapters are drawn by hand and then colored digitally, and some are full digital.
Do you have a favorite style of all the ones you used in the book?
Every chapter and every style serves as a reminder of where I was during the creation process. So many wonderful things happened while creating Mishka — I can’t choose! They are all very dear to me.
When you were thinking about the chapters, did you have a model or approach for each chapter, either an individual artist or something you were thinking about?
Yes, it was a long process of sketching and doodling. At first, it was only the skeleton story on which I started to work the details. Before starting work on one chapter, first, I’d browse the net for references and inspiration. I’d then play with style, doodling until a style was defined, and I was happy with it.
How did you decide on the design of the sea devil?
I knew it had to be a big fish, and that it had to look different. Special. I researched different species of fish, whales and other sea creatures and all kinds of illustrations. I’m really pleased with the final look!
What else are you interested in doing? Do you have plans for other books?
I love making comics. I can’t imagine my life without it. I’m working now on my other project, a web comic named “Papoi.” My plan is to self publish a little brochure with all the strips I’ve done by next year.
Could you talk a little about your webcomic “Papoi?”
Oh, there’s so much to tell! Long story short, I was into a French webcomic for a long time, so I wanted to do something similar. In time, the day to day journal about me and my imaginary friend Papoi took on a life of its own. The story takes place in anÂ enchanted world where my alter ego and Papoi go on adventures, meeting a lot of weird and fantastic creatures. I decided to keep the style very simple, cute and easy to read. You can find more about Papoi on my personal blog.
I’m curious, what is the comics scene in Romania like?
We have a lot of talented artists in Romania, but people are just starting to get used to the idea that comics are not just for little children. There are people struggling to educate the larger public into understanding the complexity and artistry found in modern comics. I’m optimistic that in the near future comics will get the attention they deserve, especially given the amount of talented, determined people working here. We have already some collective publications and some awesome artists published in Romania and abroad.
Is there a good anthology or comic you can recommend to those interested inÂ reading more Romanian comics?
There are a bunch of talented people that I admire working in Romania. There is a collective magazine, “Revista Comics,” put together by a hard working man namedÂ Octav Ungureanu. Revista encourages young artists to draw comics. They are really inspiring.
There are some awesome guys in Cluj (Romania) that have organized a comic-club where they draw comics and host a lot of fun events and exhibitions, like your 24 hour comic day. I admireÂ their dedication. In the comic-club, there are two sisters that have been published. One is Ileana Surducan, who created a graphic novel named “Le Cirque,” printed by a French editor. The other sister, Maria Surducan, published a graphic novel in RomaniaÂ called “Parslea cel voinic si merele de aur,” inspired by a Romanian fairy tale.
And that is not all — there are tons on Romanian comics to be discovered!
Pamfil is attending New York Comic Con at the Action Lab Booth (3044) throughout the weekend. She’ll also be appearing at the Ridgewood Branch of Queens Library in New York on Friday, October 10 at 5:30 pm and at the Action Labs Post-Con Party at Jim Hanley’s Universe on Saturday, October 11 starting at 8 pm, an event co-sponsored by the Romanian Cultural Institute of New York.
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