'Undertow's' Artyom Trakhanov talks Russian comics scene, his own work

Russian artist Artyom Trakhanov broke into American comics with his nuanced and idiosyncratic work on the 2014 Image Comics series Undertow with writer Steve Orlando. Since then he's contributed covers and short stories to several titles while working on multiple new projects, both with writers and on his own.

ROBOT 6 spoke with Trakhanov about working in the English-language market from his home in Novosibirsk, Russia, balancing his professional and his home lives, and what the comics scene is like in his own country. Trakhanov also revealed the first pages from an English translation of his long-running Russian webcomic MadBlade.

ROBOT 6: What are you working on today, art-wise?

Artyom Trakhanov: I wish answering this question was THAT easy! I’m doing a lot of things, and at the same time – still nothing serious or big. The thing you as a Russian newcomer don’t know when you do your first “real” comic book is that you need to arrange your NEXT book as fast as possible, or you’ll end up in the weird space where I am now. A couple of really exciting and potentially big books are in process, of course, but you won’t hear about them for a while. And, with a better time management and planning, I know that ideally you already would. So, just please stay tuned, and in the meantime, try enjoying my covers, pin-ups, and short stories/webcomics.

You're relatively new to English-language comics, but people know you best for your Image series Undertow. How would you describe your work on that especially since it's your calling card for many people?

That was intense! From the very beginning I knew that this script was amazing, and I enjoyed every minute of working on it with my team. We did a few stories with Steve Orlando before, so I knew that we totally understand each other, and what Steve wants to create. And Thomas Mauer, our letterer, turned out to be our guarding angel, always happy to help us with his brilliant work.

Still, it was really hard. I had a “day job” as a freelance artist in casual games development, and for most of the series I was forced to sneak time for making comics, so I barely slept and nearly killed my social life (thank God my dear wife Katia was patient enough to live through this with me). Then, when we had maybe two issues left to do, and the series actually started to come out, I quit the job and started making millions out of comics. Haha! Kidding. I just quit my stable job and submitted to entropy of creator-owned comics.

And, phew, I am very happy with the final book. It’s almost everything we wanted it to be and nearly everything we think could be good in those kinds of sci-fi stories. You should check it out, if you like weird underwater stuff, gruesome action, dirty politics and “sketchy” art (though I don’t know why everyone actually thinks that it’s sketchy --- I’ve spent quite some time finishing it!).

You also have a long-running webcomic series in Russia called MadBlade. Any chance you might translate that into English for others to read outside Russia?

Oh, yeah! The comics is currently on hiatus in Russian, but me and Steve Orlando are trying to make the English version. And actually, I can share the first sequence of the story in English with you right now!

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I also have a small webseries called Pachivachi of Mars, which I strive to release in small episodes on both languages simultaneously (again thanks to Mr. Orlando). You can check out all the episodes done so far here.

The Russian comic scene, in my estimation, doesn't seem as large as the American comic scene -- I believe there's only one major publisher, Bubble. What's comics like for you, living there?

A lot of licensed production – and I mean really a LOT! The number of translated comics we currently have was hard to imagine just a couple of years ago. We should say thank you to Marvel movies, I guess. But still, not so many original Russian comics. Few independent books, few mainstream series from Bubble – and that’s all.

Reading your writings about comics, it's interesting the way comics filtered in your part of the world and you calling your touchstones as a young comic fan being things like Battle ChasersHellsing and the home-grown Russian comic Thursday's Folks. How would you describe your early days as a comics fan?

Thursday's Folks was a comics consisting of something around 30 or 40 pages total, and it ended up being abandoned by its author – yet still, I furiously loved every page of it back in 2004-2005. Same with the Battle Chasers, with an exception of it ending abruptly after several issues, not pages. If you want to describe being a comic fan in Russia in those times, there’s several words to perfectly nail it down: piracy, bad Internet, bad taste, bad fan translations, lots of enthusiasm. This is how we lived our fan lives back then!

And what about now -- what are you reading now, comics-wise?

Let me see. I love Hellboy-verse passionately, and I enjoy Rumble a lot. I follow the current ongoing manga Billy Bat by my second-favorite Japanese comic artist Naoki Urasawa (with the first favorite being Hayao Miyazaki for his astounding work on Nausicaä). I love and read Halogen, Southern Bastards, The Sixth Gun and many others … I track down every comic Connor Willumsen does. Also Matt Fraction’s Casanova and Sex Criminals. And I really, really NEED to read Nemo – River of Ghosts.

As I said, you've done several covers and short stories -- what are your big goals for yourself in comics in the years ahead?

I hope that all things I’m currently doing will have their resonance. I really want English-speaking people to enjoy MadBlade. I want to do a lot of covers – this turned to be one of my favorite pars of having a comic artist job! I love contributing to other people’s works and being part of a bigger team, while also having my own things to do. For example, I am ready to kill someone for the right of drawing just a little of B.P.R.D. Because this is how much I love it.

Generally speaking, I just want to do comics I’d loved to read by myself, and make some living with it. Sounds pretty simple!

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