Between the Panels: Cartoonist Charlot Kristensen on Difficult Stories, Her Cursed Webcomic, and the Benefits of Twitter

“Between the Panels” is a bi-weekly interview series focusing on comic book creators of all experience levels, seeking to examine not just what each individual creates, but how they go about creating it.

As comics have grown over the decades, both as an industry and artform, the number of unique voices with unique stories to tell has also grown. Take Charlot Kristensen, for example. While her art has appeared in a variety of media outside comics, she was drawn to the graphic novel form to tell her most personal story, with more still to come.

First, the particulars…
 
Your specialties (artist/writer/letterer/inker/etc.): Illustrator and author
 
Your home base: Dublin, Ireland
 
Website: charlotkristensen.com
 
Social Media
 
Instagram: @Zolwia
 
Twitter: @Zolwia
 
Facebook: Zolwia

 
Headshot photo by Bobby Zithelo



 
Fanbase Press Contributor Kevin Sharp: As an artist, what attracts you specifically to working in the comic/graphic novel form?

Charlot Kristensen: I think the comic format is a unique way of telling stories. The only format where images and dialogue play together to form a narrative. I’ve never seen myself as solely an illustrator nor a novelist, but always felt that both forms belong together.

KS: Were you a big comics reader growing up? 

CK: Interestingly enough, I wasn’t initially interested in comics, I read popular titles such as Obelix and Asterix, Lucky Luke, Garfield, etc. I enjoyed those comics but never really saw myself creating comics. It wasn’t until I discovered manga that my love of comics really grew. I realized I loved ongoing narratives and character developments in stories, so I naturally became a huge fan of many manga titles.

KS: Do you remember how you initially encountered manga? Was it part of that group of titles you mentioned, or was there another source?

CK:  I think I was 11 or 12 when I first came across manga and anime in Germany. I grew up in Denmark, so it was not easy to get access to Japanese media, but we would often travel to Germany, and lucky enough we also had access to a few German TV channels. RTL Zwei TV station became my go-to for anime. I couldn’t understand a word of German, but it still didn’t stop me from falling in love with Wedding Peach and Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne. They were both magical girl stories, girl protagonists who were granted powers to fight evil forces and something about it was just so enchanting. Even though none of my stories are fantasy themed, a lot of those early influences can still be seen in my art pieces. My first favorite manga-ka — an author who writes/draws manga — was Arina Tanemura. She’s the creator behind the Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne title. I was pretty obsessed with her work as a young teen and have read nearly all her titles. She’s the one that made me want to create comics. 


                         

KS: We’ve talked a lot here over the past year about the idea of story. What was a comic story that had a particular impact on you as a younger reader?

CK: One comic I always think about is Paradise Kiss by Ai Yazawa. It had a big impact on me as it was the first time I saw a romance story end in a breakup due to the relationship being toxic. Breakups are not discussed enough, and so many stories I read growing up had super toxic pairings, but the flaws of them were romanticized. Paradise Kiss really taught me that such a relationship was not worth it. It made me want to start writing more honestly, and about topics that were not shown enough to younger readers.
 
KS: Was there a specific origin point that you recall for your idea of being a professional artist?

CK: Prior to comics, I really wanted to be an animator when I was nine. I think Disney was my first true inspiration, so yeah I was pretty young when I realized I wanted to be an artist. Obviously, it wasn’t until I was a bit older that I really thought of it as a potential job. As a kid, I just loved drawing and it was my favorite hobby, but with the years it became a more serious pursuit.

KS: That means both people in this conversation dreamed of being Disney animators once upon a time. What were the formative titles for you? The ones that really lit that spark.

CK: I’ve always adored the animation in Sleeping Beauty, Hercules, Atlantis, and Tarzan; they made a huge impact on me and still remain some of my favorite animations to date. But when I first got into drawing, it was actually the original Disney characters — Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, and Goofy — that inspired me a lot. I even had a poster of them hanging in my bedroom, and they acted as my first attempt at drawing cartoon characters. 

KS: What’s the first serious art project you remember creating? I’m looking for something that felt like a big deal for you at the time — whatever age that was.

CK: It would have to be my first cursed webcomic. Awful writing and a real lack of planning, but I was so passionate about the characters and the story. I think I managed to do three chapters until I ended up being too busy to continue it. Even if I see it as cursed, it still has a special place in my heart. It was definitely the biggest thing I took on at the time and I’m really proud of the past me for attempting it.

KS: Was there some other project or moment on your journey where you had a thought along the lines of “This may actually work out. I think I can really make a go of it as a pro?”

CK: The first time I really thought this could work out was when I landed my first recurring client, Dian Holton from AARP’s Sisters newsletter. She was the first contact who offered me a lot of projects, and she was definitely the one who made me feel like this dream could become real.

KS: To many people, being a professional artist may sound like “living the dream,” but please talk about your experience in this life. Your portfolio contains such a variety of works… How do projects typically find their way to you, or vice versa?

CK: I feel that I’ve been very lucky that a lot of work has found me. I know this isn’t the case for everyone. One platform that’s proven to be really effective for me has been Twitter. I’ve managed to grow a following a lot faster there than on any other platforms I’ve used before. I think the connections I’ve built over there have definitely made my work visible to potential clients. Most of my connections are other illustrators, a good portion from the US, and that’s where my work has been picked up a lot. I’m also connected to a good few editors, which definitely helps. Having said that, it has by no means been easy. My first year freelancing, I struggled a lot financially due to taking on projects that weren’t paying enough. It wasn’t until my [third year] that I finally started seeing the hard work pay off.




KS: Did your relationship with Dian Holton as a client begin through Twitter?

CK: Funny enough… [she] actually found me through Instagram. I believe she had spotted some of my DTIYS (“draw this in your style”) content, and, interestingly enough, it was also a time where I was changing the way I work. I felt my art wasn’t noticed much, so I spent a lot of time in 2018 analyzing what worked and didn’t work in my art. The DTIYS challenges was a great way to learn how other creators use color and shape in their work. Obviously, you try to draw their characters in your own style, but you still end up discovering new ways to create art. That’s when Dian sent a DM; she liked those pieces and asked if I wanted to work with her.
 
KS: What are your thoughts on listening to music, or any other background noise, while you work?

CK: An absolute must. It really helps me focus and create pieces that encompass emotions. Also I can’t really rely on my visual mind, because I’m not able to conjure images up in my head. So, music lets me focus on the feelings and atmospheres I want to create in my art.

KS: Give us a sample of what we might hear on the Charlot playlist?

CK: Uhh, this one is a real bag of mixed stuff. I do have my favorite genres such as indie rock and electronic music, but depending on the mood, it could be anything from jazz, classical music, Jpop/Jrock, to some feel good Motown. When it comes to art inspiration, though, I love to listen to atmospheric pieces by Grizzly Bear and M83.

KS: Moving specifically to your graphic novel, What We Don’t Talk About… What was the impetus for creating the book? Did you have the idea of doing an original graphic novel first, or did you have the story first?

CK: I’ve always wanted to do the story as a graphic novel, so it was always envisioned that way. The inspiration to tell this story is quite personal. I grew up in a mixed family, and, unfortunately, I was exposed to a lot of racist behavior from my dad’s family towards my mom, who is Zimbabwean. It was very confusing, because while it felt uncomfortable no one really spoke up about it. Hence the title of my comic. I think it’s something a lot of mixed people like myself can relate to, and I wanted more stories to touch upon this difficult reality.



 
KS: Why do you think a graphic novel was the right way to tell this particular story?

CK: I’ve seen movies and books about interracial relationships, but I hadn’t seen this topic dealt with in a graphic novel format. Also I wanted to encourage more people to read comics, so I felt a topic like this would encourage fellow comic readers but also people who were new to the format to pick it up. Comics can be tough to get into, and it can be hard to recommend one for new readers. I think my story is accessible to even a person who’s never read a comic before.
 
KS: Can you share something you learned about making comics over this development time that you might not have fully understood when looking in from the outside?

CK: Definitely how important typeface and speech-bubbles are and the right text placement — how to direct the eye through the panels and placing text in the right spots. I definitely took this for granted, but it’s something I focus a lot on now.
 
KS: Please tell us about a passion or hobby of yours totally unrelated to art. Something you study, collect, practice …

CK: It would have to be roller skating. It’s been a passion since I stood on my first pair as an eight-year-old. And I often have dreams about skating when I haven’t done it in a while.





KS: To spread some love at the end, what’s a comic or graphic novel by someone else that you look at with admiration?

CK: Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli. It’s simply a masterpiece on every front. There’s not a comic aspect David hasn’t considered. The way he’s made everything from the colors, speech bubbles, typeface and character designs symbolic is simply mind blowing. Every time I go back to the story, I discover new, hidden treasures. I would love for my layouts and art direction to become that strong one day.
 
KS: Finally, tell us what you’re working on now and anything we should be on the lookout for down the line.

CK: I’m currently working on an upcoming graphic novel with writer Mathew Rodriguez called Carlos Alejos Has to Lose His Chichos. It’s about a Puerto Rican teen dealing with body issues and his sexuality. The book is set to come out in 2023.
 
 


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