INTERVIEW: Marta Chudolinska on Back + Forth, TCAF and Next Steps

We don’t often talk about blasts from the past here, but this week, we’ll make an exception. We recently reprinted Marta Chudolinska’s wordless novel Back + Forth, and seeing as Marta will be on hand at the Toronto Comic Arts Festival this weekend, we thought it would be fun to check back in with her and see how time has influenced her perspective on her book, her artistic process, and the wordless novel genre, not to mention find out what she’s working on next.

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1. If you had to describe Back + Forth to a stranger in only a few sentences, what would you say?

It’s a non-linear visual story, following a female character as she navigates love, loss and loneliness. It’s also a visual ode to Toronto and Vancouver, the two Canadian cities where the story takes place.

2. In what ways did the wordless novel format help or hinder you in telling this story?

The story was based quite closely on my personal experiences, many of which were difficult and painful. Showing the story in a visual way was an easier way to discuss and process these feelings, to put them out into the world. It made it easier to show a very vulnerable part of myself, compared to say, attaching specific words to the experiences.


3. Wordless novels have a reputation for being something of an activist genre, committed to expressing social or political frustrations. How do you envision Back + Forth fitting into this tradition?

I think it fits into the tradition because it shows an honest portrayal of a woman as a human being and a sexually liberated person. Unfortunately, our society still harbors many outdated and contradictory ideas about female sexuality, female libido, etc. so anything that presents an alternative to those ideas can be seen as activist.

I sometimes think that just presenting a story from the perspective of a woman is revolutionary. So much of our media is dominated by a heteronormative, white male experience. No offense dudes, but it gets boring.


4. What did you learn about yourself as an artist while creating this book? 

I learned that I can make a book! I started this book in my last year of art school, so it was definitely the most major work that I had made at that point. There was a great sense of accomplishment in terms of discovering what I am capable of as an artist. Back + Forth was nominated for a couple awards, including a Doug Wright Award which recognizes excellence in Canadian cartooning, so that had a fairly large impact on my sense of myself as an artist. I felt welcomed into and acknowledged by the alternative comics community and that made me confident that there was an audience for my work, and that there was room for me to continue working in this field. I feel very lucky that things worked out for me that way, particularly having that encouragement at the very beginning of my career.

Image from Back + Forth

5. Looking back on the experience several years later, is there anything you would do differently? Has your style or approach changed?

I don’t know if I would have changed anything about it. Of course, if I made the book now, it would come out very differently but ultimately I’m happy with what I was able to accomplish with my skill and experience at the time. I like to think that as my hands have become more adept at carving and my knowledge and study of techniques has expanded, my recent linocuts and woodcuts are more refined than that early work. But though the prints in Back + Forth are more roughly hewn, they still have an energy about them that is evocative. The plot of the book poured out of me very quickly and naturally, as if I needed to get it out of me, but these days my approach to storytelling is much slower, more considered, with more time for editing and feedback from my peers.

Image from Back + Forth

6. TCAF is coming up. I know for the past several years, you’ve made a point to attend. What keeps you coming back? Will you have anything new to show?

I come back because TCAF is the best show for alternative comics in North America! It’s the combination of many wonderful facets culminating into a magical weekend of comics: the fact that it is a free event in a public library brings in a very diverse audience, from die hard fans to those with a casual interest or curiosity; the long list of incredible international guests that you would not otherwise get to see; exciting programming throughout the week of the festival; a wild amount of new books by fantastic authors launching at the show; the range of artists and exhibitors; and the bubbling excitement for the possibilities of the medium. I’m going to be debuting a new comic entitled Morphis, a short wordless tale in the form of a fantastical allegory.

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Marta will be speaking on a panel called “Non-Fiction: Graphic Memoir” on TCAF’s Librarian and Educator Day. If you can make it, it will definitely be worth a listen.

When: Friday, May 13, 2016, 11:30 a.m.
Where: Toronto Reference Library, 789 Yonge St., Toronto, ON

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portraitMany thanks to Marta for taking the time to check in and answer our questions! If you don’t already have a copy of the book, you can buy online here, or stop by TCAF to get the goods from the artist herself.

Happy (wordless) reading,sig

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The Porcupine's Quill would like to acknowledge the support of the Ontario Arts Council and the Canada Council for the Arts for our publishing program. The financial support of the Government of Canada through the Canada Book Fund (CBF) is also gratefully acknowledged.