Octavia Roodt Interviewed for Nintheart 2.0

Octavia Roodt Interviewed for Nintheart 2.0

Octavia Roodt Interviewed for Nintheart 2.0

By Thierry Groensteen

Translated using Google Translate

Thierry Groensteen: You were born in Johannesburg in 1995. In what environment?

Octavia roodt: I grew up in the suburbs, a fairly urbanized neighborhood called Four Ways, much more English than Afrikaans. My parents were a bit apart in this environment. In the 1980s, my mother had studied art and my father had studied philosophy. Then they came to teach English in Paris, and my father graduated from the University of Paris VIII (I think it was a post-doctorate, I’m not sure). On their return to South Africa, they had several children. In the rest of my family, there are also mathematicians. My parents are very artists. My father had dabbled in literature once. Now he writes political essays, in Afrikaans, which I don’t always agree with, even though I like him a lot as a person.

I grew up with ‘Bittercomix’ [ 1 ]. When I was younger, I had read ‘Tintin’, and suddenly, at the age of fourteen, I discovered something that resembled ‘Tintin’, but with a completely different content that left me speechless, taken aback.

We also had close friends in Belgium. I went to visit them on Christmas last month. When they came to our house, they brought comics: it ranged from ‘Boule’ and ‘Bill’ to ‘XIII’ and ‘Thorgal’.

When did you start drawing?

I have always drawn. I never stopped. And very quickly my drawings took on a sequential form. I traced six frames on a page and told a story.

I understand that, very early on, your comics took an autobiographical turn …

Yes indeed. I always had a sketchbook, and another notebook in which I kept my journal and wrote poems and various things. I change it every year. When I look at my old sketchbooks, I see that I was drawing myself in them. It became a habit. I would probably have to detach myself from it.

‘[Octavia shows me her current sketchbook. I see mainly observation drawings, in pencil, portraits of different models, or images copied from an illustrated Bible.]’

I like to draw on the motif, to represent the people around me. My notebook is also a very safe place for me, where I can allow myself to try things, without exposing myself. Sometimes I draw my dreams there …

Sketches of children and dogs

Do you think you will one day make an autobiographical comic book to be published and shared with the public?

I would like to. But there are so many things I would love to do!

In November 2020, you obtained a Masters in Fine Arts at the University of Pretoria, and your thesis was on autobiographical comics …

Yes, so I read you and quote you alongside other researchers such as Philippe Lejeune or, on the English-speaking side, Ann Miller and Lisa El Refaie. I was struck to see that there was space in comic book studies for so many voices, so different from each other! As for the artists whose work interested me the most, they are mainly Fabrice Neaud and Julie Doucet. When I was talking about them around me in South Africa, no one could see who I was referring to! It must be said that we are only exposed to mainstream North American comics , and that the superhero culture is dominant …

Before registering for a Master, you obtained, at the end of four years of study, a license in Graphics. What courses were you receiving?

I was trained in animation, photography, typography, logo design (which provides my livelihood today), and of course drawing.

‘Studio (Workshop)’; posted January 15, 2021 on Facebook © Octavia Roodt

You seem to have acquired a perfect mastery of academic drawing …

Thank you. But, like Fabrice Neaud, I use photography a lot. The discovery of his Journal freed me, because he creates superb images and is not afraid to show us that they are made from photos. I had never seen anything like it.

Unlike Fabrice, you don’t draw everyday life, but rather dreamlike or fantastic scenes …

Yes. My drawing is based on reality. But my stories are not factual. I place them in a fantasy world that allows me to revisit and reinterpret my life. The woman who represents me is freed from the constraints of the physical world. At the same time, I recycle places, objects, characters that are familiar to me.

It is obvious that you were particularly influenced by Moebius …

Oh yes ! What I discovered first was the series of drawings he had made for ‘Hermès’. And then I came across an online version of ‘Edena’s World’ [ 2 ]. It made me hallucinate. I began to make pages completely under his influence. More recently, I felt a comparable shock when I read ‘Saccage’, by Frédéric Peeters. Wow! An insane book! And on the graphic level, I was also marked by ‘Ranxerox’, by ‘Liberatore’, and by ‘Blutch’. They are all incredible designers. Moebius particularly fascinates me because they use archetypal patterns, which are very important to me. It goes back well beyond gender divisions, classic family structures. I bring him closer to the psychoanalyst Jung. We feel Moebius run through very deep, very powerful intuitions. He was kind of a medium. Of course, when I read ‘Edena’, I was too young to understand everything. And I think that I am not yet at the age where one can reach the stage which was his. In any case, now that I am in Angoulême, I take this opportunity to borrow everything I can find from Moebius at the library of the City!

‘Namaskar’ (2019) © Octavia Roodt

The nude occupies a very important place in your boards. For love of the body?

Yes, absolutely. And for this reason people in South Africa are shocked by what I am doing. While for me there is nothing shocking. I grew up in a family where we were very relaxed on this issue. When I was little there were books with nude photos lying around the house. Not to mention the ‘Bittercomix’ books!

Do you draw naked bodies from models, photos or imagination?

The three. But I confess that I have a passion for drawing from a live model. It is a very important discipline. The photo does not really allow us to understand the shapes in the same way…

The self-portrait, the self-representation, is also at the basis of many of the images that you take…

It is true. The main characters in my stories are often drawn from my fiancé and myself. He is my favorite model because he has a very beautiful body, very strong ( laughs ). I feel a little guilty for drawing myself so often. It is a rather complacent approach. But I took this fold as a teenager, to question my body, and to draw myself naked over and over again.

Self-portrait drawn in front of the mirror, during his studies.

Did you have the opportunity to meet the people from ‘Bittercomix’ (who live in Cape Town)?

Just once. I was very impressed. I would love to do a story for ‘Bittercomix’, but I don’t think I’m critical enough. I am looking for the rebellious voice that is deep inside me but what I express is rather soft and kind. Apartheid officially disappeared twenty-five years ago, a year before I was born. Everyone then lined up behind the hope represented by the new regime. But people of my generation have other imperatives. Certainly another mission, but I can’t quite imagine which one. Aside from completing unification, and also, I believe, for us Afrikaans to get rid of English and American influences. I was interested in Breyten Breytenbach,

You write poems yourself, which you illustrate…

Yes, I write a lot. In my family it’s a tradition, almost a rule: when you experience an emotion, you write a poem. I would very much like to publish a collection mixing comics and poems. But which publisher will want this?

What language do you write in?

In Afrikaans. This is the language in which I think. I cannot write in English.

Have you often had the opportunity to travel abroad?

Well… I did an internship in Stockholm, focused on design, when I was in my fourth year of bachelor’s degree. It was very interesting. And I spent a little over a month’s vacation in Amsterdam. But I know Belgium better. I have often visited friends of my family who live in Ghent.

‘Skulpie’ © Octavia Roodt

What brought you to Angoulême?

In my country, there is no comic book industry, and the infrastructure is lacking in favor of creators. Especially for someone like me who places himself under the umbrella of fine arts, visual arts. They don’t know what to do with me there…

This does not surprise me. In September 2019, I went to the second edition of South African Comic-Con, in a sort of convention center between Johannesburg and Pretoria. Books were scarce there. In most of the stands, the “artists” were content to exhibit images of their creation, in the form of originals or reproduction. Aesthetically speaking, almost everything I have seen – a mixture of codes from manga, superheroes, the world of magic and fantasy , with a strong dose of morbidity – seemed to me of aggressive ugliness. I did not feel at all in my place in this demonstration…

No, me neither! And so I looked for a residency for artists. When I learned of the existence of the ‘Maison des Auteurs’, a residence for comic book authors, I fell out of my chair. I began to tell everyone around me that this was the place I wanted to go at all costs. And here I am! I was accepted, it’s just amazing.

Have you never been to the Angoulême festival?

No, I didn’t even know it existed. And precisely this year it is not taking place, although I am there. For once, it’s really bad luck.

You asked for a short residency, only two months. Why not more?

I had not previously experienced a residence exceeding one month. And often residences are expensive, because they force you to put your commercial work on hold. So I didn’t think I could ask for a longer stay. But today I realize that the work I have undertaken is going to take a long time, and I hope to be able to get my residency extended. Making a comic strip is really very time-consuming…

Do you think that it will be possible for you to make a career of comic book author in South Africa?

I work part time as an illustrator and graphic designer for the Center for Human Rights Studies, which is both a department of the University of Pretoria and a non-governmental organization. Of course, I would like to do more comics. And also do things for the kids. But there is no publisher, no market. Everything I have produced so far has been self-published. However, a school, Open Window, which trains illustrators, recently opened a comic strip department. It is the first in the country. So the situation may be changing for the better. It’s very exciting. I think we need more artist collectives.

You could work from Johannesburg for the international market, being published abroad…

I would love it. This is one of the reasons that pushed me to come to France. But I’m not sure how to go about it.

From ‘Binnekamer’ , excerpt.

© Octavia Roodt

Let’s talk about the stories you have self-published…

Yes. First, here is ‘Die Binnekamer’ (“The Inner Chamber”), which is from last year. I printed it in risography. I made 25 copies in English, and 25 in Afrikaans. It comes from a real fact, that my fiancé catches snakes. This scene triggered all kinds of dreams in me. As usual, I take the experience and I embellish it, do something romantic… I think this story is metaphorically about family and having children. It is about bringing an egg to a room. And the egg becomes giant… The monuments that I represent really exist, but I have brought together places which, in reality, are distant. And the woman is me, of course. I pictured myself crying. A very curious experience…

Looking at these boards, I have the impression that the story has been improvised. Did you write a screenplay in advance?

Here we have another little book, ‘Finaliteite’, which is also dated 2020.

Yes. I represent a well-known TV presenter in South Africa. And this time the text mixes English and Afrikaans. I am still the main character. At the end of the story, I think I managed to get rid of a problem, but it’s back. It’s a bit difficult to sum up…

‘Finaliteite (Finality)’ © Octavia Roodt

I also have the title of another recent story,’ Tavie en Hasie’ , of which I do not see a copy.

No, I didn’t bring it. It’s on my computer. In fact it’s a very short story, for children, printed like a leporello , at the rate of one image per page. But I have a problem. When I try to do something “child friendly”, in a simple and accessible style, I can’t help falling back into the more elaborate designs that I am used to, and giving my stories a melancholy turn. Finally it becomes more of a comic book for adults.

You draw preferably in pencil…

I use ink in my commercial work, but when it comes to art I prefer the pencil, which is so delicate… So I don’t ink my drawings, I scan them and add the color to the computer. Edith Chambon, who is also in residence here, showed me some of her work in which she uses colored pencils, and I thought to myself that maybe I should try this technique.

‘Tavie en Hasie’ © Octavia Roodt

Do you still have artistic practices other than drawing and poetry?

Well I learned to play the cello. But I did not persevere. I couldn’t make enough time to practice the instrument and draw at the same time.

The project you have submitted to be accepted into residency has the title ‘Promised Land’. What is it about?

I presented a story that was quite successful, with a storyboardcomplete, but now I’m not so sure of myself, my feelings on this project have changed. The place of action is the farm of my future in-laws. For me who have always lived in an urban environment, this is a fantastic place! You feel life all around you, that of nature, of animals… There is also a very strong spiritual life there. The mother of my fiancé is a psychoanalyst, very open to all new therapies. We practice all kinds of breathing techniques, eye movement, etc. together. So this farm is for me a place dedicated to experiences, to meditation… Unfortunately farm animals are meant to be killed. In the story, it is about a rabbit who ends up in the pan and for me it is a tragedy. The whole point of the story is to go to this farm to heal his wounds and become a better person. As always, this story will have a strong dreamlike dimension and will use many symbols.

Interview, in English, at the ‘Maison des Auteurs’ on January 28, 2021.

(Photo Thierry Groensteen)

[ 1 ] South African comic book review, published since 1992. It is published by a collective whose best-known members are Joe Dog and Conrad Botes. Very political, she often hijacked Tintin to get her messages across.

[ 2 ] Comic book series by Moebius, developed in five volumes from an advertising story drawn for the Citroën brand in 1983.

To read the original interview please navigate to Nintheart 2.0 website here: http://neuviemeart.citebd.org/spip.php?article1351

Image Credit: Thierry Groensteen

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