Olga Makarova interview

Olga contacted me through the Basket Case About page, and I started reading “Gifts” shortly afterward. The concept behind this Russian webcomic is as fascinating as the person herself. I’m pleased to present Olga here.

BC: Who are you?
OM: My name is Olga Makarova. I’m making a sci-fi webcomic Gifts of wandering ice about curious things people find in ancient icebergs.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: What personal details do you think are relevant to readers to know about you?
OM: I live in Ufa, the capital of Bashkortostan, one of the republics inside Russia. I’ve never had a chance to travel and see the world, so that must be where my love for sci-fi, fantasy, and adventure stories comes from: I just travel in my imagination.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

OM: I was born in 1985, grew up as a shy bookish kid, got interested in sports as a teen (I began with bodybuilding, then have been studying Aikido for 12 years, and have recently started Muay Thai). I have a degree in biology and was on my way to becoming a geneticist after Uni, but didn’t get my PhD due to financial problems in my family. I still love science, though, and all my stories are full of that. Right now I’m a 32 year old woman, married, with a kid, and work in a small animation studio. I’m a 3D artist there. What I do is mostly shading, sometimes also sculpting and modelling. The best job I’ve ever had.

BC: Has the animation studio you work at produced any works that westerners may have heard of?
OM: I guess not. But maybe they heard about comics this studio (“Muha”, it means “fly”) used to make in 90’s. I heard some were printed in other countries.

BC: Why Muay Thai? It’s one of the more painful martial arts to learn, isn’t it?
OM: I fell in love with Muay Thai after I saw people spar in a gym my husband goes to. In Aikido you don’t spar ever. You may train for years and years and not know whether you’re worth anything in a fight. After 12 years of Aikido it became to get to me. I realized I wanted to fight, wanted to know whether my skills were worth something. I chose Muay Thai over classic boxing because of how beautiful and effective it is. And, as I said already, I fell in love with it at the first sight. All martial arts are painful to learn. I just don’t care about pain much. I’ve been like this since I was a kid. I fought a lot and got beaten a lot. I guess I’m less sensitive than an average person. Bloody nose and bruises are not a big deal for me, and it’s the worst you can get when you spar, because sparring is never done at 100% strength. You can get seriously hurt only in a ring. I’ve never fought in a ring before (I’ve been practicing Muay Thai for only 4 months yet), but I’m looking forward to it.

BC: Do you consider yourself a cartoonist, an illustrator, an artist, or something else?
OM: I’m a storyteller. Writing, drawing, conversation – these are just different ways to share a story with other people. I don’t feel like I’m actually creating stories. They already exist in my head and I can watch them just as I watch movies. What I do is adapting them to the real world so that somebody else would experience them, too. I used to write stories for most of my life, but during the last three years I’ve been drawing one.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: How did you get your start as a storyteller?
OM: My parents told me I’ve always been a storyteller, since I learned how to speak, and they have several written books with illustrations I made in my preschool years in the family archive.

BC: How long have you been at it, and what do you think your biggest breaks were?
OM: Well, all my life, I think. My best years were at the Uni. Happy time, many friends, big dreams, lots of inspiration, to make the long story short. I wrote my best books in these years. After that I faced some real life problems, got depressed and stopped writing. I decided to learn to draw somewhere at that point. My initial goal was to make decent covers for my books since I was too poor to hire an artist, but it went further.

BC: With working at an animation studio, studying Muay Thai and raising a family, when do you have time to draw? How do you manage your time?
OM: I work 8 hours a day, 5 days a week and have 28 days of vacation each year. I draw 1 hour a day from Monday to Friday (usually in the morning before work) and 2-3 hours a day on Saturdays and Sundays. It’s enough to produce 2 comic pages per week. When I’m on vacation or have a day off because of some holiday (we have a lot of these in Russia) I can draw extra art for Patreon. I started Muay Thai too late to become a professional fighter, so there is no point of sacrificing everything to it and training like twice a day. I go to the gym 3-4 times a week, just like most people who only want to stay fit do. Each class lasts for an hour and a half, and the gym is only 5 minutes walk from my home. As to raising a family, I’m not doing it alone. There are four adults in my family: my husband, my parents, and me. We help each other a lot and are very close. It is common in Russian families and really does make everything easier: raising kids, caring for seniors, paying bills, etc.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: What led up to your starting Gifts of wandering ice, and do you have any other pokers in the fire right now?
OM: When I was a kid of 17 I wrote a short story Gifts of wandering ice. It was rather shallow and not particularly exciting, but it had an interesting idea: melting icebergs with artifacts of a dead civilization inside them. After many years I decided to make a comic based on that story, just for practice, since it was short. It was meant to be only 20 pages long. But as I began sketching it I realized that the idea about icebergs and artifacts deserved a much better story, and then I saw it in my mind, an opening scene of a long black and white movie, and it was breathtaking. It had huge icebergs looming on the horizon, little islands of columnar basalt connected with shabby cableways, and beautiful people who survived the apocalypse without turning to barbarism. I was speechless. I don’t remember much of that day. I guess I just watched the movie and paid little attention to the real world. That’s how the new story of Gifts of wandering ice was born.

OM: As to the other stories, I have two unfinished books. They are on hiatus until Gifts of wandering ice is finished.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: Which of your works are you most happy with, or proud of?
OM: Omnis Trilogy (three parts: Cold obsidian, Hot obsidian, Smoky obsidian), a techno-fantasy (sci-fi with a few fantasy elements) I wrote in my best years. It’s a story of a world with originally unstable magic which was stabilized by technological means. The balance is fragile at best, though, and allows multiple anomalies to exist. We follow two characters here: an outcast guy who becomes an apprentice of the creators of his world, and a boy who was raised by a rebellious order of magicians and scientists with the purpose to destroy or exile the creators. Reincarnation and genetics both have a say in this story.

OM: I dream of translating Omnis Trilogy into English one day. I could’ve started now, but, damn, it has several poems in it (they are essential to the plot and cannot be omitted), and I’m helpless at translating poems.

BC: Can you share part of one of the Omnis poems in the original Russian?
OM: Sure. There is a legend about two brothers: a tyrant openly hated by everyone and a power broker unknown to common people. Its title translates as “The second one”. This poem was the key to a riddle in part three (Smoky obsidian). And yes, most poems in Omnis Trilogy are long 😦

Второй

Есть мир далекий, мир иной,
где в небе две луны.
От моря там подать рукой
до сказочной страны.

И ту страну в недобрый час
увидел я во сне:
там о беде пророк кричал
и дело шло к войне.

Как две луны на небе том
восходит из-за гор,
так правили страной вдвоем
два брата с давних пор.

Я их имен до сей поры
не вспомнил наяву.
Я лучше Первым и Вторым
двух братьев назову.

И если Первый был король
и правил на земле,
то незаметен был Второй –
как тень при короле.

Да, был тираном первый брат,
но тот, кто из теней
смотрел, опасней был в сто крат,
коварней и страшней.

Страна такая – злой сосед;
пришел войне черёд.
И Первый на виду у всех –
в бой армии ведет.

Громит чужие города,
пленит детей и жен.
Он на виду у всех всегда
и всеми проклят он.

Дела Второго не видны,
как смертоносный яд.
Шпионы, воры, колдуны
ему благоволят.

Они являются везде,
где их никто не ждал.
Не раз в ночи такой злодей
ворота открывал.

Врывался враг, и град тонул
в безжалостном огне…
Казалось, как плохому сну,
не знать конца войне.

Меняли облик колдуны;
царил повсюду страх.
Бывало, другом в дни войны
прикидывался враг.

Но вот в печальный год потерь
нашелся свой герой,
в бою безжалостен, как зверь;
фанатик и святой.

Он королю другой страны
на верность присягнул;
переломил он ход войны,
надежду всем вернул.

Златой грифон всегда при нем –
зверь множества легенд.
Сияет меч его огнем;
он сам – оживший свет.

Крушит врага в бою герой,
могуч, непобедим.
И той же раненых рукой
врачует паладин.

Но смерть оставила печать
на благостном челе;
ему жизнь мирную начать
нет права на земле.

Гадалка молвила, смотря
в огромный черный шар:
«Цена победе – жизнь твоя,
несчастная душа».

«Что ж, я готов,» – сказал тогда
герой, потупив взгляд…
И вот уже недолго ждать,
последний замок взят.

Встречай последнюю зарю,
осталось жить чуть-чуть…
Не внемля страху, к королю
он прорубает путь.

Сражен в бою грифон златой –
сей знак несет беду.
Речами же гадалки той
надломлен гордый дух.

Он молод, он дитя еще,
как можно не жалеть
о том, что дням подходит счет,
что скоро умереть,

что, кровью землю и траву
своею напоя,
он сложит светлую главу
за злого короля…

Он принял бой, и в том бою
сражен им был тиран.
Герой же, кровь пролив свою,
погиб от страшных ран.

Его народ в тот славный день,
ликуя, горевал.
И, неприметен, словно тень,
Второй на то взирал.

«Что ж, ведьма верная моя, –
он обернулся к ней;
та, хладнокровна, как змея,
смотрела из теней, –

Сыграла ты гадалки роль
Прекрасно. Что ж, виват!
Свершилось: мертв святой герой,
и мертв мой старший брат.

Глупцам недолго пировать
на выжженной земле.
Я – Тьма, а Тьма умеет ждать.
О новом короле

пророки скоро закричат,
и я верну свой трон.
Настанет, ведьма, день и час
нам править здесь вдвоем.

Так выпьем вместе за войну,
что я так долго ждал!» –
сказав так, ведьме протянул
Второй вина бокал.

Кроваво-красное вино
та испила до дна.
Но, знайте, с темным колдуном
не стоит пить вина…

Смертельный яд был в чаше той,
и ведьма умерла,
и тайну страшную с собой
в могилу унесла.

Погиб злодей. Что впереди?
В земле почил герой…
А меж тенями, невредим,
момента ждет Второй.

BC: Do you have any paper or e-book collections on the market yet?
OM: E-books can be bought on Gumroad.
Paperbacks can be bought on Lulu.
Alas, everything is in Russian for the moment, but I’m working on the translation. Once Book One of Gifts of wandering ice is finished, it will be available in both languages and will cost just a dollar.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: How do you approach that blank sheet of paper when you decide to start your next strip or panel?
OM: I have a movie for every story in my head already, so the first step in making a new page is usually just watching references with poses and landscapes to get the details right.

BC: If your strip had a soundtrack, what would it be?
OM: Gifts of wandering ice would have a lot of Celtic music in it. It suits this world.

BC: Who are your favorite artists/writers? Have you met any of them?
OM: No, I haven’t met anyone.
My favourite novels are The Book of Atrus, The Book of Ti’ana, and The Book of D’ni (the “Myst” trilogy) written by David Wingrove with assistance from Myst’s creators, Rand and Robyn Miller. These books have just the right mixture of everything I love: science, exploration, world traveling, magic (or technology that looks like one), selfless people who love learning, exploring, and very believable strong and clever female characters. My favourite movie is Joss Whedon’s Firefly (+Serenity). It’s very well written and well played. As to other things, I haven’t found my absolute favourites among them yet.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: Do you follow any other comic strips right now?
OM: Yes, I follow some.
O human star“, a great geeky sci-fi comic with big heart.
Mare internum“, sci-fi comic about Mars (and I love everything about Mars).
The book of Atrus“, a comic based on one of the “Myst” books, drawn in perfectly Myst-like sketchy style. Unfortunately, it’s on hiatus now.
Camp Weedonwantcha“, a comic about kids abandoned by their parents in a camp. It’s both sad and funny.
Bicycle boy“, a post-apocalyptic comic with lots and lots of strong and charismatic female characters.

BC: What do you look for when you read someone else’s strips?
OM: The strips that are perfect when looking at them make me see the story as a movie in my head. It doesn’t happen often, so when I find a comic that does it I follow it.


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: What do you think makes for a good comic?
OM: A good story. Good art is important too, but the story comes first.

BC: Do you use Patreon or Kickstarter? How do you think they are changing the face of webcartooning? Do you want to plug your site?
OM: I use patreon. Here is my page: www.patreon.com/mildegard.
I often see that patrons’ support allows people to quit jobs they don’t like and start earning money by doing what they love (be it comics, music or other stuff). I think it’s wonderful!


(from Gifts of wandering ice.)

BC: Do you have any projects coming up? Appearances scheduled for conventions?
OM: There’s going to be a convention in Samara (the city not far from Ufa) in May. I don’t know yet whether I’ll be able to attend it, but I’m going to send a poster there.

BC: Do you have advice for any other Russian readers who might want to start up their own webcomics?
OM: My advice is to make webcomics bilingual with both Russian and English versions. Comics and webcomics are not popular in Russia at all. Only a tiny fraction of people reads them, so even if your webcomic is super cool you’ll never have a big audience if you don’t have an English version.

(All artwork here has been reproduced with the permission of the artist. Copyright Olga Makarova (c) 2017. For non-commercial use only.)
(This interview is the copyright (c) of Curtis H. Hoffmann 2017. It may not be reproduced in whole or in part without the permission of the author.)

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