My interview with Max Estes

Love brought the American cartoonist Max Estes to Norway, and this summer Cappelen Damm published his crime comic for kids, Nattsyn. I interviewed the guy for D2 earlier this year, and here is the interview in full – in English.

ØH: What brought you to Norway? Was it love or work?

ME: My wife is Norwegian. A journalist, we met after she wrote about my first graphic novel, Hello, Again. She reviewed the book for a Norwegian magazine, then contacted me for an interview. Afterword we simply kept the conversation going. A few months later, I hopped a plane to Oslo. The following year, after many pricey plane tickets, we were married.  I’ve been here since 2009. I’m absolutely hooked on Norway. It’s impossibly gorgeous, and there’s real support for the work I do: making books.

ØH: Was the transition to work for Norwegian publishers hard, or is it easier to make it as an illustrator/cartoonist here?

ME: Norway has welcomed me with open arms. I’m very grateful and humbled. My Norwegian publishers have been incredibly supportive. I read very little Norwegian, and speak even less, but luckily, I’ve no shortage of ideas in the book department. My editors have been receptive to those ideas while working with me on the language aspect.

I’d be sunk if it weren’t for my studio mate, Ragnar Aalbu, who has a real dexterity with Norwegian word-play, and my wife, who’s a real whiz when it comes to bridging norwegian and english dialect.

Language aside, I feel it’s far less challenging to get noticed here Norway. Coming from the States, I landed in a far, far smaller pond. There is an undoubtably impressive pool of talented cartoonists and illustrators in Norway. This is due, in large part, to the broad cultural support. This community of talented folks has greatly added to my experience here. Experimentation in the Arts is encouraged in Norway, where lack of cultural funds stifles publishers, record companies , theater companies etc. in the States and most elsewhere. I’ve tried to «dive into» the center of the support offered here. Coming from the scrappy, do it yourself atmosphere of the States, I try not to take any stipend or project support for granted.

ØH: Your children books are quite playful, what’s your philosophy when it comes to combining what you want to draw with what you think children will read? I mean, Hva handler den om? is quite an advanced meta book for small kids – do you have kids yourself?

ME: I admittedly know little to nothing about children. I’m not a parent myself and am noticeably nervous around children. But I am endlessly curious, restless and distracted-  which aligns me with many youngsters. I’ve always been the distracted type, the one aimlessly wandering when you’re supposed to be seated. I like to observe, to find out how things work, how things connect.

I guess that’s how I approach my books, I pick up a question that intrigues me, and tug on the string. These questions tend to gravitate towards «everyday» objects or pedestrian subjects. My first picture book was Søppel, about a day on the job with garbage men. Children are fascinated with garbage trucks, and what adult hasn’t, at least once, thought about jumping on the back of these giant trucks. This is something we see regularly but rarely consider. When it comes to my kid’s books, I look to what’s right in front of me- what tends to be overlooked.

Hva handler den om? wrote itself, all I needed to do was ask the question. What does a book need to contain? For all we know, or kids for that matter, books don’t need to contain anything. The book itself is the subject of this book. Why not?! Answering the question by avoiding it completely. I really enjoyed making this book, though I did get dizzy and confused a few times.

ØH: And what about the “Den krokete” trilogy, Den krokete kniven, Den krokete kanalen og Det krokete sporet? Did you plan to make three books, or was this a project that grew?

ME: My not speaking nor reading Norwegian largely shaped my last three books, the ‘Crooked trilogy’. When I moved to Norway in 2009, Jippi Forlag expressed an interest in working with me. Though any comic published would need to be written in Norwegian. Knowing it’d be years before I grasped the language, and not wanting to collaborate, I turned to «silent» comics. It’s up to the reader to judge, but I think having to tell stories without words has made me a far better cartoonist. Even though I’ve gained a marked understanding of Norwegian, I still try to avoid dialog in my comics.

ØH: What’s next for you when it comes to illustration, books, and comics?

ME: I’m wrapping up a graphic novel for young readers titled, Nattsyn. This comic is a move away from my recent noir tales, placing one foot in the surreal, one foot in murder / mystery. Norwegian’s fanatical interest in crime novels has had an effect on me, I guess. … A language we’re both comfortable speaking.

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