_You were leading many of the discussions during the Helsinki Illustration Festival 2012, can you summeries some of the reflection that came up.
Since I was hosting the discussions, I couldn't actually listen to them myself with full attentiveness, so I'm yet to digest much of what was being said...
I think we managed to explore some of the variety we have in the field, the different directions which illustrations spans: some illustrators think more of themselves as artists, some actually are fundamentally opposed to that label. Some are closer to design, some are to journalism, some see themselves mainly as authors of books.
Others stressed the importance of free-form creativity: that the important thing was to express yourself freely and the concern for finding an audience, marketing that work was secondary. Others were more focused on the commercial side of business, reminding that you have to pay close attention to your contracts and be very aware of your rights as an artist, if you desire to make a good living in this field.
Couple of overall points I sensed were this general feeling that the field has become slightly more organized in the past few years, with Kuvittajat, and especially with the appearance of the first two illustration agencies in Finland in 2007. The concensus from many of the speakers seemed to be that this was a welcome development, and should be encouraged to continue, promoting more professional practices in many parts of the field, from contracts to marketing the illustrators work to potential clients. And also forming some kind of a counter-balance to the increasing pressure and demands from the media companies.
Also, on a more personal reflection, I got a sense of a generational shift taking place. Our organization was founded by a group of artists now in their 60s. This festival very much seemed to be an event of people in their 30s: both the majority of the organizers as well as majority of the audience. And in discussions throughout the weekend this came through in differences in attitude and thoughts about the work as well: the veteran illustrators mostly spoke in a very critical tone, complaining about changes in the field over the decades. The younger illustrators seemed much more positive in their outlook, willing to explore new possibilites (more open to thinking like entrepreneurs, for example) and showing a desire to overcome the obstacles we are facing.
This made me think that since our membership also seems to be geared towards young people (simply boiling down to the fact pointed out by one of our founding veterans: in the 80s there were about 20-30 professional illustrators in Finland. Now our organization's membership has grown to 300 - it's a completely different field now), maybe we can also more consciously target more of our organizational activities towards this young generation in the future. After all, it now seems like we are the generation running these things here.
_You have been working a long time for Kuvittajat and also for the comic artists/cartoon artist in Finland, what do you see for a need and purpose for an association as Kuvittajat?
My background is in comics. Whereas Kuvittajat has existed for just ten years, Suomen sarjakuvaseura, the comics society was founded in 1971. (The comics professionnals' organization was separeted from that in 1995). The first Finnish basic text book about comics history and comic art as a topic of serious academic study was published I think in 1972 and further expanded in 1982. The comics society has been publishing a quarterly magazine since the 70s, and hosted more or less annual comics festival since the early 80s.
That meant that when I was a child interested in comics, even though I grew up in a small country village, I could go to the local library and get access to all this information already at a young age. So that by the time I started getting my own works published as a teenager, I was already quite knowledgable about the field, its history and its practices. Such basic texts haven't been available about Finnish illustration.
When I got first involved with Kuvittajat, I could see a marked difference this made in the field itself. In comics, it wasn't just me who had read these books: all around me I could see this much better general awareness of what the field was about, and our professional identity as artists, than exists with illustrators. With illustrators, when we've had professional seminars and similar such events, I've been actually shocked by the LACK of this kind of awareness about even essential professional practices many of our illustrators have, even people who by all accounts have been working professionals for decades.
I cannot think of a more clear-cut example of demonstrating what a difference an organization can make in promoting a professional identity and raising awareness about the central issues of a field. The comics society has been doing that for a generation, and that has generated a much better situation for them.
With illustrators, much of that is missing and we have to start with laying down the basic foundations. That's how I've seen the mission of the Kuvittajat organization, the events we are hosting, and the magazine I'm editing. We have to start with the basics. Some people have asked me, why do I write things in the magazine that already can be read in other languages elsewhere. By citing the comics society as an example, I definitely feel that there's a fundamental value in also having this information available in our own language, and having that information distributed to libraries and schools all over the country. Because it hasn't been there in the past.
As discussed over the weekend at our festival, a fundamental difference we have to the comics society, is that comics have fans. It's the fans, the comics enthusiasts, who are running the comics society, publishing their magazine and organizing the festivals. Comics are collected, studied and exhibited by their readers - the creators don't have to do it all themselves. Illustration doesn't have such a fandom and that puts us into a conciderable disadvantage by comparison: we have only our members, the illustrators themselves, to do these things with. And in the society in general, this difference makes illustrators much less well known, much more anonymous. Comics artists can become "stars", names recognizable by the general public, much easier it seems than illustrators, because comics artists have fans to do their promotion for them.
_What do you see for benefits from the nordic and international cooperation?
For the Scandinavian co-operation, I think our previous manager Mira put it best: she felt that for her work, her closest colleagues were not the managers of other Finnish organizations in other fields, but the people at Svenska Tecknare in Stockholm. Our field is so small and so specific in its interests and issues, that it is incredibly valuable for us to compare our experiences with neighboring countries, when we can't do that with anyone else in our own country. Our socities are so similar in terms of legislation, government funding and the publishing field, that already by my own experience of watching the field for a few years it seems like a clear pattern that many of the issues we face in one of our countries is soon to show up in the others as well. Thus, co-operation is very logical, useful, and even necessary.
And as we've talked at EIF, since we in Nordic countries have these similar views, it makes sense for us to try to influence these issues on a European level as well, especially since so much of the EU countries' decision making is already done on the federal level. If we want to protect our interests, we need to have an EU level organization to do that. And it has become evident that the northern European countries have had the most experience and most established organizational framework for doing these things in the national level in the past, so it feels like we probably have a lot to offer in moving these things to the EU level, too.
Interview by Anders Suneson
Photo: Lennart Eng
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