Home / Animation / Artist Spotlight with… Tanya Bjork

Artist Spotlight with… Tanya Bjork

We interviewed Tanya Bjork!  The talented artist tells us about her amazing comic “Havenhurst” and it’s unique start and much more!
Q.  Let’s start with the basics, when did you realize you wanted to make art your career?  
I wanted to make art my career the moment I learned it was a thing humans could do full-time. My first stories as a kid were written so I could illustrate them. I created covers and would bind the pages together with yarn or ribbon or staples, whatever I was able to find, so that I could have a real book I made myself in my hands. It’s a thrilling feeling that has never faded.
Q.  Tell us about “Havenhurst“…what is it and a 24 hour Comic Day Event turned into 10 issues
24 Hour Comic Book Day is an amazing creative exercise that forces you to start and finish a thing within 24 hours without the pressure of expecting it to be perfect or marketable. I went in with a vague idea about a girl with a cat in her hoodie and wanting to say something about access to healthcare and by 7:30 that morning had a whole comic book’s worth of pages penciled with lettering. I tried to get some sleep but ended up only napping for a couple hours and went straight back to work on it. A month later I had a finished 24 page comic about a runaway from a dysfunctional magic family and printed up some books to try selling it at conventions. Then the question kept coming in from readers. “What happens next?” I’d never planned for it to be a series, but after a while a larger world started forming and I found there was in fact a bit more I wanted to say in the story. On one level it’s about a young woman with avoidance and anger issues and her adorable floating feline companions, and on another it’s about power dynamics in what should be a post-scarcity society. If I hadn’t had such a clear idea of what I wanted the comic to be capital a About going into 24 Hour Comic Book Day, I don’t think I would have been able to construct a meaningful larger narrative.
Q.  You’re also working on “Waters” how will that be different or similar to “Havenhurst
First off, Waters will be planned as a series before the first book comes out!! It’s a larger project with a larger cast that’s grown significantly since I first sketched five pages of thumbnail notes from a dream. It’s lighter on the fantasy but there will still be an undercurrent of magic, and it’ll deal with similar themes to Havenhurst but from a more environmental angle. There’s been a few different tests and drafts for Waters and it’s interesting to see how much it’s shape-shifted in that time. I often wonder how different Havenhurst would have been if I hadn’t rushed into it the way I did. I’m also looking into changing how I release the story so it’s more manageable for me as a solo creator.
Q.  What were some of the things that inspired you to create when you were young?   Was it a specific person, a movie?  
I grew up in the 80’s, so stories marketed to kids that weren’t afraid to go dark and trusted their audience to process and understand that absolutely shaped me creatively. Movies like Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, The Secret of NIMH, comics like ElfQuest, and at the library I combed through the card catalog for anything under subjects like Witch, Ghost, and Mythology. Also growing up with programs like Reading Rainbow, The Joy of Painting, and a cartoonist that had a local cable show helped me make the connection between the things I enjoyed and the real world, and the living artists that made the images and stories.
As a kid, my mom always made sure there was some budget for books and art supplies, even as a single immigrant mother. I was in the school library so frequently going through books so fast that the librarian raised the book check-out limit for me, and the after-school care place I went to gave me full access to the crafting supply cabinet because I bugged them so often for paper and glue for making books and board games. Even if it was just so that they could keep me out of their hair, I’m grateful to those adults for giving me space and access to storytelling tools in those formative years.
Q.  How was WonderCon any highlights? Low lights?
WonderCon is one of my favorite comic conventions to table, and it was my first time tabling in almost a year. I had some serious back issues and needed surgery at the end of last year, so I was thankful to be well enough to work the show and reconnect with many people I hadn’t seen in a long time. Making comics often involves long hours alone and it’s always good to see fellow creators and fans and experience the community in a physical geographical location. The biggest downside for me when tabling a show is not being able to spend the day going to panels. Last year at SDCC I did a series of sketch portraits with quotes from panels, and it’s something I absolutely want to do again!
Q.  Any tips you can give fans about cons from an artists point of view?
One of the highlights of cons is having fans come by to say they enjoyed my work, or that something about it resonated with them. Again, making comics can be very solitary, and we’re so deep into our own work that we have no idea what kind of effect it has out in the world for those seeing it for the first time. I also especially appreciate when people come around looking to buy from independent creators. If you’re looking for original and unique stories, checking out Artist Alley and Small Press at comic conventions is a great way to discover amazing new work from people you otherwise would have never heard of!
Q.  Havenhurst is scheduled to end in 2018 do you already have some ideas of what you want to do next?
Haha, oh no, I need to update that! Health issues and recovery from spine surgery has set that date back by a year or two, but I absolutely have ideas for what to do next. In addition to Waters I have a collection of all-ages comics, some smaller autobiographical comics, a sci-fi trilogy, a fantasy adventure comic, an illustrated horror story, a YA book, an illuminated recipe collection… having ideas for a next project will never be a problem for me, and it seems I want to dip my toes in all the genre pools.
Q.  Havenhurst is also your first long term comic… are you ready to say goodbye?
Yes and no. I’m so familiar with Havenhurst that starting a new project means leaving that comfort zone, but at the same time I am SO excited to share with readers what happens next, and how it all ends. I’ve also learned so much in the process of making Havenhurst that I’m eager to apply it to new stories and learn even more.
Q.  Do you have any tips for young artists out there?
Drink water, take walks, and lots of stretching!!! If you’re not healthy you can’t make comics, and that’s a lesson I’ve learned the hard way. It’s also never been easier to find educational tools and get your work out there than it is now with resources online. My own first published works were a guest strip and short stories for comics anthologies, start small to test the waters and grow your skill. I do know people who started with a large project and have stuck with it, but it’s not for everyone. Seek out other creators on your level, whether it’s for critique, collaboration, or just companionship. That sense of community and camaraderie can help take you far together. Be genuine, be kind, be you. And know that tips aren’t one-size-fits-all, keep what works for you and discard the rest!
Q.  Where can our readers find you next?
I’ll be taking the rest of this year off from tabling conventions so that I can focus on healing and catching up on Havenhurst, but I will always post updates and sneak peeks online. tanyabjork.com and havenhurstcomic.com both serve as hubs that link to my social media accounts and where you can buy my comics online, look for Havenhurst issue 5 later this year!

Dave Hisaka

Hello, I am the Creative Content Director. I don't like talking about myself.