Houman Sadri looks at Kisenja, a webcomic written and illustrated by Gothenberg artist Katarina Emgård, and explains why you should be doing so as well!
With the seemingly constant advance of new technology, the debate over and demand for digital comics seems to be an increasingly pertinent, not to say divisive, topic. The larger publishers seem to be as undecided over the issue as the fans are - many feel that paper and ink is still the way forward, though all agree that digital comics are an intriguing prospect if they can be done right. There is an interesting parallel to be made here with the current situation in the music business, however: smaller bands and artists have found it easier to get their music heard via the internet and, in doing so, have made it possible to cut out the traditional middleman, thereby damaging the major labels and levelling the playing field for grassroots talent to be heard. So, in many respects, is it now in the comics industry.
Of course comic books are by no means the license to print money that music is - this is, and probably always will be, a niche market which has seen a disturbing rise in the average age of the customer base ever since the advent of the direct market. The argument could be made that the way to win over a younger generation of fans is precisely to use the internet as a means to reach out to them: that well-marketed online books can be this generation's version of the spin rack at the local newsstand. It can also be argued that many European countries have a bigger tradition and affinity for graphic storytelling than America does, with characters like Asterix (France), Tintin (Belgium) and Bamse (Sweden) being very much part of the national consciousness and identity (and as a digression, Lee Falk's The Phantom still enjoys huge sales via newsstand distribution here in Sweden, while the character is virtually forgotten in his native country). Therefore, Europe is arguably the perfect market for a new generation of web-based books to build a following. Books such as Kisenja, in fact.
Kisenja's creator Katarina Emgård describes the book as, "A story about how to survive in a world more magical and yet more controlled than ours. It’s about five people with unique abilities and personalities, making hard decisions, based on their different convictions, which lead them toward an unknown future...it is a sci-fi, fantasy, horror, and romantic comic planning to touch on most of the different genres out there before the end." Set in a world at once like ours yet subtly different, the main protagonists do not know each other as yet but, says Emgård, are destined to become friends, or at least team-mates over the course of the series. Superheroes have, of course, always been a staple of the medium but this book, at least, seems to approach them from an unusual angle.
For one, Emgård comes from a slightly different background from most other writer-artists. Before coming up with Kisenja her experience with comic books was limited, coming as she does from the world of fashion design. Indeed, the initial plan was to create a novel way to highlight her designs, but the storytelling side increasingly piqued her interest and eventually took over. "I like fashion," she tells me, "But I also want to tell (a story) so I thought to combine fashion and comics." She is now a fully-fledged convert to the medium.
The jump from fashion design to superheroes is not necessarily the most obvious one, but Emgård's brother Christofer (who writes the manuscripts for new games) has always been a fan and passed his interest on to her. She herself is a big fan of Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere being a particular favourite. Kisenja is not a hobby - while it is still early days and Emgård keeps a part-time job, she writes, illustrates and attends to the site full-time. In addition to the strip, the Kisenja webshop sells clothes she has designed and which are worn by the characters in the story. It is from this that the strip generates money - not much, as she cheerfully admits. though she is working on an i-Phone download application which should help her on that score somewhat. In the interim she spreads the word via both normal means (online) and slightly more guerilla tactics such as her recent fly-postering of downtown Gothenburg with the faces of Kisenja's main protagonists.
New issues of Kisenja are released monthly (#6 has just come out) and are entirely free at http://kisenja.com (one can also access the webshop and author's blog from this address). The book, Emgård says, is ongoing and open-ended though she does know how the story will ultimately end. Her plan is to release the book in 'seasons' - season one being comprised of the first nine issues. As to why we should check it out, Katarina puts it best herself: "I think, or hope at least, that it has a more complex story than a lot of (other) webcomics, and I'm trying to have the characters be more real and less stereotypical. And I suppose it reflects our world in some way too." She also hopes to be able to self-publish paper copies of season one once it is complete as, like most of us, she really loves the feeling of a printed book in her hands.
Asked what advice she would give aspiring writers and artists, Emgård has this to say: "Just make it (the work). Do it over and over and get the response. You learn so much just getting it out there and gettng a respose." Kisenja and its author are a perfect example of the wisdom behind these words. Katarina Emgård creates this intricate world and gets it out there: go check it out, because it's worth responding to.
You can find Kisenja at http://kisenja.com