This Swedish artist’s relatable comics have made her one of the scene’s most exciting breakout names. She’s touching down in Berlin for ILB, so Olivia Logan called her for a chat about drugs, dating and her distinctive style of storytelling.
Can you tell me a bit about how you came to comic books? Did you read them when you were younger?
I always had the idea of becoming a comic book artist in the back of my head. I read a lot of comics growing up, my sister had a subscription for Galago [an alternative Swedish comics magazine]. Back then she was emo, but she introduced me to lots of stuff from the scene that I’m now in. I was more sporty and bitchy, but when I turned 16 I went full emo. It seemed pretty impossible to become a comic book artist. It’s like you had to have something important to say, but I had no fucking idea what that should be.
The comic book scene seems quite popular in Sweden.
Compared to other countries, comics are well thought of in Sweden. They’re accepted in the fine art world. There were some names in the 1990s, like Martin Kellerman, who kind of lifted the comics scene. In the 2000s more female comics artists became popular, Liv Strömquist being the leader of pack. I think they both opened up the world of comics in Sweden. Basically, being a comic book artist in Sweden is a short cut to getting an interview in a big Swedish magazine. There aren’t many great comics. If I wanted to do music or painting the competition is wild, but with comics I just have to make the book “okay” and that’s a great accomplishment.
Goblin Girl details your IRL experiences, your rejection from art school, dealing with anxiety and accidentally smoking spice. Can you tell me a bit more about this time in your life?
It follows 10 months in my early twenties. I was smoking lots of weed, barely sleeping, drinking energy drinks and partying. The Berlin lifestyle. When I told my friend I was presenting Goblin Girl at the ILB they said, “Great, you’re going to Berlin, Goblin Girl is like everyone’s life-story in Berlin.” Anyway, I smoked some synthetic, shitty Dark Web weed and I had a semi-psychosis. All of a sudden I was very isolated in some kind of nightmare anxiety bubble. It was 12 hours of being disorientated before I went to the hospital in Gothenburg. For the first four months after that I had panic attacks two or three times a day. I was so scared from the 12-hour psychosis that I was constantly in fear of losing my mind and going insane. So the book starts just after this happened. I was so isolated. I couldn’t level with my friends and I was trying to grasp at the straws of a normal life.
In the book Moa goes on a Tinder date with a real life “Famous TV-Guy”. Was this one of your attempts to grasp at the straws of a normal life?
For sure. We went on one date, he is so much older than me. I more did it for the story…. and I got a story. When I went home after the date, I felt weird, I didn’t want to date a 50-year-old. He kept texting me super sweet stuff, but I ghosted him after that first date. Then, like a month later, he sent me a long message saying he wanted to be my patron, “nothing romantic, I just like your art and we are so similar”. In Sweden he is a household name, super big in the art and culture scene. The book has two story lines: me trying to figure out how I’m going to get help and get better after the psychosis, and me trying to manage this weird relationship with my Famous TV-Guy patron.
There is a whole mystery surrounding who ‘Famous TV-Guy’ really is. Why did you keep him anonymous?
I was advised to keep him anonymous and I think it was the right thing to do. If he had been horrible to me or creepy, then I would have been understandable to not anonymise him. It wasn’t a terrible relationship, it’s just kind of weird. He didn’t do anything wrong, he was just being a person and I was just being a person. But it is weird when there’s this 30-year age gap, especially alongside the fame and money that he has. There’s a strange power dynamic.
Your female friendships seem to influence your work and you are very realistic in the way you depict how many women spend their alone, but I heard that you don’t like your comics to be labelled as feminist?
I’m a young woman in my twenties, I’m obviously a feminist. When Goblin Girl came out in Sweden that was the label used everywhere to describe it. I feel like this is so undermining to comics that are actually political. I’m only given this label because I’m a woman talking about my life. I’m not like Liv Strömquist, she knows her shit – that’s who you should read if you want a political comics. People are always suggesting to me that it’s super hard to be a woman in comics. Actually, it’s not that hard. Every magazine and brand wants to collaborate with young women at the moment, and I’m riding that fourth wave of feminism. Of course, it’s hard being a woman in many other different ways. I always get interviewers saying to me “Oh, well, I’m a 50-year-old man, I’m your nightmare. I’m the enemy, right? No, just kidding, I have daughters!! I love Zara Larsson!!”. I have been put on stage at festivals and the subject is just “being a girl”, when they could have asked me about anything. Ironically, it would be so liberating not to talk about my experiences as a woman, but as lazy, shit-head of a person.
You are working on a new book which is about “friendship and substances”. What can you tell me about it?
It’s about me and my circle of friends. Almost everyone works with some kind of art form, many of them are musicians. Nobody gets paid really well, so we live as students. The book is partly about the cliche of the suffering artist. If I talk to my dad when I’m feeling shit he says “Yeah, well, you’re an artist”. But there is a global pandemic of people feeling shit and suffering from anxiety. The main problem with making art is that a big part of what you do involves working with your emotions and being constantly soaked in your own feelings. Also, given the constant partying that comes with the artistic lifestyle, it’s so easy to live that suffering artist cliche. It’s especially hard for my musician friends, because they are always working at night and in the party atmosphere, drinking, being offered drugs and being immersed in their own feelings and traumas. Also, as an artist, you’re so often physically alone when you are exploring these emotions.
My childhood best friend Åsa has a band called ShitKid and I often go on tour with her. She always dreamed of being a musician and I always dreamed of being an artist. When we are touring we are living our childhood fantasy, but the fantasy just turns out to be you being in a k-hole having serious flashbacks to tragic things, being an open book to the world. In the book I wanted to create some discussion around everything that exists between drug use and abuse, the partying-every-weekend lifestyle. I think there is a misconception around drug use that you’re either never doing drugs or you’re a coked-out art artist. Nobody talks about the in-between that everyone goes through. The full-blown abusers of drugs have all gone through that phase. In my generation, you’re not considered a drug user unless you’re abusing drugs. For me, pretty much all drugs open up a door to massive emotions, but I can’t only have the good ones, it doesn’t work like that. The book is about me opening every door to different emotions I have.
You initially wanted to study painting and you are also now working with sculpture now. Do you see your work moving in other artistic directions?
It depends on how successful I become, because I need to be able to support myself. I couldn’t not make any art, it’s such an important way for me to relieve anxiety. I want to have an exhibition in a year or so, with painting and sculptures, maybe some based around my next book. I also have another story in my head, so there is definitely going to be another comic.