This interview from 2009, conducted after the release of Olga’s first book The Airy Tales, has been updated with improved images, updated links and news of Olga’s recent books. Since its original publication, Sparkplug published her split book with Juliacks — Rock That Never Sleeps later in 2009; Sparkplug founder Dylan Williams died in 2011; and Sparkplug published Olga’s The Golem of Gabirol in 2012. She has since self-published two further volumes on her own. More info and links for her and her work are below. — Marc Arsenault, December 18, 2023
How did you conceive of the stories and art for The Airy Tales and what was the process of creating it like for you?
I’ve been writing tales all my life — I guess since I was 4 years old — and I have many of those in my notebooks, in the drawers and old bags or elsewhere. For The Airy Tales I selected a few tales that I meant to fit into the “airy tales” category: tales that don’t give a straight answer… tales where the meaning shows and vanishes in the air… tales with no clear endings… I think that the purpose of any tale is to deal with the unexplainable, and this matches the feeling we get most often from our experience in the world. I believe that “the answer is blowing in the wind” IS the real answer… So, “airy tales” are stories where the elusiveness of meaning (which is an innate quality of a fairy tale) is slightly emphasized.
Your book has a lot of fairy tale elements in its stories, yet it seems more geared towards grown-up readers. Did you have an audience in mind when you created it?
Fairy tales weren’t a children’s genre for a long time through history; they were told by grown-ups to grown-ups, and children sneaked in to listen to them, the same way as now grown-ups sneak into reading fairy tales, that are considered to be the children’s stuff. Tales tempt our reasoning limits; that’s why the age target is sort of indefinite for most tales, both folk and literary ones. I’d like to write tales “for everybody”. Some of them seem more childish, the others, more adult-oriented; I see the age target only after the tale is composed. I didn’t separate them in “The Airy Tales”; I really want to see a possibility of a “tale” as a “grown-ups'” reading. The graphic stories of Neil Gaiman and Dame Darcy were very inspirational in this regard. It looks that comic books might resurrect the fairy tales as a reading for adults!
Who are your greatest artistic influences? What writers also influenced you?
I am very fond of medieval miniature and illumination art both in Western and Oriental traditions. I am fascinated by the Flemish painters: primitivists, Pieter Breugel the Elder, Hieronymus Bosch… I love mostly all the surrealists; my favorite artist is Remedios Varo, a Spanish-born amazing woman of true integrity and deep mystical mind. My soul is greedy for some grotesque element and expressive lines, always eager to devour works of Francsico de Goya, Jacques Callot, Albrecht Durer, Pablo Picasso, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec… I love Russian art of the “silver age”, beginning of the 20th century, especially the theatre art and illustration of that time (Alexandre Benois, Sergey Sudejkin, Nikolai Sapunov, Leon Bakst, etc.) I can’t even say all these masters influenced me as an artist — I still have to grow as an artist! I can say they influenced my perception and my mind a lot. Among the writers which resonate with my soul I should name Jonathan Swift, E.T.A. Hoffman, Hans Christian Andersen, Brothers Grimm, Wilhelm Hauff, Maurice Maeterlinck, Attar, Rumi, Hermann Hesse, Jorge Luis Borges, Julio Cortazar, Umberto Eco, Per Lagerquist, Yuri Olesha, Isaac Babel, Alexander Grin, many others…
What comics do you read?
I usually seek for the comics produced by Fantagraphics of Seattle, WA. In general, my preference is alternative comics, books of a very individual approach, unique style; I see a new hilarious genre of literature growing out of this branch of comics.
Please talk about your childhood a little and how you developed as an artist. Is your storytelling method similar to stories you heard while growing up?
I was born in Baku, the capital of Azerbaijan, then part of the USSR. The Baku of my childhood, even under the Soviet power, somehow preserved a character of an independent city, with a free spirit, eastern hospitality, and “the law of the land” — an ancient, pristine moral code that shone through many historical layers. In my mind my hometown takes the place of a paradise, with its ships that are reflected in the sea and almonds that fall off the trees in the parks. Our home was filled with books; as a kid I had been reading lots of tales of different cultures; I felt at home with all of them. Later I became passionate about any studies in mythology and subconscious. I always wanted to be a tale-teller who doesn’t construct tales as stories but knocks and waits until a tale would fall down, as a poem. The most captivating for me in literary tales is the quality of “lightness” and “magical” ease that makes them seem as if, before having been written, they pre-existed somewhere in the world ‘s universal memory… such as books of Tove Jansson (Norway), Donald Bisset (England), Gianni Rodari (Italy), Daniil Kharms (Russia of the 1920s-30s) who influenced my heart’s desire to be a tale-teller…
When did you move to L.A., and what brought you there? How has moving to the U.S. affected your aesthetic?
Here in the U.S. I discovered the alternative comics world! In 1992 I was on a visit to L.A.; I met someone whom I married; the most unusual human being I ever met, a child and a wizard together; that’s how I stayed. We went together to Moscow and brought my little son here. My husband David passed away last year of a heart attack. I miss him terribly. We used to quarrel and come back together all the time. We scheduled a trip to Spain, to get some visuals for a story/legend that he so much wanted me to make into a book or film or something. Now I am working on that story… My aesthetic hasn’t changed much after coming to the U.S.. I believe that “a person is a style”, or vice versa; but on the other side, who knows! After having read Ghost World by Daniel Clowes, I had this overwhelming feeling of a new door that had been opened for me.
How did you meet Dylan Williams of Sparkplug Comic Books, and what was it like to work together to publish your book?
I met Dylan at Comic-Con International in San Diego two years ago. Walking by his booth, I was surprised to see books exactly of the kind I am drawn to, and I asked him if he could publish some of my stories, too. Dylan Williams is magic. He says “yes” when other people say “no”; and this is perhaps a definition of magic. He seemed to like the story I showed to him (“The Moonbirds”), and then, after we corresponded for some time, he told me that he wanted to publish a book of my tales, which would be in the visual style of “The Moonbirds”. I was very excited by this idea. It was like a dream; I was feeling free to do what I wanted within the space, but I always had clever advice and consult when I needed it. Everything was done by e-mail; at the end I sent the [artwork] to Oregon and I was on time for the [Book to be at] Alternative Press Expo in San Francisco! I considered all this process a gift of fortune and a work of good sprites or spirits (who obeyed the will of Dylan Williams).
What experiences besides publishing The Airy Tales have you had with exhibiting your artwork and/or publishing your writing?
I had published some tales in Russia, in different magazines, newspapers, collections of stories… I also wrote plays for puppet theatre there; I did it for a living for a while. I started showing some artwork recently with a group of L.A. artists called Carpe Arte; I also showed an “alternative” animated film at one of their events; and some other animation at student festivals. Before that, a few years ago, I showed some of my paper dioramas at the Brewery Art Walk in L.A.
What plans do you have for future work and exhibiting or publishing it?
Many plans for picture books and graphic novels. I have to organize myself to finish at least some of them! It’s the most important direction. I want to do more painting as well and also to follow through with my paper theatre projects.
Do you have another job right now?
I do web design freelance.
How would you describe your work ethic? Do you have a daily routine for working on your art?
I like to write plans of what I have to do, again on the scratches of paper, though I often lose them. But I am becoming less of a procrastinator now. From time to time I go on a quick walk and draw in my notebook the shapes I see when gazing into the bark of the trees, puddles or ground. It’s always been the best creative stimulant.
More reading for you:
- Find all post about Olga on Wow Cool
- The Green Zybari Stories reviewed by Rob Clough
- “A Brief Conversation with Olga Volozova” at Molossus
- Olga’s Blog
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