What happens when you get two comic artists together with an aspiring one? A lot of laughter and that special bond that forms with the recognition of a joint passion. Here, high school student and aspiring artist Joakim Juti interviews Milla Paloniemi, author of the lovable cursing hedgehog (Kiroileva Silli) series and Anni Nykänen, whose grannie comic (Mummo) has many in tears of laughter. Milla and Anni are like two sides of a coin. One has a deep voice, the other a squeaky one. They constantly crack jokes at each other and finish each other’s sentences. Meeting them is like fireworks. If you ever have a dull moment, pick up their books or get in touch with them!
Joakim: How and why did you start to make comics?
Milla: Since I was born! I can’t remember not doing comics. As soon as I could hold a pencil for sure! I would draw a picture per page but would still do stories. I was maybe about eight years old when I did my first squares to frame the comic.
Anni: Same here. As soon as I learnt to write, I started doing comics with bubbles. I did picture books a page at a time. I was probably in the fifth grade when I did proper comics.
Milla: There is a Finnish comic artist called Veikko Savolainen, who taught me in Jalasjärvi in Ostrobothnia when I was eight. I used to draw horse comics and he told me “You will be a comic artist”. He then said, “You must never stop!” and that was really inspiring and I have done as he said…
Joakim: You guys are like twins. When did you meet each other?
Milla: We’ve known each other since school.
Anni: We did not really know each other, only by face.
Milla: Yeah, we were more like enemies! (she laughs)
Anni: I envied Milla – she was good with that cursing hedgehog!
Joakim: Who has been your comic author hero?
Milla: Veikko Savolainen and Lena Furberg who is a horse comic artist. Her comics were the first I ever read. I did not know how to read actually but my mum read out loud to me. I loved those drawings!
Anni: My first idol was Tove Jansson and she still is. I love the Moomins! There was also Mauri Kunnas, of course.
Joakim: Have you met Mauri Kunnas?
Anni: Once, like “hello!”, but I have not really talked to him…
Joakim: Have you read Piitles? His new Beatles book?
Anni:I haven’t yet.
Milla: Now Anni and Mauri are competitors! They are both nominated for the 2012 Finnish Comic Writer of the year!
Anni: And Milla already won that competition in 2008: Sarjakuva-Finlandia!
Joakim: Which was your favorite comic in childhood?
Anni: Asterix and Tin Tin.
Milla: I hated them and Donald Duck! Except Witch Hazel. She has some attitude! And in Finnish she is called Milla, like me. I loved Lena Furberg. No one draws horses like Lena Furberg!
Joakim: That’s a lot of talk about horses. Do you ride?
Milla: But I am like Lena Furberg. I don’t care about the sport. It’s about the relationship to the horse!
Joakim: Talking about animated horses, do you like My Little Pony?
Milla: No, they are too plastic! They are not horses. But I liked the old figures!
Anni: I used to play with them a lot!
Joakim: Anni, where did the Grannie idea come from?
Anni: From the sauna! I was going to the public sauna and saw all the grannies! They are so nice I decided that I had to draw them there and then!
Joakim: So, you were inspired by all the wrinkles?
Milla: She loves details!
Anni: I listened to them and the stories they told. They were great.
Joakim: There is a character in the Grannie comic who is much younger and the grandma is over protective of her. Is that you?
Anni: Of course. And the grannie is also my grandma!
Milla: There is such a thing as a traditional Finnish grandma. She is an archetype!
Joakim: Yes and she always speaks in dialect!
Joakim: Milla, how was the cursing hedgehog born?
Milla: It was 2003 and I had just moved to Helsinki from Ostrobothnia to study graphic design. I can’t remember where it came from. I just knew I had to draw a hedgehog and I wanted him to curse!
Joakim: It’s ironic because hedgehogs are these cute little cuddly animals in children’s cartoons and suddenly you make one that swears!
Milla: I had only drawn cuddly animals before! I just drew these two strips of the hedgehog and put them to my blog. And people started to ask for more! And I continued.
Joakim: Is there a drawing style you particularly like?
Milla: We have different styles. Anni is a slow drawer and I am a fast one.
Anni: I like many styles and I can’t say which one I like the best. Some Manga can be cool, like Akira. I like styles that look individual – like the person who did it.
Joakim: Originality and soul.
Milla: I don’t think about style when I draw, I just draw. Once in a while I try to make something that does not look like it is mine.
Joakim: Maybe that is why people like the hedgehog!
Milla: I don’t know. Maybe because it is so simple.
Joakim: People like his facial expressions.
Joakim: Let’s discuss the stages of making a comic. How do you start a comic book? Do you do storyboards first?
Anni: Mmmmm… Doing the strips? Drawing?
Milla: Our books are strip collections that we put together.
Joakim: Oh, so you just start drawing strips and then one day you tell yourself I have 320 strips, let’s just put them together?
Milla: Well, we do strips for work.
Anni: Yes, I should do one a week, at least. Well sometimes I do many in one go and don’t do any more for some weeks.
Milla: I have done a bigger album, a story that I just started, Kettu ja Minä (The fox and I), a children’s book. I draw straight with kid’s markers. I create the story as I draw. I do not really plan ahead.
Joakim: So that is what I am trying to do. I have a story in my mind. Sometimes the story changes as I draw it and get inspiration.
Anni: I usually know the story, the beginning and the end. And in the middle I just draw something (laughter).
Milla: That’s how you enjoy it the most! Letting go!
Joakim: What materials and resources do you use? What types of paper and pens?
Anni: A4 paper and normal pens. Nothing really special.
Milla: I use all kind of things. I made a magazine with a candle.
Anni: I usually do a light sketch.
Milla: I can get really inspired with a new pen or technique.
Joakim: how did you arrive at your characters? Can you find yourself in your characters?
Anni: I would like to be like Mummo the grannie when I am old! The grannie is a lot like my own grandmother; independent, strong and original. I am trying to be like her, with that joy of life.
Milla: In the cursing hedgehog, there are six different characters. I don’t see myself in any one of them. Instead, I see myself in every one of them! It’s like acting; I become the characters and let them develop. I let them do what they want to do!
Joakim: Which is cursing and being hedgehogs?
Milla: But as you read you find out much more.
Anni: Yes, they even stop cursing!
Joakim: And they become emotional hedgehogs!
Milla: That is true!
Joakim: Where does your humor come from?
Anni: We are so freaking funny! Comedians! (she laughs again)
Milla: I don’t try to be funny! I think more about the characters.
Anni: Our sense of humor is everyday humor.
Milla: It’s down to earth! Really simple. Ordinary stuff you tell your friends.
Joakim: Do you laugh a lot?
Anni: Every time we are on the train, the whole coach hears us!
Milla: We get so carried away! We draw together too!
Joakim: Do you try to say something through your comics?
Anni: Grannie power!!!! Growing old is not a bad thing after all!
Milla: I am a hippie and a bit of an environmentalist. The hedgehog is part of nature. I try to make a point about animal, human and nature rights through my hedgehog.
Joakim: I did a little research on hedgehogs. They apparently can be quite violent…
Milla: Yes I heard that too! People send me lots of stories about their hedgehog experiences!!! I get really inspired and I have used some of the stories in the strips.
Joakim: Will you evolve your characters or develop new ones?
Milla: I try to evolve them. In my sixth chapter one of them dies. That is rare in strip comics. But I wanted to break the rules.
Anni: When I stop drawing Mummo, she will die too. She is quite old…
Joakim: Spoiler alert!
Anni: Maybe your hedgehog and Mummo can meet in heaven!
Joakim, Do you have a target audience? Who do you aim your stories at?
Milla: Anyone who wants to read them!
Anni: Anyone who likes grannies!
Milla: Everyone! Grown-ups read cursing hedgehog even to children and when they see the four-letter word, they just say “P”.
Anni: The youngest fan that I know is six years old and the oldest (hopefully still) is ninety-four!
Joakim: So how do you relax?
Milla: By drawing!
Anni: Definitely not by drawing! I like to knit or watch TV!
Joakim: So you are the Mummo!
Joakim: Thank you very much. Would you like to add anything else?
Milla: Hopefully you got something sensible out of us!
Anni: Joakim, keep up your comics!
Image: Osma Harvilahti