A Brief Conversation with Olga Volozova
I met Olga Volozova through Molossus friend Tom Neely, when he invited her to participate in the Silver Lake Jubilee. She eagerly interacted with the other participating cartoonists as well as participating poets and writers, and we spoke at length in the Jubilee Beer Garden, over two Firestones. I learned of her other interests, especially puppetry, and we spoke about the Oberiu group of surrealists from 1920s Russia. Olga makes her home in Hollywood, and her most recent book is a collaboration with Juliacks, Rock That Never Sleeps (Sparkplug Comic Books, $6).
Tell me about Rock That Never Sleeps. Did you and Juliacks come up with the idea together? How do you see your stories interacting?
Dylan Williams from Sparkplug Comic Books suggested that we make a book together with Julia. We went to the cafe to talk about it. We didn’t have an idea, but we found out that both of us were obsessed with the subject of memory.
Julia had been always inventing unique rituals for grieving and commemoration. I had always been making tiny memorandums inside shoeboxes.
We imagined a huge campground in the middle of the desert, built in the manner of “memory palaces”—places filled with things that trigger associations with other things, things that help remember other things. (These “palaces,” mental or physical, were recommended by ancient authors for the development of memory.)
We imagined the memory-palace-like ghost town of an indefinite size, constructed in the desert by the strange looking Sages, for the purpose of helping people struggle with the epidemics of fading memory. My story happens in the past, when the first people venture out to go find that hidden ghost town. Those people happen to be a dysfunctional family of puppet makers. Julia’s story takes place in the future—when some people try to follow the legend and look for the place in the desert in order to cure their ruined minds. It’s a trio of complex teenagers, and they actually find some traces from the first story there… Our two graphic tales visually intersect in the middle of the book.
There are some autobiographical elements in your story, with its puppet makers. (Though, so far as I know, you’re not a witch, right?) What’s your process of story writing like?
In my family there was a feeling of the puppets’ significance, the importance of their presence. My mother used to write puppet plays and I inherited that interest; I have been constantly fascinated by people involved with puppets. I like observing them; there is a sense of a secret in the people and puppets’ communication. The sense that shifts my mind into the mythological aspect of reality. That is usually the beginning of inspiration for me, finding myself in that spot; the peeling of an onion world glistening with layers of meanings. When I write I have to think that it’s some other person and not me who is writing. Writing for me is discovering the different beings inside (and outside?) of me.
I record the voice of the storyteller, one that is sometimes much wiser than me, but sometimes it’s not. Then if I stop hearing it, I listen to the voices of others nearby the storyteller, who might be the characters from the story, and I write down what I hear. Then the plot will naturally organize around that, with the help of a few pushes from me. Writing is like guessing, listening to prompts, getting sudden answers that lead you to other turns of a puzzle…
You write comics, but you’re also an artist, children’s book illustrator, and puppet maker. How do the different arts interact in your creative process?
Quite often I doodle some creatures, have no idea what they are, then in a while I make up some story, then I realize it was a story about those doodles. Publishing books with my own illustrations is just a pure, childish fun. My favorite genre is paper theatre (perfect for making mini-shows for myself, with cut-out puppets, to test some ideas); it feels the closest to the physical representation of the “inner eye”
So, Alicia, in your story, loses Ossyp, but what happens to him? All of a sudden, at the end of the story it’s just the women still around!
Ossyp gets lost in the labyrinth of symbols and he enjoys it, he loses connection with the past but becomes one of the Sages of the place… Yes, I felt that the generic pattern had to take its pull, making the women follow their witchery fate. They return on their own to the world, to do their secretive art work inside of it. That’s what women always do, don’t they?
What are you watching, listening to, and reading now? What are you
I like to read research on old languages and letters, like Johanna Druckers’ books. Also reading the Dictionary of Magic Words now, by Craig Conley; enjoying Kelly Link’s poignant fantasy stories… As a visual type, I always look for the works of authors/illustrators, especially those who explore the language of gesture, of word and image merging, like Billy Mavreas, Shaun Tan, Theo Ellsworth, Chris Wright…
I usually read studies on mythology, plays from different epochs, new science books… I bring home and stack piles of books on the floors, books on insects, trees, snowflakes… No time to read them all, but I like looking at them.
I reread Russian poems over and over, most often by the poets of Russian Silver Age—Tzvetaeva, Pasternak, Mandelshtam, Bunin… Khlebnikov… the poem by Pasternak “Let’s drop the words” is sort of a prayer for me… and of course the writings by my favorite person, Daniil Kharms, who seems to be the first absurdist on earth.
I am especially fond of silent movies from the 20s. Listening to? Classical music, jazz, folk songs…
I am working on a short graphic story based on a legend about a kabbalist from Spain; it will be dedicated to my late husband, Rabbi David Montag. Also, I am writing a cycle of tales for tweens, about a Russian girl who lives in a small Russian town in the middle of America. Also planning a puppet film…