An interview with Ana Krajinović, crator and academic at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany

Diana Ziletska
Diana Ziletska
Co-Founder, CMO at MakeStoryboard
12 min reading·

Interview with Ana

1. How would you describe yourself in a few sentences?

I am an academic and a creator. As an academic, I do linguistics research and teach at the University of Düsseldorf, Germany. As a creator, mostly done in my free time, I write short articles online and create webcomics about all sorts of topics—both my comics and my posts range in topics from linguistics to mental health and relationships. My academic side satisfies my curiosity about how the world works, or specifically how humans and languages work, and my creative side satisfies my curiosity about my inner world, my story and how my story relates to other people’s stories.

Interview with Ana

2. Why and how did you start your way in the linguistics field?

I always liked learning new languages in school, but I always retell this moment in high school as the beginning of my linguistic path, and it was during a test in German. I was solving an exercise in grammar and it suddenly hit me how similar the grammar is in different languages, I could see parallels between German, Latin, Spanish, Croatian, English, all the languages I had learned up to that point. So, I became increasingly curious about all these similarities, how similar or different are languages really? That made me think of studying linguistics at the university but it wasn’t a straightforward decision. I also did some small paintings in high school, so I was also considering studying art. And when I had to decide what to study at the university, I was divided between going for something artistic or something scientific, like linguistics or sociology, anthropology, I was also interested in culture. In the end I decided to go for science because I wanted a stronger framework in which I can explore my curiosity and find out the truth about how humanity works, and linguistics has definitely given me that. But now I came full circle and I kind of see that not all questions can be answered by science, some of them need art too.

put the phone

3. How did you start and why did you start working with comics?

I think my comic story starts when I was 12. At the time, I took an extracurricular class with my art teacher, who taught us how to draw comics. I got really into it and I made two longer comics for our school magazine. However, I didn’t continue making comics, I only got back into it like 4 years ago and all because I started using comics as a form of journaling for myself. I was inspired by these adulting comics, for example by Sarah Anderson. And I started drawing similar situations in my life, especially if they had to do with mental health, made jokes about certain problems I had, all very personal and I didn’t share it with anyone except for a few close friends, many of them told me I should share it more widely. But then 2 years ago, I started collecting LEGO and sort of simultaneously I started having ideas for comics about linguistics and other things that weren’t too personal and I started publishing them.

4. What are you working on as of right now?

In linguistic research, which I now try to connect to my interest in visual media, I work on internet memes and how their meaning changes over time—there are universal patterns of how language and other types of communication like memes change over time. I find it fascinating that we find all these patterns across different domains of human behavior, be it language, culture, society…

storyboard of Ana Krajinovic

In my creative endeavors, I draw autobiographical and semi-autobiographical comics, either comic strips or around 3-page long comics (see my Instagram, Tapas, Substack mailing list), and I am developing techniques that will hopefully work for other people on how comics and storytelling can be used for mental health, check out my ongoing posts on these topics on Medium .

Ana Krajinovic

5. How do you showcase your work? How would you describe your professional style?

Yes, Medium, Instagram, Tapas, Substack mailing list for comics, also Twitter, and my website for news. I also have academic content on YouTube and other academic websites, they are all linked here.

My professional style: I’m still trying to find my voice in art and research, but there is a common theme to all of my work and that is searching for the truth and connection in a bullshit-free very on point kind of way—in art it is the truth of a more emotional nature and connection with other people based on that and in research it is the scientific truth and connection to other scientists’ work.

5. What instruments do you often use to show your work?

To draw Procreate, for LEGO just a simple point-and-shoot camera, and since I don’t edit them much, I just assemble the comic in Keynote.

6. Can you describe your day-to-day routine?

Haha, I don’t think I have a consistent routine although I make comics mostly on weekends and in my free time. I am still a bit chaotic in the way I work because I have all these different things, academic research and comics, and storytelling but my ideas don’t choose their timing. So, it often happens that I have to pause what I’m doing at a given moment and write down a comic idea before I forget it. It’s just like I’m thinking about a million things at once and sometimes something just clicks and I have an idea on how to create something, either in research or comics. But I think that my creativity also stems from this chaos and the interconnectedness of all these thoughts and ideas in my head. It’s a blessing and a curse at the same time, haha. I try to focus on the blessing part, haha.

7. So, comics! I love them and they’re great for the audience to consume knowledge?

I think comics can be a great way to reach people, especially younger audiences, because they are short if they are comic strips, and they are funny, so you can sneakily teach people something through your comic, or just make something relatable and funny that will make their day better. Either way, I really like to imagine people reading my comic and smiling, that makes it worth it. In my longer comics, I try to make it more about some deeper emotional truth and convey it through an anecdote from my life, and hopefully, people can relate to that.

8. What do you do to prepare the comic?

For either LEGO or drawing comics, I first create the script. When it comes to LEGO comics, I find pieces that I need for my characters (how I imagined they look like) and build a small set, then  I photograph the scenes. For drawing comics, I first make a sketch in blue for each panel, so storyboarding, and  I finalize it with a black outline and add some color.

9. How much time does it take for you to prepare and air the comics? What are the stages of preparing one?

The short ones, both drawn and LEGO, I usually do in a couple of hours, usually during the weekend, and the longer ones (like the 3 page comics that are drawn) require a bit more work, so spread out over a week or two, depending on my commitment. I usually get immersed in the process and spend the whole afternoon doing just that. Once I have the comic finished in front of me, I feel like sharing it immediately. I don’t actually like spending too much time on fixing the details that don’t matter for the overall idea of the comic.

10. Why comics though? Do you have a special connection to them or have you decided that this is the best method to tell your stories?

I think I really like this medium because I like visual storytelling, I love movies also and comics are a bit like an easier-to-produce version of movies, in my view at least. Both movies and comics really take me deep into the story in a way that text alone doesn’t for me. I think that comics are very appropriate for the kinds of stories I want to tell because they are sort of minimalistic but with high emotional payoff/impact. What I mean is that the pictures and text don’t need to be too complex to convey humor or the emotion I am trying to share with the readers.

11. Do you find it amusing to convey it in that way?

Yes, sometimes the rigidity of the pieces, like being all square and pointy can add this element of humor, and sometimes the lack of nuanced facial expressions can make a scene even funnier.

12. Do you revise your work a lot?

Not really, I don’t like to revise my work, I get easily bored when I do that. I prefer making a completely new comic or if the original script was very good, then I would at most re-draw a comic or re-shoot photos for a LEGO comic.

13. What drives you to do your work? How do you motivate yourself?

I have a funny relationship with motivation. I am either super hyper/ super motivated or not at all. When I am very motivated, it just comes from some inner drive that I cannot explain but I just feel like I have to do it, like it’s a question of life and death, it’s a very strong drive to create something and express myself. It gives meaning to my life experience. When I don’t have any motivation, I use that time to watch movies, YouTube videos, mostly about film/screenplay analysis and social critique recently, read comics, and see other people’s work, so in a way I get to profit from that too because I can later use what I learned as inspiration for my work.

14. Who motivates you in the professional field?

Sarah Andersen was my initial inspiration for these short comic strips, YouTube creator Struthless (Campbell Walker) and his approach to how creativity ties to mental health, Alice Oseman, I’m a huge fan of Heartstopper, and from screenwriters Charlie Kaufman definitely, who wrote the script for what’s probably my favorite movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

15. What are the struggles you have to face in your work?

External factors: Rejection, both in research and creative work you can get rejected from publishing your work in some journal or magazine. Also, I am still struggling with my following on social media. My Medium account is the only one that has a steady growth, but all the other are kind of stagnating, but yeah, it’s also because I don’t actually spend enough time on social media and I haven’t actually done my investment in that area. I am still hoping some of my work will get randomly picked up and go viral but it hasn’t happened yet. But these are all the things I know I can work through and continue trying until something works out, the real struggle comes from the inside, the lack of motivation or the unpredictability of when I will be motivated is the biggest struggle for me.

16. How do you overcome them?

Motivation like I mentioned above is a big struggle for me, and if we want to go a bit deeper into this, my lack of motivation usually stems from this negative feeling that we all feel from time to time: “what I do doesn’t really matter, nobody cares.” And I push back against it as much as I can but there is something really powerful about this fear of not being important to anyone, of not leaving a mark with your ideas.

And I always try to remind myself of 3 things:

  1. l know these many people actually read my posts, I can see the stats (any number higher than 0 already makes it valuable to be out there), and I remember all the times my people told me or commented saying they enjoy my work. Those are the voices I try to focus on.
  2. I also remind myself of the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life” where the same thought that he doesn’t matter plagues the main character but through the movie he realizes that he had an impact on other people’s lives in ways that he didn’t even know or think of before, so I also try to think of all those people, who might have appreciated my work but I simply didn’t get to know about it.
  3. like I mentioned in question 14, at times of low motivation, I consume other people’s work and I also get inspired by their passion and I try to think: If they could do it, maybe I can too, we all have our own paths.

17. Do you want to continue doing comics or try new methods? Why?

I want to improve my drawing skills and I want to get more into fiction, so far I created mostly shorter comic strips and most of them are basically about me, so pretty autobiographical with some exaggerations here and there. But I am learning story structure now and I would love to be able to create fictional stories in comics, but this is more of a long-term project, I think my autobiographical stories are not going anywhere for the time being. For now, that’s still my biggest source of inspiration.

18. In doing your work, what are the three principles you stand for?

Passion/speaking from the heart, connecting with others, devoted to finding the truth, being honest, bullshit-free

19. And the last, a few tips for storyboard artists by Ana.

1) Pay attention to everything, to your experiences in life, people around you, how you react to things. You can draw your inspiration from all these things but especially from within—how you interpret the world and everything that has happened to you.

2) If you haven’t watched the movie “It’s a Wonderful Life”, go watch it and watch it every time you feel like your work doesn’t matter.

3) Prioritize life (family, love, friends, having fun, watching movies) as much as you can over work. All the stories that matter come from life experience, not work.

20. Thank you for your time, it's was a pleasure to talk to you! And now it's high time to storyboard!:)

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