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Lina Itagaki: How I Drew Siberian Haiku

2 April 2020

Lina Itagaki is the artist on Siberian Haiku. Here she tells us about painting street caricatures, the biggest challenges in creating the book, and being gifted an origami crane. 

Hi Lina, can you tell us a little about yourself? 
Hi, I am an illustrator and comics artist. I live in Lithuania and am the artist on Siberian Haiku. I lived and studied in Japan for 6 years, which was a great experience. And then about 5 years after I returned to Lithuania, I applied to the Vilnius Art Academy and became an artist. 

How did you come to work on Siberian Haiku?
After graduating from the Art Academy, I moved to live in the port town Klaipeda because I wanted some change. There I started drawing my personal comic Mister Pinkman, and was posting my drawings online hoping that someone will notice. Then in 2016 Jurga got in contact with me, she’d seen my work, and we met in Vilnius. She told me about the idea for Siberian Haiku, and I loved that it would be a real story and there will be some places about Japan. And she said I could draw it however I wanted to, as a comic but not a standard comic. I knew that this book was perfect for me. So we agreed and separated. Jurga then moved to Spain, and we continued to communicate through emails for more than a year.
How did you relate to the idea, and how did you see the story visually at this point? 
At the beginning I didn’t see the story visually at all. But I knew that I would have to start drawing and then it would come naturally. Around the time Jurga contacted me, I’d participated in a workshop that was held by the German artist Mawil in Lithuania. We had to prepare real stories told by our parents or grandparents about the Second World War, or life after that. Mawil chose some artists and then we published a comics anthology, which was presented at the Berlin Comics festival. So I’d already had this little experience of drawing a historical comic, and felt comfortable with the project.  

And is it true that you were drawing Siberian Haiku while painting street caricatures? 
That’s true, I started drawing caricatures during summers when I was a student, and maybe a third of Siberian Haiku was drawn while sitting on the street of our resort town by the sea, waiting for customers. I was also drawing on the beach, in the libraries… I like to carry my drawings wherever I go and draw in various locations, so that I have to sit in front of my computer only when I really have to. I hope it didn’t influence my drawing though, I really don’t like caricatures and was a little bit afraid they would. 
What's your process for creating pages? Did you work closely with Jurga or did she leave you to it once the script was created?   
First I read the whole text once, and kind of forgot it. I didn’t think about the amount of work there would be in total or anything like that. I decided to just do one chapter at a time, and move forward step-by-step. I didn’t plan how many pages there would be, didn’t draw a storyboard, and didn’t make sketches. I did make sketches of the main characters to decide what they will look like because that was very important.

But later, I would just read one chapter, make a little plan if it would be 4, 6 or 8 pages,  and then just take a piece of A4 paper and a pencil, and draw. Having almost forgotten the text I was always interested in what would happen in the next chapter. I made this process interesting for myself.

I was contacting Jurga a lot. Because I wanted to draw this book historically correct and I didn’t know what things looked like – the people, their clothes, houses, furniture, nature, trains, etc… I was using a lot of photographs.

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What were the biggest challenges in creating Siberian Haiku?  
The hardest thing was to imagine how everything looked. In many places I did not draw anything in the background, I left it for the reader to imagine what could be there because I did not know. It was a challenge to draw all the sad scenes, especially during summer when there were sun smiles and happiness all around. And drawing the trains, and the Russian church was a challenge because I do not like drawing things like that, with so many details.

What kind of feedback have you had from the book? 
We had a lot of positive feedback. This book connects different generations, it creates an opportunity for the grandparents to tell their stories to the grandchildren (in almost every Lithuanian family someone has been deported). 
And what’s been your favourite memory of Siberian Haiku?
There was an interesting coincidence with the chapter on ORIGAMI. As usual I was driving from Klaipeda to Palanga (the resort town where I draw caricatures) and I saw three girl hitchhikers on the road. I took them to Palanga, we said goodbye and when I came back to the car I found this origami crane hanging on my car mirror. They left it as a thank you present. That day when I was sitting on the street and was ready to start drawing I took the text and saw that that day I had to draw the chapter that is called ORIGAMI. So I used this crane as a model. It is still hanging on the mirror of my car. 

Siberian Haiku is available now.