Under the Surface with Ivana Filipovich


We don’t like wishing away the summer… but it’s been less than ideal over the last couple of months here in Nova Scotia. Fortunately, we’ve got a great fall season of graphic novels coming, and first up is What’s Fear Got to Do With It by Ivana Filipovich, creator of the Doug Wright Award-winning Where Have You Been.

A soapy crime drama that unfolds between the stalls of the Richmond Night Market, What’s Fear Got to Do With It explores the relationship of two very different women—Eva and Mia—and their boyfriend, Max, a highly respected member of the city’s criminal underground with a fearsome reputation. 

Learn more about Ivana Filipovich and What’s Fear Got to Do With It in this Q&A between Filipovich and Conundrum publisher and editor Andy Brown!


1. WFGTDWI was originally set in Serbia. Why did you choose to switch the location to the Richmond Night Market?

When Andy Brown first suggested we turn the 30-page comic WFGTDWI into a graphic novel for Conundrum Press, I promptly said yes, but then started to despair. After over 20 years, I’ve lost interest in the story. It was set in the Belgrade clubbing scene, and it seemed pointless to keep it there, as I’ve been living in Lower Mainland for over 20 years. I also wasn’t interested in keeping it in the past.

But then, things started to click. For my first work published in Canada, I wanted a recognizable Canadian setting I was familiar with. I love both street food and haute cuisine, and over the years, I’ve visited the Richmond market and taken many photos of its hustle and bustle. The self-centeredness of the characters seems to still work with the current time. Amazingly, even the fashion came back, with ever-chic leopard print, cropped tops and no eyebrows making the Mia character very much in vogue again.

2. It focuses on a complicated love triangle. Can you explain the relationships of the characters?

We could even call it a quadrangle. Multiple elements influenced this story. During the Balkan wars and economic hardship, I observed how even educated and cultured people slid into the human cloaca. One of our friends suddenly married a gangster, probably to escape poverty. I don’t know her motivation because we immediately severed all contact. That’s how I got interested in women who date men for their money. But then, some women are really in love with thugs. I wanted to describe both scenarios, and I came up with the idea of two women in a relationship with the same brute.

It’s a quadrangle in which all characters are faulty, despite some of them being more likable than others. When I first started working on the story, there weren’t many storylines like this in comic arts. Even today, I find that relations in graphic novels are simplified and focus mostly on traditional twoway relationships and one-dimensional characters. That’s not what I see in real life. The other challenge was to write a story about completely fictional characters. Unlike in some of my other comics, no characters in this novel are based on real people. I wanted to see if I could pull that off and create believable characters

3. Are your influences comic artists? Are the European artists doing something different?

Like many others in former Yugoslavia, I grew up with a smorgasbord of quality content. We were spoilt with the best of BBC, great Russian movies, Quebec TV series and, of course, the best world literature and comics from both sides of the ocean. I was always attracted to great literature rather than comics. My main inspiration is Checkhov. No matter what he wrote, he never lost sight of the comedic element in life and the humanity of his characters. I think we should listen when Checkhov says Cherry Orchard is a comedy. I remember crying when I read the last pages of Checkhov’s writing I could find. That also happened with the works of Hugo Pratt, Ingmar Bergman, Andrey Tarkovsky, Daniil Kharms, Tennessee Williams and Hillary Mantel, but very few others. Luckily, Rushdie is still alive.

I like to constantly re-read a couple of my favourite books. I am not an expert on the contemporary comic art scene. For me, the visual style of some European authors is more attractive, and I am drawn to it. A few of my favourites are Tardi, Fior, Yelin, Gipi, Igort, Zograf. I am leaning more towards the Italians. Growing up, I read their trashier comics, including Canadian/US-based serial Captain Mark and the Ontario wolves. No one here knows about that stuff. It’s junk, but it was entertaining enough, and it introduced me to Canada and its history when I was a kid. Wasn’t the reason for my move to this continent, though.

There are some fantastic achievements in Canadian comics, too: works by Jillian Tamaki/Mariko Tamaki, rightly recognized by two Governor General awards for youth literature, Nina Bunjevac New York Times best-seller Fatherland; and a nod for Joe Ollmann in the Governor General Awards literature category and Inkpot Award for Miriam Libicki in San Diego, both in 2022. I am excited to see what these artists do next.

4. Seems that your work is part of the Balkan Renaissance. Artists like Nina Bunjevac and Igor Hofbauer. Would you agree?

We always had a lot of great authors, and now some of them are known outside the Balkans. I don’t see myself in the same league; I am more of an occasional meddler. There is certainly a lot of activity in that area of Europe. Whenever I open my social media accounts, I am like: ”What?!? Yet another comic arts festival! Look at the art! Where is all this talent coming from?” So, yes, I guess you are right about the renaissance happening.

5. I discovered your work through Julian Lawrence in Vancouver. Would you consider yourself part of the Vancouver scene?

I still feel more connected to the Balkan art scene, thanks to the editors and organizers who keep me included in the happenings there. Many of them remember my art from decades ago. In contrast, everything here seems a bit more reserved and cautious, while in the Balkans, they bear-hug you and kiss you three times on the cheeks right away.

I was lucky to run into some great creatives, like Julian Lawrence, Doug Savage, James Lloyd, Susan Ferguson, Miriam Libicki and David Lasky (from Seattle). Working hard to make a living in Vancouver certainly plays a part, leaving us with less time to help the growth and cohesiveness of the local comic art community. I am also very grateful to the VanCAF festival team, as they have given me opportunities to connect with the audience through workshops and the festival itself. They have put together a fantastic festival comeback in 2022, and I have high hopes for better times ahead and a much stronger Pacific Northwest scene. The quality of comic art in this area can rival anything the big centres can offer.



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