Tantz Aerine is a self-taught illustrator from Greece and she creates the historical webcomic Without Moonlight, a WWII war drama set in Nazi-occupied Greece.
Synopsis: In 1942 Nazi-Occupied Athens, Fotis and his gang of fellow war-stricken friends risk their lives to earn their daily meal,hoping to scrape by until the war ends, if it ends. But when a British SOE agent vital to the success of a mysterious plan by the newly formed Greek Resistance against the Nazis goes missing, the children’s routine is forever disrupted. Fotis suddenly holds victory or defeat in the palm of his hand. Literally.
Did you go to school for either art or writing? If so, what school?
No, I am self taught when it comes to art. For writing, I have a minor in English Literature and several courses in script analysis from a sociological perspective.
What was your inspiration to make a historical comic about World War II era Greece?
WWII history is a big deal in modern Greek culture. Generations grew up with accounts from that era, many coming directly from within our families, as there is hardly anyone in Greece without at least one grandfather or grandmother with direct accounts from the war and the time of the Occupation. Since I was a child I was fascinated by all the stories, especially how children were involved in these events, but also the actual historical facts surrounding it. Greece’s history during WWII is a textbook David vs. Goliath tale, both during the Greco-Italian war of 1940-1941 and later with the triple occupation of Greece by three Axis forces (Germany, Bulgaria and Italy). So you can imagine it’s naturally very alluring!
How much research did you have to do while you were initially planning Without Moonlight in order to ensure historical accuracy?
Insanely much! Research is still ongoing, but to start on Without Moonlight at all, I spent about a year collecting original newspapers from the era, books with historical accounts of eye-witnesses as close to the era as possible (so I have several titles from 1947 to 1955), and met with actual eye-witnesses while I could. Unfortunately very few survive, and a couple of the people I talked to back then aren’t alive today. I also have several books by reputable, credible sources, as well as very biased ones (actually, the closest to the era the book or account was written, the more biased it is to serve specific political purposes- which is an invaluable asset itself for my work, as I have a good handle on how things were presented depending on whether someone was a communist, royalist, left or right leaning, centrist, etc), such as C.M. Woodhouse’s work which I highly recommend for every history buff!
Research aside, how long did it take you to plan the comic’s storyline before even beginning to physically create it?
It took about a year and a half, because I had my original idea of what I wanted to do, and my core cast designed, but while I was researching, actual historical events compelled me to tweak the plot and storyline accordingly!
How has it been for you, mentally, to deal with heavy subjects like World War II and Nazis?
Very hard. Not so much WWII itself (as in, the strategies and battles and the like) but researching Nazis was and remains extremely hard, harsh and hurtful. Especially when it comes to Greece, documented accounts of Nazi crimes proven for their veracity are so grotesquely cruel and extreme that I have had to take long breaks before I could return to it. It’s so cartoonishly gory and hateful that for Without Moonlight I have ‘sanitized’ about 90% of what was actually done, not only for the rating, but also because I would simply not be believed without photographic evidence I don’t want to post on my site. The same goes for policies and actions perpetrated by Nazis on aspects other than that or reparations. Nazis aside, there are also hard themes to deal with when it comes to other forces at work, such as soviet influence and other allied/great powers’ influences in Greece and what that impact was for the Greeks and Greece as a country.
You’ve been working on Without Moonlight since 2014! How has your experience been since you started publishing online six years ago?
Actually, I have been working on it since 2010! I just created its main, official site in 2014. It’s been definitely a learning experience artistically as well as historically, and I keep learning! I do my best to offer the best experience for my readers and patrons, and the love I receive in return keeps me going!
How long does it take you to complete one page?
Depending on the artistic requirements of the page, anything from 8 to 12 hours or so.
What is your process like for creating comic pages? What tools do you use?
I make WM completely digitally. Originally I used Photoshop, but after the service became cloud-based with a subscription, I’ve been using GIMP and of course, my trusty Wacom tablet. The process is fairly simple. I complete every frame from start to finish before I move on to the next, as I have a general idea of what I want the page to look like in my mind.
Do you have any favorite artists who influenced your style?
I always feel somewhat presumptuous mentioning my inspirations, but I do have them! Hergé’s Tintin is at the top of the list, and of course Uderzo and Goscinny’s Asterix right after when it comes to style and approach to making comics. I also am very partial to Naoki Urasawa’s work, like Monster, when it comes to tone and pathos.
What was the biggest hurdle you faced during the course of making Without Moonlight? If you could go back in time to the point where you just started making it and give yourself a pep talk, what would you say?
That’s a tough question. I think the biggest hurdle is getting actual references of Athens’ suburbs and other areas except the historical center that are from the 1930s and 1940s. There are certain landmarks that don’t exist anymore, but people know they did and expect them to be there, and I have no usable visual reference for them. I have to work around that and fill in the blanks with informed guesses. What I’d tell my old self back in 2011 would be “invest on old photos a lot more than you did”.
What is your favorite part about working on Without Moonlight?
It’s actually having the chance to create a webcomic about WWII Greece that reflects the experience of the people of the time, and all the effort that went into Resisting the Axis. It makes me feel warm in my heart to add to what is a very limited array of works that are internationally available on that subject. Artistic-wise, my favourite part is drawing expressions and interactions! Especially when the Greeks fight, which is often. (You could say it’s always been our national hobby to fight among ourselves…)
What is your LEAST favorite part about working on Without Moonlight?
Having to draw areas (like Athenian suburbs or villages up north) that I don’t have enough references for. It’s so stressful!
Do you have a favorite character to write for? If so, why? Tell us more about them!
Oh that’s a hard question, because I have several! I have to mention two characters (and this is still very hard because there are so many more!) Fotis and Father Yiannis. Fotis is the main character- a 14 going-on 15 young man who is a leaper. Leapers in Occupied Greece were young children and teens who used to leap on Nazi supply trucks (hence their name) and steal food and provisions while the truck was still in motion. Fotis is a natural leader, and a very earnest youth who is naturally optimistic, and yet keeps getting shoved into harsh situation upon harsh situation. He tries to protect his friends (he leads a gang of leapers) and also do right by his people by helping the Resistance. And in the course of all of that, he’s forced to grow up very fast and very painfully.
And then there’s Father Yiannis. He’s an Orthodox Christian priest in the parish where Fotis and a good bit of the cast live and act. He is a man that has already survived WWI, and everything that’s happened during the midwar period. His approach to God and being a priest, as well as his visceral support of his flock is what I would always love to see in a priest. He is also based on a theologian and an actual priest that I respect (they’re unfortunately not alive). He’s got an attitude and a quiet force to himself that is vital for survival, and though they don’t really realise it, most of the main cast depend on him for courage and strength.
Which character gives you the most difficulty to write for?
That would be the actual historical figures in the story. For example, the Greek Resistance had two leaders, Aris Velouhiotis and Napoleon Zervas. They have, as a result, a very important part in Without Moonlight. Writing for them and remaining true to the impact they are said to have had to those that knew them is very hard. That’s mostly because here in Greece there is a lot of emotional charge with regards to both of them, and touching them at all as historical figures has to be done with great care and respect for who they were and what they did, without, on the other hand, embellishing them to what they were not as partisan politics have been trying even up to current times!
Which character gives you the most difficulty to draw?
My SS Officers, Eichel and Bohm. First off, they have a stark difference in height. Also, they have very angular, specific features that I somehow always have to redraw a couple of times before I feel they look like themselves.
Anything else you want the people to know about yourself or your comic?
Without Moonlight is a passion project, and a work of absolute love, not only for my ancestors as a Greek, but also for humanity as a whole. It’s a hard story to tell, because I have chosen not to sugarcoat the misgivings of my countrymen, just as I’ve showcased our culture and our great moments, and will keep doing it. But ultimately, it’s a story of optimism, even in one of humanity’s darkest hours. I hope that you enjoy it!
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