Charlotte catches up with Australian artist and creator of Scarygirl, Nathan Jurevicius. Scarygirl is a psychedelic universe filled with fantastical characters that spans a range of collectible toys; artwork and prints; a graphic novel; online and console games – and now a feature film is due to begin production later this year. Nathan’s latest book, Junction and its accompanying short film are due out in the coming months.
How do you feel about pandas?
Actually, the other day I ate a panda.
Was it a cookie or something?
Oh, sorry, branded — that was a delay — panda branded liquorice. Actually, I love baby pandas BUT I wish pandas were a little more frisky. Can’t they give them something?
I know, they can only mate for a small amount of the year, they just sleep all the time.
Yeah, what’s going on there?! But hey, maybe a lack of sexual ‘whatever’ makes pandas cuter — thought of the day. Possibly if they were to become more active they’d get uglier? Wouldn’t that be interesting? This is the dilemma. Imagine if you could either have the most amazing sexual experiences but get uglier or abstain but stay cute?
(There’s laughter here for quite a while).
You can either stay a panda or end up as a gross vulture.
But a really sexed up vulture?
Yes but the twist is, the uglier you get, the less desirable you become to other creatures.
Is this going to be the new first date question: would you rather be a cute sexless panda or a sexed up, repulsive vulture?
Yeah. So, how are you going to put this together? It’s not an audio interview right?
No, it’s written, so I’ll just edit it to make you say whatever I want later.
(Nathan speaks in a disjointed robotic voice) Yes. I. Like. Big. Butt. Pandas.
Okay, I should probably, like, interview you.
Easy question, where did you grow up?
That’s not an easy question because really, have I grown up? I would say that, honestly, i’m only just starting to find my rhythm now. My grown up rhythm.
What were you like as a child?
I was really into art back then. I was a bit of an odd child, I didn’t like things being drawn on my face. They had a French day at school and everyone had curly moustaches drawn on their faces but I refused to have one. I also didn’t like wearing kilts because I had to wear one for a song called My Highland Goat. Basically, I was a friendly but neurotic child who liked to draw a lot.
Did you ever have to work any crappy casual jobs?
In high school I worked in a Bakery and I was a bit of a smart mouth, so occasionally they would lock me in the oven. Not the really hot one, just the proof oven, it was about forty five degrees. During university I did lots of part time work, even when I began illustrating. Weirdly, at one point I worked on a building site. During University I worked part time delivering things on the back of this motorised cart in the Adelaide markets. I had to work really early in the morning. I didn’t know how to work the machine and I smashed into the back of one of the trucks. I also had to hammer together the crates for the lettuces that would go off to McDonald’s.
I’m trying to think of all the weird things I’ve done for money. I’ve done some crappy jobs, art jobs. I designed some T-Shirts for a nuclear facility. It was a military nuclear base or something.
What did these T-shirts have on them?
It was really weird. It basically had the base… and then a long… (there’s an awkward pause as Nathan waves his hand up and down the length of his own T-shirt trying to find the right words)… it looked, yeah, I suppose it kind of looked like a giant penis on a T-shirt (he laughs). That was while I was still at university.
And where did you study?
I studied a Bachelor of Design, majoring in Illustration at the University of South Australia.
If you could give uni student Nathan any words of advice what would they be?
I would say don’t spend so much time sleeping and eating in your car and socialise more.
Why were you sleeping and eating in your car?
I guess I was going through some sort of religious self purging. The thing is I’m not shy but I didn’t feel like I wanted to get involved with the other students and now I’ve thought about it, I think it would’ve been better if I’d been more involved, more social.
Two days after I finished University I moved to Melbourne. I packed up everything in the car and drove over. I went from my university days of not being social to being the opposite and visiting every design agency and publisher in Melbourne. I basically went around bothering people until they gave me work.
Now when people ask you what you do at parties, what do you tell them?
I blow up balloons… Oh I thought you meant what do I do when I’m at parties.
I usually just say I’m an artist. A general artist but I’m mostly focussed on story based art. Stuff for kids and adults. I’m really into creating – this is a bad word but – what people call a brand. Scarygirl began as toys and an online comic but that wasn’t enough for me to tell a story so I expanded that out into games and a film and graphic novels. It’s like pushing ideas and stories as far as they can go and then when that story’s been thrashed out to death, looking at what other parts of that story I can tell with the other characters. So basically what I tell them is: I flog a dead horse.
I was going to ask you about Scarygirl, that’s an interesting development process that you went through…
Yeah, Scarygirl initially started out as a game concept but that didn’t work out. So I already had the Scarygirl concept at that point. Then weirdly, at the same time I’d been doing a lot of online stuff and this guy called me up who’d seen my work and asked me if I was interested in doing adult toys. I had no idea what adult toys were, it sounded intriguing and he sent me a box and they were all these really cool toys from China and Japan, designer vinyl toys. Then we collaborated really quickly and came up with the whole Scarygirl line. At the same time I started creating a Scarygirl comic, one page every week for thirty weeks.
Then after that I collaborated on an online game. As far as Scarygirl went that was a big hit for us because it reached about one and a half million players and it did really well award-wise. From that we were approached to do the Xbox and Playstation game and at the same time I was doing the graphic novel and now there’s the feature film. So finally after seven or eight years it looks like we’ll start that at the end of the year, with me as the production designer and Luke (Nathan’s brother) as the director.
Is the story for the Scarygirl movie going to be similar to the graphic novel?
The characters are all still there and the general plot is still there, so you’ll see some references from the book but the story does take a few different turns. There are certain things that aren’t explained in the book that are in the film.
Did anything from the original comic strips end up in the graphic novel?
No, they’re separate. The comics were a basic version of the graphic novel but my style changed, it became more refined. Since 2001 she has slowly morphed over the years. She looks quite different to how she first looked.
Have you ever had a bad reaction from changing the design or style of your characters?
Yeah, not so much from fans but more with people trying to create a style guide. It’s hopeless. Everyone’s like, “Nathan doesn’t ever keep a style for too long!” It’s difficult for anyone to create a regimented look because six months later she’ll have a different hair style but the things that always remain are her eye patch, her hook arm and her outfit always looks relatively similar.
What have been some of your favourite projects to date?
I would say Peleda would be one of them, that’s the collaboration with Luke. It began as a series of collectible owls, then that went into the TV series and the game and now we’re looking at developing that into a feature as well.
That was a really good one and one of the joys of that was co-directing it with Luke. We achieved a lot and it was all quite smooth. Even though the ABC were involved they were quite hands off.
Obviously Scarygirl is a major thing but it feels different because it’s been with me for so long, it’s one of those projects that you need to take a break from for a while and then come back to.
And this Junction project right now is exciting. I’ve written and illustrated the book. I’m directing and co-producing the short film. It feels like a real personal one because I’m involved in all parts of the process.
Are there characters or concepts you’ve worked on that didn’t eventuate?
I have various projects that are in holding patterns with lots of companies. The thing I find frustrating is that if it just came back to me I could actually make it happen. Back in the day I thought you needed these people to make it happen. Now with all the experience I have, I finally realise I can produce it and make it happen but it’s stuck with these companies.
If you really want to do something it’ll happen. Put it out there. You either need to have the knowledge of how you can do it or know that there’s other ways of creating things that don’t have to cost a lot of money. Anyone can shoot a video and put it online. Anyone can self-publish a magazine. It’s not hard. People just think it’s too big. You can create a whole website and tell an entire story and it can be amazing. You put it online and it’s there, it exists. It doesn’t have to be a million dollar feature film it can be a twenty dollar website.
When have you been the happiest with your work?
Usually when it’s my own creation and story and I feel like I’m improving my skills on it at the same time. With this Junction project it’s totally my own and it’s pushing my knowledge and skills further than they have been in the past.
Do you have any tips for artists who are just starting out?
I think despite having really good connections over the the internet, personal contact is still really important. Anytime you can get face to face time with anybody, over Skype or in real life, it makes a really memorable impression on say an art director or a design team. That’s why going to festivals and attending things in person is really important. Slowly we’re losing human contact and we’re also losing the sense of personality that goes into creating things.
Anything else you’d like to add?
To people who want to get into this business I would say you kind of need to do it because you love it. You can do it for a living but that’s not the driving force for this kind of work. Also, always keep learning and expanding what you do.
Nathan also tutors at the Pictoplasma Academy in Berlin – a programme for further education and exchange, suitable for anyone who wants to expand their practise in any field related to the creation of characters. Applications for the next Academy close July 16th.