§Graphic Realities
Around Melek + Ich
Interview with Lina Ehrentraut by Viviana Gravano

The first question is about the birth of the book. Tell us how you conceived it, where did the idea come from?

The book is based on a line of fashion I created. I was making these fashion pieces and thinking about how fashion shapes the way we look at people. When I started the book I wanted it to be about relationship, friendship and the sexual attraction, which sometimes develops in it. I always lived in shared flats, so maybe this was the starting point. Developing two characters, who know each other very well and really like each other, but still are often very annoyed by each other. When I began to write this story I was like “Ah, ok, this is really about me, I can also make the protagonist meet herself. I don’t have to stick to the rules of ‘reality’”. So I added sci-fi.
Also one topic of the story is work. Because I always had to work a lot and have very mixed feelings about this. I totally love some aspects of working, but also feel like it’s dangerous to identify too much with it. 

The experience recounted in the book belongs to the queer universe, and the splitting of the woman, the main character, shows a kind of narration of her personified alter ego, which allows her figure to be fluid. Do you recognise yourself in this definition given to your story. And if so what is queerness for you?

The character is very much based on me. It’s like you say in your question – it shows different sides of one character. In this case the difference is shown in the way of working, decisions on lifestyle (like how the flat looks) and clothes. For this book I wanted the characters to have the same gender, because otherwise it could have given some strange massages, but for me it’s also about gender fluidity.
For me being queer means that I try to move over the things I learned about sexuality and gender and listen to myself: What do I really want, who am I, who am I attracted to, which ways of relationship do I want live?
And I wanted these decisions and problems in deciding how the characters live to not be a big deal. (Because for me it sometimes very much is.) So people can read this book and just see the queer aspects of it as a totally “normal” thing. 

One of the most interesting aspects of your work is that you place an absolutely verisimilar and topical story in a science fiction dimension. I find this a very interesting vision, which makes the book particular and dense, a bit like in the field of black culture who has taken the Afro-Futurism route. Why did you make this choice of parallel and indeed futuristic worlds?

I was always very fascinated about sci-fi and fantasy stories. I feel like there are more possibilities to change, given circumstances. When there are fantastic elements the reader is more willing to accept other things. Also it was an easy way to let the protagonist meet herself, without making it like in a dream or something. And I think it’s something I play through in my mind: How would I be, if I made another decision? And I love fiction, that you don’t have to just think about it, but can show it and make it real. 

Nici and Melek live with love. I think it is a “romantic” story, in which someone “searching” for love finds herself. All the scenes are almost always indoors, as if to indicate that it is basically an inner journey first and foremost. I find it to be a story that could belong to anyone who seeks not to define themselves but to not define themselves, and so I think it is very useful for teenagers and young people. Did you think about what kind of audience you wanted to talk to when you made it?

I would love it when teens or young people read my books! I only knew a few queer stories or stories with characters I could truly identify with when I was young and think it could have made my life much easier, if there would have been more of them. Also showing sex is really important for me. The only images I knew when I was young, were very heteronormative and also from a mans point of view.
But I don’t think this book is made for younger people only. When I was writing it I was 27 and these were obviously topics I cared about. And I think it’s important for all ages to think about themself. You also change at points in your life and this can happen anytime. 

One of the things I loved most is the way you treat the body. A liquid body, which melts, loses its shape, and then becomes solid again, which confuses skin with clothes. Was the body a central theme for you in the story? And if so in what way did you want to represent it and why? 

Bodies and my body have always been a big topic for me. I was very tall as a young teenager, then I  also became fat. I don’t think it’s a bad thing, but I was faced with not being a beauty standard very soon. Also when I was developing a big breast it was very hard for me, because before that I felt more gender neutral. Then there was this aspect about my body, which I thought would make me “female”. In this book the people basically have my body. This was more about accepting myself. And also I think it’s very important to show not just skinny characters and other normatives. In future works I would like to go further with this topic. 

In the book you use a very graphic stroke in the black and white part, and then a more pictorial and abstract stroke in the color part, which is also full of colors. What different values do the two parts have: the black and white part and the color part?

First of all I want to emphasize that I also made this choice in form, because it was so much fun!
But also I felt like I couldn’t express some feelings in the black and white style. They are more about atmosphere, feelings and joy. But I also love the black and white, I just think that it works differently.
So I kind of highlighted some very emotional parts of the story. Like sex, singing, swimming – these are all activities, which make me feel like I am leaving this world (in a good way), hahaha. So there is a connection between these activities and interdimensional traveling. 

Your work combines different drawing and painting styles, you don’t worry about placing yourself between ‘comics’ and illustration, a division that to me is idle and useless. But do you imagine this work only as a book or could it be a work installed in space, precisely because of your freedom in making it?

With the fashion pieces and the paintings and the book and also my favorite way of presenting it in a comic reading it very much feels like there is not one way of presenting it the “right” way. I enjoy having this artistic freedom and working in a lot of different media. But I also need it somehow, because otherwise I get really bored and uninspired. Working in a creative field and the need to earn money with it is hard enough, so I decided that I want to have as much fun as possible. Between self organizing, writing emails, drawing, building exhibitions, travel etc. I very much miss the childish playing with material and I need to make time for it.  

The world in which Nici and Melek live is a free world, without schemes, without prejudices, which I think can be identified with the German world, where LGBTQI+ people have conquered this freedom. In Italy it is not the same, and I believe that an Italian teenager also sees this tranquility as something “futuristic” rather than real. You presented the book in different parts both in Germany and in Italy (where Edizioni Canicola translated you), did you find different reactions? Have you noticed a different reception from people?

The world is an utopia in some ways. In Germany there are still a lot queer phobic and violence against queer people. In bigger cities there is a bigger scene, but in the smaller ones or villages it’s very hard to connect. It’s very good we have the internet now.
Also I have a lot of queer friends, who just starting to discover their queerness – in their 30s.

Would you like to tell us about your new projects? Can you give us some sneak peeks?

I WILL START MY NEW BOOK SOON! It will be about a lonely, depressed person, who struggles a lot with their body, but is also very horny and desperately searching for some nice sex dated. A sexrobot might also be involved, hehe.

Lina Ehrentraut, Melek+Ich, Edition Moderne, Zurich 2021; Edizione italiana Io e Melek, Canicola, Bologna 2022.

Lina Ehrentraut (1993) lives and works in Leipzig, Germany. Lina does comics, zines, painting, illustrations for magazines and fashion. They love to work for print, but also do exhibitions. Lina mixes very regular life stories with science fiction elements.

Thanks to canicola edizioni for collaboration.