There’s a cinema touch in Zafeiriadis’ comics, featuring an inner tempo and a subtle editing

Tasos Zafeiriadis

For all the stories that need to be told

Text: Yiorgos Papadimitriou
Tasos Zafeiriadis

Historical events, more than often stashed away and removed from the official showcase, biting humor of the absurd, narration stemming out of the collective psyche, countless references to numerous cognitive and artistic fields, a subtle study of the human condition. If we were to sum up in a nutshell the work of Tasos Zafeiriadis, one of the most gifted comic artists in Greece, none of the above could be left out. An orthodontist by profession, Tasos Zafeiriadis introduces himself – with a tinge of sarcastic innuendo – to the audience as a “part-time” comic artist. However, the numerous achievements under his belt dismiss any such humble label.

Two-time winner of the Best Writer Award at Comicdom Awards (2011 and 2012), Tasos Zafeiriadis has seen many of his works bestowed with a gamut of honorary distinctions. Best Greek Fanzine Award for The amazing adventures of Spiff and Spaff (2009) and Portugal as I imagine it (2011), runner-up for Best Script at the 2nd Balkan Festival of Young Comic Creators and honorary citation at the “CONFLICTS War Balloons” contest for Trenches (2011), Best Comic Award and Best Script Award for Gra-Grou (2018) and Mosaic (2020) at the Greek Comic Awards, offer just a hint of Tasos Zafeiriadis’ trophy case. What was the influence that ignited the initial spark? What was the starting point of this wonderful journey?

“I guess the first comic I ever read was no other than the 80s sensation Mickey Mouse. I vividly recall the first issue of COMIX magazine, released in July 1988, as it was second to none in terms of quality, featuring a different kind of approach and introducing artists such as Carl Barks and Don Rosa to the audience. I kept thinking that I would love to follow in the same footsteps, to conceive and portray such delightful adventures. My friends and I used to copy the covers and make stories with stick figures on spiral notepads. Not to mention all the humor comics, such as Asterix, Iznogoud, Garfield, Snoopy, Mafalda, also the Comedies of Aristophanes by Apostolidis-Akokalidis and Froutopia, later on Arkas as well. I got to read Babel and Para Pente a little older, as a university student, when I got acquainted with the European and adult-oriented comics,” he replies.

“The list of influences is endless. With a risk of leaving something out, I began drawing by copying Carl Barks, Don Rosa, Vangelis Pavlidis, Nikos Maroulakis, Charles Schulz, Quino. I earned a great deal of aesthetic inspiration from the drawing style of Swede Max Andersson. I also integrated elements from Hugo Pratt, Lewis Trondheim, Giorgos Tsoukis and Chris Ware. All these references may not be visible right away, but I know what I swiped and I owe these artists a lot! In addition to drawing, all the above helped to shape my writing, but I was also inspired by artists coming from other fields, such as Th. Valtinos, Monty Python, Guillaume Apollinaire, D. Savvopoulos, Quentin Tarantino, Th. Angelopoulos, M. Siganidis and Georges Perec,” concludes Tasos Zafeiriadis.

Going through Tasos Zafeiriadis’ work, one notices many recurring themes, gradually and methodically enriched with new elements. However, if he had to pick the turning points in his journey so far, the transition to scriptwriting and the bigger format would be his pick. “The way I see it, two things have changed. First of all, the lack of time (at first due to studying and afterwards due to work) incited me to shift towards scriptwriting and distance myself from drawing; I have not abandoned it completely, but I rarely engage in it. Secondly, a transition from brief comic strips to a bigger format occurred, as I began to place emphasis and conduct research on historical events and other elements, such as folklore tradition and anthropological features. I haven’t given up on humor strips; it’s like a ‘mother tongue’ to me, after all. On the other hand, the bigger format raises the bar and poses a greater challenge. I like to experiment and I try for every album to be different both in terms of form and narrative-wise. However, a handful of recognizable themes and concerns can be traced in all of my works. If I have any fans out there, they will surely know what I mean!”.

Once you read Tasos Zaferiadis’ comics, it does not take long to detect a deeper kind of bonding to the stories he unfolds. Here’s what he has to say: “According to my grandma, as a child I was more into listening to real-life stories rather than fairy-tales, like the ones about how her village, Skalochori of Kozani, was bombarded by the Italians and later burnt down by the Germans during WWII. Such stories urged me to read books on history, in an effort to comprehend how these terrifying situations were experienced by certain people I knew. As time passed, I explored new areas, such as the history of Thessaloniki. I began by integrating real stories and information in a bedrock of fiction. For instance, The Corpse was based on a story my mother heard from a client of hers, who worked in a funeral home. I began to write Trenches inspired mainly by my own experiences during my compulsory military service in the Greek army, but soon enough there was no need to invent absurdist situations: books on WWI were full of them,” he explains.

“The story behind Gra-Grou was given shape by embedding research material on Kastania, along with documents found in books on the craftsmen of Epirus and West Macedonia, to the original imaginary idea. I took great joy in being reassured by a friend of Yannis Palavos, who comes from a family of craftsmen, that the dialogues in koudaritika, the craftsmen’s code-language, were accurate! The initial spark for Mosaic, even though an entirely fictional story, was ignited by nine tiles, a family heirloom brought by my great-grandfathers all the way from Messini of Eastern Thrace, in 1923. It seems I’m going through a ‘documentation’ period lately, feeling mature or ready to put some of the things that I always had in mind into paper. God made the day rise was based on a recount on the Greco-Italian War of 1940-41 by my namesake grandfather, recorded by my cousin. It was my first attempt in an entirely non-fiction story; it took two years of research, as well as a trip to Albania, to document the material,” he adds.

Tasos Zafeiriadis goes on to lay out his future plans: “I am currently wrapping up a script on Konstantinos Tryferoulis, whom I met in 1996; he was the oldest university student in Greece at the time and, according to Elias Petropoulos, he had been a member of the Greek People’s Liberation Army (ELAS) alongside Aris Velouchiotis. It will be a hybrid, documentary-like comic, drawn by Thanassis Petrou and based on Tryferoulis’ archive, kindly granted to me by his son. What comes up next is a grand project on the massacre of Katranitsa (today’s Pyrgoi) of Eordaea, the tortured village of my other grandfather. I have already conducted a great deal of research, but there’s a lot of work that is still to be done, bound to take a lot of time… And many more stories are out there, waiting to be told. Maybe it’s a way of healing the trauma buried by previous generations in order for us to have the privilege to dispassionately process the events, at least to the extent allowed by the information in our hands. My friend, Panos Kritikos, head of the Enati Diastasi publishing house, keeps telling me while laughing: ‘What a mess do you get yourself into every time? Can’t you just write a simple story?’ but he knows I can’t help it!”.

There’s a cinema touch in Zafeiriadis’ comics, featuring an inner tempo and a subtle editing that dilate time and indirectly abolish linearity. What’s his take on the affinities of his work with cinema and the other arts? “In their visual part, comics have many affinities with cinema and painting, also sharing many identical techniques. The same applies with literature and any other narrative art, as they rely on a written text. Cinema has definitely played a key role in my work. The Corpse was consciously adopting the pace of Pantelis Voulgaris’ cinema, while Gra-Grou is following the pace of Theo Angelopoulos’ films. The humor of TV series such as Monty Python, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, South Park etc is no doubt present in my work. Literature and history are constant sources of ideas and factual references. Moreover, poetry has been a great model for text processing, as space is limited in comics and one must learn how to convey the meaning with fewer words. Typesetting has been of fundamental importance as well, especially after having read some pertinent books on the subject, which allowed me to grasp a little better the way a book is structured; a process carried out instinctively on my part up to that point. Alongside Apostolos Damialis, Loukas Tsouknidas and many more dear friends, with Friends of the 20th century club as our spearhead, we have been experimenting for many years now on self-publishing ventures. Last but not least, I have been ‘trained’ by the Surrealists, as well as by Greek improvisational folklore music, on how to put faith, up to a certain extent, on randomness and on how it can be harmoniously integrated in a prearranged structure.”