Marina Tjetland, born in August 1982 In Kazakhstan, has embarked on a unique journey, transitioning from a civil and labor law legal professional to a multi-talented artist and author based in Sandnes, Norway. Her story unfolds through overcoming challenges, embracing creativity, and finding solace in her artistic endeavors.
Inspiration and Beginnings
Toons Mag: Can you share more about your background and journey from having a legal education in Kazakhstan to becoming a designer, author, and illustrator in Norway?
Marina: I became a lawyer to help people, protect them, and change the world. But that’s in an ideal world, I would say. I do have the capacity to see both the big picture and its details, but the way I look at it doesn’t fit how a lawyer would look at it. I have always had an artistic and philosophical approach to anything, and I see and imagine more visually than in words. I guess that affected my journey from being a lawyer to becoming an author and illustrator.
Toons Mag: How did your transition to Norway impact your professional journey, especially considering your roles in the oil industry and subsequent breaks due to motherhood and depression?
Marina: Originating from Kazakhstan’s oil capital, I knew a career in the oil industry could be lucrative. However, for me, financial gain wasn’t the sole priority. Despite having a positive work environment, supportive colleagues, reasonable compensation, and career advancement opportunities, I often felt constrained, as if I was confining myself within four walls that left no space for other aspects of life.
Moving to Norway brought significant changes, especially in my approach to mental health. This shift was even more pronounced after I became a mother. In Norway, where there’s a strong emphasis on mental well-being, I found the space and support I needed to address my mental health challenges, something that greatly influenced my professional and personal life.
Toons Mag: Can you share more about the personal experience that inspired you to begin the “Mia’s Mamma” comic book series?
Marina: I wasn’t fully aware of the depth of feelings and pain I had bottled up until I became a mother. It was like releasing all the ghosts that were hidden inside me. The experience was overwhelming and painful. Naturally inclined towards drawing and creativity, I started to doodle about my pain and emotions. Then, a friend introduced me to Tegnehanne’s work after seeing my doodles, and her comics inspired me.
This led me to try creating My own. I remember the anxiety I felt when posting my first comic strip about the importance of verbal ventilation and openly sharing my struggles. The positive feedback, understanding, and support I received was incredible and uplifting. Over time, as I shared more comic strips, someone suggested compiling them into a book.
Toons Mag: What prompted you to use the medium of comics to convey your journey through postpartum depression?
Marina: I’ve always been drawn to the power of illustration and its freedom in expressing myself without being bound by rules for colors or composition. Creating comics felt less intimidating than striving for perfection in more detailed drawings. They allow for a more humorous and direct way of delivering messages. Additionally, drawing comics doesn’t require as much time and space, which suits my personality and style.
Marina: I try to express my feelings through simple sentences, creating a storyline. I find it very intimate and honest to tell a story the way I see it, through the details I’ve laid my eyes on, picturing them with little or no explanation or commentary. This approach allows others to feel and perhaps relate to similar experiences.
Toons Mag: Could you elaborate on the significance of dividing your story into seven distinct parts or comic books?
Marina: It was initially six parts, each book for each year of my motherhood. I could cover my birth experience in a few pages of my first book, but I couldn’t squeeze such a significant part of my life into just a few comics. So, I decided to dedicate a separate book to that experience.
Toons Mag: In what ways do you think visual storytelling through comic strips helps bridge the gap between isolation and solidarity, making it easier for mothers to share their experiences?
Marina: I struggled to concentrate during my postpartum depression. It was hard to read anything. Comics don’t take much effort to capture attention. It takes more effort to create it, though. My effort and way of sharing my story help bridge the gap. Others could feel they aren’t alone and someone has been open about it. And that those stories aren’t trivial and mistaken and worth sharing about.
Toons Mag: You mentioned that comic strips provide an easy understanding. How do you effectively balance visual elements and text to guide readers through your experience?
Marina: One drawing could convey extensive details. One facial expression could evoke deep emotions. This subject is so sensitive and familiar that it’s almost easy to go poetic within drawings and use few words.
Toons Mag: In what ways do you believe visual storytelling can convey emotions and experiences that words alone might struggle to express?
Marina: It’s like in movies, you see details, by them you begin to analyze the character, get familiar with them, you begin to relate to and at some point drift off in your thoughts thinking about your experiences and recapturing how you felt about them. Visual effects are different than words; they capture attention faster in one way or another.
Toons Mag: What challenges did you face during the five years of your depression, and how did it influence your self-discovery and journey towards self-care?
Marina: I am fortunate to have realized early in my motherhood that loving someone else starts with loving myself. My biggest challenge initially was learning to love myself, as I didn’t know how. This journey of understanding why I struggled with self-love led me to confront my past traumas and my tendency to be hard on myself. My love for my daughter unleashed all the emotions I had avoided my entire life, forcing me to face them. This process became a path of self-discovery leading towards self-care.
Toons Mag: As a single mother, how did you navigate the challenges of anxiety, panic attacks, and guilt during the second year of your story?
Marina: I sought help from the municipality and started seeing a psychologist in the second year of motherhood, continuing for nearly four years. Talking to my friends was also a crucial part of coping. Additionally, on my psychologist’s advice, I began writing a sci-fi novel, embracing an activity I love.
Toons Mag: Can you discuss the challenges you faced during the five years of depression and how this journey influenced the creation of “Mia’s Mamma”?
Marina: Becoming a single mother stirred up guilt and brought back memories of my childhood and relationship with my mother. I feared repeating the same mistakes and causing trauma to my child. Initially, I sought to ‘fix’ myself, but I soon realized that my trauma was an integral part of me that I had long ignored due to the pain. My journey of self-discovery, which started with journaling and evolved into doodling, became a form of therapy. Sharing these comics on social media and receiving positive feedback made me feel less alone and eventually led to the idea of compiling them into Mia’s Mamma.
Toons Mag: How do you envision your comic strip connecting with others experiencing similar challenges in motherhood?
Marina: I envision my comic strip resonating deeply with other mothers facing similar challenges. By sharing my personal experiences with honesty and vulnerability, I aim to create a space where others feel seen and understood. These comics are more than just stories; they’re an invitation to connect, reflect, and find comfort in the shared journey of motherhood. I hope that through these visual narratives, readers will recognize their struggles and triumphs, fostering a sense of solidarity and support within the motherhood community.
Dividing the Story
Toons Mag: Each part of your story represents a different phase. How does this division help in conveying the nuances of your postpartum experience?
Marina: Each year marked a milestone of self-improvement for me, reflecting distinct phases of my journey. This division in the story helps convey the evolving nuances of my postpartum experience, showing how I grappled with different challenges and grew differently at each stage. It’s a timeline of healing, learning, and adapting, which I believe many can relate to in their paths through motherhood.
Toons Mag: Could you share more about the themes explored in each part of the series?
Marina: In my series, each part explores different themes tied to my journey through motherhood. For the second book, which depicts my first year as a mother, I’ve used black and white to represent the challenging times, with splashes of color in moments shared with my daughter, symbolizing our connection. This contrasts with my first book, complete of color, reflecting the significance and vibrancy of childbirth, a pivotal event in any woman’s life.
Toons Mag: You mentioned that “Mia’s Mamma” could provide insights for healthcare professionals and therapists. How do you see your graphic novel contributing to their understanding of childbirth and mental health?
Marina: By sharing my journey in ‘Mia’s Mamma,’ I aim to shed light on the often misunderstood realities of postpartum depression, challenging the expectation that all parents must always feel happy. This graphic novel provides a raw, honest perspective that can enlighten healthcare professionals and therapists. It offers a non-expert viewpoint, emphasizing the power of sharing personal experiences for understanding and minimizing the stigmas and taboos surrounding mental health issues in parenthood. This insight can enhance their empathy and approach towards patient care.
Toons Mag: How do you anticipate using your graphic novel as an educational tool in psychology, art therapy, and related fields?
Marina: My graphic novel, ‘Mia’s Mamma,’ could be a unique educational tool in psychology, art therapy, and related fields by providing an authentic narrative of motherhood and mental health. Its visual storytelling offers an accessible and engaging medium for understanding complex emotional experiences. It can facilitate discussions in therapeutic settings, helping patients relate their experiences with mine. Additionally, it could aid students and professionals in these fields to better comprehend the personal impacts of mental health challenges, particularly postpartum depression, from a non-clinical perspective.
Toons Mag: What message or lesson do you hope professionals take away from your work?
Marina: I hope professionals, especially in mental health and caregiving, recognize the importance of empathy and understanding in their patient approach. ‘Mia’s Mamma’ is a window into the real struggles of motherhood and mental health issues like postpartum depression. It shows the need for open, non-judgmental communication and support. This perspective can encourage professionals to look beyond clinical symptoms and consider the emotional and personal experiences of those they care for, fostering a more holistic approach to treatment and care.
Toons Mag: How has the response been from your audience so far, especially from mothers who can relate to your story?
Marina: My audience’s response, especially mothers who can relate to my story, has been incredibly affirming. I’m constantly amazed by how many women connect with my work, expressing that they can completely relate and understand. They often share feelings of loneliness and confusion, not fully understanding what they are going through. Hearing that my story resonates with them reinforces the importance of sharing these experiences and creates a sense of community among those facing similar challenges.
Toons Mag: Have any unexpected or touching interactions with readers stood out to you?
Marina: While I haven’t published any books yet, I’ve completed my first book and sent it to publishers. In the meantime, I’ve been posting about the process on social media. The response from my audience, especially from mothers who can relate to my story, has been incredibly affirming and touching. Many have shared their experiences, and some interactions have led to ongoing conversations. These discussions have been enlightening and have helped me connect with a community of mothers who understand and share similar challenges.
Cultural and Language Universality
Toons Mag: You mentioned that visual storytelling transcends language and cultural barriers. How do you ensure the universality of your message in “Mia’s Mamma”?
Marina: In “Mia’s Mamma,” I share an authentic and deeply personal story that many might shy away from for various reasons despite its commonality. This universality is what makes it crucial to talk about. The narrative transcends cultural and language barriers by addressing these shared experiences of motherhood and mental health struggles. I aim to resonate with a diverse audience, highlighting that love, challenges, growth, and resilience are universal while the story is mine. This approach ensures that the message within “Mia’s Mamma” is accessible and relatable to people across different backgrounds.
Toons Mag: Do you intentionally include or avoid specific cultural aspects in your storytelling?
Marina: In my storytelling, I focus on staying true to my personal experience, which naturally incorporates some aspects of my cultural background. However, my primary aim is to maintain the authenticity of the narrative. While my story reflects my experiences and might indirectly include cultural elements, I don’t intentionally focus on or avoid specific cultural details. The goal is to ensure the story’s authenticity and universality resonate with a diverse audience, making it personal yet relatable across different cultures.
Toons Mag: What are your plans for the “Mia’s Mamma” series after completing the first book about the experience of childbirth?
Marina: Now I am waiting for publishers to answer whether they are interested in my book. And if not, I plan to publish it independently. I am also working on my second book.
Toons Mag: How do you envision the impact and reach of your series as it progresses through different phases of your journey?
Marina: As ‘Mia’s Mamma’ progresses through different phases of my journey, I envision its impact growing and reaching a wider audience. Each phase, with its unique experiences and lessons, will not only offer insights into motherhood and personal growth for readers but also serve as a tool for my self-reflection and development. I hope the series resonates with others, providing comfort and understanding and fostering community among those facing similar challenges. Writing these comic books is a journey of self-discovery, contributing to personal and communal healing.
Toons Mag: As Mia’s mother and the creator of “Mia’s Mamma,” how do you balance the roles of a mother and a storyteller?
Marina: Balancing my roles as Mia’s mother and the creator of ‘Mia’s Mamma’ is challenging, but I’m managing it well. Each role enriches the other, with my experiences as a mother deeply informing my storytelling. While it requires careful time management and prioritization, the joy and fulfillment I gain from both roles make the effort worthwhile.
Toons Mag: In what ways has your daughter influenced or inspired your creative process?
Marina: Becoming Mia’s mother was a pivotal moment that profoundly influenced my creative process. If I hadn’t become a mother, I might still be struggling to feel profoundly or avoid confronting my own emotions. Motherhood pushed me into a journey of self-discovery, often through pain, but it was necessary for personal growth. It forced me to face feelings I had avoided and transformed those experiences into stories for ‘Mia’s Mamma.’ Mia’s presence in my life has been the catalyst for both my emotional awakening and my creativity.
Mental Health Advocacy
Toons Mag: How do you hope “Mia’s Mamma” contributes to the conversation around mental health, particularly postpartum depression?
Marina: I envision “Mia’s Mamma” as a catalyst in the conversation about mental health, especially postpartum depression. The series aims to create a sense of belonging and dismantle taboos and stigmas associated with expressing emotions and seeking help. It challenges the notion that parenting is solely about children’s well-being, underlining that happy parents are crucial for happy children. I hope my work will bring new perspectives and understanding to the complexities of mental health in parenting by sparking discussions and encouraging people to engage with these topics openly.
Toons Mag: What advice would you give to other mothers facing similar challenges?
Marina: Ask questions. Don’t hesitate to seek understanding about what you’re experiencing. Ask for help. There’s strength in acknowledging when you need support. Talk about your feelings and challenges. Communication can be a powerful tool for healing and connecting with others who can offer empathy and assistance. Remember, you’re not alone in this journey, and reaching out is a crucial step toward healing and managing the challenges of motherhood.
Naming the Series
Toons Mag: The series is titled “Mia’s Mamma.” What significance does this name hold, and why did you choose it for your graphic novel?
Marina: It says that I am a mother, and it’s written the same way if I translate it into Norwegian. So, that was convenient, too.
Toons Mag: How does the title reflect the themes and emotions you aim to convey in your series?
Marina: The title “Mia’s Mamma” reflects the series’ central themes and emotions, focusing on the mother-child relationship and the shared journey within that bond. It underscores motherhood’s experiences, growth, and challenges, as seen through being Mia’s mother. This title highlights how my identity as a mother shapes my personal experiences and my perspectives on mental health, transformation, and resilience. It’s a narrative that intertwines motherhood’s joys and trials, aiming to resonate with others on similar paths.
Collaborations and Support
Toons Mag: Have you collaborated with other artists or professionals in the creation of “Mia’s Mamma”?
Toons Mag: How has your support system, personally and professionally, played a role in bringing your project to life?
Marina: I have had full support from NAV for nine months. NAV has been very supportive and understanding of my situation as a single mother who battled a long postpartum depression.
Legacy of “Mia’s Mamma”
Toons Mag: What legacy do you hope “Mia’s Mamma” leaves for readers, mothers, and the broader community?
Marina: I hope “Mia’s Mamma” leaves a lasting legacy of openness, understanding, and empathy. I envision readers, especially mothers, feeling connected, knowing they’re not alone in their experiences. I want it to inspire conversations around mental health, motherhood, and self-discovery, ultimately breaking down stigmas and taboos. Through “Mia’s Mamma,” I encourage others to share their stories and seek help, fostering a supportive community.
Toons Mag: How do you envision the impact of your work in the long term, both personally and for those who engage with your series?
Marina: In the long term, I hope that “Mia’s Mamma” serves as a catalyst for self-reflection and self-development for myself and anyone who engages with the series. Personally, it has already been a powerful journey of healing and self-discovery. For readers and the broader community, I envision it as a source of inspiration, a reminder that vulnerability can be a strength and that seeking help is a courageous step toward healing. Ultimately, I hope it contributes to a more understanding and compassionate society where mental health is openly discussed and prioritized.
The artwork provided and copyrighted by Marina Tjetland; for more information, visit her website.
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