It was one of those long winter days in January. Hard to imagine, now that the light and blue sky of the Scandinavian spring is back in Helsinki. I met Hannele Richert in her kitchen at Lauttasaari. Hannele is a comic artist and studied Hungarian language. We sat down with her son and baby daughter, drank glögg and coffee, while talking about comics, courage and her German side.
What do you do for a living? I work with comics. I translate comics, teach comics and draw comics. And sometimes I also do some other work because there is not a lot of money in the comic’s business (laughs).
Is drawing comics your favourite part? Yes, that’s the thing I would do, if I only could chose one thing to do; but for some reason that’s the thing I do very rarely. But I think it’s also my own fault because it takes courage to start to do something you really want to do. And I’ve already started but I could never take the time to do only that. I made one book that was a long-story, so I know what it feels like to do it every day and it’s great doing that all day.
What’s your favourite place in Helsinki? I like a lot of places. I like Hakaniementori, even though it’s far from Lauttasaari. There is the market hall and a marketplace and then close to it a big park for children. I’ve been going to that place on Saturdays ever since I met Tomas, my spouse. It was something I always enjoyed, just to sit there, drink some coffee and to know it’s Saturday. I was really upset when I heard they were going to renovate the whole area and they were going to put some car park underneath the market place. But now I think they are saving the marketplace anyhow. I recommend it. We still go there sometimes, because you can also do it with children.
Your father is German and your mother is Finnish. Most of your life you’ve lived in Finland, but do you think you have some kind of German side? I’ve been thinking about that lately. When I was younger, I didn’t feel it, but now I understand that some things might come from these German roots. It’s definitely not that I’m organised, but it’s those very small things, like I spit on an envelope if I want it to be lucky. I don’t think Finns do that.
And then I always say “hi” to the neighbours and people don’t always say “hi” back to me. That’s also a little German because the times I’d been there, everybody used to say “hello” even if you didn’t know them; not in Hamburg of course, more in the smaller cities. It’s not like here, if I say “hi” they are like “What does she want? What does she really mean?” It’s something I never get used to, even though I’ve always lived here in Finland.
What makes you happy? Now that I’ve not been so healthy all the time, it’s basic things like comics, my family and doing something with my friends.
Do you read a book at the moment? Yes, it’s about immigrant women who came to Finland. They’re mostly from Arabic countries, the Middle East or Africa. Then I also read something I got for Christmas. It’s called Anomalia. I started it when I couldn’t sleep during Christmas night and thought now is the right moment. It’s a really good book, but then on the first pages things like child murder happens, and I thought maybe I don’t read this now. It’s Finnish fiction and is written by Laura Gustafsson.
What is your dream? My dream is to make another comic book, a long story from start to finish and, of course, that we’ll all be healthy and happy. Everybody wants that for themselves and their families. And I’ve been thinking, even tough we are not always healthy, it’s not going to stop us from being happy and it’s also something very good to know, because I always thought that being healthy is the first thing; and if you are not you’ll end up depressed, but it’s not automatically so.
What kind of comic would that be? Do you already have some stories or characters in your head? Yes, I have three different story lines and one of them happens in Lauttasaari. The others happen in Helsinki. That’s something I’ve been thinking about ever since I made my last book. I am just waiting for the right moment to start doing it. It’s something that keeps me happy. I get to think about it when I’m putting the children to sleep or going to the store or sitting in the bus, that I have some kind of my own world that I can go into. Even though I don’t have it ready yet.
What have you been proud of lately? I’ve been proud of both of my children. It’s such a cliché, but that’s just the way it is. I just think I’ve done two perfect things in my life. I’m also a little proud of my book, well it’s not mine but I bring the stories together. It’s about people from all over the world and of all ages who came to Finland; and today I talked to the oldest one. He is almost eighty and came from Karelia to Finland and then moved to Sweden when he was eight years old and stayed there for a little while and then came back to Finland. He is the oldest one and the youngest one is a 13-year-old girl. She came from Somalia. I learned a lot; I’m not so extroverted and I think it’s a good thing to push myself to get to know other people and listen to their stories. But it’s not always easy. When I do fiction, I’m only responsible for it. I don’t have to think of hurting somebody’s feelings.
The older you get, what’s easier for you? Maybe it’s easier to accept that I don’t always do things right. But I can fix them. It used to be very hard for a lot of young people; you want to do everything perfectly, especially if you have a passion for something. And there is also this Finnish side “what are people thinking of me”. It’s getting easier for me to forget about that and just to be happy.
I don’t know yet if I like that question myself, but let’s give it a try. What is the meaning of life? I like it. I’ve been thinking about that one, too. What could be more important; of course you have to think about it. I think it’s also a cliché.
You have to leave something behind in many ways. Trying to somehow live a happy life and also try to avoid making other people suffer, because there is enough suffering in the world and also staying true to your passion, which in my case would be the comics. It never changes even though I’m an adult.
Thank you very much for this interview.