Blood Stain volume 3 is the latest chapter in Linda Lukšić Šejić’s long-running slice-of-life comic. It was first published on her Deviantart site in the form of individual strips, which she later collected into trade paperbacks published by Top Cow, for whom she has done a lot of work-for-hire.
The comic follows the adventures of Elliot “Elly” Torres, a down-on-her-luck woman with a Master’s degree in chemistry that she’s increasingly thinking was a waste of her time. Desperate to find a job, she accepts a very strange job offer as an assistant to Dr. Vlad Stein, who is probably not a mad scientist, vampire, or serial killer. In the first two volumes, she learns about her new situation and her boss, who turns out to be nothing more sinister than a science professor dealing with his own set of problems.
Volume 3 involves Elly adapting to her new routine and her vaguely-defined job. She navigates such hurdles as “Should I risk waking up my boss who’s asleep at his desk in order to do the job he told me to do?” and “Will he get mad if I replace the light bulb in his lab so I can see what I’m doing?” The deeply expressive art turns these seemingly banal situations into a compelling, relatable exploration of human experiences. And the humor ties it all together, driving the reader to read on and find out more.
As a slice-of-life comic, Blood Stain has much in common with Strangers In Paradise, Girls With Slingshots, and others, as well as the much more numerous anime and manga works of the same genre. Unlike many of these, however, Blood Stain is not primarily driven by sit-com elements or romantic drama. It uses horror tropes to make the reader uncertain about Elly’s situation and often releases that tension with humor. It’s a very unusual and enjoyable book with an art style that’s equally rare and fun.
I had the opportunity to talk about Blood Stain with the creator to learn more about her background, her creative process, and what’s in store for Elly in the future.
I’ve had trouble tracking down biographical details about you. I don’t want to make any assumptions, so if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask a couple of background questions. First, where are you from originally? Is Croatian your native language?
I’m Croatian and that is indeed my native language.
Second, you’ve mentioned before that you’ve had formal art training. What sort of training, and where?
I did all my art schooling in my hometown, but none of it included learning to work digitally. In that aspect, I was self-taught. Thankfully, the internet provided me with a lot of good resources.
Is it frustrating to write in English? It’s a bit of a messy language, and idioms are often hard to translate. Do you ever write early versions of a scene in Croatian, then go back and translate, or do you write it all in English initially?
On the contrary, I feel English is much easier than Croatian. The amount of grammar we have in our language is insane. Add three different dialects, one for each part of Croatia in that mix and nobody understands each other anymore. I write everything in English and often think in English when drafting. Much of the Blood Stain’s wordplay would not be possible if I wrote it first in Croatian and then translated it. Both Stjepan [Šejić] and I are settled in a workplace where we constantly have to communicate with people in English so the language has become our second nature. At times, our family comes to visit only to find us speaking to each other in English, and they look at us suspiciously, thinking we are keeping secrets from them when in reality we just forgot to switch to Croatian.
What is the comics scene like in Croatia? Are American comics, bande dessinée, and/or manga popular there? Are there many people creating comics there that our readers might not be familiar with?
I don’t really know. I’ve never been to any of the native cons or comic events, so I really couldn’t say.
Blood Stain has very relaxed pacing, more like many webcomics than the frantic, action-driven mainstream comics. It focuses more on what’s going on inside the characters’ heads than the world around them. What led you to structure the story that way?
I am not a big fan of mainstream action-packed comics. I never was. I didn’t grow up reading superhero comics. But I did grow up reading a lot of humor filled comics. I watched a lot of cartoons and later manga and anime. At some point, I wanted to be an animator. Slice of life genre in manga specifically appealed to me, which is why, ultimately, Blood Stain falls under that same genre.
From other interviews, I gather Blood Stain started as a purely personal project, then you web published it on Deviantart for many years before collecting it in print. Has the comic changed much, in your mind, in the conversion from web-published strips to print-published pages? If so, how?
Blood Stain still is a very personal project, and it started as an online webcomic maybe two to three months after its conception. As I created new pages, they immediately went online so my fans could see the full creative process. Print editions didn’t change at all essentially, they just received an art upgrade. And well, obviously, I retouched on a bit of writing, made sure sentences would flow better, and my editor helped me with spelling and grammar mistakes. But the comic did change over-time conceptually. When it first started, I had some very dark ideas on where it would progress, but oddly my subconscious kept writing in humor and irony, and it started going in an extremely positive direction. And now looking back, I’m happy it did.
In some ways, Blood Stain is a story primarily about Elly’s anxiety. What experience do you have with anxiety? What research did you do for the story?
Hm…anxiety. Well, yes and no. From reading the first arc, one might come to a conclusion that it is primarily about that. But as the volumes progress more it will be obvious that it is more about personal growth and overcoming obstacles and adjusting to different situations. For that kind of setup, I needed Elly the way she is now. Unsure of herself. And clearly moving to a different city where you don’t know anybody can be stressful for anyone. And despite all that she challenges herself. She has a goal in mind and she doesn’t give up. And this is what, I believe, makes a truly strong character. And in the end it’s not just about Elly who grows, but Doctor too, because after being so used to doing everything alone, now here is this “alien” in his lab, and now he has to make adjustments and make room for her and actually professionally communicate. These are the kind of things I love writing about. Different personalities dealing with the same problems in a different way. The first arc is just a set-up for the fun, and the payoff that comes after.
You’ve said that Blood Stain is going on hiatus for a while, but you have many more ideas for it. Do you have an ending in mind for it?
Blood Stain is my baby, so when I say hiatus, I only mean no comic strips online for awhile. But I’m always working on it even alongside other projects. If an idea pops to mind I write it down or I draw it. I had the ending in my mind right away. Starting the comic was the tricky part.
Your next big project is Swing, a story about a couple who get into the swinger scene to try and revitalize their relationship, with scripts by Matt Hawkins and story input, as well as art, by you. This sounds like an exciting book, both on its own merits and as something that occupies the same universe as Blood Stain and your husband, Stjepan’s, Sunstone. Can you tell us a little more about it?
There is really nothing more to add. It is just as you described it. Characters in Swing, Blood Stain, and Sunstone are connected through a video game they all play together, so there are Easter eggs to be found in all three series.
Given the subject matter, I would imagine the art will be a bit more racy, like Sunstone. Is that the case, or do you plan on a more family-friendly treatment?
Well, the subject matter is sexual, so the mature label will be on it, but I intend to handle it tastefully, very much like Sunstone is handled.
Speaking of your husband, I can’t help but notice your art styles are fairly similar to one another, but quite unique compared to most other comics I read. How did that come about? Did he shamelessly copy your talent?
We are around each other 24/7. I look at his art every day, and he looks at mine. You can’t avoid being influenced. We also both have a similar thought process. We both like the same things, and we agree on some aspects of what quality art should have so we both implemented it equally in our art. Like expression and gesture. It is important to have good character acting and convincing expressions in a comic very much like its important to have great actors in a movie.
Your husband has mentioned in past interviews that you help him out and support his work a lot. What are some of the ways he supports your work?
He supports me in the same ways I support him. I read his strips, and he reads mine, or we go out for coffee and talk about our story or character ideas, and we give each other feedback. Sometimes the idea may seem good up until a point you say it out loud. Or you can’t tell it’s a foolish idea until someone else points it out.
In past interviews, you and your husband have been enthusiastic about enjoying your place at Top Cow Productions and wanting to stay there, but now he’s doing an amazing run on Aquaman. Do you see yourself working at DC or Marvel at some point in the future? If so, is there a particular character or property you’d especially like to work on?
We are still enjoying Top Cow, but Stjepan needed a bit of a change of pace. As for me, I’m happy where I am at the moment but who can tell what the future brings.