Interview with Vlada Edirippulige, owner of Junky Comics

Late last week, I had the opportunity to sit down with infectiously quirky Vlada Edirippulige, queen of the bass for Brisbane outfit Major Leagues and soon to be empress of Brisbane’s newest comic shop, Junky Comics. Set to open its doors on Friday 10th of April at 83 Vulture Street, West End, Junky will be airing its wares. So, with beer in hand, I put Edirippulige through her paces at Ben’s Burgers in the Valley’s Winn Lane as we discussed shitty Arts degrees, Wes Anderson and misogyny.

PW: Far be it for the journalist to say that print media is dead but what’s the idea behind opening Junky as a physical store over the website?

VE: Oh wow, you’re really going for it! It was very selfish, the whole thing is very selfish. I found it really hard to get the stuff I really liked from the States, so to get certain things I’d have to source them from different places. I thought, ‘I wish there was just one place that had it all in one spot.’ I went to America in the middle of last year and they had stores that stocked Swedish comics or Fantagraphic comics, Australian comics, and it was all in one spot. […] Yeah, it’s all a very selfish venture.

It’s interesting that you say that print media is dead. I know a lot of people who read comics online and I guess it’s cheaper and easier to be up to date but that tactile, tangible feeling is really important to people who read comics or even art books.

I think unhappiness is a huge motivator, just thinking ‘I fucking hate my job…’

PW: Junky was something you started last year, what was the big driver behind that?

VE: I don’t know, I just guess it was something I’ve wanted to do since I was a kid. I think unhappiness is a huge motivator, just thinking ‘I fucking hate my job…I hate my job so much I wish I was doing anything else in the world […]’ I started reading comics when I was living in Port Macquarie, which isn’t a very big place, and they had one comic book in the library and it was called Hush; it was a Batman comic. So I got that out a few times and I read that and thought it was kind of cool. […] When I came to Brisbane, it was like ‘Oh, yes! Give them to me! Give them to me!’

PW: You mentioned hating your day job, can you tell us a bit more about your journey to this point with Junky?

VE: I did a music degree, which in itself isn’t really – well, I play in a band but that’s about it. Because you’re 18 and you’re like, ‘I’m going to do a music degree and it’s going to be great because it’s my passion,’ and then you graduate and you’re so depressed, what am I doing?! The band was touring a fair bit and then I had to go back to working…hospitality jobs. […] I just wanted to be cool, and Brisbane doesn’t have many comic book stores. So I just started it and then I was like, ‘Maybe I’ll just open a comic book store’ and then it was like, ‘Oh, maybe I actually WILL’, because it could work – I hope it works.

PW: So, Junky the online store was obviously getting a bit of traction and that pushed you towards actually being able to afford a physical store?

VE: Yeah. All of the online sales I’ve gotten are people I don’t know which is really weird. I had a few market stalls; I did one at The Brightside late last year and then another one earlier this year and I did Fortitude Valley markets as well. Little market stalls are good, people were coming and like, ‘I don’t like comics, but that’s colourful!’

Collaboration is important. You can have thousands of artists in a city but if there’s not that sense of collaboration and support, there’s not going to be that thing that ties everything together to make big events happen.

PW: Something I found intriguing was that you intend for Junky to be a ‘creative space’, how do you see that playing out and what do you hope to achieve?

VE: Sticky Institute is a zine store essentially and it’s in Melbourne, under Flinders Street Station. You go in there and there are heaps of zines, you can make your own zines in there, draw it up, bind it together, put it on the shelf. So, it’s this real exchange in [ideas]. […] I think a lot of people are apathetic in Brisbane, like ‘Hmm, nothing’s happening, fuck it, I’m just going to move’. Which asks the question ‘why isn’t anything happening?’ […] Collaboration is important. You can have thousands of artists in a city but if there’s not that sense of collaboration and support, there’s not going to be that thing that ties everything together to make big events happen. I think Brisbane has quite a strong music scene but as for the arts… I thought it would be really cool to have workshops and one night everyone comes in and makes some zines, or getting people to come in and do talks, or trivia nights.

PW: Thank you for pre-empting my next question about how Junky will fit into the Brisbane scene. Is there anything else you’d like to add to that?

VE: There are so many wonderful, like-minded, artistic, talented, incredible people in Brisbane but I don’t think there’s really a spot [for them]. I’m not saying that Junky Comics will be the spot but I think it’s important to have those safe zones. Those places where you can go and see zines or talk about cool magazines and wanting to get into magazines, and she’ll help you out. Or go out to Jet Black Cat in West End, or here, and ask what sort of music can I get into? They’re creative safe zones; I think they’re really important for people to grow and to extend their interests.

PW: Junky is opening on the 10th of April with a Wes Anderson themed night, apart from ridiculously vibrant colour schemes and kooky symbology is there anything else people heading along should expect?

VE: The Wes Anderson exhibition is run by No Fun Gallery, my friend Mitch is running this collective. We had this idea of putting on quarterly shows at Junky; this is the Wes Anderson themed one but we were thinking of later on having a typography art show, getting artists to come in and display their work as a running theme, so we always have an event on. The store will be open, the books will be out but you can also look at the art and, if you’re interested, purchase the art or buy prints – it will just be like a really big showcase.

PW: Does that mean that you yourself harbour a not-so-secret love of Wes Anderson?

VE: Who doesn’t like Wes Anderson?! It’s like dual tones and symmetry. It’s very clean. I feel like every Wes Anderson film can appeal to somebody. If you don’t like Wes Anderson, there’s a movie for you, for sure. […] Wes Anderson was doing twee back in the 90s – he’s been getting on top of that for a while. I rewatched Bottlerocket the other night and that was like 1996 and it was first Wes Anderson and it was still solid as.

PW: You listed that Junky is bringing in indie and alternative comics from all around the world, that’s one of your biggest goals. Is there anything you’re looking forward to bringing into Brisbane that you haven’t seen here before?

VE: I’m a huge fan of Fantagraphics, the publisher in Seattle, the look after Daniel Clowes (who did Ghost World) and Charles Burns. This year they’re releasing a lot of special editions and this year they’re doing one by Daniel Clowes called The Complete Eight Ball Series. I’ve pre-ordered it but I don’t even know if I’ll get it; it’s been really backed up. […] I think the thing I’m most excited about is really riding on women’s comics, having a solid collection of not just feminist comics but women in comics and women writers and illustrators that produce really awesome stuff.

There’s not that idea of ‘She reads comics, that’s really weird’ or ‘She’s the hot nerd’. That fucking bothers me so much as well.

PW: Obviously those areas are male-dominated and, at times, misogynistic. Is that something that you’ve noticed or something that intimidates you at all?

VE: I think it only really bothered me when I first came into Brisbane. Because I grew up on Batman, when I went into a comic book store in Brisbane when I was 14 asking for recommendations, they were like, ‘Oh sweetie, just go to the manga section’ and it was like ‘No! I want to read Batman. Fuck you!’ It’s interesting because so many women are involved in producing big films like Thor and The Avengers and, especially in the alternative comic scene, there’s a huge amount of strong female characters. I mean, it definitely exists, you watch shows like The Big Bang Theory and sigh. Like women walk into the comic book store and the guys are like ‘What are they doing here? It’s so weird.’ There’s definitely always going to be that idea, which sucks, but I’m glad that I’m surrounded by people who don’t even consider that as a thing. There’s not that idea of ‘She reads comics, that’s really weird’ or ‘She’s the hot nerd’. That fucking bothers me so much as well.

PW: So is Junky going to be like an anti-misogynistic crusade?

VE: Well, to go back to one of your first questions, one of the reasons I started Junky Comics was that I wanted to have a massive collection of female writers, because it’s hard to come by sometimes. So, I think a crusade, perhaps. Or just a way to show really great stuff without bias.

PW: What do you think will be the greatest challenge for Junky over the next couple of months?

VE: I think trying to get in everything that everybody wants. I’ve had a few people emailing me asking me for different things, you really want to make everybody happy but sometimes it’s just a bit tricky to source stuff. That’s something I’ve been beating myself up over a little bit…I mean, I don’t know if I have a big enough collection.

PW: This question was always coming, of course: what’s your favourite comic?

VE: I’ve never been asked that before! I can’t do favourite one, let’s do favourite one for today. What’s today? Favourite comic for Friday the 20th, today my favourite comic is I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason […] All of his stuff is mice – it’s similar to Maus. He writes really cool stuff, it’s topical, there’s a bit of social commentary, it’s really funny, that’s the kind of stuff I like.

I’m not going to rip you off, I’m just going to do exactly what you do and then reference you.

PW: Who do you feel has been your greatest influence in opening up Junky?

VE: I met this guy when I was in America, he ran a really great comic book store called Desert Island Comics in Brooklyn. He was just like a 40-year old dude…of course it’s in Brooklyn so they get a lot of traction, but he started ten years ago from the ground up […] It’s just him and he sits there every day. I had a really big chat to him, and at this point I was still churning over what I was actually going to do. He had an amazing collection and he just really, really loved the written word – he had this passion for [it]…I told him that I was thinking of opening up this comic book store in Brisbane and he was like, ‘I wake up every morning and I just really like going to work’, and I think that’s what it is. […] He gets really amazing writers to come in and do readings, so I’m like ‘I’m going to rip you off a little bit’ but it’s like an homage! I’m not going to rip you off, I’m just going to do exactly what you do and then reference you.

PW: Describe in one sentence, what you’d like a customer’s experience at Junky to be like. No semi-colons though, no cheating!

VE: Oh my god! So much pressure. [Laughs] This is what I’d like to hear someone say, ‘Hey, comics are cool and I’m having fun. Yay!’

PW: Thank you so much for your time.

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