This article originally appeared on VICE Serbia
Levni Yilmaz is a San Francisco-based animator mostly known for series Tales Of Mere Existence, in which he recounts personal anecdotes using static cartoons, which appear gradually as if being drawn by an invisible hand.
I discovered the series a few years back and watched it obsessively, thinking I had stumbled upon a treasure that no one else knew existed. Then Lev started using social media to his advantage and I realised he had actually become quite big in Serbia, where I live, so I called him up for a chat.
There is an episode in Tales of Mere Existence called 'How You May Fall For A Girl On Facebook', in which you tell the story of a man from San Francisco falling for a girl from Belgrade and proceeding to form a relationship with her on Facebook. Was that a true story?
That is a true story, and a very silly one too, when I think about it. She was from Belgrade, and I think we corresponded for almost a year. Despite a few efforts, we never met face to face. We still keep in touch once in a while. I don't think there are any hard feelings from either side.
With many adults – no matter how sophisticated, educated or dignified they are – sometimes you can look through the facade, and see that their motivations are actually pretty infantile. I know my motivations are infantile – there is no question about that.
The main character in your cartoons is yourself. Was that a conscious decision?
No, it just happened. I made the first few episodes before I knew what I was going to do with them. Eventually though, I realised that it was a way – an outlet – for me to make fun of my own thoughts and emotions. The Lev character doesn't act the way I act, he acts the way I think – if that makes sense.
Who are the girls in your cartoons?
Most of them are composites of a few different people I have known. Sometimes, they are people that I overhear when I'm on the bus. It varies a lot.
Have you ever thought about changing your format?
I've been messing around, making episodes that are more dialogue-based. There are now five or six of those. When I change things, it's because I'm curious what would happen if I tried it. It's certainly not a marketing decision or anything like that.
What kind of paper and markers you use?
It's usually Faber-Castell pens for drawing. They're inexpensive and good. I made a conscious decision in school to always use cheap materials. I wanted to make sure I'd always be able to work, even if I went broke. My thinking was, "If I'm dumb enough to go to art school, I'd better at least be smart enough to work inexpensively."
I read that you were inspired by this documentary called The Mystery of Picasso which shows how his sketches are created. Was Picasso's art a particular influence on yours?
I like a lot of Picasso stuff, but I don't have a single favourite artist in the same way I don't have a favourite musician or band. Some artists that really affected me though, were Egon Schiele, Arshille Gorky and Giacometti but the single biggest influence on what I do is unquestionably Matt Groening's Life in Hell comic strip. I would read his books obsessively before I ever even thought about doing comics myself.
Have your topics changed over the years?
There probably is a difference but I'm not sure if I'd notice it. I think my outlook is still very much the same but I think maybe I've gotten more observant and possibly better at figuring out what people's words and actions may say about their motives. People tell you they are doing something for one reason, but I often suspect their actual reason may be very, very different – if that makes sense. I think the topics are pretty much the same but it's my approach that is constantly evolving.
I tend to go in phases, where I get serious for a few episodes, then get really in depth with things for a while and then I say, "The hell with it" and get very, very silly for the next bunch of episodes. The only thing I care about is accurately describing the thought, the emotion and most of all, the internal conflicts that occur.
One thing that does not change is that I like to keep my Lev character somewhat childlike – like he was born yesterday. This has nothing to do with trying to connect with younger viewers, it's more about this: With many adults – no matter how sophisticated, educated or dignified they are – sometimes you can look through the facade, and see that their motivations are actually pretty infantile. I know my motivations are infantile – there is no question about that.