Interview with Vlada Edirippulige
Everyone meet Vlada! The ever gracious and humble owner of Junky Comics, a feminist bookstore in funky West End, Brisbane.
Vlada was kind enough to host Kat and me for an interview in the quirky shop that she started three years ago.
The walls are lined with various prints, jewellery, and fan art from artists near and far. Every book and knick- knack that calls Junky its home has been carefully selected by Vlada herself.
As she welcomed us into the shop (that she affectionately refers to as her baby) you have an overwhelming sense of comfort and ease.
Although this was the first time that the three of us had met in person, Vlada made sure that we felt welcomed and comfortable while she answered our questions on what it is like to own a small business, how is it that she decided to open up something with such a specific niche, and how does she deal with the stress of it all.
It is so much more than a comic book store with all the prints and jewellery that you sell. How did you get into opening the store?
It was kind of a happy accident. I was always a fan of comics and really enjoyed the smaller artist ones. Autobiographies, cool feminist works, and more indie titles were very hard to get.
I thought to myself that maybe there was a niche here for it so I started an online bookstore. It was mostly a way to have a wholesale account with publishers for my friends and me.
Once that it started to take place I thought to myself that if I’ve already come this far, why not open up a physical store. There is a huge Zine culture here in Brisbane and I thought that if I had space where people could showcase their work and engage then they would be more likely to make more things and then there will be more collaborations and I think that's how a community grows.
Why is it that you decided to open up a shop here in Brisbane vs anywhere else?
I have always moved around. I was born in Russia and my father is from Sri Lanka. We decided to move to Australia when I was young where we travelled around a lot.
When I finished year 12 on the Gold Coast, Brisbane was the closest city where I could go to school for my music degree. Brisbane is an interesting city, you have to peel back the layers to find your scene and niche.
I thought that I could open up a place that people would really want to go to since there weren't too many places like it. When I did decide to open up I thought about going to Melbourne, but rent and living in Brisbane is cheap and it is such a friendly city.
I read an article that came out at the beginning of 2017 stating that Junky was at risk of having to shut down unless fundraising efforts prove successful. What has changed since then?
The markup on books is not high—you don't make a lot of money on books. When I started the Go-Fund me page it was a last resort.
I thought that if it doesn’t work then I have tried everything but what I saw was that people were so willing to donate not just money but also books, artwork and time.
People were really up in arms that I couldn’t close and it was so nice to see that support and know that people were really there for me. Seeing all these people saying that I have to stay open really gave me no other option but to say, okay I have to stay open. It was such a positive movement.
Do you receive any backlash from being a feminist bookstore?
There are always going to be people who don’t agree, in ratio though the good outweighs the bad by far.
I think that when people walk in here they know what to expect, and I can usually tell when people walk in if they are looking to start a fight with me.
When I first opened it would really intimidate me, but now when it happens I am ready, it really fuels and fires me up.
What kind of artists, podcasts, books, inspire you? Are they the same ones that inspire you for your music, or do you feel think you have two separate platforms?
In some ways, I do feel quite split. The shop is my identity, it’s who I am and what I do, whereas my music is something fun to do. It is interesting between the two because there really is a divide and when people come in the shop to ask me about my band it almost seems like I have to switch on because it is my other world.
While balancing all that I don't get too much time to read [funny enough because I do own a bookstore] so I rely heavily on podcasts to get my knowledge.
I like to listen to interviews with female artists and inspiring women as well as storytelling podcasts mixed in with some creepy murder mysteries.
While I am here in the shop though I do listen to a lot of music, can’t have anyone walk in while I’m listening to Casefile or Hidden Brain.
What are your Zine Nights like? What has been your favourite event from it?
There have been so many good ones. Almost everything in the store is from people approaching me to sell their stuff, the same goes for all the events.
Because of that format I’ve had some really interesting events. The last one put on by an artist named Shelley Chang was probably my favourite.
She hosted an interactive installation called “Where are you from?” Where she hung fortune cookies from bamboo poles that brought up race, sexism, and microaggressions that are said to her on a daily basis. It made everyone feel uncomfortable but that was the point, to get people talking about it.
Do you have anything coming up that you would like to share with us?
I don’t have anything coming up at the moment but I’m sure friends of mine and I will put on another show called DEAD FORMAT.
It’s a collaborative art show with mostly Brisbane Artists, the premise is that people can do whatever they want as long as it is deemed a dead format.
I love doing art shows, they are probably my favourite thing. I especially enjoy doing them here— it is such a small place that if you have more than 10 people it’s packed. I usually hear from people when they are procrastinating uni work.
What is your favourite part of the shop?
I love the ‘staff picks’ shelf, it’s just me and Alice who work so we just put all of the things that we love about it.
I would also say the wall that homes everyone's fan letters and doodles that they usually send in with a zine or just gift to the shop.
What is free comic book day?
It is a free promotional day for all comic book stores. Big writers usually give out samples of what they have coming out, sometimes these can even be limited edition.
It is mostly to help bring people into the store, as well as to help new comic book readers find the style that they like. It is a great way to get people engaging with the shop.
Do you have any favourite bookstores/ comic book stores that you like to visit?
I cannot wait to show you the video tour Vlada allowed me to film. The way that she knows every little detail about the shop (including how she likes to be swept in the afternoon)—The way she carefully chooses what gets to be displayed, and the way she has so much pride in every single item in the store.
The moment you walk in you feel as though you have stepped through a portal to the magical land of colour and vibrancy. Everywhere you look there is something kitschy and quirky to grab your attention.
There is no doubt that every customer that deals with Vlada in person and online has the most memorable experience. If it’s not the comics that keep people coming back, it is Vlada herself. I If I was able to, I would just sit for hours and take in the wonder that is Junky Comics.
I know that I am not alone when I say that I’m damn glad she kept her doors open!