Friday, 12 August 2016

MIKE ALLRED interview

This interview was originally published on (the site is not online anymore), both in English and in Italian, in September 2001 (it was conducted in August via email): 15 years ago but it still remains a good reading and an interview I am really proud of.
Comics, music & movies for a Renaissance man
an interview with MIKE ALLRED
by smoky man
(special thanks to Mike Avon Oeming)
Michael Dalton Allred is one of the most innovative and valued comics creators. His first professional work dates back to 1989 on the Dead Air volume. In 1990 Frank Einstein - Madman's alter ego - gets his first appearance on the pages of Creatures of the Id (Caliber).
With his "pop art" drawing style - magnified by fabulous colors of his wife Laura - and stories full of sense of wonder, Allred has conquered fans and critics and got Madman a comics classic.

His recognizable sign has enlightened popular comics icons such as Sandman (Sandman #54 -The Golden Boy), Spiderman (Untold Tales of Spiderman '96) and Superman (Superman/Madman - Hullabaloo).
Actually he is working on the new surprising incarnation of Marvel's X-Force (from #116, with scripts by Peter Milligan). In the near future we'll see more Madman and Atomics.

But there is more than comics in Mike Allred's artistic life. He is a skilled musician with his rock band The Gear and has shot a couple of low budget movies and collaborated with director Kevin Smith.

More info about Mike Allred and his works at

[Interview published on in September 2001; it was conducted in August via email]

smoky man: Let's start with some classic ones. When did you start doing comics? I know you had worked as a TV journalist in Europe, is it true?
Mike Allred: Yup. I was a TV reporter for AFRTS [American Forces Radio & Television Service] via the Air Force. We were headquartered in Ramstein, Germany but sent all over Europe to cover human interest stories for Americans living in  Europe while CNN covered most of the hard news. My first assignment there was covering an air show disaster where two Italian jets collided midair and then barreled through the crowd.

Which are your comics influences? And what did those artists or books teach you?
Just about everything becomes an influence at some point but my strongest intentional ones would be Jack Kirby, Alex Toth, The Hernadez Bros., Bruno Premiani, Ives Challand, Will Eisner, and Harvey Kurtzman (and EC COMICS).

When did you create Madman? Where did you get the original idea from? I know his first name was The Spook.
I had created Frank Einstein in the pages of Grafik Muzik and  then in 1992, in a desperate act for commercial success decided to put a costume on him. I liked the name The Spook for it's homage to The Spirit but we soon found someone had filed an intent to use copyright. I was reading [J.D. Salinger's] Catcher in the rye at the time and the protagonist, Holden Caulfield uses the word "madman" descriptively throughout. I thought it was the perfect name and VOILA!

Madman is one of the most unique and recognizable comics characters. His real name - Frank Einstein - is a blast and a perfect "pop" example: a fusion between Frank Sinatra and Albert Einstein, plus the obvious recall to Mary Shelley's classic monster. What does pop culture mean to you and in which way does it get into your storytelling?
It means almost EVERYTHING to me. Outside of the obviousness of human existence and spirituality my life has been deluged with pop culture from toys to monster magazines--from music to movies. From there it simply spills into my creative juices quite naturally.

In Madman you mix super fun adventure stories full of robots, mad scientists, time travels, aliens and a lot more, with philosophical reflections about the universe, God, love and the sense of life. Is it possible to conciliate entertainment and a little bit of brain?
I think so. I try.

Looking at your art, it is a natural thing to relate it to Roy Lichtenstein's works and to Pop Art in general. It is a strange and exciting short circuit. Comics and Art.
In a Madman miniseries you inserted a guest appearance of extraordinary painter Escher. Which are your influences in the Art field?
Again. Just about everything I'm exposed to but Magritte and Warhol would have to go near the top of the list.

Can comics be Art?
It is.

When you work on Madman do you first write a plot, a detailed script or just start doing thumbnails and putting your ideas directly on paper? How long does it take you to do a page?
I work from an ever expanding outline that becomes a complete script as I nail down each issue. I then do thumbnails, the page layout, the lettering, pencils then ink it. I think I average about two complete pages a day when I get the drawing and inking. 

Your wife Laura is one of the best colorist in the comics biz. Does she get any input for your stories? Is she completely free in coloring or do you suggest her something about the colors palette?
She generally does it on her own. I have trouble telling some colors apart, but she has an amazing color sense. Sometimes I have specific ideas for the color or on the rare occasion ask her to change something. But she's the best and works best when left to her own whims.

A curiosity, in Madman: The Oddity Odyssey I loved the gray touch that magnified the b-movie atmosphere … surely the pop art colors of Laura are great and an essential Madman's element … but, is there any possibility to see another story like that?
It's possible. The main reason that was done that way is because it was cheaper. That or B/W. When the original MADMAN was a hit we were allowed to go full color.

After Madman you expanded his and your universe creating The Atomics - Madman and the super street beatniks - and your own publishing house, AAA Pop. Can you introduce us the Atomics?
I simply wanted to have more colorful characters in Frank's world, so like before a simply put costumes on my mutant beatniks.

Now that you are working on "marvelous" stuff, can we expect other Atomics books in the future?
The plan was to end the ATOMICS with issue #16 and switch to a MADMAN monthly. With the X-FORCE opportunity we've had to compress the ATOMICS finale into issue 15 and postpone the MADMAN series indefinitely.

Some years ago - if I remember right it was in 1997 - you wrote an article for Fan magazine where you said: "We, fans of comic books, are the pop culture elite. And we MUST stop working so hard to keep the rest of the world from joining us. […] Movies, music, magazines, collectibles, television and books, all seems to be of great interest to fans of pop culture. […] I'm telling you, we are the pop culture elite. Yes, an entire subculture completely out of touch with reality".
And again, "You have to believe that if [a comics] is good, if it's really good, it will sell. Our industry will curl up and die if we don't promote, support and encourage charge, diversity and most important, quality."
Today which is your vision of the fandom, of comics quality and comics market?
Do you fell that comics-based films such as Xmen and the upcoming Ghost World, Spiderman and From Hell give comics a new visibility in the public audience and can attract new readers?
The reality is, they have little or no effect in bringing new readers to comics. But they do bring awareness--if nothing else they tell the world that comics--the art form--still exists. That general awareness is more likely to attract the curious even more than a GOOD comic book movie. But still, if the curious aren't directed towards the good stuff... bye bye.

In the same article, you also said: "I'm not anti-superhero, I'm anti-crappy comics! […] Why do we keep dragging around the dead corpse of the superhero genre". And now you are doing X-Force. Ah, sure it is a complete new X-Force, but it's the same book created by Rob Liefeld. Gosh, Mike Allred and Peter "Shade" Milligan playing with the title created by Rob Liefeld. Unbelievable! What has happened? With Joe Quesada as the Boss, is it a real New Marvel? What is the most exciting thing in being a "master of mutant puppets"?
Again, I don't care about genre as much as I do overall quality. The book could be about insurance salesmen if it could  be interesting and artful. Simple facts:  the industry continues to be supported by the superhero books.  Probably always will be.  And costumes make for colorful characters, even if only on the surface.  When I wrote that I was optimistic about more genres finding success in the industry.  Hasn't happened yet. The Atomics offered an experiment to see if superheroes also sold better as an independent. They do.  While I'm proud of the Red Rocket 7 project, it wasn't commercially successful.  We barely broke event. Too expensive--Too weird.
With X-FORCE I've been able to fulfill a childhood dream by creating and co-creating my own X-Men.  With Joe Q., the rebirth of the fabled (if not fictional) Marvel bullpen.  With the creative freedom and support--and mutual admiration of other creators it's been sheer pure creative joy (Peter Milligans scripts are GENIUS. ). There's a new excitement and optimism. Will that result in progressive comics? I don't know. But can't hurt. 

Do you think Alan Moore told a horrible truth when he said that it's impossible in USA market to do more than superhero stuff in order to reach the mass audience? That you have to present your character as a superhero, even if it is only a spandex and cape matter, and then you can overlay something more - as in his Promethea book - but at the first impact, you have to do a superhero.
I think that's cold hard fact. Look at the sales charts over the past 20 years (or 60 for that matter). In the top 100, with the exception of licensed properties like Buffy or Star Wars it's almost exclusively superheroes (and aren't Buffy and Star Wars superheroes too?).

About X-Force, Vince Brusio wrote on Previews: "This is one comics reader who always preferred alternative reading to mainstream titles. But with the release of X-Force, I've become a recent convert." Can X-Force be the lost link between mainstream and alternative comics? Ah, I love what you and Peter are doing on the X-book!

Thanks!  I've always felt that division was ridiculous. We (comic book fans) have more in common through our love of the art form than people who aren't exposed to it at all. That I enjoy EIGHTBALL as much as NEW X-MEN or vice versa shouldn't be a shock to anyone who loves good comics. I feel the same way about movies. I see almost everything. I love great movies. I loathe lousy ones. A great action movie is better than a crummy art film and a great art film is better than a crummy action film.

Which X-Force character do you prefer drawing? And why?

Let play a game. I list some names of comic writers you worked with as penciler. Which is their best quality?
Brian Michael Bendis

Peter Milligan

Kevin Smith

Neil Gaiman

Mike Allred (!)

Which comics artist would you like to work with?
The ones I am working with.

Which comics books do you currently read?
Most of them.

You briefly played with two major comics icons: Spiderman and Superman. What do you like in them?
Their Iconography.

I remember a Batman project similar to Superman/Madman: Hullabaloo! If a remember well it was named Batman a go-go. When will we see this one? Can you tell us something about the story?
DC hasn't pursued it.  And I haven't had the time to shove it at them lately.  I'd like to get to it someday for sure. Until then--SHHH.

You wrote Crash Metro (with art by Martin Ontiveros, published by Oni Press), the first thing you have done for somebody else to draw. What was like to see your vision put on paper by somebody else than you? Will you repeat that experience?
Loved it!  And would love to do it again.

In these years the comics market all over the world has been hit by the "manga invasion". What do you think of mangas? Do you like them? Do they show a new way of storytelling that comics creator has to learn and assimilate? There are a lot of successful American manga artist such as Madureira, Adam Warren …
I like some of it.  LOVE the visual language. Adam Warren is a TERRIFIC artist.

Plus, you are inking the new Catwoman series (art by Darwyn Cooke, story by Ed Brubaker). In "Chasing Amy" a fan said that an inker is only a "retracer". What do you think about? Which is your approch in inking some other pencils? Do you like it?
Inking is the icing on the cake and color is the candles. I loved the project and thrilled to work with Ed, Darwyn and my old lettere Sean Konot. So far it's great fun.

It's sure Mike Allred loves music. When did you get the idea to do Red Rocket 7? It was an astounding way to tell the story of contemporary pop music. And it was great to see your portraits of all those musicians, from Led Zeppelin to Devo, from Beatles to Bjork!
Thanks!  It all came together in a rush of inspiration to the detriment of MADMAN and Dark Horse.  I was obsessed with it and was crippled to anything else until it was out of my system.

Is Red Rocket 7 the work you are proud the most, your dream project?
To be honest, at the moment, X-FORCE is what I'm most proud of.  But it's always what's in front of me at the time.  That and FUTURE MADMAN stuff is what I'm most excited about.  I guess I'd  have to say MADMAN is what I'm most MOST proud of.

At the same time Red Rocket 7 was out, you released a music CD, The Gear: Son of Red Rocket 7, where Mr. Red Allrod (!) sang and played the guitars. Your music is a little bit low fi with a psychedelic touch and a flavour of seventies rock. I like it! What kind of music do you prefer?
Low fi psychedelic seventies rock. 

Can you list Mike Allred's Top Ten songs?
Today? [it's 08-11-2001]
1- Moonage daydream - David Bowie

2- Street Fighting Man - The Rolling Stones

3- In My Life - The Beatles

4- Auf Weidersehen - Cheap Trick

5- Lady Grinning Soul - David Bowie

6- Jigsaw Puzzle - The Rolling Stones

7- Just Try - Dandy Warhols

8- Red Eyes and Tears - Black Rebel Motorcycle Club

9- Super-Sonic - Brian Jonestown Massacre

10- She's a Lady - Tom Jones
Tomorrow would be a completely different list.

When a new CD? When a tour?
New CD within the next couple of years maybe. A tour? Never. I rarely leave my house anymore. I'm happy to stay here in the Citadel. [This is what Mike and Laura call their house in Eugene, Oregon. A citadel is like a fortress].

There was rumor about an upcoming Madman movie involving director Robert Rodriguez (El Mariachi, Spy Kids). Can you reveal us more? Who would you like to play the Madman role? Which is the cast of your dreams?
Still moving forward. A SPY KIDS sequel is in the way for now. Look for a cameo from our daughter, Kelby.
My cast preferences change as often as my favorite songs.

Did you read Bendis' Fortune and Glory about his experience with Hollywood? In your opinion does it show the truth?

You also directed some low budget independent movies. I remember a title, Astroesque. A great title, man. What was it about? What kind of movies do you like?
It was about the Spiritual end of the world. With a little action thrown in.
Like I said before, I like all GOOD movies.

Someone thinks that comics are very similar to movies, but I think they are more similar to literature, to telling a story with a visual approach. Which is your opinion about?
There I have to disagree. I was attracted to doing them as the poor man's film medium. You can tell a great comic book story with only pictures. It wouldn't be a comic book without the pictures. The same could be said about film.

If you have to choose: comics, movie or music?
Now that I've done all three I made my choice and it was an easy choice to make. I plan to do more with movie's and music, but they are a distant second to comics.

[Interview published on in September 2001; it was conducted in August via email]

Friday, 20 February 2015

Strangehaven: Dreaming of Nimoi

Art by Giuseppe Camuncoli.
In 2006, I wrote a 6-page comics set in the world of Strangehaven, featuring the self-declared alien Adam as the main character. The short story, fully authorized and supervised by Strangehaven’s creator Gary Spencer Millidge, was illustrated by Giuseppe Camuncoli (line art) and Franco Brambilla (3d illustration), two internationally-renowned Italian artists.

Titled Sognando Nimoi (Dreaming of Nimoi), the comics was included as “extra feature” in issue N. 6 of Strangehaven’s Italian edition published by Black Velvet. I was the co-editor and co-translator of the books. 

The story was intended to be also published in English in a special Strangehaven issue, before the project was put on undefined hiatus. Maybe it will be printed in the not too distant future, who knows? In the meanwhile (with permission by the artists) you can take a look below for the first time to the first 2 pages of Dreaming of Nimoi, in English. And… of course, can follow the new Strangehaven’s episodes published bimonthly on Meanwhile…!

Special thanks to Giuseppe, Franco for their amazing art, and to Gary for the opportunity to play with his characters. I am personally very proud of the story and its outcome. Enjoy!
Page 1 from Dreaming of Nimoi.
Page 2 from Dreaming of Nimoi.
Script: smoky man. Line art: Giuseppe Camuncoli. 3d illustration: Franco Brambilla.
Lettering & supervision: Gary Spencer Millidge.

Monday, 19 January 2015

UDWFG afterword

Art by Paolo Massagli from UDWFG N. 2.
The afterword I wrote for UDWFG N. 2 published in September 2014 by Hollow Press.


UDWFG, Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds.
It feels like an evocation, a spell, a magic word, doesn't it?
It sounds like the sonic key to access the Great Unknown and, doing so, being able to dive into creepy territories, strange stories filled with weird creatures.
This doesn't feel properly safe but... it's bloody exciting, isn't it?

Following the inscrutable directives of a generous mastermind, five explorers of this infinite, unmapped Unknown will guide you into dangerously dark places.
They have names in our ordinary world but I prefer the sound of the battle nicknames they chose themselves to tell their enigmatic tales.

Fork Imp & Friend (real life name: Mat Brinkman) - who is closely related, I could bet on it, to that other fearless visionary and dreamer who visited Kadath and R'lyeh – comes back from a long voluntary absence to document the eerie activities of demons and monsters in the hellish pit where they live in. And don't ask me what they did with those body parts taken from that jar!
Open your eyes, don't close them... look and discover it by yourself!
DezXplorer (Miguel Ángel Martin) follows some alien low-lifes and their connection to the mysterious emanation machine. It's not the planet of your dreams, there is something really nasty in the air but, after all... it's Socratization Day, dude!

Mr. Rotten Donuts (Tetsunori Tawaraya) depicts a choreographic lethal battle between monstrous entities, impossible to describe with human words, defending or attacking a suspension bridge.
Who are the good ones? Who are the bad ones?
Probably you are not asking the right questions. And, in any case, it doesn't matter.

Lowest Note Keeper (Ratigher) catches a small peculiar brigade lost in a maze of deadly tunnels searching for a way out. Will they succeed?
What is waiting for them lurking in the shadows?
There is magic here. And there are five mantles with ultimate powers they can use against dark forces.

Scar The Weaver (Paolo Massagli) investigates the journey of a female demon in a nightmarish reign of fire and desire.
Is there life after death? Will your heart continue to pump? Are you ready to be devoured by tainted pleasures?
The adventure in Hell has just begun.

It’s the Great Unknown, reader.
There is no up, there is no down.
More than anything else… there is no safety net.

You have been chosen to witness things happening but it's not clear and maybe it's not even necessary that you will fully understand what's really going on.

Just watch. Trust no one.

And sure, you should be brave and prepared... to lose your soul!

smoky man,
Great Unknown, no time reference (time doesn’t exist!)

[Hollow Crew interview: here]

Monday, 3 November 2014

Hollow Crew interview

U.D.W.G. N.2 cover by Miguel Angel Martin.
U.D.W.F.G. is an underground comics anthology - focused on dark weird fantasy stories - conceived by Italian publisher Michele Nitri and printed by his Hollow Press. The biannual publication (in English) features 5 serials written and drawn by the extraordinary Hollow Crew: indie guru Mat Brinkman who is back to comics after a long absence, Spanish star Miguel Angel Martin, Japanese sensation Tetsunori Tawaraya and the Italian acclaimed artists Ratigher and Paolo Massagli.
The Hollow Crew: toy version!
The first issue has received good audience response and positive reviews.
UDWFG is a perfect collection of dark and sinister shit. And most importantly, it contains some creepy comics from one of my favorite artists Mat Brinkman. Grab yourself a copy before they all sell out! [Johnny Ryan]

The dense use of black throughout reflects that sense that the reader has picked up some kind of forbidden, arcane tome.  [The Comics Journal]

It feels like the next Creepy or Eerie for a new generation, filled with raw talent and stuff of nightmares. In the end, I felt like I was being buried alive under dark, weird, fantasy grounds, and I loved every moment of it as the dirt filled my lungs. [Bleeding Cool]

The second issue of U.D.W.F.G. has been premièred during the last edition of Lucca Comics & Games (30 October - 2 November).
The interview has been conducted via email in August-October period.
Translation from Italian by Antonio Solinas.

Hollow Press site: here.
Art by Mat Brinkman.
How did you get involved in the project?
Mat Brinkman:
The story has been brewing for many many years, Michele stepped forward looking for exactly what the story offered.
Miguel Ángel Martín: Michele Nitri asked me how it would seem to me drawing a “dark weird fantasy story”. He knows I am a fan of William Burroughs, like Nitri himself. I understood  what he wanted. My idea of “weird fantasy” is Burroughs, not Lord Dunsany. I showed him some old drawings and illustrations. Nitri loved them and he said “go ahead”. I never did “dark weird fantasy” before. Thanks to Nitri I am enjoying drawing The Emanation Machine so much.
Tetsunori Tawaraya: One day, a friend of mine told me that someone in Italy bought all of my comics online, from the most popular underground comic shop Tacoche and also from independent publisher Sweet Dreams Press. And he eventually contacted me to find some more stuff and we talked about his future publication. Yes, it was Michele himself.
Ratigher: I have known Michele, the man behind Hollow Press, for a few years. We live close to each other and share a love for all things deviant; we also have different opinions on certain things and that keeps our conversations fresh and vibrant. He thinks he can teach me to drive with the handbrake on and I try to force him to read Shakespeare highlighting the text with a yellow marker. In this project I have been his right hand man (or at least his right thumb man, shall we say): I am in charge of the book and page design of the magazine and I am always the last one to hand in my story; to be fair I do this to show him the problems with D.I.Y. publishing. It’s some sort of comics-related rite of passage.
Paolo Massagli: Around that time, I was busy self-publishing my own comic, O.Z., and Michele got in touch because he was interested in my style. He told me about his project about doing a fanzine with very famous underground creators and I said yes immediately.
Art by Miguel Angel Martin.
Can you elaborate a bit about your story? Can you reveal anything about its genesis and inspiration behind it? What’s about the main theme of the tale?
Mat Brinkman: I can't elaborate on the story, as that's what the story is for. If there's a theme for the tale it's "Shit Happens".
Miguel Ángel Martín: The story is improvised. I´ve got some ideas before starting to draw but is totally improvised. Now I've got a basic idea for the third chapter but no idea about the next. I can´t reveal anything because there is nothing to reveal. I only know the end of the story,  but I don´t know how long the story will be. I think  the main theme is the search of something important, a classical theme, like the Grail. But the real thing for me are the characters and situations.
Tetsunori Tawaraya: Mine started out in the 1st issue with cut out scenes of images that connect into the second episode. After the second issue, you will get to find out what's going on.
It's basically the adventure of Mr. Rotten Donuts but things will go twisted and weird.
Ratigher: My series is called Five Mantles. The driving force is the desire to tell a story of pure adventure and action. Unlike my usual comics, the way I want to deal with the story is to use script tricks that will keep the reader on the edge of the seat. I would like the story to be read by twelve year old kids who will then dress in rags, paint their faces and go to build shacks in the wilderness near home. Five Mantles is set in a world made only of dungeons, in the best tradition of role-playing games ad game-books. The original inspiration I think is just the game: for one, I am playing with the characters. I do not know what will happen to them, I have a very vague idea of how to continue the adventure, I am looking for plot twists that will surprise me first. The world of tunnels usually goes hand in hand with fantasy set-ups, while I will take the liberty to insert monsters and aesthetic choices that are far from classic fantasy, because I'm always playing and I make the rules. Setting everything in dungeons allows me to play with a different feeling, one that I have always considered the most important that graphic novels can stimulate: the claustrophobic feeling.
Paolo Massagli: My story, or rather, my stories, "Hell", will always be different for each issue. The only thing in common is that the landscape and, as the "Hell" title says, are all set-up out in hell (a version which is more fantasy than horror), with different themes and characters.
The story was born because Michael told me that I needed to have the world in which it was set, rather than the people in there, as the main character. I hope I succeeded.
Art by Tetsunori Tawaraya.
Which are your feelings to see your story side by side with the other ones? Can you see some kind of “dialogue” going on between them or is it more a sort of “artistic” challenge with the other artists or… simply the intrinsic nature of an anthological book like this?
Mat Brinkman: Dialogue I think would derail any of our stories and visions.
Miguel Ángel Martín: I’m used to publish my stories in comic magazines along with other artists for years. This is not new for me. The first comic magazine I started to get my stories published was ZONA 84 (by Spanish Toutain publisher) a magazine of classic sci-fi. My Ballard-like idea of sci-fi was not understood by the readers at that time. I’m talking of the first years of the 90’s.
Tetsunori Tawaraya: My first story is almost like a "flashback" of Mr. Rotten Donuts so it's obviously hard to understand, but things will start rolling in the second issue. 
Ratigher: In my opinion, it's too early for a “dialogue. We all started with very different ideas, but with the next issues, for sure we will influence each other. I think the "artistic challenge" is also missing, as we did not start as a united group, and usually you want to “crush” your close friends more than your colleagues. But even in this case, the "challenge" will arrive, or, better, has already arrived.
In particular, I am very excited by Brinkman’s presence. I have been a fan of his for many years and I consider him an innovator of our medium, like Chris Ware. I think he is one of the few people blessed by the god of comic book stories: this almost seems like his “native language”. Many years ago, Tuono Pettinato and I managed to find his phone number in Providence and phoned him to ask him a story for a ‘zine that never saw the light of the day. A roommate of him answered the phone and gave us his email, something like Tuono and I were so happy he had such a fabulous email address.
Paolo Massagli: I am very happy that my work is presented next to these other great creators. To me, this is not a challenge and neither it is a dialogue. It’s just an occasion to learn the graphic and storytelling techniques of the others.
Art by Ratigher.
What are your expectations for UDWFG, in general? 
Mat Brinkman:
Honestly, none. All involved have taken a big plunge, and are not really sure how deep the water is.
Miguel Ángel Martín: I'm very motivated and excited with the magazine. I don't know any other like it. I think Nitri has created something very special as a publisher. It is a pleasure for me to share a publication with so great and original artists.
Tetsunori Tawaraya: It's giving me so many new opportunities to draw new characters and great inspiration by the other 4 artists. Everyone in this project seems like my new family. I dig it.
Ratigher: I hope to build an exciting adventure and make friends with the other guys involved, so when we will meet we will be able to drink “caipiroska” cocktails and do a bit of sword fighting.
Paolo Massagli: My expectations have already been filled. As I already said, I am proud to be part of such and excellent group of nice underground artists.
As for the rest, now it’s up to readers. I hope they appreciate our work.
Art by Paolo Massagli.

Monday, 27 October 2014


Meanwhile... N.1. Cover by Gary Spencer Millidge.
GARY SPENCER MILLIDGE interview conducted by smoky man via email in October 2014 on the occasion of Strangehaven return after a 9-year absence.
The new stories are planned to appear in the anthology Meanwhile... published by Soaring Penguin Press.
An interesting review of Meanwhile... can be read at FPI blog: here.

For more info about GARY SPENCER MILLIDGE, visit his blog.

Meanwhile N.1 is out and it finally contains the first new Strangehaven story after... nine years of absence (issue N. 18 was published in 2005)! How did you feel getting back to your cult-series and its characters, actually creating and continuing your tale? Was it difficult? Or was it just like meeting old dear friends after years for a beer and a long chat to cover the gap of time?
Gary Spencer Millidge: The whole of the book was plotted out some time ago. After finishing issue 12 - which completed book two - I decided that Strangehaven would be a four book series, even though I didn't publicly proclaim that at the time. So I sat down and plotted out the next two books, and I've been working to that template since. There have been tweaks and adjustments over the years, but I wanted to remain true to my original vision for the series. Even though there's been no Strangehaven published since 2005, it's never been off my desk. Even while I've been working on other things, I've been pulling together bits of information and collating all the visual research required, experimenting with modifications to my rendering techniques and so on.
Much of the dialogue was already roughed in, but it changes every time I look at it, and I am always editing text up until the final moment before it goes to the printer - or now I should say, the publisher. I'd say the characters have been my constant companions and so it's not much like meeting old friends for me. But I’ve heard a lot of readers say they feel that way, which is gratifying.

What *has* been difficult is the technical aspect of actually drawing again on a daily basis. I'm nine years older, even if my characters aren't. My eyes and joints and mental faculties are that much diminished, and it's a huge struggle to get back into a comfortable routine. I'm sure it will get easier, but making comics is hard work at the best of times, and taking the best part of a decade off doesn't make it any easier.
Stangehaven's art from Meanwhile... N.1.
How did you feel holding in your hands the printed comic? I also know the new story is (partially) in colour...
It's always a disappointment, because your hopes are so high. I can visualise how it would look at its very best, and the only thing I will notice are the defects. The thrill of holding your published work rapidly diminishes with each subsequent work, and even after all this time, there really is no excitement in holding the actual book. My mind is always working on how to make the next one better.

It's different for me this time because I don't have control over the printing now that I'm a published creator rather than a self-publisher...but I must say the print job on Meanwhile...#1 is a very good one. It's a nice satisfying chunk of an anthology. A personal disappointment is that the colours on the Strangehaven segment printed much darker than I intended and has obliterated some of the linework. But I suspect that's my fault rather than the publisher's or printer's. So, there are always lessons to be learned, it can be fixed for any eventual collection and of course for subsequent episodes.

So… finally, “it’s happening again”… what’s the plan (for Strangehaven, of course)?

I’m trying not to look too far ahead. My arrangement with the publisher is for twelve bimonthly episodes, approximately 13 or 14 pages each, with a couple of exceptions where it’ll run longer by a couple of pages. So, in theory, after two years, book four will be complete, and Strangehaven will be finished, however odd and unlikely that may sound.

There will be a collected edition subsequent to that point, if all goes smoothly, but given my track record, let’s just see where we all are in eighteen months and take it from there.
Stangehaven's page from Meanwhile... N.1.
Recently you attended the Lakes International Comics Festival. It was the first public appearance for “Meanwhile…” and the new Strangehaven. What has the audience’s reaction and reception been? In general, do you like attending Cons and get in touch with the fans?
Of course, who wouldn’t want to be treated like a superstar for a few days? I love the idea of conventions and festivals when they are six months in my future, then start regretting agreeing to attend once it’s a couple of weeks away, and start actively dreading the travel, the expense, the loss of work days and so on. Then, once I’m there, I have an absolutely wonderful time hooking up with appreciative readers, catching up with fellow professionals and making new friends and new contacts. It’s a cycle I go through for every appearance.

It was my first time at the Lakes festival and it is the nearest thing the UK has to a European-style festival, but still typically British at its core. A big difference to other UK events is that all of the halls were free admission, and only events and talks were ticketed, so there was a healthy parade of casual visitors. There was a very relaxed and friendly atmosphere, and the list of guests was superb. Getting to hang out with people like Scott McCloud and Jeff Smith again is a rare treat, and to meet Boulet and Wilfrid Lupano for the first time was an honour.

Reaction to the return of Strangehaven has been fantastic. We sold out on the table, apart from a handful of copies that Page 45 immediately took off our hands. One reader who came up to the Soaring Penguin table even asked me when Strangehaven was ever coming back…and I could hold up issue #1 of Meanwhile…and tell him “It’s back!” as he hadn’t heard the news. So that was a nice moment.
Stangehaven's page from Meanwhile... N.1.
What is your perception regarding the current UK comics scene? I think there is some excitement there considering “new” quality publishers like Nowbrow, SelfMadeHero, the attention to comics by important event like the Edinburgh International Book Festival, and - to my eye - the apparent healthy state of 2000 AD…
Absolutely, I couldn’t agree more. There is just so much beautiful, incredible material being produced these days, not only from those amazing publishers you mention, but also the dozens of young, individual creators producing their own low-print-run comics. Computer and print technology has put the means at the fingertips of a new generation of comics talent, and as a result we are seeing more diverse material by a greater number of young creators.
I deliberately take only a small shoulder bag and travel by train to event these days so I can’t spend too much money, else I fill my car boot full of books I’ve bought. A walk around an event like Thought Bubble is truly mind-blowing.

Name the last three good comics you read. And why.
I have a really terrible memory, particularly for things I’ve read, without prompting at least. So I’ll be forgetting lots of great stuff. Also, I’m terribly behind with my reading, and although sometimes I can’t resist reading something I’ve bought, other stuff might be two, or maybe five years old. So, here goes, at random:
Pachyderme's cover.
Frederik Peeters’ Pachyderme is probably the best graphic novel I’ve read in ages. Well, all these three are. But this blew me away with its balance of surrealism, symbolism and bona fide plot. It’s like a David Lynch puzzle but with enough clues to figure out yourself. Genius storytelling and wonderful, idiosyncratic art.
I have to lump together The Celestial Bibendum and Foligatto (written by Alexios Tjoyas), both Nicolas de Crecy as a single choice as I can’t decide which I like better. De Crecy’s art is so rich and the stories are so dense, that I can’t read more than a few pages at a time, like gorging on a box of the finest chocolates. I love both of these books, and the first four pages of Foligatto almost made me give up comics, they’re that good.
The Fifth Beatle (Vivek Tiwary and Andrew C Robinson) was also a brilliant read, and just gorgeously illustrated. There were one or two anachronisms and errors which really grated, but growing up in a household with older siblings, the Beatles were part of my landscape from an early age. It tells a relatively unknown segment of the Beatles’ mythology and it’s beautifully evocative of the period.
Cover of Stray Bullets: Killers N.1.
As for periodical comicbooks – if you’ll allow me to add another three choices under a different category - the return of David Lapham’s Stray Bullets has been truly spectacular. There seems to be a more linear narrative with fewer and more well-defined characters which is making the book a delight to read.
Alex and Ada (Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn) is a really refreshing, slow-paced sci-fi thriller with a big heart and an erotic undercurrent. Beautifully minimalistic, from the cover design to the colouring.
And finally Matt Kindt’s Mind MGMT. The speed at which Kindt can produce this series is truly astonishing, even if his artwork is an acquired taste. With a dreamlike and atmospheric, intricately layered plot, once you’re hooked there’s no escape.

And none of those are British! I could go on forever, but I’ll stop here.

[Italian version: here]

Ashley Wood's homage to Sergio Toppi

Art by Ashley Wood.
In 2005 renowned artist ASHLEY WOOD contributed to the homage gallery included in Sergio Toppi: Nero su bianco con eccezioni (Black Velvet Editrice), an Italian book written and edited by Fabrizio Lo Bianco which examined the career and works of SERGIO TOPPI, the acclaimed Master of Comics Art and Illustration.

In that occasion Wood drew an illustration featuring Il Collezionista (The Collector), the famous character created by Toppi.

The illustration has been posted on this blog with the author's permission.

Thursday, 31 October 2013


ABHISHEK SINGH interview conducted by smoky man via email in August 2013. Bao Publishing recently released the Italian edition of his Krishna graphic novel (originally published by Image Comics).

For more info about ABHISHEK SINGH, visit his blog.
Furthermore, Abhishek Singh's letter to Sergio Toppi can be read here.

Can you tell us something about the genesis behind Krishna? Sure it is a very personal project for you. So I am interested to know when and especially why you decided to do it.
I worked on a project, Ramayana Reborn, where I dwelled into a lot of research, overall related to Indian mythology, theology and related subjects. The realization that there is so much embedded about the self and the universe in these stories, accentuated my curiosity to a different level. This marked a long relationship of investigating these meta stories with my Art, in a more aware sense.
While on Ramayana I did the research, I did not write the story, but each book evoked me to produce something which aligned the narrative and Art more cohesively, more personally, something which was my meditation of the whole.
I wanted to color my own work, which I did on Kali, a book which is very dear to me, and my last with Virgin Comics. Then I left to Art direct an animation feature film for a couple of months, eventually leaving it to pursue what became an uncontrollable urge, to do my own book.
I had tons of sketch books chronicling my parallel life of documenting several ideas I had about these stories. Finally there came a time, where I choose to pursue that resilient dream, to tell the story in the way it swirled in my mind and heart.
Thus The journey within began. 
On the technical and storytelling side, you decided to adopt different styles and tones, sometimes opting for a cartoon, animated approach, in other part of the story you preferred a more realistic one. Also the colors play an important role. Could you explain a little on this approach?
I look at Art or any creative act for that matter as a growing living entity, and like any other pulsating with energy entity it is bound by the forces of inevitable change. Art is a testament of the changes we go through, both socially and spiritually, and likewise it's representation too. I will change so will do my Art. At the same time I like to study about various visual languages which have come before me or are around me. The transformation forces working though them inspire ways of perception and simulation in our concrete worlds.
Not only as an artist but as an observer of the world I’m interested in that language of the image.
In the context of Krishna, beyond comic books and fine Art, I also have a background in animation film design, and at a some point I wanted to make my own animation film, which still stands as one of the things I would love to do.
So Krishna is my animated film with no budget constraints :) and an ode to all the animation influences I've had as a kid. Stylistically trying something new was important to learn new approaches and techniques, so I deliberately kept the look of Krishna little different than my previous projects. I learnt a great deal about color, how it helps to tell a story, to accentuate the effect of a moment. I studied a lot of scripts for movies, because I was writing it too, it was really insightful to understand their beautiful connections.
In the last part of the project I started to work on other stories and on my exhibitions, where most of the work was done traditionally. I love working traditionally, and a lot of learning from that area gravitated into Krishna's art approach.
I use to think I'm an artist doing a comic book, and not a comic book artist drawing a comic book. Now, over last few years, my Art has become a way to discover the world, "to draw what one seeks" 
It guess it was your first experience as writer & artist, especially on a "graphic novel". Basically it seems to be a biography of the Hindu deity, but it's more than that, isn't it?
I think a creative expression is an extension of one's own individuality, a bridge to express one's conflicts, beliefs and realizations.
The beauty of a creative process is that - even if you think you have a blank slate about who you are and what the world really is like around you - it will orient you to such ideas, it'll make you face them with a bent of mind only harassed by warriors and adventures.
Creating is to understand why we are here and what use our manifestations might hold. The deeper one gets into it, more one discovers. Mostly the discovery of self remains in the silent plane of feeling, but some surfaces up, breaching the premeditated notions of ourselves, letting that felt silence becomes a profound statement of who we are. This is what a creative process does, whether one is aware about it or not.

In a more rational way, for sure, things get far more demanding by the virtue of doing everything on the book. Even though Krishna took four years, many things happened beside the life on the drawing board: a test to one's perseverance, to one's patience, or else one does not own the telling of the story, that's at least what I believe.
I learnt to cull from what I was going through, it made my pursuit more interesting. Not that I did not find myself in despair but I also found a way to morph that despair into something more constructive. Drawing and writing the story relieved me off my everyday worries. The line, like a loyal friend, took me to bliss each time. I created something i found myself enveloped in peace.

The themes of heroism and discovery, are universal themes, but at the same time, we have our own stories: their intersections intrigued me and that's what I've tried to capture in Krishna. It’s a personal account of the state of life and soul.
In Krishna I wanted to present a more cohesive relationship between image and word, representation and underlining philosophy of the revere God.
Every character in the story is a symbol, representing emotional, spiritual, or meta physical nuances. His story is intended to be a gateway into understanding what goes inside the cerebral plane or in the realm of the soul.
My intention was to distill the research and text to a point which is simple yet envelops all the complex thoughts within it, which I'm still figuring out, roping in more as I move along: the vision will keep expanding in my head, till I live.
If it will compel the reader to locate these larger sources and to further their introspection in these philosophies, I would have done my job.
Abhishek Singh and his visions.
How did you end signing for Image? What's about the collaboration with them? You were in direct contact with Eric Stephenson, one of the smartest guys in comics nowadays, imho.... The reviews of the book are pretty good, aren't they?
I just attended SDCC 2013, where I had such a great response to the book, and for my work. I was navigating the place like a nomad with no business cards meeting my favorite artists, passing all the stacks of compliments which were long due. The book was a sold out, which was great. People got to it because it was kept on the Image shelf with way more known Image titles. People picked it up purely because they thought it was captivating, a lot of them actually wrote to me once they were done reading, how it was way more emotional a ride when they were immersed in reading it.
For Image to publish a big 300 page book, by someone unknown (well I'm not counting my earlier work here) was a big step, but it might surprise you that there were no negotiation and not a bit of back and forth in taking that call.
One night I was scrolling through the Image site, and found Eric's e-mail. I was planning to send them a proper pitch through a courier, but I thought that it wouldn't hurt to send him a cover picture and some art from the book.
You will not believe Eric replied in flat 10 minutes (or at least that's the way time it plays in my head). I wasn't even expecting an answer. I mean you are talking about one of the most busiest person in the comic book business. It must be some out of office reply I reckoned, and when I clicked open the mail this is what it said (copying the original mail send by Eric):
"This looks amazing. How close are you to being done? Are there finished pages I can see?" -e.s.

Rest just flowed, but little I knew that it would take me another year and a half, to complete it properly. I was engaged in working on my paintings and was devoting as much time to balance the two. Image scheduled it for 2012 December release, and one must understand that a 30$ book 300 pages cannot be "just" purchased off the shelf, yet Image did a ambitious run, and I duly credit Eric for his foresight and belief in my work.
The whole Image team supported the book with a lot of love and continues to do that, it's really quite a story when I look back.
What's about your artistic education and references, interests in comics and visual Arts?
While at school I got an opportunity to work for a comic book company called Raj Comics. I’d go there every summer vacation from grade 8th till 12th. I was happy to help even by erasing the pencil marks from the final inked artworks just so I could see them up close. It was sheer joy. In my spare time I would aim to make my drawings match those pages. I recall getting an anatomy book as a token of my hard work from a senior artist; I replicated the all the pages in just a week and kept the idea of refining my skills alive.
While at college, i began experimenting with my Art which was set in a comic book mould, found ways to break it and evolved further.
I even did a student short film titled ‘A Hunter's Tale’, where I used an entire year to do pretty much everything on an animated film myself, and alongside refined my visualization skills even further.
After that I longed to explore larger and longer stories, to understand how a story of that scale could be visualized.
This was the time when I landed the Ramayana project, it was really a vague point from where I began, I like vagueness, it provides room for free thoughts, make you feel more alive within the adventure, then the team came and we just count get it together, I started asking what’s the point of producing good Art to a story with no direction at all. But I would come back home and write down the different ways I would like to do this or that, I learnt a great deal working on that project.

I realized the immense amount of patience one needs to manufacture them. The amount of research, exploration and artistic understanding required was no less than building a space shuttle! Patience became the nucleus of my process to comprehend tasks bearing this magnitude. Also I developed a new found respect for ‘time’ and sticking to deadline and by when I found myself working on Krishna I had become even more demanding while working on my own ideas.
And life in totality became a reference point, the inspiration came from everyday incidences, like I could see simple acts extended to me like profound statements of life.

As my experience grew with particular fields, their convergence also became very evident to me. The relationship with Art I have tried to build starting Krishna is to leave all and purely do it for my own sake, somehow it has found a way with people and companies, and everyone is happy to pay to have what was created as one person's bliss.
Abhishek Singh and Mike Mignola at SDCC 2013.
Krishna will be published in Italy by Bao and you will attend Lucca Comics. Which are your feelings about it? Also, any interests about the Italian comics scene, its artists and series? I know you are a huge fan of Sergio Toppi's works...
As we talk the book is already out in Italian. I've made some very special friends through this book, Michele [Foschini] from BAO is one of them. I met him at SDCC: Michele is another visionary in publication, his ideologies for his work and respect for Art and life is unparalleled. I was very humbled to see the way they have done the book, it's translated so well and the presentation is fantastic. I’m so looking forward to attend Lucca, thank everyone who worked on the book and draw in all of them.
Michele knew Toppi personally and he is full of his astonishing stories. My love for the great Master Toppi is no secret to you: I truly owe it to you, for directing me to write to Toppi and express my love. I would never think that I would actually meet you outside your blog in Italy, talk stories about comics and because of you I will actually go all the way to Toppi's house, try my luck, in a spiritual way bid him farewell… so, thank you so much for doing that.
How we are connected and what role we play in each other's life humbles me, surprises me and makes me look out for more adventure.

Over a period of time, I've shed away a lot of  influences. I don't have too many favorites anymore, and because I haven't been working on existing properties I don't follow a scene too closely... maybe individual paintings or works take my attention, but for reason completely independent from who's made them.
That being said, few artists and their body of work has had a profound impact over me. Their deep understanding of their craft and their simplicity of dedication has enthralled me, inspired me to be forever hard-working and keep seeking the universe. So in the context of artists I treat close to my heart are Osamu Tezuka, Moebius, Joe Kubert, Bill Watterson and Toppi, all storytellers of the highest order. I have stacks of books on tribal cultures, myths, history, philosophy, and somewhere in those stacks will be books drawn by these artists.

I'm hoping to discover so much more at Lucca, and I have no doubt when I'll be back, I'll have tons of stories.