Monday, 27 October 2014

GARY SPENCER MILLIDGE interview

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

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. 

Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Franco Brambilla's homage to The King

Art by Franco Brambilla
In 2004 acclaimed Italian sci-fi illustrator FRANCO BRAMBILLA contributed to the book Jack Kirby: Tributo al Re, a now sold-out anthology celebrating the genius of Jack Kirby in the 10th anniversary of his departure.
In that occasion Brambilla realized a great back-cover illustration, in his classic 3D style, featuring... Silver Surfer, The Human Torch and The Thing!

The illustration has been posted on this blog with the author's permission.
For more info about the artist visit his site: here.

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Ladrönn draws Black Bolt

Art by Ladrönn.
In 2004 Ladrönn contributed to Jack Kirby: Tributo al Re, an Italian tribute book which celebrated the genius of Jack Kirby in the 10th anniversary of his departure. I contributed with a short text and also involved some friends in the homage gallery.

In that occasion Ladrönn drew a great portrait of Black Bolt, the powerful and silent ruler of the Inhumans.

Many thanks to Ladrönn for his generous support to the book. Enjoy! :)

Sunday, 13 January 2013

JEFFREY BROWN interview

Interview by Antonio Solinas, conducted in 2008.
Originally pubblished on De:code.
Jeffrey Bown site: www.jeffreybrowncomics.com

Hi Jeffrey. Your comics have not been published in Italy yet. Do you want to introduce yourself to our readers?
After giving up my pursuit to become a fine artist, I've been drawing comics for not quite seven years now. I started off drawing autobiographical stories, but have since expanded into more humorous and parody comics. My autobiographical comics are known for being bittersweet and scratchily drawn, with a bit of focus on relationships, although that's changed.

How long have you been involved with making comics? How did you first start?
I grew up reading and drawing comics, but by the time I entered college I had stopped. It wasn't until I entered art school in pursuit of my MFA that I realized the art world didn't appeal to me as much as the comics world did. I began drawing comics trying to recapture the joy of drawing I had when I was a kid, and at the same time make art that was a more direct expression of human experience than much of what I saw being made around me at around school.

I read that your influences were very varied, from X-Men to indie comics. How did you develop your style, both as a writer and an artist?
Growing up I was a big Arthur Adams fan and maybe tried to mimic his style, and later fell in love with the comics of Moebius and he became a clear influence. After I stopped reading comics in college, my artistic influences were more fine art related, especially expressionism, and artists like Charlotte Salomon, followed later by more contemporary artists like Pettibon and David Shrigley. When I started reading comics again, my main influences were probably Chris Ware, Dan Clowes, Julie Doucet and Chester Brown, in terms of the actual comics making process if not in specific visual terms. In many ways my style has developed as both a response to other things as well as primarily a mode of communicating my own ideas and feelings in the most direct way I can. 
A few years ago, someone with a graphic style such as yours would have struggled to gain acceptance. Did you ever feel frustrated by people not understanding where you were coming from? Was it easy for you to find a publisher?
I began by self-publishing, after all of the indie comics publishers had rejected my first book Clumsy, mostly because they all felt Clumsy didn't have a style that would sell well enough for them to afford the risk of publishing it. After I self-published and it was pretty well received, Top Shelf offered to take over publishing my work, although they had already been distributing the self-published version. Even now there are a lot of people who seem to dislike the style, and sometimes that's frustrating, but I try to keep in mind  that not everyone will like everything. I think my style comes from a background of art and poetry, whereas many comics readers in America have a bias in favor of highly rendered or very stylized imagery.

Your books are mostly autobiographic. What are the reasons for such a choice and the biggest challenges in tackling autobiographic comics?
The choice began just as a way to make a direct counterpoint to the fine art I saw that had nothing to say about any human experience - art that seemed to be so much about conceptual ideas and incestuous in that it only referred to art, and just stayed inside itself. So I wanted to make something as real and honest as possible. Why I've kept up with the autobiography is hard to say. It became a kind of compulsion and I've got a certain amount of stories left that I'd like to tell and then I think I'll be ready to move on to something else. 
You also display a big love for the superhero genre, and this is not very common about indie artists. What did you want to bring to the table with Bighead?
Bighead was about bringing fun back to superheroes, and about unbridled love of the comics I read as a kid. I wanted to bring a sense of joy and wonder to superheroes, which now often feel the need to be overly serious, and everything needs to be explained away.

Let’s talk about Clumsy and the other books that form the Girlfriend trilogy. When did the idea of a trilogy come about?
Trilogies are nice, I've always liked them. The first book wasn't even started with the intent of being just about the relationship, but that's how it flowed as I wrote it. The second book was about losing my virginity, which was a subject I'd wanted to tackle in my art for a while, but didn't know how. After those two books, the third was a way of questioning how intimate my relationship was there, as well as making a parallel to people reading my books and how well they really knew me. After those three I created Every Girl Is The End Of The World For Me as a kind of epilogue, to put an end to the relationship focused work.

To be honest with you, I was both amazed and frightened by how brutally honest you were in Clumsy. How did you approach the comic and did you ever feel uneasy with such an open depiction of yourself?
When I was drawing that book I was still in the fine art midset - the book is drawn all in one blank sketchbook so that the sketchbook itself would be the 'comic book.' So I never really imagined that as many people would really be delving into it as they have. There's also a sense that because I'm being so brutally honest, it's hard to be too critical. Two things that have always surprised me are that people rarely question how truthful I am in the book, and that criticism often has to do with my character as a person rather than the form of the book or even that character within the context of the book. 
After Clumsy, you put out Be A Man, a sort of Clumsy parody. Why did you feel the need to do that? Was it a dig to superficial comic fans or the result of the need to avoid been characterized?
I thought it was funny, that people had these strong reactions to my character in Clumsy, and people had these very big ideas about manliness apparently, so I wrote out the original version of Be A Man in a couple days in my sketchbook and did a small print run of minicomics. People really loved it though, so I redrew and expanded it. Part of me probably does want to take this easy route to show that I'm more complex and not so one dimensional as Clumsy shows, and part of me probably just enjoyed making some jokes.

After completing your Girlfriend trilogy, what are your plans for future comics? What are your current projects?
I've got a few more autobiographical comics planned, some children's books maybe, and a quarterly series of small books with Top Shelf that will showcase more Bighead stories and the like, mostly humorous fiction and parody type work. The book I'm working on right now is called 'Funny Misshapen Body' and is about high school through art school, kind of a memoir of becoming an artist.

At the moment, in Italy there is a big debate about the graphic novel form and about graphic novels vs serial comics. What is your take on the subject (given that you have worked mainly on the graphic novel format)? Would you be interested in approaching serial comics? What about mainstream gigs?
I've thought about the serial form, and I enjoy reading them in many cases, but for my own work I prefer making books. I think what Chris Ware does - where the serialization itself is in book form - is a nice way to do things, and I'm surprised more people haven't already moved in that direction. I think the debate, which happens here also, is rather silly. Certainly, it's stupid to be militant about keeping your pamphlet comics when the market itself can't support them. And in any case, prose novels used to be serialised in magazines all the time, and no one seems to have a problem now that novels come out all at once. Some stories the serial format works well, so I'd hope that people would want what's best for the story, be it reading it in segments or all at once. As for mainstream gigs, I'd still like to achieve my childhood dream of drawing a Marvel comic someday, so maybe there will be an opportunity for that that comes up at some point. 

Speaking with other American creators, they seem to have the perception of European comics as very artsy and creative. What about you? Are you in touch with the European comics scene? Do you know anything about Italian comics at all?
I'm a little in touch, from visiting Angouleme and some of the European comics festivals. I think some of the creators here focus on those artsy creative books and don't realize how much genre work there is in European comics. Most of my knowledge comes from what's been widely available here - Milo Manera, of course, and some of the other artists from Heavy Metal. I like Gipi's work and am glad to see it being well received here. And I know the anthology Canicola, which I've enjoyed reading a few issues of, after meeting Amanda Vähämäki, although she's from Finland originally. 

Do you still read comics? What do you like?
I read everything I can. Ware, Clowes, Chester Brown and Julie Doucet remain among my favorites, and I read probably 85-90% of everything Drawn&Quarterly, TopShelf and Fantagraphics put out, as well as whatever other indie comics look interesting. I've started reading some mainstream comics again, mostly whatever Grant Morrison is writing lately. 

Name three comics you think people would need to read…

Saturday, 17 November 2012

BRIAN BOLLAND interview

Cover for Animal Man N. 25. Art by Brian Bolland.
Interview by Antonio Solinas, conducted in 2011.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto magazine (N. 83, July 2012).
Presented here in English for the first time.
Brian Bolland site: www.brianbolland.net

For most of your career you have been considered the best cover artist in the business. Did you pursue that career consciously or was it just natural to apply your drawing skills to covers?
That’s kind of an interesting question because when I first started reading comics as a child I saw them as great treasures, you know, and I wasn’t greatly interested in the stories. When I accumulated my first 100 or 200 comics as a teenager, I would keep them in bags, and it was always the cover that I loved the most. It was partly a practical thing when I became a professional (to concentrate on the covers) because I’m quite slow, and it takes me a long time to do a 48-page book or a 200-page series. So I would have to turn a lot of work down. Then people would say “Well if you can’t draw the story, can you draw the cover for us please”. But I do enjoy drawing covers, because I can draw all kinds of characters without being committed to that character for months on end.

Have you got a favourite cover of yours? What about cover of yours that you don’t really like?
The ones that I don’t like I sort of forget, you know. Recently DC compiled a book of my DC covers [Cover Story: The DC Comics Art of Brian Bolland, published Oct, 2011], so I had to go through my job book for the last 25 years, and I saw covers in there that I had completely forgotten about, and some of them I just didn’t want to see again (laughs). But as for favourites, I’ve got certain favourites. For example, I can’t remember the number but it was an Animal Man cover and it had a monkey and a typewriter, you could probably go and find the number [Animal Man N.25], and that was always a bit of a favourite of mine. When I was doing The Invisibles covers, that coincided with the period during which I switched from drawing conventionally to using a computer. You can use some all sorts of photocollages and you can do all kinds of strange things in Photoshop or whatever programs you are using, so I was enjoying those: some of those I’m very pleased with.

Your comic input, instead, has not been as prolific, at least for mainstream comics. Why was that? Is it just a question of you being slow or did you not find many right stories to work on?
Yes, I am a very slow artist, and I don’t seem to get any faster. You’d think that when you get older you’d learn short-cuts, but no… Anyway, going back to the question, after working with Alan Moore on The Killing Joke, he really is the best writer I can think of, after that I tried writing my own stuff, and I do sort of feel that some of the people I like the very best are people who write and draw their own work. I like Robert Crumb’s work, I like Berkeley Breathed’s work on Bloom County and I love the Hernandez brothers, who write and draw their own stuff, and I really felt that the way for me to go was to write and draw my own stuff. But I don’t think in commercial terms, I couldn’t sit down and write a series of Superman stories because I’m really not that interested in the characters from the point of view of the stories. I mean, it is fascinating to draw those characters, because they bring different challenges, but I don’t really have anything to say in terms of stories, so I’m not actually drawn to stories that much.
The Killing Joke deluxe front cover.Art by B. Bolland.
You mentioned The Killing Joke, a superb effort, and the time spent with Alan Moore. What do you remember about that time?
My memories of Alan really pre-date The Killing Joke, because Alan and I and Dave Gibbons and Kevin O’Neill and the rest of us were all near each other back in the 2000AD days, and so the times I spent with Alan were before then. I did actually spend some time with Alan at a convention just before he was working on From Hell, you know, the Jack the Ripper story, but I don’t really have any anecdotes about him that I can think of other than the fact that during the writing of The Killing Joke he rang me up once and he got into some sort of dark place in the story. He rang me up and I think he talked about the part were he was going to do some terrible harm to Barbara Gordon. He talked me through it and then seemed to feel a lot better about it and that was fine, carried on. He’s a great guy, he’s a fun guy to be with and he’s fascinating to listen to. I haven’t seen him for ages, he doesn’t seem to be much in the world of comics now, does he?

Not many people, instead, know that you write and draw Mr. Mamoulian, which is very different from your mainstream output. Do you want to talk about the strip for the people that might not have read it?
After the The Killing Joke I was rather frustrated at how slowly my work was turned out. So I thought I’d like to go back to the way I was when I was a child, when I could work quickly because I didn’t really have any standards to live up to. So I wanted to try to draw a page in like two hours. And the first page did take about two hours. Sometimes I would sit down with a blank page with Mr. Mamoulian wanting to draw without a story to draw, so it became like a stream of consciousness sort of idea, so it would be me just uploading various notions I had in my head. It’s curious the way in which the stories and threads of stories and characters begin to talk in their own voice: you know, they say that  you became like a conduit through which your characters speak. So it was always going to be the sort of thing that got a lot more complicated and was never resolved in the end, but I shall still do more.

I found it amazing how different the feel of Mr. Mamoulian was, compared to your more visible projects. Does Mr. Mamoulian represent some sort of answer to your “pop” stuff? I find fascinating that a DC/Vertigo fan might not even recognise your style, seeing the strip. It’s almost schizophrenic…
It is quite different. At the beginning I wanted to draw in such a way that there were no mistakes. Any line I happened to draw on the page, whether it was in the right place or not, it was fine. And I used a rapidograph: normally I use a brush, but I just wanted to try a rapidograph. I wanted to get that kind of spidery look with thin lines you get with a rapidograph. Because of the kind of work I do, it is a bit like engraving, or wood carving. It is not something you do very quickly. It takes a long time to draw a human figure in my conventional commercial style, but I wanted the figures in Mr. Mamoulian to be drawn like in a second, in 2 seconds. So you’re right, people probably wouldn’t recognize that it’s by me.

Page from Mr. Mamoulian. Art by B. Bolland.
How do you balance your work between corporate assignments and more personal projects? Does the way you approach them change?
Well the commercial project… When I say my commercial projects it sounds like I’m doing them just for the money, but that’s not the case, really because the cover work I do does allow me a lot of artistic licence. The covers I did on The Invisibles, for instance, were quite strange in places, I mean it wasn’t a Superman cover, was it? And it wasn’t a Marvel cover. There’s something about Grant Morrison’s writing that is so hallucinogenic you know, and drug-induced that it sets your mind free: you can do all kinds of crazy things. So I don’t think that anything I do is purely and completely a piece of commercial art. I do put a certain amount of personal interest into everything I do you know, and they end up looking different.

Talking about The Invisibles covers that you mentioned, what was the process? Did you receive some kind of an outline of what was going on in the stories, did you receive the script or were you just free to do whatever you wanted?
Quite often the script hadn’t been sent in to the editor when I was asked to do the cover. My editor was usually Shelley Bond, and she would say something like “Grant says that the next issue has something to do with death in it”, or something similar. I really don’t remember how the process for  Volume Two, but with Volume Three we got this thing where he was counting the numbers from twelve to 1 backwards hopefully to coincide with the millennium, so I then got into this sort of thing where I’d be playing around with the numbers. I mean if you look at some of those covers you’ll see the number of the issue referenced in 3 or 4 or 5 different ways. (The Invisibles Volume Three) Number seven for instance has a still from Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal, and you have two of the characters posed like the actors from The Seventh Seal. And if you look at the checker-board it only has 7 squares on it, and stuff like that. So it became a kind of an improvisation on my part. And then, when we did the collected editions, I did one that was like a photo collage flash. For the final one, which has the last 12 issues collected, I made up 12 new covers which had never appeared. By then I was in free-fall, I was just doing what I wanted.

Did you get any feedback from Grant?
People seem to have the idea that there were secret messages hidden in Invisibles covers, they thought that it was some sort of a secret code from Grant, but it wasn’t really, because Grant didn’t have any input into the covers. He had to give the final OK, the roughs were all sent to him for him to say yes or no to, but he never said no.

Did you get any more input from him?
No, I had no conversation with Grant at all.

Talking about Grant, I think it was him who called you “the Norman Rockwell of the deranged”. What did you think about the definition, and how did you develop your personal brand of realism?
Oh I love that, “the Norman Rockwell of the deranged”, I like that. Well I think I’ve always been a very literal. I mean some people sort of think in metaphor and they can draw in metaphor, they can draw in a very expressionistic way, but I’ve always been drawn to very realistic art. I used to love Salvador Dali and I think I like him as much because he was technically so good, and I think that you can do very strange things, all the more so when you drawing in an comparatively classical way, really. But at the end of the day I want to be able to draw properly, it is a very important technical exercise for me to try to draw as well as possible.

A few years ago, some “real” artist plagiarised your work, and you responded publicly making a series of excellent points. What do you remember about that time?
I don’t need to go through the whole story for you, do I?
Tank Girl Odyssey cover. Art by Brian Bolland.
If you want, please do…
Well, I did a cover for Tank Girl Odyssey for DC comics and it had Tank Girl and Booga sitting and watching TV. There’s a French artist (he’s actually Icelandic but he’s been living in France for some years), his name is Erró, who, like Roy Lichtenstein used to do, he makes collages of comics mainly. Not always comics, but a lot of the times he is using comics, and quite often the collages just have hundreds and hundreds of figures all over them like Jack Kirby figures or something and they’re legitimately a collage, but he made a big print which consisted, ¾ of if was the whole of my Tank Girl cover, a ¼ of it was Chinese social realism. I saw it in the Pompidour center in Paris: actually a friend of mine, called Rufus Dayglo, spotted it first. I was outraged, I thought “Most of this thing is mine”, so I went on the internet and wrote a letter, and eventually I was contacted by Erró. We have had various contacts since then, and I went over to see him in his studio in Paris. He took the prints off sale, he paid me all the money he made from the sale of them and offered me all the remaining prints to do whatever I wanted with them, I could destroy them if I wanted. But what I said to him was “Look, why don’t you carry on selling them and we’ll split the proceeds between the two of us?” so that is the deal we made. Well, actually to be quite honest, the deal we made, he offered to sell the rest of them and to pay me the proceeds, so basically I was bought off.”

Did you get pissed off about the fact that the whole thing played into the fact that maybe comics are not real art and you need someone to make them legitimate?
That was the key sore point in the whole situation. I mean, I made this point in the letter that he lives in the strata of the art world which are considered to be high art and he makes these voyages into low art where he steals, basically, and elevates it into high art. And it was an exact parallel with the colonial days of the Empire where the explorers would go and visit the natives in the darkest Africa, and they would find them very vulgar, but somehow they had this very colourful lifestyle and they would then steal it and exploit it and usually for no compensation whatsoever, and so I thought it was a direct comparison.

It’s bullshit, though.
(Laughs). Actually, to be fair, there are a lot of very good people: I do like collage, for example Max Ernst, the French surrealists, and all those other people, and I do rather like Lichtenstein’s work. I mean there is something he did with Russ Heath’s panels that did draw attention to them somehow, although I’m sure Russ Heath, or whoever he was, never got the credit for it.

Do you think that now that comics are really an accepted form of art by the general public, but still considered minor, episodes of plagiarism are more likely to happen?
Comics are used all the time. Occasionally I used to be invited to do commercial advertising work: whenever people from outside the comics world want to use comics in some sort of other context, they always want the “Whizz, Ka-Boom, Pow!” 1960 Batman-type of comic. That is the vocabulary of comics, and they like the vocabulary of comics, whereas in the world of comics, a lot of people are doing very intelligent, experimental stuff. You know, people like Chris Ware and all these people. I mean, Spiegelman won a Pulitzer prize for his book, didn’t he? But outside of the comics people still think of it the same way, and that is the contention with me.

Who are the people that you follow in your work? You were mentioning Chris Ware and Robert Crumb: are there other people, even in commercial comics?
To tell the truth, I haven’t read comics for 20 years or more, I don’t read anything. I’m part of the way through a really nice graphic novel called How to Understand Israel in 60 Days or Less. It’s a Vertigo travel journal by an artist whose name I can’t remember [Sarah Glidden]. It’s very nice. The artist I really like are nothing like my work. I like Jim Woodring’s work. His…is it Frank? I love his work. I cant’ think of what else I bought recently. I recently bought a book of Norman Rockwell, speaking of Norman Rockwell (laughs).
Cover for Jack of Fables N. 17. Art by B. Bolland.
It is quite a known fact that nowadays you work only in digital form, using a Macintosh and Illustrator. Do you want to describe your working process?
I do all my artwork entirely in Photoshop. I’ve been talking to people today who use all kinds of bits of software: there is one called Brushes and there is also Manga Studio, but I’m just used to using a Wacom tablet, but not a Cintiq, which is very popular. Maybe I should try it, but I use a Wacom and I’m using photoshop and no piece of paper is involved at all. Everything, the roughs, the pencils and inks and colours are all done in Photoshop. But also they are really not at stages: you know, you can work on the pencils and the inks simultaneously, the top of the page could be inks and the bottom of the page you may not have even started drawing on it yet. Really without actually showing people it would be difficult to describe it, but it is all Photoshop.

Do you work on many layers?
That’s right. I mean, when you do the drawing you make a new layer, you fade it down to 50% or something so it looks like a pencil line. And then you do another layer and you fade it down to 10% and then you do another layer and sometimes I have two more layers of pencil. If you get two or more characters or figures interacting with one another it is quite of the quite useful to draw them each one on a different layer, so that if you got the arm in the wrong place you could move just the arm or something without interfering with the other figure so that drawing might have elements of two or three or more levels, layers. When it comes to the colouring I do have a finished piece of line artwork in Photoshop which is kept, and then you put the colour on top of that in channels.

How does the process work, when you have to produce cover art for comics? Is it always the same, or does it work in different ways? Do you get a generic indication of what effect is requested and the rest is up to you, or do you receive detailed instructions?
When it comes to covers I have very little instructions at all, for the Jack of Fables I tried to go for a watercolour wash effect, I was quite keen to keep the line drawing visible, and then lay the colours as if they were a wash on a piece of watercolour paper. I was trying to make them look a little bit like Dulac (I’ve forgotten Dulac’s first name, William? Thomas?). On that occasion, because they were supposed to be like fairytales, I wanted to make it look like watercolour.

In many occasions you have been called to be some sort of a bait to the reader, like I can think about Animal Man, whose interior art was not very strong, and you were the one who would have to catch the reader’s eye. This has happened many times throughout you career. What are the factors that made you accept the job like in this case?
Well, the main factor is that it would interest me. I mean I have heard that criticism: that people sometimes love my covers but the inside is shit (laughs). The thing is - how can I put this? - I mean the cover doesn’t really want to be the worst part of it, does it? The cover has to look good, and it takes me a little while to make something look good so I can’t draw 25 pages of it. But I must say Tony Akin’s interiors in Jack of Fables were nice, they were very good. He’s a good artist. Occasionally when I was not doing anything, Vertigo offered me a character to draw, and sometimes I really struggled to think “How an Earth am I going to make this character look interesting?”. I do like weird looking characters: it is very difficult to make a character that just wears jeans and a t-shirt look interesting. Some artists can, and they can do it beautifully, but I’m much happier with a character that has a bicycle wheel for a hat and a huge bowtie and huge feet (laughs). 
The Invisibles. Art by B. Bolland.
Looking at cover artists in comics, do you have personal favourites that you follow normally? What about artist outside the usual comic field?
Well I love Adam Hughes’ work. Adam Hughes has taken the art of beautiful women to a completely different degree, I mean there is no one to touch Adam for that. I mean the rest of us have just given up. James Jean was very very nice, but he has left the field I think, hasn’t he? There was artist called Phil Hale, who worked in comics for a while but he has become more of a fine art portrait painter.  Apart from that there are other artists: I mean you mentioned Norman Rockwell, I think Adam Hughes uses Norman Rockwell as inspiration for some of his ideas because they tell stories. J.C. Leyendecker, I mean all of these names are the people who are very respected. There is an artist called Thomas Sullivan who was a sort of cartoonist from the first decade of the 20th century, whose work is inspiring me for the use of pen and ink. There was an artist called Lawson Wood, who was a British watercolour illustrator from the 1920’s, who I like. I actually like Daniel Clowes, I like the simplicity, I mean while we’re all trying to draw people fro all sorts of strange angles he just has a face staring right from the center of the page at you and it is very effective. And Charles Burns, and people like that.

Any final words for your Italian fans?
I’m delighted I have Italian fans, I must make a point of coming over there again some time to a convention.