Saturday, 13 September 2008

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [2]

Interview and translation (from Italian) by smoky man & Fabrizio Lo Bianco.
Originally printed in Studio Space, a book about comics artists in their studio by Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall published by Image Comics in 2008.
In his review CBR columnist Augie De Blieck Jr. wrote: "Hey, it's not like you're going to read too many interviews with Sergio Toppi anywhere else. That was a pleasant surprise in the book."

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [1]

The Studio Space
I work in my home, in a room with a big table which I’d like to be even bigger because it’s always loaded with drawing materials and reference. All around me I have books and magazines. For the most part they are useful for my work but there are also publications I take in the studio simply because I am bound to them. National Geographic is one of the magazines which fill the room. I used to buy it regularly, but not anymore for the simple reason that I need to free up more space. I do like to look around and see my toy soldiers and my collection of helmets. This is a great passion of mine which I have in common with many illustrators of my generation. I also have a small music player system—a gift of a friend—and a photograph of my wife Aldina.
For a long time I would listen to the radio while I was drawing, but I have discovered again the importance of silence. I sometimes think that in modern society silence and the ability to listen are very rare goods. Some time ago I received as a gift a fax machine which is placed on the table edge. It’s very useful for my work as I have never owned a computer, despite many of my colleagues telling me that they can be a very useful tool, especially for doing research over the internet. I also always keep within reach a small hairdryer for drying the inks. So this is the space where I work and, apart from it being as full as an egg, I find it very comfortable.
You know I am not inclined to consider comics as art. I think comics are a ‘handicraft,’ though sometimes they can be handicraft of the very highest quality. Comics are just a handicraft work because they have such complexity; you need a script, there is the drawing, a time scansion, you need colouring, you need to present the story in a strict amount of pages. A ‘fine artist’ could do everything he wants, he could draw a chair with five legs and nobody can say a word... a comics artist has to draw that chair with four standard legs. So this becomes a process of activities that are more similar to handicraft than art in my humble opinion.
Compared to illustration, comics need much more dedication, both in time and effort. You really have to plan things. With illustration there is less constraint, there is no sequence to do. So sometimes I have more fun doing an illustration, it can be more direct, from the idea to the page. So it’s a very different approach for me. An illustration, even an elaborate one, has a specific location on the page. You just have to pay attention to the right balance of the composition. With sequential art, with comics, things are more complicated, you have to consider many more factors and elements.
Before starting a new story I spend several days searching for reference material. It is very difficult for an artist to imagine everything so I will go to bookshops and libraries, because it’s important to have a good photographic library. I know today things are much easier with the computer, but as I mentioned I don’t have one. So, it’s important for me to go out and collect images and references and put them in a personal archive that is ready to be used if needed.
An artist has to be able to find elements for his work from everything he sees during each day. When you work on your own story you know from the very beginning how you will draw things and that they will engage you. When you work with a writer however it could happen that you find yourself having to draw something that you don’t like. It’s a very difficult thing to have a perfect symbiosis between the artist and the writer. Both of them try to prevail.

You can go in your favourite direction when it is just yourself writing and drawing. I don’t write a full script. I prefer to progressively develop a story which has a sense of its own. Usually I don’t make any storyboard. I don’t like to work on a story totally planned from the beginning. Once I have the story and I know how it goes, I will put down some brief notes, a list of the key events, just to visualize the sequence, but usually I go directly on the page.
I often see that a first drawing has an energy, an impact that you can’t find in an inked piece.

Generally I draw the pages in the right order starting out at the beginning, though it could happen that I start from a specific page, or a panel, and I build the rest around it. I draw the pages in full, adding the text and paying a lot of attention to the balance, such as where to place the balloons. I will deliberately sacrifice the balance of the page though to put focus on a particular element or figure. Sometimes I draw a page at the first attempt. But in other cases I could need more time. It’s really difficult to predict. I do have a very flexible procedure, but knowing the deadline helps!

I try to maintain a sense of freshness, often by just doing a preliminary sketchy pencil and then going directly to the final version in inks. I am fascinated by the strong contrast between black and white. It seems to me like something ‘definitive.’ For this same reason I love etching. And maybe you can feel this passion reflected in my own style. For colours, I again prefer using inks. I like the transparency you can obtain with them.
It is fundamental to be very critical, very severe regarding your own work. If I am not satisfied with a page, I feel a great discomfort looking at it. Drawing is a means of expressing myself, doing what I like, recreating on paper some historical events or legends that have fascinated me. So if a page is ‘wrong’ then it is something to be eliminated, even if you have worked on it for a long time. So trashing a piece becomes a sort of liberation. On the other hand I like to keep with me the pages I consider to be well done.
That said I really don’t know why my art has become so appreciated. I know of this admiration for my work and I am pleased by this, but I don’t know what the inner reasons are. I have no explanation, and I don’t speak English so I don’t think I will ever be able to get in direct contact with many of the American artists who have expressed pleasure from my work.

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [3]

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