Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Comics: smoky man & Chris Weston

[click on the above image to ENLARGE]

In 2007 I contributed with a one-page comics short story to Mono N.3. Mono is an Italian no profit comics anthology of one-page comics stories about a selected theme. All profits from Mono (printed by Italian publisher Tunué) support the distance adoption of a Peruvian child.

Theme of issue N. 3 was "water". Originally I thought to write a sci-fi thing but the amazing Chris Weston - who generously agreed to draw the page - asked for something with… piranhas (?). So I conceived a sort of Pulp Fiction-like homage with those cute fishes as guest stars. Enjoy!

The story is presented here for the first time in English.
Out of Water is © smoky man (story) & Chris Weston (art).
Lettering by Bruno Olivieri.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Melinda Gebbie interview [2]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

In the photo by Alan Light: Catherine Yronwode (left), Carol Lay (middle), and Melinda Gebbie on the right, at the Women In Comics panel at the 1982 San Diego Comic Con (today called Comic-Con International).

Melinda Gebbie interview [1]

10. The style you used in Lost Girls, in a way, mimics certain artists of the era, while still retaining a certain individuality. What was the rational approach to the artistic process?
First of all, I thought the most reassuring and warm and inviting way to illustrate the book, was to make it seem like it was a book for adults. The pictures were soft, with positive memories and there weren’t any sharp edges, or shades. You know, you want people to feel a sense of reverie and safety. I conjured up feelings of several different children books that I liked, you know, with a kind of a soft illustration style and, of course, with The White Book, they were all pastiches of well-known artists, so that introduced different styles, thinking mostly, I guess, of Alice and Dorothy’s art styles, because they are the softest. Alice’s are oval, like a pool of water, you know, the memory part, and Dorothy’s are kind of an American vista, and Wendy’s are like church windows, kind of rigid and outlined in black, not exactly threatening, but just encased in something as if, her personality is being kind of revealed in it, you know, English rigidity. There definitely was a kind of thinking behind how these things were registered, how people would take them in.

11. I don’t want to investigate into your personal life, but obviously this book was instrumental in your relationship with Alan. When did you realise that the book needed a sort of intimacy related to living in the same place?
Actually, it wasn’t quite like that. What happened was, he had to work quite hard at any one time on seven or even eight other projects, while he was working on Lost Girls as well, so he had a very, very rigorous schedule, and I needed time to work on Lost Girls. I lived in a different place than he did, and we got together three times a week and if we hadn’t lived separately, that wouldn’t have worked, because we both needed time alone. Being an artist was quite frustrating because, I mean, he was able to do so much work during that period, many different things, and I was only able to do that book. But I had to be able to keep that particular reverie that I needed, so, if we had been living together, I don’t think that it would have worked like that. I mean, we got together several times a week and we were very close, but of the work, we lived apart, and I think that was a very important and functional thing: that was part of the reason why I think it was successful.

12. And then what happened?
You mean after the book?

13. Well, obviously you got married, so something must have happened…
We lived together now, once the book was over and… I’ll tell you, one of the very important things about this, as well, is that we couldn’t afford to have arguments. We couldn’t ever afford to have an argument, because if we argued it would affect our relationship with the book, because… it just does. It was a real work of romantic alchemy, and like many romances, it kind of required that we, like our characters, would not settle, but were anticipating seeing each other, looking forward to seeing each other and being together. It constantly remained a romance that we anticipated.

14. Sorry, I thought that you moved in before the book was finished, I didn’t mean to be rude…
No, no, I don’t mind talking about this because I think the way people work on something like this, is useful to know…
He is working on this marvellous book now, and I have a studio in the back of the house. It has all worked out exactly as it should have.

15. Do you want to talk about your workspace, now that you mentioned it?
Well, it’s great! I have got two little skylights in the front, I like to do a lot of big paintings. I have got my paintings from when I lived in San Francisco, of which a friend of mine said, very kindly: “I have seen the future of psychedelic painting”. I am having a wonderful time with them.
I am also intending to write a book about my life in San Francisco, because I knew a lot of amazing people, fantastic people. I really want to be able to offer that the public, so these people get to be remembered, because they were fantastic. Some of them are gone, you know, some of them are still around. Life changes, everything changes.

16. Speaking about conventions, Alan is famous for not going to conventions anymore. Do you think he will ever change his mind?
Well, he did a signing for Lost Girls a couple of weeks ago at a comic shop in London that we are fond of, Gosh Comics, which is a personal favourite. I don’t know if he will ever do anything again, though, in public.

17. I would like to leave you with one last question. Do you want to tell us what the future holds for you in terms of your work and comics work in particular? As I said, I am doing a painting and I will do a book. As for comics work, Alan has asked me to illustrate a poem that he has written about William Blake, the English visionary. That’s as close to any comics that I can tell you about. I am doing a couple of illustrations for his Magic Book. Other than that, I haven’t really thought too much about any more comics. Perhaps, when I get my painting done, and I finish my book, if something comes along… I am not adverse to it, I just haven’t really thought too much about it.

18. I suppose you are going to be busy for quite a long time, with both the book and the painting…
Yeah, maybe (laughs).

Monday, 4 August 2008

Melinda Gebbie interview [1]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

1. Do you want to introduce yourself to Italian readers that probably know your work for Cobweb, but have not been exposed to your underground period?
I started in the underground scene a long time ago: that was when Robert Crumb was still selling his comics on the street, and the early issues of Zap! came out. I came in through Wimmens’ Comix, which was just about the only comic book that women were doing at the time. There had got to be something like maybe up to forty men doing comics at some point, and there were still only ten women, but I think at the very beginning it was pretty much the Zap! crew and no women. This was in the seventies, you know. That was a very fun period, I mean probably a lot of our comics didn’t get very far, but some of them got to England. My solo comic, which was called Fresca Zizis, came to England and got involved in a bust through Knockabout Comix, so I had to defend it to Richard Branson’s dad (the guy who owns Virgin Records), who was the judge in that trial. My comic was being sold at his comic book shop and record store just down the street from that: that was my introduction to England. Even then, our comics were not all that well known in England, even, so I am not surprised they wouldn’t be very well known in your neck of the wood.

2. What kind of approach did you bring to the table when you were working in what was essentially a men’s world?
My particular sort of approach was that I didn’t see why art should be immediately recognisable as being done by a woman. I thought that what women generally should do is to be gutsy about what we wanted to say as (much as) men were about what the want to say, to be un-self conscious, to be not so much feminine in our work as self-revealing, because that’s the only way you really give your audience something that they can use. The eternally feminine, which is still seen a lot, you know, the very pretty little drawings, very dainty and tasteful: girls are not supposed to draw cars, they are not supposed to be able to draw motorcycles, and they are not supposed to draw rough, tough sex scenes: basically, they are not supposed to have that much of a grasp on really what is going on in human psychology or in society. I got accused, to my own great delight, of drawing like a guy, and someone from a local newspaper in San Francisco said: “Oh, this is shocking! This is disgusting, this is really sexually explicit and violent! Who is this terrible man?”. (laughs) But it wasn’t done by man, it was done by a woman. I got compared to… do you know who S. Clay Wilson is?

3. I really don’t know if he has been published in Italy, to be honest. Even the most famous underground comic artists might be obscure, apart from Crumb and Shelton…
That’s interesting. I don’t know much about the comic publishing scene in Italy at all…

4. When you were talking about being an artist rather than a female artist, how do you feel about the manga influence, with women reverting to drawing pretty pictures?
Well, I have met a woman named Jill Thompson, who I think is doing quite well in that kind of thing, and she kind of explained to me a little bit of the visual vocabulary involved with it, and she said that there are very strict rules to it, and there are always supposed to be little tea parties and things like that. I was quite impressed because I have been to Japan and I picked up a lot of manga books: I love Japanese stuff, I am very interested in it. I am interested in someone following rigorously a sort of situation and doing well in it. It is quite interesting. It seems so back and forth, I mean: I was just thinking I sort of made my name in comics for having kind of an aggressive and sexually tough art style, but with Lost Girls I actually turned back around and use the softnesses and the delicacies of looking at things through a woman’s point of view, to actually be able to achieve the visual storytelling in Lost Girls. I think if another man had done it, it wouldn’t have worked, because that was the whole problem of pornography for women, and it was women who I was trying to reach. Instead of trying to be hard as men, I started to try to appeal to women, because I really wanted Lost Girls to be a book that women would like. I think for a long time the idea of pornography itself has been horrible for women, and they have not responded to it at all in the past. In 2006, when Lost Girls debuted in San Diego, there were just so many women buying it as men: a lot of them were young, and quite a few were middle aged; there were all different ages. One young girl… well, she wasn’t too young to buy it (laughs) (we had to be very strict about that) she had a very cute little short hairstyle, really cute, she came up to me and she said: “I can’t wait to read this, I’m going to take it home”. She came back the next day, and she said: “I stayed up all night reading it”. She had tears in her eyes, and she said: “I just wanted to thank you for doing this”. We held each other’s hand and I said: “You don’t know how much this means to me, that it’s affected you so much”. This is the whole reason that I did this.

5. You must have realised since the early stages that you had something that would have a massive impact on many people. How frustrating was it for you to wait for so long to see Lost Girls finished?
It was very, very frustrating. I think the reason it took so long to do it… I worked it out just out of curiosity, and it turns out I spent about three days per panel on the book, which sounds reasonable, but this sort of distillation of trying to come up with the most positive and blissful and communicative feeling about sexuality in my mind, so that the colours were wonderful, and all the objects, the architecture, the light, the shadow, I wanted everything to be as blissful as people’s most beautiful memories of sex. And it was inventing this new language, because I have never seen any sex art done like that, not even single-panel pages. I have seen things that are charming, I have seen things that are amazing, like Hans Bellmer, I have seen things that are articulate, but not blissful. It was a matter of coming up with a new language, and there hadn’t been one before. When I was a little girl, I thought: “When I grow up, there must be a book about sex, that tells you everything you want to know about it, and it’s really beautiful and you learn everything you need to know, and then you can be confident and you don’t have to worry about this strange thing that is coming up, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to think, not knowing what to feel”. And, of course, there was no book like that, but I think, actually, Lost Girls is that book.
I guess I have a sort of evangelistic attitude about it. I really hope it will help heal, I really hope it will help people to have confidence, hope it will just make them feel better about the fact that they are sexual, since we all are, whether we pretend we are or not.

6. We discussed with Alan about how much Lost Girls and the relationship you have helped him to grow both as a man and as a writer. What about you? How much did this book change you, in a way?
It’s amazing because the after effects of the book, not the immediate ones (were that) it’s done for me what I hoped it would do for other people, because I had my own bad experiences, unhappy experiences in that realm, like everyone has, and I found that the book actually addresses these things, the fact that I can do this book is kind of being an astronaut, you’re going out into a space you have never been in before, and you actually come back with something you yourself really needed. It’s been great. I mean, first of all, it’s really been important that the response has been so positive, because people seem to feel that they really needed it. I needed it as well, and it’s helped me as well. It was just a matter of getting through this really long process: we had trouble getting it printed, and when I took it down to London, luckily the printing process was much more sophisticated than they were when we first started the book, because a lot of it is colour pencil, it’s very delicate, and printing has caught up with the processes, because it couldn’t have really been presented adequately before.
The printers that I went to, the guy that was supposed to help me and do the book specifically, I think he thought I was kind of odd and we didn’t get along, and it was very frustrating for me, because I really needed him to be enthusiastic and to be positive about it, and for us to have a kind of little friendship over it. But luckily I found a friend in one of the other men at work there and so it went all right, everything was fine. It just took what seemed a very long time…

7. I know, I remember buying the first two issues of the Kitchen Sink edition…
They were done in colour Xerox, we couldn’t even get printers for them!

8. It must have been tough for you in the beginning, to get used to Alan’s way of working. Alan said you two had to discover the proper way to collaborate, with a thumbnail method to substitute his detailed scripts…
I am probably the only artist to have a few pages of Alan’s thumbnails! (laughs)
They were much better for me, because I could see exactly where he wanted this table, or that shoe, that window, or that teapot. I would read the script, because it was so beautiful and so detailed, but I’d get a bit lost. I would draw something, but actually it wasn’t quite correct, I would put something in a wrong place, and so when he did the thumbnails I would know exactly where everything was supposed to go, and so when I chose the three women, of course, we got together over them constantly, so we were much more in sync. The other thing is that, because we were so close, we could have really long conversations about the sexuality itself, the history of it, what it means to people, how it affects people in literature or pornography, why it is a defective medium, why it didn’t work, you know, all those thing. We got so much conversation, that these others artists don’t get the advantage of it, really.

9. Did you have any disagreement about the way to do certain things in Lost Girls?
No. There wouldn’t be disagreement; there would be little things, again, visual. In some of the things, where he would suggest a scene that would possibly be a bit more obviously sexual, I would change sometimes something, so there would be a bit more use to looking at someone’s hand, or their facial expression, and then work out the other things, because one of the important things about Lost Girls is sexual anticipation and desire, and of course he (Alan) very skilfully worked out all three books so that they start out at a certain level and then reach a gradual higher and higher peak, so it isn’t always on a really high-pitched level, but little things that you do with the drawings, which just sort of talk about the body language of desire, what people do with their hands when they sit with each other, or their longing looks or the colour of the shadows, or something like that.
No, we never actually did disagree. I did do two pages, which he felt were not very effective in getting the story across, and in the end I actually redrew them because I realised they weren’t getting the story across. They were very complicated. It was the shadow sequence, where Wendy and Harold are in the bedroom, and she is saying for him, and he hands her a little roll of something, and it’s just a little ordinary activity, but the shadows behind them are having sex, and I hadn’t really drawn it explicitly, it didn’t make sense visually when I drew it. That was the only thing I redrew: we discussed everything so that we agreed on stuff, we made sure that we agreed on everything, because it was very important that we had a sort of positive and open feeling about it, because the alchemy between us was going to be part of the alchemy that other people were going to read.

Melinda Gebbie interview [2]

Friday, 1 August 2008

Alan Moore interview [5]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto (N. 60, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) and Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

Alan Moore interview [1]

Alan Moore interview [2]
Alan Moore interview [3]
Alan Moore interview [4]

20. Do you know the work of Italian erotic comics artists at all?
Yes, I mean, I am familiar with a number of the erotics comic artists. For some of them, I think their drawing ability is fine, and there have been a couple of works that I thought were particularly ok. Generally, it’s not to my taste. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with it, simply the majority of it is not to my taste. Even with, say, somebody like Milo Manara, who I recognise as an incredibly good draughtsman (I mean, he did some work with Hugo Pratt, the Indian Summer, that was I think some of the best stuff of his that I have seen, possibly because of the pairing with Pratt), when I have seen some of Manara’s solo erotic work, the draughtsmanship is perfect, but it’s not to my taste. The women seem to be pretty much the same woman with different wigs on, there doesn’t seem to be any individuation of the female characters and they do seem to be largely sex mannequins, which is fine if that is the kind of material that you like, but I never really responded to it. In Guido Crepax, I can see the stylishness of his work, but his women have a starved quality, they look like concentration camp images a lot of the time, which I recognise it’s just his style, but it tends to make the work appear morbid, in my eyes.
Like I said, while I can admire the technical excellence of a lot of these people, the actual material produced is very seldom to my taste, which is not in any way meant as a criticism, but simply to say that I suppose you can’t please all the people all the time.
Robert Crumb is someone I have got unreserved admiration for, although I don’t’ know if he is classed along with the glamour artists. I don’t know if he would be classed in quite the same category, but his stuff I can engage with: it seems human to me, whereas in a lot the more glamour-oriented artists there’s a coldness, a certain inhumanity, or at least in my perception. Not to take anything on their abilities, it’s just something about the atmosphere of the scripts or the presentation of the people in them. It kind of leaves me a bit cold.

21. It is a known fact you were dissatisfied with the way people handled superheroes after Watchmen. Do you ever get worried that Lost Girls could suffer the same fate?
We did actually talk about this and, in the early days, we occasionally said: “Wouldn’t it be nice if, after Lost Girls, there was a wave of people liberating their sexual imagination and seeing all sorts of new ways that they could tell sexual stories but with a different sense”, but I think that we both… I mean, I am probably more cynical of the pair of us and with regards to that, in light of my experience with Watchmen, I did say it would probably more likely that we might get a number of books that were coarse imitations of Lost Girls.
But actually, as with Watchmen, I have come to the conclusion that, whatever kind of books come in the wake of work, they don’t diminish it in any way. It’s unfortunate, but slavish imitation seems to be people’s first response: it’s kind of inevitable, I can’t say that it upsets me a great deal. And yes, I recognise that is a very likely possibility, but I don’t think that that will in any way alter the way that I feel about Lost Girls.

22. I hope not. It would take quite something to tarnish that…
Definitely, it would have to be pretty bad.

23. In a recent interview, you said: “Comics is now, I’m afraid, just going to have to be a corner of my working landscape. They’re very dear and it’s a fondly regarded corner, but just one corner of the landscape all the same.” What can we expect from you then?
Well, at the moment, among the things I have in the pipeline there is some comics work. That is largely restricted to Book 3 of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which Kevin O’Neill is well into the first chapter of it, the first issue, because it will be told in three 73-page volumes, set in 1910, 1968 and 2008, respectively. And he’s getting around halfway through the first volume: that would be most of my comics work. I am doing the Bumper Book of Magic with Steve Moore and a galaxy of wonderful artists. That includes a little bit of comics work but not very much: it includes text, stories, articles and games, puzzles, but very little comics script material. There is a sort of running Kevin O’Neill one-page humorous comic strip that recurs throughout the book, but I think that’s about the only comic strip material in it.
The main thing that I am working on is my second novel, which is called Jerusalem and which is entirely about the area in which I grew up, a small area of Northampton named The Boroughs, which is the oldest area of the town, and today is the most deprived and troubled area of the town, but which has got a lot of absolutely fantastic history that has occurred there, and some marvellous figures that passed through that landscape. I am trying to write a wonderful fantasy story that will encompass part of the history of that area, part of my family’s history, will include ruminations upon the art of life, and upon religion…

24. And it’s going to be a massive book as well, I heard!
It’s going to be probably around about three quarters of a million words: that sounds like a couple of thousand pages to me. It will probably end up as three books in a slipcase or something, but it’s meant to be a single book, it’s definitely not three volumes, it’s not like Lord of the Rings… It will probably end up as three books that have to be read together: I doubt that we would be able to get it in one book, too big to pick up. Jerusalem is taking most of my energies at the moment. I am working on some songs with a local musician, a guy called Joe Brown, who’s very talented, very young and full of enthusiasm, and we are having a lot of fun just writing some songs.
There’s a lot of different things that I might be messing around with in the future, and comics almost certainly will be part of that, but it won’t be as prevalent as it has been in the past: I am having a great deal of fun trying all these new things.