Saturday, 17 November 2012


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:

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.

Thursday, 8 November 2012

James Jean's homage to Sergio Toppi

Art by James Jean.
In 2005 renowned artist JAMES JEAN contributed to the homage gallery included in Sergio Toppi: Nero su bianco con eccezioni, an Italian book written and edited by Fabrizio Lo Bianco.
The volume, published by Black Velvet Editrice, examined the career and works of SERGIO TOPPI, the acclaimed Master of Comics Art and Illustration, recently passed away.
In that occasion James Jean drew an intense portrait of Toppi's character Il Collezionista (The Collector).
The illustration has been posted on this blog with the author's permission.

Monday, 29 October 2012

JAMIE DELANO interview

Regular cover for the Italian edition of 2020 Visions. Art by Davide De Cubellis.
Jamie Delano interview conducted by smoky man and Antonio Solinas via email in September 2012, on the occasion of the publication, by Green Comm Services, of the Italian edition of 2020 VISIONS.

For more info about JAMIE DELANO, visit his website.

2020 VISIONS was originally published in 1997-98 by DC Comics/Vertigo, with art by Frank Quitely, Warren Pleece, James Romberger and Steve Pugh.

Getting back to 2020 VISIONS. When did you get the original idea? Why did you depict a so apocalyptic future with so little hope?
Jamie Delano: As I recall it was in the early 1990s that I first thought it might be fun to develop a series of ‘near-future fictions’ through which to explore (and exploit) some portentous visions of tomorrow. I am not naturally optimistic, so to me the exponential acceleration of change – that even in that distant, ‘kinder and gentler’ era was already apparent – offered the dramatic promise of chaotic upheaval. “Dystopic” is the adjectival cliché usually applied to the kind of future I imagine - but for a significant proportion of the world population at a given time the present can equally be thus described (indeed it is default situation. Utopias are aberrant). Everyone must deal with reality as they find it, and it is in the courage and endurance with which individuals engineer their survival against the odds inflicted by callous Fate that human hope resides - and through which I hope my stories are empowered.  

It was the previous millennium, but... Do you think your vision meets, in a way or another, your "comics" expectations considering the current world status? You have always been, imho, a political writer... putting smart, provocative ideas and commentaries in your comics... It's not all just capes and spandex...
Well, I never set out to write a ‘speculative fiction’ as such. The scenarios were designed to explain a future Disunited States of America – economically challenged, politically fragmented, socially chaotic – in which I could focus on the characters I forced to live there, and the consequent ‘evolution’ of their attitudes and behaviours.  The relationship of the individual to the political environment – the power structures that constrain us – is the major force that shapes our life-experience, and it is this fundamental that exercises my concern and provides my impetus to write. But I hope that I generally approach my topic subjectively and somewhat tongue-in-cheek, rather than belabouring my readers with heavy-handed dogma. I prefer to leave the ‘capes and spandex’ for those with a juvenile predilection for dressing up.  

As a British writer working for a USA publisher, 2020 VISIONS was a really "provocative" and strong book for an American audience. Did you remember the reactions at the time? The editor, the publisher, the audience.... Maybe it's also an explanation for DC didn't collect it... Maybe after 9/11 it was more complicated too... Maybe vertigo of the new millennium is not the same innovative force it was in the past...
Reactions...  Well, as with most of my work there were complications to the production process—the editor was distracted by the onset of serious illness and script feedback was haphazard, and it took a while, and another editor, before the art was assembled and the book ready for publication. I suspect that some degree of executive unease was obscured in the confusion—but I always enjoyed a considerable degree of (perhaps misplaced) confidence from those that mattered at the time. There was more resistance to my desire to title what eventually became Outlaw Nation as The Great Satan, but that’s another story. As far as audience response goes: it was somewhat polarised—the book was either loved, or hated. There was talk of a DC collection, post-9/11. Karen Berger was all for it, bless her, but the powers that be nixed the suggestion and I was able to re-acquire the rights. You may be right in suggesting that this was an early sign of a decline in Vertigo’s innovatory impetus. I couldn’t possibly comment.

If you read it again, are you satisfied by it? I know this can be a tough question to answer for a writer....
Nothing is ever as good in retrospect as one hoped in its creation it might be (that’s why we keep writing, in the hope of eventually getting something right) - but although there are always elements and clumsy turns of phrase that evoke embarrassment, there’s not much that I would consider rewriting. A work is necessarily of its time and place. I’m not the same person now who wrote 2020 VISIONS… and the world has changed a little, too.

Even if the settings and cities are important in 2020 VISIONS, personally I think it is a character driven story. Is it right? What about your writing process in this case?
It is right.  I think most of my work is ‘character driven’. My writing process on 2020 VISIONS was pretty typical of my approach: some loose environmental themes for background, a vague sniff of plot, some characters to intrigue my imagination… I set the crazy bastards walking and talking and record the interesting bits, the detail they reveal of their world and their responses to it.

You referred to editorial problems. What about the artistic team? How was it assembled? Did you have any say in the choices?
If my memory is reliable – which I can’t guarantee – the original editor, Lou Stathis, assembled the team of four artists for 2020 VISIONS and I had no quarrel with his picks. I’m sure, had I not been happy, my opinion would have been considered. I liked the concept of having a separate artist for each individual book of the series. Each bought their unique vision to the story and the varied styles helped differentiate between the loose genres represented: horror, crime, western, romance...

In terms of the sheer creative process, how was the work-flow? How much did you communicate with the artists of each chapter?
As I indicated earlier, the production process was somewhat inhibited by poor Lou Stathis’ illness and I seem to recall that the scripts were all completed before work on the art began. I believe it was Axel Alonso who picked up the reins and brought the book to publication after Lou sadly passed away. The artists were all able and professional and there was not much need for day-to-day negotiation by that point.

The William Burroughs influence is very strong, in the book. Is there any other major influence, maybe less in the open but still very important that you can tell us about?
Yes, Burroughs is often to be detected in the background of my work, sneaking around provoking mischief. I can’t immediately think of any other conscious influence on 2020 VISIONS, but writers are all products of our reading experience, so an astute critic may glimpse hidden roots... maybe a hint of J. G. Ballard? I don’t know, you tell me.

2020 VISIONS shows a very grim future, yet each story has many elements of redemption and almost always ends on a positive note. Is that correct, from your point of view? Can you elaborate a bit on that?
Over the years I have acquired a certain reputation for bleak despondency – which I would kind of refute, preferring to characterise my tone more as ‘black comedy’. I think the ‘redemptive positivity’ in the endings of the 2020 VISIONS stories was a kind of tongue-in-cheek subversion of the stereotype.  While there are hints of hope apparent, none of the endings are traditionally ‘happy’.

Do you have a preferred story, of the four comprising 2020 VISIONS?
From a writer’s perspective, I think I find “Renegade” the most satisfactory – but the book is the sum of its four parts. Artistically, I have no favourite. I remain more than happy with the integrity and accomplishment of all four of my co-creators’ contributions.

You worked with artists with a very realistic style (such as John Ridgeway, but also Alan Davis), as well as artists with a more graphic/stylised style (Warren Pleece, Philip Bond, Sean Phillips). Do you have specific preferences from this standpoint? What are the characteristics of your dream collaborator? What are the defects that you would avoid, for an artist working with you on a comics?
Hmmm... I think I would put an ability to capture and communicate mood and emotion over pure draughtsmanship. I like artists who instinctively understand the story and how to tell it visually – who display an awareness of environment and landscape, and an understanding of how the relationship of a character to his setting is important in defining the tone of a scene. I like it when an artist picks up on the significance of details in a panel description. It’s not important to me that they reproduce my imagined design on the page, but that they understand the intention behind it, interpret and hopefully improve upon it. It’s nice when they’re in tune with the rhythm of the text, too, and provide a pleasing visual counterpoint. I’m less happy when an artist appears to be in ‘robot’ mode and produces a functional graphic realisation of the story without giving any sign that they have engaged with it on an emotional level – necessitating an adjustment of the copy in an attempt to ease its relationship to the art. As scriptwriter, I like to compose the ‘beat’ of the story that will carry the reader along. Fortunately, the times in my career when I have been disappointed have been few and far between.

In recent times your involvement in comics has been limited, considering you just wrote two miniseries for Avatar, and if I remember well, a short Lovecraft adaptation story... why? I know you were focused on writing your first novel... Can you say more about it? What is it about? Also can you explain your decision of self publishing and digital distribution?

My dismal record of productivity over the last decade (Jesus – tempus really does fugit, huh?) is probably due to a fatal combination of my intrinsic laziness, a perennial ‘uneasiness’ with the comics medium in general and a bad dose of 21st century ennui. Simply, I think I have been at a loss as to how to engage with the medieval madness that has engulfed our civilisation post 9/11 through the medium of fiction generally and comics in particular. The cultural and political change inflicted on us was both too vast to tackle or too ignore. I – rightly or wrongly – detected an editorial reluctance to attempt to engage with that reality, even obliquely, within my Vertigo comfort-zone; and so, subconsciously, I think I decided to shut up and sulk for a while. I did write HELLBLAZER: PANDEMONIUM too, though. And I was pleased how that turned out.

As for my “book without pictures”, Book Thirteen, I always intended from an early age to one day write a novel, and indeed have often been criticised in my comics work for displaying signs of being a ‘frustrated novelist’. Since I wasn’t working much on comics, and was getting older by the day, it seemed like time to find out if I could actually do it. Unfortunately, I struggled to overcome a kind of stage-fright at tackling extended prose. Even with the encouragement and threats of friends and family it took a while to summon the nerve and energy to begin.  Once I did, though, I found the experience highly rewarding – so much so that I plan to develop my prose skills in writing more; something a bit more genre this time, probably a ‘dystopian future crime’ series, to revert to my stereotype.

Because Book Thirteen – which is a tongue-in-cheek black comedy concerning an ‘old writer’ and his struggle not lose the plot of his life in a weird limbo between reality and imagination (set in a parallel universe considerable orders of magnitude removed from my own, I emphasise) – was kind of an un-commissioned experiment bearing little resemblance to my comics work, I decided to go the whole independent route and keep control of the design, printing and publishing and anti-marketing of the thing solely with myself.  I compounded this commercial suicide by putting it out under a new nom de plume.

Anyone tempted to assess my future literary prospects can acquire a copy via where print editions can be ordered, or links will direct you to various ebook retailers from whom it is digitally available.

Back to comics. You are one of the fathers of the Vertigo style. Do you see a "new Jamie Delano" in comics, right now? And.. which comics do you regulary follow? Or just the last ones you read...
I really should prepare a pat answer for this perennial interview question—which always makes me look like an arse...

It is embarrassing to admit, but I just don’t pay enough attention to what’s going on the industry for my opinions to be valid, or even mildly interesting.  This deficit is down to laziness (and a weird hiatus in my former considerable enjoyment of the work of others that overtook me as I became a creator—a syndrome I find hard to analyse) rather than arrogance, but my ignorance is nonetheless real.  But I’m sure there are many energetic young creators currently producing fantastic and innovative work who have no need of, or desire for, the attention or approval of a superannuated hack like me.  In my day-to-day stumbling through the world of culture, I glimpse many promising and original new works – mostly self-published, or the product of independent producers – which intrigue me, but I never seem to get around to acquiring copies for closer perusal.  And since I no longer work regularly for DC I don’t get complimentary copies of Vertigo stuff (the rest of the ‘mainstream’ leaves me cold)—although I did enjoy some random issues of SCALPED, and ARMY @ LOVE, and Lemire and Pugh’s ANIMAL MAN looked promising.   

Sorry.  “Must try harder” as my school reports used frequently to remark.
Variant cover for the Italian edition of 2020 Visions. Art by Davide De Cubellis.

Thursday, 11 October 2012

a letter to Sergio Toppi from India

Homage to Sergio Toppi. Illustration by Abhishek Sing.
Italian comics Legend SERGIO TOPPI would have turned 80 years old today.

TOPPI's Art was - and remains - an inspiration for artists all over the world.

Some months ago I received an email from Indian amazingly talented artist Abhishek Singh.
To my surprise, he wrote that he was a huge fan of Toppi's works and, considering he was coming to Italy and having read a Toppi interview I did, he asked some support for contacting the Man and maybe organizing a meeting with him.
At the time I knew Toppi was in serious conditions so I suggested to simply try sending him a letter.

In the following you can read Singh's letter. Published here with his permission.
We think it's a good way to remember Toppi and celebrate him in this special occasion.

Sergio Toppi,

Dear Sir,

no one can truly understand how one's life inspires the other, how this creative energy flows from one creator to the other through unknown unseen channels.
It is probably one of the most fascinating spiritual abstractions.
That's what happened when I first saw your work.

Till now, each time when I gaze into it, I crave to travel places your ink narrates.
For me they are not just mere shapes but breathing mystical contemplations.

You are a dream weaver.

I've traveled all the way from India to experience the Art in Italy and to get an opportunity to meet you would be an honor.

Let me know if it's a possibility.


Abhishek and I are friend now. I met him in Italy and I know he went to Milan trying to contact Toppi, in his last days. But this part of the story is up to Abhishek to share with us.

Friday, 7 September 2012

JOE KUBERT interview

Cover for Il cavaliere Solitario. Art by Joe Kubert, story by Claudio Nizzi
In 2001 I was younger and... probably a bit cheek.
So, in June 2001, just few days after the Italian publication of his 200+ page TEX book for Bonelli Comics (titled Il cavaliere solitario, story by Italian comics writer Claudio Nizzi. Then it was published in 2005 by SAF Comics with the title Tex, The Lonesome Rider), I sent a short list of questions to the Great JOE KUBERT. We previously exchanged some emails and he was always very kind and supportive.

The 27th of June 2001 I received Kubert's concise but well-appreciated answers. I interviewed... JOE KUBERT!

You can read the interview in the following, for the first time in its original language. In 2001 it was published in Italian on Ultrazine.

I have to admit that in this occasion I have fixed my questions: my English at the time was worse than it is now.

So... have a good reading!

R.I.P. Mr. Kubert. Great Artist & Great Human Being. Thanks for all the Magic you gave us.
A spectacular page from Il cavaliere solitario. Art by Joe Kubert.
How did you feel working on Tex?
Joe Kubert:
I enjoyed it very much. And, a LOT of pages!

What is the characteristic, the value, you liked the most in this ranger?
It was the kind of western story I really enjoyed. Nizzi is a terrific writer.

You produced 240 pages, a "monster" book, in about seven years. In this long period what was the most difficult time? And why?
It was difficult working it into my schedule. I had a lot of other work I was doing at the same time, in addition to my school teaching and my Correspondence Courses.

Which actor do you think would be perfect to play Tex?
Clint Eastwood - John Wayne - Randolph Scott.

What about your collaboration with the writer, Claudio Nizzi? Did you work on a full script or was it a Marvel-style one?
It was a pleasure working from Claudio's script. He's a great writer. I worked from a full script.

At the end of the work, what was the first thing that came to your mind?
I was happy to be finally finished. 
Characters' study by Joe Kubert.

Wednesday, 4 July 2012

CHRIS WESTON interview

Page from Ministry of Space
Interview conducted by smoky man via email in June 2012, on the occasion of the publication - by NPE - of the Italian edition of Ministry of Space.

For more info about Chris Weston, visit his blog.
And... watch the man at work in this stunning video.

smoky man: I know it's has been a long time ago, but considering that the Italian edition has just been published, what do you remember of your "Ministry of Space" experience? You did an amazing job there...
Chris Weston:
I remember it being a very difficult experience, but then most of my better-known books were.
Initially I was attracted to the project because the setting reminded me of Dan Dare, probably my favourite comic strip.
I remember the book being endlessly delayed, but that was just as much my fault as Warren's. It got interrupted by The Filth , which Grant Morrison had convinced me was going to make my fortune. (How we laugh about that now).
The final episode was without doubt the hardest book I've ever had to draw; I got hit by a severe case of "I can't draw!" disease. I completely lost my nerve. Each page was like gouging out my own intestines with a rusty fork.
Image were going through some company turmoil at the time, and I found it very hard to find someone willing to communicate with me. They were happy to talk to Warren so I had to rely on him for any updates, which was frustrating.
So, not a happy time. But I don't think it shows on the page. Laura Martin's colours were beautiful, and I think it's one of the few books I've drawn that wouldn't work in black and white.
And as I said, most of my better work comes out of bad experiences. I'm hoping The Twelve will be regarded in the same way. 
Page from The Filth
What about your current comics commitments? Finally The Twelve is reaching its conclusion and I saw around some recent works you did for 2000AD, if I remember well. So what is happening for you on both sides of the Atlantic? :)
At the moment, not much on the comic-book front. I've been storyboarding a lot of adverts lately, which is cool. 
I get paid well to do these and I get to collaborate with my friend Albert Hughes (the director of Book of Eli) again. I never thought of myself as a team player, but it's always fun to be part of his gang. We're awaiting the green-light on another film, Motor City, potentially starring Gerard Butler. Beyond that I have a top secret comic-book project planned...
Cover for The Twelve
You mentioned the Book of Eli and you also worked on the now "aborted" Akira live action. So, what about the pros and cons of working in the movie field?
It's very hard to find anything negative to say about my film experiences: the pay is better than comics... and, on the whole, the movie people have treated me with more respect and better manners than I've ever received in the comic-book industry.
The downside is you can work for months on a project like Akira that will end up being shelved, and that's a lot of work that will never see light of day. But I can live with that; the larger wage packet compensates for any loss of exposure. However, I still love doing comics, and I doubt I'll ever turn my back on them completely. I feel like I'm only beginning to get the hang of drawing them, so it would be madness to quit now!
On a film you have to subjugate your own ego to a greater extent; I'm there to bring out what's in my director's head, not present MY vision of the script. With comics, I have more free rein to express myself.
A Judge Dredd commission
What's your opinion of the current state of the industry in UK and USA, considering the general crisis, comics reboot, the usual crossovers, prequels/sequels... and the new supports, such as e-book or digital comics? Which are your feelings, from your privileged point of view? I mean you know pretty well both markets...
I'm sure I've detected the smell of mutiny in the air. So many creators I know are getting fed up with working for "The Man"; producing page after page of the same company-owned spandex soap-operatics that we've seen for decades.
They've seen the success that Mark Millar and Robert Kirkman have had with their thematically-diverse and creator-owned projects...  and they are thinking "I want a piece of THAT action".
I predict you'll see a wave of top flight talents risk financial ruin by producing their own books, and distributing them digitally. Some will fail, some will succeed. In the meantime, you'll see the Big Companies replace these creators with more and more talent from The Third World.
It's no secret that super-hero comic sales are on the decline, and the Big Companies will be forced to think of ever more desperate gimmicks and events to keep the readers hooked. What they should be doing is offering the creators better deals and more creative freedom. Before Watchmen may get green-lit, but would  the original series get commissioned in the current  climate...? A 32-page book, no-ads; a stand-alone story with all new characters... and creator-owned? Would a company like DC go for that nowadays? Nah.
But they should.

Nowadays the new-old word seems to be "graphic novel" (which is not, imho, a synonym of good comics). What do you think of the "phenomenon"?
I rarely use the term "graphic novel". "Comic-book" is the phrase that usually leaps out of my mouth. I don't have anything against the term graphic novel", I just never got in the habit of using it. It's been a good marketing tool, to make comics seem more respectable to outsiders who have a distorted view of what a comic-book can be. 
Page from The Invisibles
Are you planning to write and draw something in "that vein" in  the upcoming future? I know you wrote some shorts in the past...
I've been discussing doing a creator-owned, self-written BD-style book with an European publisher, which is REALLY exciting.
My mentor, the artist Don Lawrence, had always directed me to work for the European comic market, so it was quite ironic that I spent the last two decades working for US and UK-based companies. I think the time is finally right now to head East like I originally intended. Variety makes life interesting, after all... and I have no great desire to draw any spandex-clad super-heroes for a while.

Thanks a billion, Chris!