Monday, 3 November 2014

Hollow Crew interview

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, 27 October 2014


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

[Italian version: here]

Ashley Wood's homage to Sergio Toppi

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

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

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