[In this installment of our series of Editors Notes, Kim Thompson interviews himself (in a format he's dubbed "AutoChat") about King of the Flies Vol. 2: The Origin of the World by Mezzo & Pirus, now available to order from us and coming soon to a comics shop near you. – Ed.]
Congratulations on King of the Flies Volume 1 being named one of the 10 best graphic novel releases of the year by Amazon.com.
Thanks, that was a nice surprise. Not because I didn't think King of the Flies deserved it, but because I thought it had kind of flown in under everyone's radar.
Well, no one had heard of these guys before here...
Actually, that's not entirely true. Nobody remembers this, but back in 1998, in its death throes as part of the genetically spliced corpse of Tundra, Kitchen Sink released Pirus and Mezzo's Armed and Dangerous. You can find it for about fifty bucks on Amazon if you want. I wouldn't recommend it, the production on it is kind of screwed up, wait for someone to reprint it properly.
King of the Flies is a really odd book. It takes place in France, people pay stuff in Euros and Germany is just a few miles away but...
...But somehow all the names and cultural references are English or American, yeah. I mean, aside from the Gustave Courbet references in this new volume (including the title, and the cover, which is a pop-art parody of the painting of that title, by the way — look it up on Wikipedia, but be warned, NSFW). In case anyone was wondering, that's how it is in the French version, it's not the translator and me changing all the references from Serge Gainsbourg and Johnny Hallyday or anything — although obviously it would've been tough to graphically edit in the Rolling Stones, Jarvis Cocker, and Jan and Dean. King of the Flies basically exists in a weird globally neutral pop-culture realm, which these days means Anglo-American. It's one of its charms. Another charm is that you start off thinking it's realistic, but as you'll see in Volume 2 it starts going pretty far off the rails into the supernatural. It's a really cunningly constructed piece of writing that pulls you down the rabbit hole quite unexpectedly at times...
Have you read the third volume?
No. Mezzo and Pirus are only a dozen or so pages into it — they got sidetracked with some other projects — so I'm just as much in the dark as anyone.
King of the Flies really wears its influences on its sleeve at times...
I've heard that said less gently. There's no doubt that Mezzo — whose earlier work looks quite different, I might add, see the abovementioned Armed and Dangerous — absorbed a number of stylistic and structural tricks from Charles Burns in general, and Black Hole in particular, for this project. The very first time I saw King of the Flies I was a little taken aback myself. But the more I read it the more I realized that Mezzo and Pirus were bringing an enormous amount to the table themselves, and the writing and breakdowns really ultimately don't feel like Burns at all. David Lynch is discernable in there too, of course, but these days Lynch is virtually a genre. There's also some Watchmen DNA in there, I think, in the methodical, gridlike, writer-driven approach to panel breakdowns — and some thematic elements in the second volume. And the funny thing about the Burns connection is that Charles himself has moved so far away from his Black Hole style now that his recent X'ed Out — which borrows heavily from Hergé — looks nothing like King of the Flies. It's all grist for the mill.
The second volume is coming out just 10 months after that first. That's unusually quick.
Well, it's very much a continued story, and I didn't want people to forget it.
Did you consider waiting for the trilogy to be complete and publish it in one volume?
I briefly did, but I was concerned that doing that big of a book would make the price point too high. It's also so dense — I think readers need a breather. And I like the "serial" aspect to it, I want readers to worry about what's going to happen next. Anyway, Americans are getting a better deal than the French, for whom the books have been appearing with three-year gaps. That said, I do plan to release a special edition of the whole damn thing at some point. As I'm sure the French will.
This is one of the few European books you didn't translate yourself. How come?
I'd started realizing that I wouldn't be able to translate every single book we were doing indefinitely, so when I decided to do King of the Flies I had already started to think in terms of hiring a translator. I'd really liked the work Helge had done for Drawn and Quarterly, and she was game, she loved the book when I sent it to her, so it was game on! I've actually hired translators for a couple of other upcoming books next year, so there will be more of our releases that I'm not doing.
How involved are you in the translation?
When I work as a translator for an editor, as I have once in a while, I'm grateful for as much feedback as possible, so I did work a lot with Helge. I think we both agree that the final result is significantly better than what either of us could have done alone. But it's probably 95% Helge at least. And certainly every word I changed or fiddled with has been OK'd or approved by her, as well as by Michel Pirus, who speaks English quite well and was able to course-correct us when we missed some stuff. And he and Mezzo very nicely redid all the chapter-heading as needed for us, which is why it looks so perfect.
It's maybe the grimmest, darkest book you've released, except for War of the Trenches, which at least you could defend as historical. And it's hard to see how Volume 3 could in any way become more cheerful.
Yeah, but I love that kind of stuff, and I'm hoping enough other readers do. Besides which, it's often hilarious. The characters are all going to hell, but they're funny about it as they go.