STEVEN DAVIS: You’ve been talking about doing a longer-form narrative for a while. What made you decide on the autobiographical format?
MICHAEL KUPPERMAN: It’s just what I fell into doing. I find the reasons for doing things, the “why,” is very important, and if you’re doing what you’re doing because it genuinely amuses, you’re in the strongest position possible. I just started writing a couple of chapters and I was enjoying it, and it felt like the right thing to do to go for a book.
DAVIS: How do you feel about your results?
KUPPERMAN: Well, I’m always self-critical to a painful degree, but I do find myself laughing when I look at it. I feel pretty good, I guess; the reader’s reaction is all up to whether they find me funny or not.
DAVIS: Was it refreshing to work with a different format?
KUPPERMAN: It’s interesting to notice the difference. Both are wonderful escapes — and with writing I’m able to execute some rapid changes of idiom — but one notable thing is that writing has more of a time limit. You can only write for two or three hours at a stretch before you start to lose focus, I find. Whereas drawing is an activity you can really lose yourself in for as long as you can stay awake — I’ve drawn for as long as 20 hours at a stretch.
DAVIS: Why is Mark Twain a better target for parody than his partner Albert Einstein?
KUPPERMAN: Well, there was the occasion of the anniversary of his death: That really tipped the scales. But Einstein only really works for me as a character in relation to Twain: the same way Harpo only worked in relation to Chico or Groucho. Not alone. I’d love to do more with the two of them, though.
DAVIS: There’s a full chapter in the book that is cartooned, in which Mark Twain finds himself an accidental member of the Apollo 11 mission. Why did you decide to cartoon this section?
KUPPERMAN: I just wanted to break up the text a bit, and the Moon mission seemed like a good excuse to do some cartooning. That’s one in which many of the jokes are more visual.
DAVIS: Did any ideas that you’d originally intended to be comics get transformed into prose?
KUPPERMAN: No. That’s not so easy to do… A lot of ideas only work for the medium you invented them for. I have a bunch of material from my various aborted TV pilot deals that I can’t find a way to re-use, unfortunately.
DAVIS: What is the appeal of autobiographies? How does that translate into satire?
KUPPERMAN: Autobiographies have an automatically funny component in the self-deception that we all practice, which can be inadvertently revealing. The self-justifying and obfuscation that most autobiographies contain are comedy gold. The last two I read were the autobiographies of Jerry Weintraub and Esther Williams. Both contained comedic elements, although Esther was by far the better swimmer.
DAVIS: What specific autobiographical tropes did you most focus on subverting?
KUPPERMAN: False modesty is a big one, also unwittingly revelatory anecdotes, such as when the aliens try to get Twain to have sex with Sophia Loren; and the shaping of one’s life into a narrative, and how unreliable that can be.
DAVIS: You’ve talked about simplifying the cartooning in order to better focus on the humor. How is this reflected in Twain as compared to your past works?
KUPPERMAN: I think the Twain book is a big step forward in that direction. The art is much more streamlined, and less influenced by art from the past. I concentrated on just carrying the jokes through the art.
DAVIS: There’s a momentum in Tales Designed to Thrizzle that moves the reader through the book, even though it lacks a continuous narrative. In what ways did you approach flow and progression for Twain?
KUPPERMAN: I tried to vary the tone of the chapters enough so that the reader would be carried through what is basically a series of routines… I’ve never sustained one scenario for so long, but I’m eager to move on to longer projects still.
DAVIS: How did Snake ‘N’ Bacon become your flagship strip?
KUPPERMAN: People kept asking for it. And when Avon (subsequently bought by HarperCollins) asked me to do a book, they insisted Snake ‘N’ Bacon be in the title. Then later on Scott Jacobson and Rich Blomquist from The Daily Show spearheaded the Snake ’N’ Bacon pilot for Adult Swim, same thing. They’re anti-characters, basically: extremely limited in almost every way.
Some people do really seem to like them. I’ve even seen tattoos!
DAVIS: I’m curious about your past pseudonym P. Revess. Where did this come from and where did it go?
KUPPERMAN: It was just the prefect pseudonym I came up with— mysterious, ambisexual — and I stopped using it because some dumb editor at New York Press told me I should just use one name, my own. And I was an idiot and listened to her.
DAVIS: Were your parents supportive as you pursued a career as an artist?
KUPPERMAN: Yes. I don’t know if they saw it coming but they’ve adjusted well.
DAVIS: What type of art were you interested in when you attended art school?
KUPPERMAN: Basically anything and everything (still am):What I didn’t know was how I should fit into it all...
DAVIS: How were you first exposed to surrealism and dadaism?
KUPPERMAN: Through Alice in Wonderland and books like that, but I think it’s just part of the culture now. Comedy now has a strong strain of surrealism in it.
DAVIS: What has kept you interested in surreal humor?
KUPPERMAN: It’s what I respond to. I love idioms sliding into each other and situations that melt and transform: dream logic, where meaning shifts and overturns.
DAVIS: You’ve talked about being influenced by sketch comedy shows, Monty Python and SCTV. A few years ago you had the chance to write some sketches for The Peter Serafinowicz Show. Was that a pretty easy adjustment for you?
KUPPERMAN: It wasn’t an easy situation, because I was so far away. The real writing action was taking place in London, and I was in New York. Even when an idea came from me — the whole acting-class thing, which in my version was with Michael Caine —it would be so heavily re-written that it wasn’t so much mine anymore. That’s just the way things work. I’d love to try again on a more level playing field.
DAVIS: I know you’ve talked a little about this before. But can you discuss some of your experiences writing scripts for DC — Any differences in your process? Any challenges? Any new creative avenues it allowed you to explore?
KUPPERMAN: It was frustrating — the more of those comics I did, the less rewarding it became. The very first one — a Jetsons story where Mr. Spacely becomes a baby— was probably the best. But the editing became more and more severe. The last story I did was a Scooby-Doo — they even changed the name of a character I wrote from Murderous Pete to Homeless Pete! I didn’t pursue it after that.
DAVIS: You’ve called Twitter a "petri dish of comedy.” For you, is the Internet mostly helpful or distracting?
KUPPERMAN: Helpful, but you have to limit your exposure or depression will result. I do love Twitter and the people I’ve met on there, and I try not to let it prevent me working.
DAVIS: You’re currently producing a weekly comic called Up All Night. Will any of these strips or related strips be featured in future issues of Thrizzle?
KUPPERMAN: Perhaps some of them…
DAVIS: In an interview last year you mentioned a potential project with Adult Swim after the Snake ’N’ Bacon pilot wasn’t picked up. Can you elaborate on that at all?
KUPPERMAN: Yes- they hired me to develop a horror pilot. But by the time I had characters and a scenario their attention had completely drifted away. This happened to a lot of talented and well-known comedy people last year, so I’m not alone! Dealing with Adult Swim is like trying to talk to someone peaking on an acid trip. You never know what they’ll say or do next...
DAVIS: Between TV Funhouse and the Snake ’N’ Bacon pilot, you’ve done quite a bit of work in animation. How do you feel about the current state of animation?
KUPPERMAN: I am indifferent, since I’m not involved. There really isn’t anything that’s compelling me to watch lately...
DAVIS: Many alternative cartoonists have transitioned into animation and videogames. How interested are you in pursuing jobs in different media?
KUPPERMAN: I’m only interested as long I continue to exist as an artist! So it has to be on my terms to some extent. I had that with the S&B pilot, which is why it was so amazing. I drew every inch of the animation, that’s why it looks the way it does. But I have a horror of producing crap, and unfortunately most media product ends up being just that.
DAVIS: How does your work reflect what’s going on across media, in terms of humor, today?
KUPPERMAN: I think my humor is very contiguous with the humor that’s going on now in live comedy, the better TV comedy, podcasting the smart stuff. Not comics though: I feel very alone there. Most other humor in comics is excruciating.
DAVIS: You have a serious graphic novel called Henry Spelman in the works. Can you tell us any more about that?
KUPPERMAN: Not at the moment! I’m trying to examine my options with as clear a head as possible. My bank balance is always a concern, and right now I’m just trying to stay alert. I’m hoping to get into the Spelman project soon, but it’s a matter of balancing the work against the chances of an advance in today’s publishing world, truly the worst and least hospitable ever. And I’m waiting to see how the Twain book does…
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics intern Sam Chattin. Thanks to Sam and Kevin!
Ganges 4 hits stores in October, or get your mitts on an early copy at SPX, September 10th & 11th in Betheseda, Maryland! Kevin will be signing at the Fantagraphics table from 1:00-3:00 PM on Saturday, and 3:00-4:30 PM on Sunday. -- janice
NOTE: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS INTERVIEW [esp. #8]. READ THE COMIC FIRST IF YOU DON’T WANT SOME STUFF RUINED FOR YOU. -- Kevin H.
SAM CHATTIN: Your stories are marked by this deep comprehension of the various sciences (everything from zoology to physics). Why do you choose to include those expository elements in your stories (which often take up multiple pages)?
KEVIN HUIZENGA: That’s nice of you to say, but I feel like my knowledge of these subjects is still pretty superficial. Laying out things and looking at things is more interesting to me than dramatic storytelling. That’s not a value judgment; it’s how my brain is wired. Other writers I know can effortlessly think up dramatic situations —characters who want things and have conflicts — but my story ideas tend to be more like “what is chlorophyll?” or “walking around/oxytocin” or “terrifying TV commercial,” which are the kinds of things that reveal how solitary and lonely a life I live. I’m terrified that if I really indulged myself and my instincts I would just make comics that are diagrams of how things fit together, like complicated diagrams or giant flowcharts, and become a completely hopeless case.
CHATTIN: The often anti-climatic endings and rambling narratives add a sense of realism to your stories. It feels as though we’re peeping at not only the life but also the working mind of some stranger. What made you go this particular route?
HUIZENGA: I wish I had a more interesting answer, but really it’s just as simple as writing in a way that seems least gross to me. I feel pretty good about how things turn out, for the most part, but at the same time there’s little voices saying “what are you doing?” and “you thought this was a good idea why?” But you have to ignore these voices and start another one and keep moving. Judging by the kinds of ideas I start out with, I maybe could be writing essays or poems, but I got mixed up in comics. I thought it would be a good idea to draw comics and build upon and around Glenn Ganges as a blank character, and now it’s too late. I’m only being half-serious here. Because there are limitations to writing prose without pictures that would be very frustrating to me. I want to see what things look like and I want to see things diagrammed. When I read pictureless prose I’m often imagining illustrations or emblems or diagrams of whatever I’m reading about, and part of me is frustrated that those don’t exist.
HUIZENGA: I write notes, I think about a story, I get irritable and crabby, I eventually start drawing it, etc. I don’t think I go very deep into my subconscious. I’d like to try doing that more in the future. It’s a way of thinking and trusting your gut that’s not my usual method, I guess. In this issue “the Wanderer” was improvised in an attempt to, I don’t know, go from panel to panel with a different kind of story logic than usual.
There’s an interview where Dan Clowes says (this is pre-Ice Haven days, I think) something about how he thought he’d get faster over time as his skills improved but that he found himself getting slower because he kept trying out complicated effects and tricks in each panel. That really fits my experience drawing this issue. It took me a long time. There was a lot of trying something, then changing my mind, then going back and forth, etc.
CHATTIN:How heavily do the misadventures of your characters (specifically Glenn Ganges) reflect your own personal experiences?
HUIZENGA: It’s not autobiographical. I take things from my life, like any writer does, and I try to make a new thing out of it that others can identify with and hopefully enjoy.
CHATTIN:How do you choose which experiences will work best in the comic medium?
HUIZENGA: You just sort of know. Or sometimes you think it won’t work, and the trick is in finding a way to make it work. The point isn’t really the ostensible subject, the point is figuring out how to package the ideas in an interesting form. It’s like a puzzle. I like puzzles when there’s no pressure, and no one cares about how you perform. I think that explains a lot about my career and my personality.
CHATTIN: Glenn Ganges’ latest adventure concerns a restless night. What is your preferred method for combating these moments of temporary insomnia?
HUIZENGA: A bowl of cereal (low sugar) and a book that is kind of boring and/or hard to read.
CHATTIN: How would describe the structure ofGanges #4?
HUIZENGA: An infinite grid of panels, only some of which you can see and read, but occasionally you catch a glimpse of it fading off into infinity, and also the grid contains itself nested within itself at different levels.
CHATTIN: Was it an aesthetic or symbolic choice — or neither — to break up the panels on the bottom of pages 10-13?
HUIZENGA: I’m not sure what you’re asking, but I probably wouldn’t want to answer anyhow, since this seems like the kind of thing where I’m being tempted into explaining the thinking behind a story. Obviously I have to do some of that in an interview, but I try to keep it to a minimum. As a reader I often want a writer to explain their thinking behind a short story or a poem, but at the same time I really don’t want to know, either. And the same thing holds for writers too, I think—they often want to know what readers think, but at the same time they don’t, really.
CHATTIN: How did you tackle, visually, working with so much moonlight and shadow inGanges #4?
HUIZENGA: Experimenting with tones and shadows in Photoshop, making a mess of it, and settling for the least gross-looking version of the panel. I wanted to try to draw Glenn walking around the house at night, and it took some experimentation to get something interesting that worked. I’m still not satisfied with it, but I think I know how to fix it for the collection.
CHATTIN: What are some of the challenges of depicting Death, who appears in your latest work?
HUIZENGA: It didn’t feel like it was a challenge at all. As I understand it, it’s been pretty well established that Death is a skeleton in a cloak with a scythe. I’d like to think that death appears in many of my comics so far.
CHATTIN: I found the connection with Earth’s calendar and Glenn’s calendar amusing. What kind of thought process goes into making these connections?
HUIZENGA: I don’t think it gives anything away to say that Ganges is largely about time, and different ways representing and thinking about it. The Earth’s calendar thing is a pretty common illustration in popular geology books and natural histories, and since Glenn is reading Basin and Range in the story, it was an obvious way to go.
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics intern Rolando A. López. Thanks to Rolando and Jaime! And,Esperanza will be in stores this week! -- janice
In his 1989 The Comics Journal interview (#126), Jaime Hernandez said: “I hope [Love and Rockets is] still fresh 20-50 years from now. I hope it doesn’t lose anything in the long run. Even if I’m writing about contemporary things . . . I hope people can look back at it as a piece of history instead of a gimmick.”
Readers have followed the lives of Maggie, Hopey, and the gang for almost 30 years now, and Love and Rockets is still going strong. Today, Jaime Hernandez is one of the most revered names in the world of comic books and beyond; cartoonists Alison Bechdel, Zak Sally, Simpsons creator Matt Groening, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky and writer Junot Díaz have all cited his influence. Hernandez’s work, simply put, is part of the comics canon.
Esperanza, the fifth volume in the Complete Love and Rockets, collects the stories from Love and Rockets Vol. II. Here, readers see Maggie struggle with the ghosts of her past, find Hopey settling down, and meet some new faces, which cause trouble in the already troublesome lives of the Locas. In this Q&A, Jaime Hernandez talks about growing along with his characters, his storytelling techniques and his elusive muse.
Rolando A. López: Esperanza, Hopey’s full first name, means “Hope” in Spanish. Why did you choose this as the collection’s title?
Jaime Hernandez: Actually, Kim Thompson came up with it. I couldn’t think of a better title so I happily agreed to it.
López: It seems to me these stories would be really rewarding to someone who’s read the Locas saga since it began. How do you take into account readers who have been following the series when you’re crafting your comics? Conversely, what storytelling techniques do you use to help acclimate new readers to new Locas stories?
Hernandez: I try to tell these stories in a way that a new reader can jump in and not feel overwhelmed and intimidated by the continuity that has built up for 30 years. It’s not always easy. [As for the fans,] I can only hope they’ll stay with me even if we’ve been at it this long.
López: Elliptical storytelling — how did you develop it and why did you develop it and what does it allow you to do?
Hernandez: It happened naturally. The storytelling was more of a learning process for me than the art was in the early L&Rs. I was trying whatever worked. Soon I started to visualize the story like a movie, with cinematic jump cuts and things like that, and came to realize I could cut a lot of corners and fit in more story. That also taught me how to let the character’s body language and expressions tell the story instead of letting the words do it. Finally, it taught me that leaving out actual “story” involves the reader more by letting them fill it in themselves.
López: How do you structure your stories?
Hernandez: It’s different most of the time. If the characters write the story, which they most often do, it’s sort of waiting to see what will turn out. If an idea writes the story, it’s more tightly structured: making sure there’s a beginning, middle and end.
López: You have a very intuitive approach to storytelling — you listen for your muse and almost “transcribe” what she says. Do you ever have “fights” with your muse?
Hernandez: Every time. That way it will flow naturally but still connect with the reader. Muse doesn’t always translate on its own.
López: How do you calibrate your artistic process?
Hernandez: I trust my instincts. I have to.
López: How did this process play out in the writing of the first half of the book (the “Maggie” stories)?
Hernandez: I don’t remember. It was quite a few years ago. The usual, I suppose. If I’m doing Maggie, she’s always gonna tell me where to go. Yeesh! Listen to me! “And then a UFO came down and ...”
López: One new character is Vivian, a femme fatale: she destroys everything she touches, and in turn, everyone that touches her either lives to regret it, or dies. How did you come to create her?
Hernandez: I wanted to create a character with no boundaries: someone who basically has nothing to lose. A character like that is the funnest and easiest to write because they can be put into any situation and it works. Making her very sexy only lets her character get deeper into trouble.
López: Why did you decide to put her in Maggie’s life?
Hernandez: It wasn’t planned, but I discovered they worked really well together because Maggie is the opposite of Viv. With Maggie’s nagging conscience, I can only take her so far. Dragging her into Viv’s world gives her (and me) a lot more to work with.
López: Sometimes I think of Vivian as being a darker counterpart to Penny Century; they’re both desirable and somewhat volatile. Is this an apt comparison?
Hernandez: In a way, but I understand Viv’s demons more than I do Penny’s and hopefully that makes them feel a little different from each other. I know why Viv is crazy but I don’t know why Penny is crazy and I prefer it that way. Both give me a lot to work with in different ways.
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler. Thanks to Eric and Lorenzo! (Ed. note: Hi Lorenzo! We miss you in North America! xo janice)
Lorenzo Mattotti is a talented necromancer; his hands give life to some of the most charged and heart-pounding characters in cartooning and illustration today. Having a cabaret of phantoms at his disposal, Mattotti has assembled comics that are a dangerous and dark exploration of human emotion. His latest cartooning project was a collaboration with Claudio Piersanti called Stigmata, which follows a man who bleeds from his palms as he trudges down a dark path that mutates wildly from the straight and narrow.
Mattotti has now collaborated on the book The Raven with Lou Reed, a project where he re-interpreted the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Lou Reed into creatures and situations in painting and illustration. Mattotti creates images from these stories that help to unlock any hidden power the pieces may have, as well as perfectly stating the obvious elements.
This interview was conducted at 3:00 am between Seattle, WA and Paris, France.
Eric Buckler: How did the Raven project come together?
Lorenzo Mattotti: I was contacted by Lou Reed's agency to ask me if I was interested in a collaboration. I didn't understand very well initially what he wanted. He wanted to make an illustrated book involving The Raven. At the beginning, I understood that he wanted to make a graphic novel, but when I read the text, I understood this was impossible. [laughter] So, he informed me that he would like me to make a book inspired by the show he made with Robert Wilson. But really, I still didn't understand it that much, so we decided to meet each other. I went to New York and we met, and I wanted to know how free I could be to make the book. Did he want classic illustration or could I be free to make my own interpretation? Lou wanted me to make my own interpretation, hearing the music. The style could be different according to the atmosphere and the music, in a very free way. I showed him one of my sketchbooks. Normally, it is very free, my personal work. So, I started to do many sketches in black and white, and I sent them to him by mail. He wanted to see everything. He told me what he preferred, and what he didn't really like, and we decided what to make in color. There were different techniques: there was pencil, brush, crayon, and ink.
Buckler: Do you have any personal connection with Edgar Allen Poe's work? Is it important to you?
Mattotti: I like his work very much. When I was young, it was strange, because I started to read Edgar Allen Poe done by a very good comics artist, Dino Battaglia. He made a version of a little novel by Edgar Allen Poe in a wonderful way with very evocative drawings. So, then I started to read the stories. I think Edgar Allen Poe is really inside my imaginary world because he has influenced so many other writers and so many other artists. I think he is now part of our collective imagination, really inside my idea of terror. The mystery, you know, the darker, the obsession of the head, of the brain. When I knew that he (Reed) wanted to make a book about Edgar Allen Poe, for me it was really natural. I did Jekyll and Hyde, and for me to go inside the obsession, you know to take the dark side of ourselves, for me, it is pretty much my work. And the idea that I could work with Edgar Allen Poe and Lou Reed pushed me to go really in a very straight way to not be afraid to make very strong images. I was justified. So it was really natural and it was really a pleasure to have the possibility to make these kind of images. It's a part of my work.
Buckler: What about the music of Lou Reed? What kind of a connection do you have to his music?
Mattotti: I knew the music of Lou Reed at the beginning of the '70s. I wasn't really impressed by his way of singing, to use the voice like an actor. Sometimes it was strange the way he changed his voice, sometimes he spoke, sometimes he sang. It was the way he interpreted the words, the expression of his voice. I remember there was a very good record, No Prisoners, I think, a live performance where there was really an atmosphere of the cabaret. I remember that I was thinking of a way to draw in this kind of voice. I was always interested by the music in the way that I draw. Really, I remember that I was thinking what kind of sign could be the voice of Lou Reed: very dry, and black & white with strange variations. I think that it is kind of my thinking with the voice of Robert Wyatt.
Buckler: Who was that?
Mattotti: Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine -- you know, an English group from the '70s?
Buckler: Oh, OK, Soft Machine.
Mattotti: Yes, the drummer of Soft Machine. Also, he has a strange way of singing. So for me it was very good to know that Lou Reed wanted to work with me.
Lorenzo Mattotti, signing books at TCAF 2011
Buckler: You illustrate in different styles throughout the book. Can you talk about how you decided on these different styles?
Mattotti: I found it more and more interesting to make books where I can put inside different ways I interpret images. The idea that the book would be not so monolithic; only one style, only one direction, really intrigued me. I normally use different ways to draw so I can make the same object represent different emotions. I wanted the freedom to interpret it in the same book, to put different emotion in different ways. Always the idea develops not in a closed way, but the book is like a laboratory, a development of different ways to interpret the text. I have always been interested in this. I can interpret one page one way, but I say, “Oh, maybe it is possible in another way, look at this.” I want to give to the reader the possibility to open their imagination, give them inspiration to think about a different way. Always the images must be strong, not a sketch.
Buckler: The book is full of creatures. Can you talk about where some of these come from, how you craft those creatures?
Mattotti: Creatures are always our insides. Its part of a long work that I have always done in my sketchbooks. I think in 30 years, I'll continue to make drawings like that in my sketchbook. They are always drawings about my insides, so they are metaphor, they are symbols, symbols of our natural inside. So, I don't think they are different creatures from us, they are not animals, they are us. They are our brains, they are our ideas. The drawing gives us the possibility to change the form to make signs that interpret the reality. They are the concretization of our imagination. So, maybe sometimes they explain much better than a realistic image would. So, the creature from inside you. You may think that they are creatures of another world but they are creatures of our world; the spider, the monster, the stranger, the character. The distortion is the distortion of our brain.
Buckler: So, you lent the creature inside of yourself to this work to help translate it?
Mattotti: To what?
Buckler: You said that the creatures were a concretization of the creature inside of you?
Mattotti: They are a concretization of ideas, of sensations, of emotions. I don't have an animal in my brain, I have emotion, contradiction, tension, pieces of sensation and emotion. And when I draw, my creatures are the concretization of emotions. I do not know before I draw what will happen on the paper, they go out in a very natural way. They are the symbol of sensations that I have inside.
Buckler: Can you take us through creating one of your images? What your process is?
Mattotti: There is always a different creative process. It depends very much on the work. In this case, I read the text of Lou Reed [Edgar Allen Poe], and sometimes I was impressed by some images. But it was more natural when I put on the music. So, I put on the music and I read some of the text, then I started to draw. The music gave me much more of the images, the atmosphere and tone of my images. Much of my work is influenced by music, so for many other images I let myself go on the melody and the atmosphere of the music. In my history, the music gave me some ideas and perspective for some of the work. It is not always like this, sometimes I must make an illustration and I try to make the composition in a very logical way, much more like a project, I have to make sketches and little by little I change. I do that when I have to make posters, or covers for magazines. When I make a comic it is between that. In a way it is a project, a very rational project, logic project, in another way you must make it possible for the drawing to develop the sense. So it is between the two.
Buckler: Could you talk further about how music relates to your art?
Mattotti: I could give you an example?
Mattotti:Fire is completely influenced by the music of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. I remember the first images of Fire were done hearing the music of Peter Gabriel. Always, my books have a sort of soundtrack that I use to concentrate with. The book Carnival, for me it was about the possibility to try to relate the place between music and images.
Buckler: Do you listen to music while you make art?
Mattotti: Yeah, yeah, all the time.
Buckler: You originally went to school to be an architect, correct?
Mattotti: Yeah, but I never wanted to be an architect. I really went into architecture because I couldn't go to fine art school. So, I decided to go into architecture school. There were good subjects. In a strange way I learned many things that I couldn't learn in a fine art school.
Buckler: Did you learn things in architecture school that you have been able to use in your career as a cartoonist and an artist?
Mattotti: I think architecture gave me the notion of space, the structure of the images. The idea of the project. Also, it gave me other influences in how to approach a subject. Not only in an artistic way, but about the historic way, also the logical side of the subject. In a way, it is more scientific. I learned how to be more scientific in the way I work.
Buckler: Can you talk about the difference between creating these kind of illustrations for The Raven and creating comics?
Mattotti: It is a big difference. This kind of book is a sort of a mosaic. I started with some images from one side and another side and little by little the world of this book started to exist. In the comics, I am obliged to start the development of the characters. The structure of the pages are completely different. You must think about the tolerance of the style. If you change the style, it must be justified around the subject of the story. Maybe it is more complicated to make the comics, for me it is more complicated. There must be a tension inside that is done with the images and the text. Here in a book like The Raven, or other books, I am more free, less obligations. In a way I can go on the extreme side, the free way. The relation of the text and the pages is completely different. It is a sort of complimentary thing, you must open the structure of the text that you read, you put a way to interpret it. I don't think it is easier. I think it is more simple than comics. Comics are more complicated I think.
Buckler: Do you believe that this project can be interpreted any further, into another form?
Mattotti: Maybe, yes. It could be interesting. Lou Reed, once in an interview, said that this text could be a ballet. He is always interested to reinterpret this text in a different way with different artists. Maybe it could be a dance, or an animation. I don't know. I remember one idea that could be beautiful: if there is a reading with the music and a projection of the images. Could be interesting to make something with animation or something strange in the theater. I don't know in the future what Mr. Lou Reed will do, he has so many projects -- me, too. It's like a mine, it's a big concentration of images. It's a pity the book is not published with the CD inside. It could be a beautiful addition if people could hear the music and look at the images and read the text.
Buckler: I am sure you get asked this a lot, but I wanted to concentrate on your art. Who are some graphic artists who have influenced you?
Mattotti: There are so many, but I always say that for me one of the big masters is Alberto Breccia, the Argentine master. He opened so many doors, he opened the possibilities in comics, possibilities for the expressionists to be abstract. The explosion of sensation. There are so many other masters. I think about [Dino] Battaglia in Italy. There are many painters; Francis Bacon, Caravaggio. I love Alfred Kubin and Odilon Redon. For me this book is really in the tradition of the symbolic illustrator, like Alfred Kubin or Odilon Redon.
Buckler: Who are some cartoonists who have influenced you?
Mattotti: When I was younger I read all kinds of cartoonists, I was always influenced by the story of the cartoon. In Europe we have different tradition in comics: such good creators like Hugo Pratt, but I also like American comics like Walt Kelly and Dick Tracy [Chester Gould], [George] Herriman. I really fell in love with [Lyonel] Feininger, I use many ideas of Feininger. I grew up with comics history. Jose Muñoz, I am good friends with Jose Muñoz, so he influenced me. The relation with life and work. Also, Art Spiegelman influenced me. Robert Crumb, who opened the door for independent comics. There are so many. I grew up with comics. It was the '60s and '70s. For me comics was like film or literature.
Buckler: Are there any other projects you have in the works that you wanted to talk about?
Mattotti: Now I am working in animation, experimental for television. I will be working in one of my first books Huckleberry Finn Adventures by Mark Twain. We are putting color to it right now with computers, it will be put out in France. I will maybe put out new pages or a new version of Chimera. I want to continue some of my old comics projects, black and white. I had stopped for a while.
Buckler: Is there anything we didn't cover, anything you would like to add?
Mattotti: This book, The Raven, is really a collaboration with Lou Reed, because he wanted to give me ideas, to control and be part of the project. He really wanted to work on this project. The melody of the images was done together.
This interview with Megan Kelsowas conducted via email by editorial intern Hans Anderson, and proofread by Kristy Valenti. Thanks to all! Megan Kelso appears at Fantagraphics Bookstore & Gallery tomorrow (Saturday, July 9, 2011) for the opening of The Quiet Rrriot, an art exhibit featuring Kelso, Stella Marrs and Nikki McClure. – Ed.
Megan Kelso’s career spans the ’90s to the present. In that timespan she has grown into a highly adept artist and storyteller. Her Ignatz Award-winning Artichoke Tales tackles the themes of power, feminism and the relationships that define our daily lives. In the early 2000s, she also spent time in New York, publishing her serialized strip Watergate Sue in The New York Times Magazine.
Kelso’s latest release from Fantagraphics is a reprint of her Queen of the Black Black anthology, originally published in 1998. This book collects stories self-published from her zine Girlhero, which was written and drawn by Kelso between 1993 and 1998 in her hometown of Seattle. In this interview, which serves as a snapshot of early ’90s self-publishing, Kelso discusses her influences, her Xeric Award, and her development as a cartoonist. — Hans Anderson
HANS ANDERSON: When and where were you born?
MEGAN KELSO: 1968: Seattle, Wash.
ANDERSON: Where did you spend most of your early life?
KELSO: Seattle, Wash.
ANDERSON: Did you have any siblings?
KELSO: One sister: two-and-a-half years older than me.
ANDERSON: What did your parents do?
KELSO: My father was an urban planner, and my mother was a college registrar. Both are retired.
ANDERSON: Correct me if I’m wrong, but this is an anthology of short strips, self-published as the serial minicomic (zine?) Girlhero?
Girlhero #1 (July 1993)
KELSO: Yes, mostly. “Whistle and Queenie” was never in Girlhero. It was for an issue of Dark Horse Presents, and there are two stories that I did specifically for the book, “Queen of the Black Black” and “The Daddy Mask.”
ANDERSON: What years were you publishing Girlhero?
ANDERSON: How old were you when you started drawing these strips?
ANDERSON: How old were you when you stopped publishing Girlhero?
ANDERSON: Where did you go to school?
KELSO: I went to public school here in Seattle with a couple years of private school in the middle. I started college at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, but dropped out and finished my BA at The Evergreen State College in Olympia, Wash.
ANDERSON: In many ways, this book is a snapshot of youth culture, in Seattle and elsewhere, in the mid-1990s. What were you drawing your subject matter from?
KELSO: I went to college in Olympia, Wash., which at the time was exploding with bands, zines and really amazing, ambitious art projects: people started galleries; organized music festivals; film festivals; elaborate art installations. People just went out and started these things, not really knowing how, but figuring it out along the way. Because it was a college town, a lot of this work was informed by what we were all studying in college: feminist theory, labor politics, postmodern theory. I started my comic Girlhero because I wanted to be a part of this explosion going on around me. The stories in Queen of the Black Black were not literally autobiographical, but I definitely drew from my life, my work, sex and relationship experiences, my dreams and memories. I was learning to draw comics in these stories, so many of them were kind of like challenges I set for myself — can I learn to draw a convincing bicycle? Can I pull off setting a story in the past?
ANDERSON: The book Queen of the Black Black takes its title from a short story in the middle of the book about a depraved old artist disillusioning a young one. Why did you choose to take your title from this comic?
KELSO: Depraved?! That seems a little strong! I think of her more as old, tired and a bit bitter and cynical. I have always been interested in power relationships: between women, mothers and daughters, teachers and students, babysitters and babysat, employers and employees. I think I’m fascinated by this because, while between women, the classic male/female power dynamic has been eliminated, other more mysterious power dynamics are still at work and are harder to pin down. The title, “Queen of the Black Black,” is from a poem written by the sculptor, Louise Nevelson, who is, in part, the inspiration for the Queen character in that story.
ANDERSON: Who were your artistic influences before and during the creation of these strips?
KELSO: I did not grow up reading comics very much, and when I did (Peanuts, Archie), I didn’t give them much thought. So as a drawer and a beginning cartoonist, I was much more influenced by book illustrators: Maurice Sendak, Doctor Seuss, Beatrix Potter, Tove Jansson, Ludwig Bemelmans, Arnold Lobel, Garth Williams.
I think the work of Julie Doucet’s is what really made me want to try making comics. Once I moved back to Seattle and started meeting other cartoonists, I learned a lot from my peers: Jason Lutes, James Sturm, Ed Brubaker, Jon Lewis, Tom Hart, Jennifer Daydreamer, David Lasky. We actually had a comics working group for a while and shared work, did critiques and helped each other problem solve. Later, I met more cartoonists who[se] work influenced me a lot — Ron Regé and Brian Ralph, who I mentioned earlier. Also, Marc Bell and Lauren Weinstein’s work had a big impact on me.
Leslie Stein hardly needs an introduction… because it’s late and I’m tired and I have to get up at 4am tomorrow. So, I’m going to make this short.
Stein’s work appeals to me because it contains pseudo-biography, anthropomorphic silliness and impeccable craftsmanship into one delightful package. Her work is traditional yet fresh, drawing from comic strip history’s rich library of gestures, expressions and fantastical characters while presenting innovative ideas in composition and texture.
I like it a lot.
Thank you. Good night.
IAN BURNS: You grew up in Evanston, Illinois. Could you describe the town and what it was like for you growing up there?
LESLIE STEIN: Evanston is a large suburb of Chicago. It’s a college town that Northwestern University is in. It’s a nice suburb. I lived on the southern side near Rogers Park so I was really close to the city, so as I grew older I could go into the city easily and explore and go to punk rock shows when I was a teenager. Stuff like that.
BURNS: Where did you go to high school?
STEIN: I went to Evanston Township High School. It’s the public school there.
BURNS: You did not enjoy high school very much.
STEIN: (Laughs) Right. I was an odd duck there. I was like a punk rocker and most of the other people who went to school there didn’t look that kindly upon that. So I didn’t have many friends, and I mostly made friends from other schools when I went to shows in the city. I couldn’t wait to get out of high school, so I actually took double classes my senior year and graduated early.
BURNS: So what year would that have been when you were kind of getting into the punk scene?
BURNS: So it would have been well on the wane of the big time punk scene, but you got in with a fairly big punk community?
STEIN: At the time all the kids went to the Fireside Bowl in Chicago. So I went there to shows every weekend. And yeah, it wasn’t as cool as it was, but it was what we had at the time.
BURNS: You were drawing at a fairly early age.
STEIN: I started when I was two. The story my mom likes to tell, that I came home from a pre-kindergarten kind of class, preschool, and I guess I got in the car and I told her, “Mommy, I’m an artist!” I guess someone at school must have told me I was an artist because of the way I was drawing so intently. So yeah I was really focused on drawing for my whole childhood.
BURNS: Were your parents encouraging?
STEIN: They were neither discouraging nor encouraging. They bought me art supplies and they let me draw, which is what most kids do, but I definitely wasn’t encouraged to pursue it seriously.
BURNS: As you grew up did you pursue any academic training in the arts?
STEIN: No, I attempted… I was so unhappy at my high school that I attempted to go to an arts high school, I applied. And I went through the whole process of applying for the school, and I got in. What they told me upon accepting me was that I couldn’t draw what they considered the cartoons I had shown them to get in. That was stuff I had to do on the side and I would have to do “real” art there. Because I thought my cartoons were real art, I didn’t understand what they were talking about, and I didn’t like being talked to like that ’cause I was already a little rebel. So I decided not to go to school there. I really blocked out most of high school. If I see people on the train from high school… they remember me and I have no idea who they are.
BURNS: Did you move to Brooklyn before you attended college?
STEIN: No, actually I went to school… I got accepted to the San Francisco Art Institute, and I went there for a year and a half; my major was interdisciplinary, so I figured I could get away with doing whatever I wanted to do. I took painting classes, drawing classes and print making classes, but what I ended up doing, I was just trying to draw comics, that’s what I wanted to do, because it was a conceptual art school, people really looked down upon that. I actually had someone in a critique ask me why I was even going to school there. (Burns laughs) So I transferred to the cartooning department at SVA as a sophomore, and that’s when I moved to Brooklyn.
BURNS: Ok. And that’s where you were the only girl in your department, correct?
STEIN: (Laughs) Right, right. Actually, when I first started as a sophomore there were two other women in the department and they both dropped out by the end of the year, so for the last two years I was the only woman in the department.
BURNS: You’ve got to tell the story about the Wolverine bust. I made a special note about that.
STEIN: (Laughs) So… (Laughter) I was thinking, I don’t know why I was thinking this, but I was thinking, “I’m gonna go and I’m going to find all these kindred spirits doing really really interesting comic work,” but it turned out that most of everyone in the department was drawing superhero comics. I don’t know why I didn’t assume that would be the case. So a lot of times I’d be sitting in class, and I’d be sitting behind a guy who I noticed would be drawing Wolverine over and over and over again. (Burns laughs) In different… He would draw him like a character study: From the side, claws out; from the front, claws in; from the side, claws out. Now, it wasn’t the same guy, but during one class, I actually was, I guess, forced to critique a bust of Wolverine.
BURNS: So he was a popular character at that school.
STEIN: (Laughs) Yeah, everyone liked Wolverine! I guess he’s probably one of the most popular superheroes, but yeah people REALLY loved drawing Wolverine. So yeah the bust was a full bust of Wolverine, and it was really quite impressive, it was a very nice piece of sculpture. It was, you know, him looking very muscular with his arms out to his sides and his claws out. But it was cut off right mid thigh, and the funniest thing about it was that he had the hugest package I’ve ever seen on a bust (Laughter), and the whole time, you know we’re trying to critique this, and I’m sitting there with my hands over my face just laughing so hard. And I think I actually raised my hand and said it was a beautiful piece of art.
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler. Thanks to Eric and Wilfred!
Wilfred Santiago has a striking cartooning style that he can mold to fit any of the diverse projects he has created or contributed to. He has worked on everything from Capes to XXX to the alternative In My Darkest Hour, his first graphic novel for Fantagraphics. His newest project, 21, is about one of the most inspiring individuals to ever play the sport of baseball: Roberto Clemente. Rob Neyer from ESPN.com said about the book: "Wilfred Santiago's 21 is brilliant and beautiful, challenging and lyrical...which seems exactly right, as Roberto Clemente was all those things and more." Santiago and Clemente are both natives of Puerto Rico.
ERIC BUCKLER: What is your personal relationship with baseball?
WILFRED SANTIAGO: As personal as any other sport. Growing up, you either did sports or you did not. You called a couple of neighbors and you played baseball, basketball or whatever.
It's been years since I played any sports at all, and it feels a bit weird not to have that today, so I got a kick out of "playing baseball" on 21.
BUCKLER: You are from Puerto Rico; what did legendary Puerto Rican baseball star Roberto Clemente mean to you as a kid, and how is he seen by Puerto Ricans?
SANTIAGO: As a kid, it was different. In Puerto Rico, he was more of a myth than anything else. Sure, 21 played great baseball, but it was his reputation as a good-hearted Christian that preceded his game: perhaps to the level of deity. And you get this sense, because that's all the adults talked about. I never saw him play; he had already died. For a time, I didn't get that I couldn't go to a game and watch him play, like he never left. But his image was almost everywhere: a coliseum with his name on it. I haven't been to the island for years so I couldn't tell you about his impact on the present.
BUCKLER: This book is a biography. How did you go about capturing what he was like when he was alive?
SANTIAGO: Dissection. Clemente was a private man. Once you go through the rudimentary written biographies and any available footage of the man, you can start shaping his presence.
There are two parts to Clemente: The athlete is one way on the field, and another way as a father and husband. Roberto doesn't have a secret identity per se. However, in order to write Spider-Man, you also need to depict his life as a regular teenager. Peter Parker in costume becomes someone else and so are athletes. And of course, the people that surrounded him, the period when he lived, these are things that shape all of us, which are the same things that shaped Clemente as a character. Many times you have to separate the myth from the person and sometimes you have to speculate within parameters. For example, it was a known fact that Clemente went to a certain restaurant, but you have to speculate about whether he had chicken or ribs.
This interview was conducted over email by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler. Thanks to Eric and Joe!
Cartoonist Joe Daly grew up in apartheid South Africa. His perspective on storytelling and illustration have a deeply infused characterization and a mythical slapstick. The comics reflect a bizarre and amazing facet of imagination that is at once familiar as it is far flung and not of this planet. His characters in Dungeon Quest are on a mission to find the Atlantean Resonator Guitar, and will go through everything from beating the shit out of some homophobic goons to returning a magic penis sheath to a large breasted demigod. The crew will be suited up with new armor, weapons, and will have loads of new mind altering opportunities in the all new Dungeon Quest Book 2. Daly is the creator of Scrublands and The Red Monkey Double Happiness Book.
ERIC BUCKLER: Would you talk about how you pace your storytelling?
JOE DALY: Comics can be a very efficient form for story telling, so it's very easy and natural for a comic narrative to progress very quickly. I think a cartoonist is usually trying to counteract that natural tendency by trying to slow things down. You're always moving away from the last plot point and towards the next one, and so I try to be aware of what's needed in order to heighten the moment of arriving at that plot point. It often requires adding more panels, slowing down the action, and letting the dialogue ramble to build tension as one is moving into "the big moment." Very seldom do I encounter a situation where I find I need to eliminate panels. That said, it becomes a fine line between building tension and padding, so the idea is to let the plot point dictate how much tension is required to precede it, and then add no more or no less panels than is required. As a reader you have to arrive at a plot point organically, in a way that you're a little unaware that you've even hit a plot point. I know as a reader I don't like to feel rushed or shunted along from plot point to plot point, as if one were on a conveyor belt. One of my main criticisms of my Red Monkey stories, is that they tend to be plot dominant, and the reader is moved from point to point too quickly. A story shouldn't be all about plot, the reader needs breathing space, unfocused space, where they can engage in the story in a non-rational kind of way. Of course, some readers favor structure and plot heavy stories, and some don't: they'll prefer the rambling, looser approach. I think each story should inform the pace that's required to tell the story, and since I've found myself doing these strange action adventure stories (with quite a lot of dialogue) I've found it's natural to keep "medium pace," somewhere between Chris Ware's work (extreme patience) and an in your face superhero action comics (extreme immediacy).
BUCKLER: Why black and white? Did you consider using color on this comic?
DALY: My first two books were already in color, and I wanted to try something different. I'd discovered while working on the Red Monkey stories, which were in color, that coloring the work took me almost as much time as writing and drawing the work, and so given that I'm currently unable to employ a colorist on my books I decided to eliminate this time consuming process altogether. I was also interested in shifting from a clear line art style to a high contrast black and white art style, simply to broaden my abilities as a drawer and inker, and that's the process I'm engaged in at the moment. I think black and white, whether it's in photography, or in film, or in comics can be very elegant and complete. When "completeness" can be achieved in black and white, it's all the more impressive and satisfying to me, because of the purity and simplicity of black and white. I think perhaps black and white also engages the reader's own imagination more than color, in that they are filling in the white spaces with their own projected colors. When one leaves things out, one creates suggestions. Also, working in black and white helps to keep the cost of the book down.
BUCKLER: Can you talk about lexicons you draw when creating dialogue in Dungeon Quest?
DALY: For Dungeon Quest I was trying to evoke the kind of language that me and my video gaming friends would use when playing video games when we were 10-14 year olds. It as a strange mixture of general profanity, South African school-boy slang, American slang we'd learned from TV and movies, technical jargon and the pseudo-poetic language of high fantasy/adventure which would be used in the actual game. Saved games could be titled things like "got to get splendid key from orange dude," "kief!," "totally fucked," "dawn light factory skyline," "given frayed rope to little whore," "in lonely place," "got to open fucking bay doors," stuff like that. It became a kind of esoteric lexicon. I don't apply this lexicon directly to the writing in Dungeon Quest. I'm drawing from it, allowing it to inform my dialogue. It's a flavor.
This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler, making his Flog debut. Thanks to Eric and Stan!
Stan Sakai has crafted the adventures of his Ronin Samurai rabbit, Usagi Yojimbo, for more than 25 years. He has made Usagi one of the most recognizable "funny animals" or anthropomorphic characters in the comics universe through his unique storytelling and peerless craft. Usagi wanders through Edo period (1600s) Japan, running into the likes of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (created by Kevin Eastman and Peter Laird) and Groo The Wanderer (Sergio Aragones). Sakai's work has been praised by the likes of Stan Lee and been awarded three Eisners for storytelling, overall talent, and lettering. Fantagraphics released a special commemorative edition of the first seven books of Usagi's travels last month.
ERIC BUCKLER: What is it like to revisit some of those first stories?
STAN SAKAI: I re-read them and I was quite pleased at how well they read. These were stories that I had done 25 years ago, even more. They really read coherently and they still play a part in the Usagi saga that I have been telling. You can tell how much the character has matured since then, of course, but I am quite pleased at how well the stories worked.
BUCKLER: What do you think Usagi Yojimbo has contributed to the pop-culture image of the samurai?
SAKAI: I think it has made comic-book readers more aware of the true samurai culture, even though we are talking about a rabbit samurai. It is because I have tried to keep the spirit of the samurai in my stories, both in the research of the history of Japan as well as its culture. I try to convey that.
BUCKLER: How much of you is in Usagi? Do you and the rabbit share a lot of qualities?
SAKAI: He is very idealized. I would like to think that Usagi has a bit of me in him. I have worked with him for a long time, and I think I have infused more of myself into him. You can see that his personality has changed from the early days; back then he was a bit more stoic, a bit more reserved. Now he is more engaging, he just seems to be more well-rounded now. I think it has to do with both my getting familiar with the character as well as — like you said — perhaps there is part of myself included in Usagi.
BUCKLER: So you feel like you guys have aged well together? [Sakai laughs].
Which elements do you think set Usagi Yojimbo apart from other anthropomorphic characters both in comics and elsewhere?
SAKAI: Well he is unique; physically there is no other samurai character that has his ears tied. So that sets him apart, as well as, I think, putting a character in an actual historical and cultural setting. I built walls around it and the walls are made by the history and the culture of Japan. But I try to keep it as a fantasy series. I can't really tell you what sets him apart from other anthropomorphic characters. I like to think it's the quality of the artwork as well as the writing. My wife was telling me that the artwork might attract new readers, but it's the quality of the writing that keeps them coming back every month.
BUCKLER: What was the most memorable moment for you in the first seven books as far as story genesis?
SAKAI: My favorite story is the kite story and that is in Book 5, and that for me was a turning point. That was the first time I did a lot of research for my stories and that story took about a period of two or three years. I had bought a book on Japanese kite making, and thought, " Oh, it will be nice to make a story about kites one day." But it wasn't until a year or so later that I was sketching in my sketchbook, and drew Usagi being lifted by a kite and that sparked the idea; I can do a story around this drawing. I dug out that kite-making book and did a bunch more research, and the story about kites came together. It's still one of my very favorite stories. It is told from the viewpoint of three characters — a kite maker, gamblers and Usagi. I told the process of making an odako, giant kite, for a festival. The gamblers come to town, and start cheating the people. Usagi comes to see the festival, and exposes the gamblers. Then the action begins.
BUCKLER: I love it when you go through and follow the manufacturing of the kite. That is really great.
SAKAI: For me I think that was a big turning point in my approach to doing Usagi; before then it was pretty much an action/adventure series, a fantasy series. But it was with the kite story that I really did put a lot of research and time into my storytelling.