QUOTES: BRIAN ENO ON STYLE

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“Art is style: art is about style. In the past people used to think art is about content: It’s got to mean something. This is why people always say – but I don’t understand what it means, when they look at abstract painting. What are you trying to say? As if the reason that art exists is to package up messages that the artist passes to you through the work. So, that idea claims that art is a communication channel of some kind – I’m the artist, I shout down that communication channel and you receive the message at the other end. Well, I don’t think art has ever been about that really.

The other theory, the other way of thinking about art, is not that it’s a channel for communication something but that it’s a trigger; it’s a way of making something happen. And my interest in art is much more on that side of things – saying, what can I make happen? What can I make that will trigger something in you?

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So, what is it that makes people do something? I think it’s stylistic. What’s the difference between a reggae song that makes you dance in one way and a disco song that makes you dance in another?

The difference is the beat. What is the difference between one beat and another? They’re stylistically not the same. There’s no content difference. In one of them, the kick drum is on the one and, in the other, it’s on the two – that’s a style difference. So, I think that everything that moves you in art is a stylistic issue of some kind. This is something I lecture about and is a long story, and I usually have to use examples to prove it”.

– Taken from Mono Kulture #34

MILTON GLASER: DESIGNING DYLAN

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I can’t help myself – when I go to record stores, sooner or later I find myself in the Bob Dylan section. Seems reasonable, but I’m usually trying to spot if they have one of my least favorite albums of his: Bob Dylan’s Greatest Hits. Problem is, I already own it. Three times. If they have a copy, I quickly open its dusty side pocket to see if I’m bringing another one home with me. I can’t help myself.

In 1967, when Columbia Records released the album each copy was accompanied by a beautiful poster designed by Milton Glaser. It’s rare to see one still slipped inside an old copy, but when it happens I bring it home. I really love this poster and have looked at it a lot. Two full sized copies are framed in my living room, next to each other. When people come over, we refer to it as our Double Dylans. Mr. Glaser was kind enough to talk to me on the phone and answer a few questions about it all.

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I’ve heard that the aesthetic of the Babyteeth typeface you used in the Dylan poster emerged from        a sign you saw in Mexico. What attracted you to this sign and how did it influence the tone and personality of the other letters you made?

Milton Glaser: I saw this strange sign and was intrigued by the sort of innocence of the E and the fact that if you knew anything about typography you would never do a thing like that, the funny little staircase. There were a couple of other letters that also were primitive and simple in their reduction of letter forms and they sort of gave me a clue to a way to do a simple minded flat typeface.

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So, the naive element of how unreadable it was attracted you?

Actually it’s the opposite. It’s how readable it was even though it deviated from our understanding of what an E is supposed to be. I’m always interested in the nature of perception and how much you understand from limited information. That issue of being able to understand what you’re looking at has always been such throughout my work. I’m interested not so much in its peculiarity but in its recognition.

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Was Babyteeth specifically made for the Dylan poster, or was it something you were working on before and had around?

That was just an accident. I kind of had it on my desk at the same time. And I said if I have to use the word Dylan I’ll use this typeface largely because there wasn’t anything that looked quite like that around and I wanted to make the word itself look peculiar.

You’ve stated that the best work of an artist or designer emerges from unifying separate occurrences. Can you talk about the separate occurrences that came together to help shape the Dylan poster?

My idea is that you link things that are unrelated; it’s ninety percent of the imaginative content of what you do. The interesting thing is that firstly everything is connected, and secondly – once you find the connection it seems inevitable.

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The Dylan piece is directly derivative from the self-portrait out of cut paper that Duchamp did. I saw it for the first time and was astonished at the amount of energy and power it had from a simple black silhouette. No technology that was impressive or anything – it was just this black profile in the corner of a piece of paper and I said Jesus! look at the energy that that releases. And it was just in my mind and I thought, I could do that with Dylan.

Than I thought that it was too austere and too easily understood and I was also interested in Islamic painting and so I said I’ll take a little piece of this decorative Islamic idea and combine it with a very unlikely self portrait by Duchamp and see what comes out for Bob Dylan. And that’s what I meant earlier – that connecting seemingly unrelated events is one of the essential tools of artists.

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I haven’t checked the dates, but were you around when he was in NY?

He was around. In fact Duchamp quite coincidentally had a studio on 14th street next to mine. I rented a little room to paint in and Duchamp was right down the hall. I never had a long conversation with him outside of do you have the keys to the bathroom but he spent all his time playing chess by mail. And he never did any artwork during that period. This was late in his life.

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His readymades greatly puzzle me, I’ve always had a hard time getting my head around it all.

It’s hard to talk about an understanding of them for they are meant to be confusing, transgressive and provocative. Above all what they don’t want to be is explained in a literal way. You have to understand that at a certain point the logic involved in explaining a piece of art collapses, because you can’t explain art through logic.

Art occupies another part of the brain, it doesn’t affect your neurology in the same way. And all attempts to be analytical about this stuff turns out to be nonsense, or a good part of it is. So you have to respect the unconscious function and the profound mystery of art making without trying to analyze every gesture and thought because mostly that’s bullshit.

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The iconography of Dylan seems like a dream canvas to be molding and commenting upon, what did he mean to you then and what does he mean to you now?

I liked Dylan very much. I knew him. He was represented by Albert Grossman, who is a good friend of mine. And I would see him occasionally, actually I haven’t seen him since I did that poster which is a very long time ago. He was just one of the true poets and artists around who’s work moved you in a way that went beyond entertainment.

The poster you did was for a greatest hits album, so I imagine he was already big and that the mythology of Dylan was already in place when you did this work.

It was. He was very famous and he hated the album that was produced, which was the last album he did for Columbia. They did all the editing and assembly of that album. He had nothing to do with it and he had already broken his contract. So he tended to hate everything in it, and although he’s never told me that he never liked the poster, in fact we’ve never discussed it at all – it will probably remain the most iconic representation because its been reproduced so many times.

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I’ve seen a rough version of the Dylan image that has a different silhouette and a harmonica, did the project go through many different phases?

No, the silhouette is the same but in the original I had a harmonica. It was the art director who said you know maybe you can take out the harmonica and he was right. And actually this was the only solution I arrived at, which happens very frequently.

There is a great sense of exploring contrasts in the poster: the black and white silhouette vs. the blast of color in the hair, the organic shapes in the image vs. the geometric rigidity of the type – do you see the exploration of dualities as an element that finds itself in your your body of work or did it spawn out of a personal reflection from Dylan’s music and mythology?

No I think it’s like most stuff, it’s highly intuitive. You are trying to make something that will change people’s perception without exactly knowing how to do it except through a certain response to form making. You know, the mystery of how an artist with three strokes can make something that moves the mind as opposed to artists that never move the mind is beyond anyone’s understanding.

Martin Dupuis_Glazer_12I went to the Matisse show a couple of weeks ago and I looked at these colored scraps of paper and I thought why are they so profound and why do we respond to them the way we do … why is this museum full of thousands of people who want to experience these little cut paper pieces. You don’t get there. There is no way to explain it except that there is some unique understanding that the artist have of what moves people. And not everybody has it, and in fact its one of the distinctions between artists and professionals. It’s that most of the work you see is not art because it does not achieve that consequence and does not make you feel that your life has been changed by the experience.

COMICS REVIEW: GARAGE HERMÉTIQUE

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Moebius was a genius. Because he was not only an artist with incredible capacity, but he was very quick. He was superhuman.” – Alejandro Jodorowsky

Context: Jean Giraud is a French cartoonist who also worked under the name Moebius. The name Giraud was used for his more conservative works while Moebius was used when doing more mature experimental pieces. At the time, these included: La Deviation, Le Bandard Fou, Arzach and Le Garage Hermétique. The latter was started in 1976 as a serialized story in a magazine he co-founded called Métal Hurlant and took four years to finish (34 installments in all). There are only a handful of names in comics that command international respect and Moebius is one of them.

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Story: The world of Le Garage Hermétique is governed by a semi-god like figure called Major Grubert. He takes on different physical attributes during the story, but is mostly seen as a mustachioed man wearing an old colonial uniform. Pointy helmet and all. Grubert’s labyrinthine world is composed of three levels: the unconscious, the conscious and super conscious.

The plot involves a mechanic accidentally blowing the fuse of an important machine and running away to avoid his boss’s retribution. This mistake ultimately triggers a manhunt that unifies a cast of characters from all three levels. This includes Major Grubert who ends up being forced to personally investigate all the levels of his own creation looking for a possible saboteur. Worlds manifest into other worlds, characters change names, personalities and even gender in a miasma of fantasy that aims to blow up the inner workings of the medium while celebrating its action adventure origins.

Martin_Dupuis_GH_14Writing: Le Garage Hermétique started off as an unambitious double page strip. 2 pages. It was drawn just for fun and got filed away without plans to continue. Months later when asked to hand in a small piece for a magazine, the strip was dug up and published. To his surprise, he was asked to write a follow up and handed in the second installment without referencing or remembering the previous story.

Part self dare and highly self-confident, he continued writing the story in this spirit – putting himself in a corner and seeing how he could juggle all the open endings he was setting up. Like a jazz musician improvising on stage, pushing ahead, going off key for stretches of time only to come back to the main riff. Some melodic build ups work, others are dead ends. This also allowed Moebius to work through all of his favorite childhood adventure stories, projecting a love of the genre while fully embracing its clichés. The writing and narrative of Le Garage Hermétique doesn’t always work, some parts are weak but the fluidity and ambition of the blast more than make up for it.

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Influences & background: Usually it’s the name Moebius that gets mentioned by other cartoonists as an influence. With Brandon Graham leading the way, there has been a slight resurgence in the kind of science fiction comics he pioneered years ago. But oddly enough, after reading many interviews with him I can’t easily recall specific names as direct influences to his work.

I’m sure there are, and maybe many (and to totally contradict myself, above is a page layout homage to Will Eisner’s use of typography) but my feeling is that there was an early leaning towards image making that came out as a natural extension of who he was and how he communicated. Maybe that is what makes his work seem so genuine and personal, even if he is dealing with spaceships and aliens.

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Drugs and exploring different perceptions of reality is also part of his make-up. He refers to an influential year off living in the Mexican desert as being a deep source of stimulus. Its dreamlike vision is a reoccurring pattern in the work: environments reflecting internal psychological states that take the shape of barren landscapes and empty deserts.

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Look and feel: Hatch marks, hatch marks, hatch marks. Thrilling to look at – obsessively covering the surface of his masterful page designs, they make the flat pages curve up, create dimension and form. Even rocks and clouds (ESPECIALLY rocks and clouds!) in his backgrounds are exciting to look at, and whether or not you’re a fan of the genres he works in (sci-fi, westerns) it is hard not to get dazzled by his drawing abilities and seduced by his ardent dedication to the art of cartooning.

Martin_Dupuis_GH_9Like cartoonist Gary Panter, Moebius is easily able to shift drawing styles. Altering perspectives according to plot points, new settings and psychological states. It creates a schizoid template that allows for an amalgam of unexpected images. Serious and carefully rendered at one moment, elastic and spontaneous the next – a completely malleable world building ability.

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When he worked on more conservative pieces (most notably a western series called Blueberry) the impression is that that original artwork was carefully gridded out, penciled and then inked. But when working under the pseudonym Moebius, it is said that Giraud rarely did any preparation pencil drawings underneath. Straight to black ink on the page. It wouldn’t matter to me either way, but I am curious to see original pages to see what kind of template and safety net he was using. It seems a bit crazy to think that images like these could get done in ink alone.

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Favorite page (above): One of my favorite pages in the book has the story coming to a climax when a triggered explosion disrupts the foundation of the 3 worlds. Formally speaking it’s a gorgeous page to look at, and what excites me the most about it is its execution of tonal shifts. The move from calm blank white water to hatch mark clouds, curving into crosshatching mushrooms that end in jet black inks. Its balance and harmonious design is admirable. The ship also seems to point towards Le Garage being an influence on George Lucas, this being published before the original Star Wars film was made.

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Favorite panel (above): After much build up and secrecy in the plot, Moebius finally shows us an image of Jerry Cornelius. He’s a major personality in the story, but not an original Moebius character. He was taken from science fiction writer Michael Moorcock. As previously mentioned, many of the characters throughout the story change names, styles and even genders. In a bravura performance of cartooning Moebius uses many different drawing techniques and also decides to give him strong feminine traits.

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Hatch marks meet crosshatching in bold moves that render the drawing spontaneous and precise at the same time. He even brings in elements of pointillism to soften up the face. He has to juggle the shading of the image itself (characters are looking at an old photograph) and the shadow marks in which are imposed on the photo by the characters hands and pipe.

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Possible use of Patti Smith and Amelia Earheart as inspiration.

COLOR vs. BLACK & WHITE

Context: His books are not easy to find, French editions exist and English ones are rare. Marvel Comics published collections of his work under the Epic imprint in the eighties. This is where I first read him. These included English translations and a full color treatment (Le Garage Hermétique was originally in black and white). I had been looking for the original French B&W edition for years, and recently found a great set of new reprints by Les Humanoïdes Associés. I read them side by side, one page at a time.

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Page flow: The first thing that stands out between the two versions is Epic’s (English / color) decision to break the original design of the spreads. Because of their written introduction, the story BEGINS on the right page, while in the original work the story spread STARTED on the left page. This seems like a small detail, but ends up completely throwing off the whole rhythm of the book. It’s always a page behind.

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See how the flow of the original black and white (above ) has a much more harmonious feel – Major Grubert on left page looking to his right, pushing the eye towards the next page. Starts with light pen marks on left and pushes towards a heavier hatch marked end point on bottom right corner.

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While the colored version has Major Grubert looking away to the right, pushing the flow off page and breaking the movement. The color palette of the two story segments don’t necessarily clash, but the mood of the spread would have been much more effective if only composed of the soft greens and bubbly pinks of the odd aquatic hippo ride.

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Beautiful use of heavy blacks and contrasting empty space pushes the flow nicely as the above clearly shows how the spread was designed to work together, and becomes messy when tampered with.

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Color pallet: For enthusiastic Moebius fans, there is nothing like seeing his original black and white lines uninterrupted by color. But it is also important to point out how lush and beautiful some of the off kilter coloring choices are in the 1988 Epic version.

At the time, traditional (American) super hero comics often worked with very crude color plates, not always being able to catch the subtleties some artists needed. Call it a European sensibility, but how refreshing it was to see soft pastel pallets challenge the usual macho context. The colors sometimes get in the way of the art and at other times make it POP and snap vibrantly – right down to seeing the crackling on some pages from the paint application.

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The use of the color extractions on the very last page of the book (above) is a brilliant touch only a colored version could pull off. The shift happens as Grubert is being hunted down, eventually escaping the colorful world of Le Garage into the lifeless black and white of the “real world”.

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Coloring hatch marks: Interesting to see that Moebius’s line work alone is strong enough to suggest a sense of dimension and light without the help of color. See how well the image reads with the hatch marks making the foreground closer in the B&W version – guiding the eye towards the two figures walking, making them pop out on the stark backdrop. The color struggles to deal with the extra lines and opts to make the (darker) foreground colors paler and (lighter) background colors darker.

Ultimately the addition of color, more often than not ends up flattening out the line work of the pages. Not to say that Moebius’s work is not adaptable to color, only that the original piece was conceived in black and white and feels more complete in its original state.

Martin_Dupuis_GH_24Criticism: While I like a lot of the story developments that deviate and make us face dead ends, other story points don’t feel as well rounded as they should be. Specially near its end point, when having to deal with a climactic confrontation that resolves itself suddenly by a convenient interference from an outside source. But maybe action adventure stories always end that way, so maybe he is playing within the genre. An easy way out, or maybe I need to re-read it again. 

QUOTES: ON DAVID TUDOR

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“One line on Tudor is that he taught a generation of composers new ways of listening. Pauline Oliveros says of Tudor that he was “a master musician who taught patience, perseverance and listening by his actions and preparations for the performances, and mostly without words”. But another view would be that Tudor played the notes he wanted, rather than reading what was on the page, and by sheer force of personality and by dint of a virtual monopoly on chewy avant garde piano made them work better than the given text”. – Brian Morton Wire magazine, Jan 2015

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BLACKLUNG: CHRIS WRIGHT INTERVIEW

Sweeney_Tongues_1Artist and cartoonist Chris Wright lives in Richmond, VT and was awarded a fellowship at the Center for Cartoon Studies in 2008. His first comics work called Inkweed was published by Sparkplug Books in 2008. Blacklung is his latest book, published by Fantagraphics. My review of it can be found here, his work and blog updates can be seen here.

CREATURE DESIGN
A big part of the joy in reading Blacklung is your character design. Would you elaborate on the mix of influences that ended up shaping them?

When I was still in Highschool, I became obsessed with Vaughn Bode. His work had all the sex and violence of mainstream comics I liked but it was also lush, and free in a certain sense. I started aping him, and developed all of these crazy non human characters. I was really into Ralph Bakshi movies around the same time. So, there are a couple of references that will send comics snobs running for the hills. As I left those guys behind, and got into other underground comics, and some of the older stuff I mentioned above, I carried their influence with me a bit. I’m not sure why.

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The creatures have a playful, even malleable quality, that allows for an unrealistic amount of physical violence to be inflicted upon them. Do you think that creating highly stylized characters ends up distancing the reader from the violence, thus making it more palatable?

The characters I am working with now, are more or less human, but I don’t regret treating the designs in Blacklung the way I did. They’re mythological characters, in a sense. I didn’t want to introduce “Scarry Eyed Joe” or “ Six Fingered Jepson.” I didn’t want to create comfortable archetypes. I didn’t want human beings. I see Blacklung almost, as an expressionist play. I didn’t want these guys to seem like real people.  At the same time there IS a human face behind every mask… Unless you put a mask on a dog, then it’s a dog face behind the mask.

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CROSSHATCHING
The crosshatching work in Blacklung has an obsessive characteristic. Its compulsive energy reminds me Terry Zwigoff’s documentary Crumb, where his brother slowly falls into a strange graph mania, filling up book after book with pencil lines and hatchings. Did your cartooning approach jump straight into this kind of mark making, or did it creep out slowly?
(Crosshatching is the amalgam of vertical lines drawn on top of horizontal lines to create densities).

When I found the style I more or less still work in, all the obsessiveness was there, which is odd because the style I had been working in previous to that was very clean. I had been working in that clean style through my teenage years, and at some point realized that I didn’t draw anything like my favorite cartoonists. I would have been around 19, and I was looking at a lot of early 20th century stuff, Herriman, Segar, Debeck, Edward Gorey, and also a lot of late 19th century pen and ink illustration.

I began to appreciate line quality, and hatching density, and I found some kind of pleasure in sitting there with the ink and the pen and the scratching sound. Maybe it relates to an undiagnosed condition, but I’ve cut back severely on the hatching in my more recent work. I really was overdoing it for awhile, but I liked the rattiness it brought. I never really used it as a constructive drawing element, more as a graphic one.  After awhile I realized that you don’t need that kind of density of hatching to be ratty and graphic. I love pen and ink, I love nibs, I love having the kind of relationship with a pen where as you are working, you can somehow feel the moment when the ink is about to run out, but hasn’t run out yet.

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How do you work out a page? Do you find yourself mapping out each one without all the hatch work, only to return to the hatching when you’re in the right frame of mind? Or do you work it all at once?

My pencils are very simple, usually I already know what textures are going where, so I design the panels (and the pages) based on that awareness. Then I attack the panels one by one, and work clean through. Usually I do the basic line work, then I fill in the blacks, and then I do the hatching, because whether the hatching tones work or not depends on their relationships to the blacks.  It’s not like my style is super complex, but if the elements in place don’t cohere, the whole thing falls apart.

I think I work a-typically from most cartoonists. Most, I think do drafts and drafts of thumbnails, and layouts, and have the whole thing worked out before they attack the final. It may not be to my credit that I work the way I do, but I find it impossible to do anything but DO the page. I write and rewrite, and rewrite, and rewrite the text, but when it comes to the visuals, I can’t help but be intuitive.

In Blacklung, I began to feel a bit trapped by the visual narrative style I had established.  “This character goes here, and this character goes here, and he looks different than he did in that panel that’s a problem.” I would get really stressed out about it.  Now I realize that I am not the kind of artist to whom these things matter, because EVERYthing in my process is intuitive. I’m embracing the things I’m good at rather than compromise them with the things I am less good at.

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Who do you look to as masters of this kind of hatching and crosshatching?

I’m not sure there are any masters of this kind of crosshatching. As I say, I use it in a very basic graphic kind of way. I mentioned Edward Gorey (image seen above), and Herriman, and Debeck, who are all astonishing in their own spectacular ways, but I don’t have much in common with any of them as a draftsman. Herriman can take my breath away. The calm confident easy richness of his lines, and yet they are also totally dynamic. It’s hard to put into words. It’s like being attracted to a person not many other people see the beauty in.

I don’t have the qualities in my drawing, that he has in his, but I admire the hell out of it, and the school he grew out of. Most of the early newspaper guys were influenced by Charles Dana Gibson, and his acolytes. But then you also had Howard Pyle, whose textures could be fascinating, and Joseph Pennell, and E.W. Kemble, and A.B. Frost, and T.S. Sullivant  and later Joseph Clement Cole. On, and on, and on. All of these artists employed crosshatching, but they used it in service of painting with the pen. Mine, is a blunter instrument. But there are many channels to master in comics, and balance is key. Content, and form can’t overwhelm one another.

FORMAT
Frank Santoro once riffed on the idea that “the line I draw is the line you see,” when the question of resizing original artwork came under consideration. Is that something you think about when first putting a project like this together? How big are your original pages?

I draw more or less at around 100%. The pages in Blacklung were reduced a bit, but not by much. You can’t really mess with my crosshatching, or my thinness of line. I actually began drawing a version of Blacklung in a standard comic book size, then I got distracted by another project, and put it aside. I decided to come back to it a couple if years later, and that’s when I went with bigger pages. I have some of the pages from the first version somewhere, maybe I can dig them up.

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GRIDS
There is no apparent grid system or pattern to your layouts. It seems more intuitive. What is your process for sketching and mapping out ideas before getting to work on the final version?

I don’t believe in the grid. Not that I think it’s immoral, it just bores me. I don’t see comics strictly as a story telling medium. I think that there is something in the spirit of comics that still hasn’t been explored yet.  There are “literary comics” “poetical comics” “cinematic comics” not enough “comics comics.” I also sometimes worry that young cartoonists are more conservative in these regards than older ones. I started Blacklung, as a reaction to some of the “precious” elements around the indie community in that moment. I wanted to make an “art” comic out of a genre subject, and also pay tribute to the “underground” (S. Clay Wilson etc – image seen below) and to the history of comics in general, while hopefully also turning it on its ear. I changed a lot while I was working on this book, and the way I think about comics changed. Right now I am trying to figure out what my version of “comics comics” is.

BL_Wilson_2Sorry, you asked me a question.  Yes it’s intuitive. As I said, I write and rewrite, but once I’m okay with the dialogue I do, maybe a couple of thumbnails, and then go to the page, and usually what ends up on the page turns out not to be related to the thumbnails. I break the beats down line by line, figure out which images go with what, how it all interacts, and so on. I try to make each page a constructed sequence, with a beginning middle and end, even if that sequence is only part of a larger sequence.

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VIOLENCE
From time to time a film like Django Unchained makes me rethink my relationship with violence in entertainment. Tarantino is on record saying that he loves exploring violence in his work because it’s thrilling and fun. I have mixed feelings about it all. I generally dislike and don’t gravitate towards overtly violent entertainment, but a lot of the artists I like have violence as an underlying theme in their work (Herzog, Francis Bacon, Scott Walker). As both a creator of art, but also as a consumer of it, how do you find yourself dealing with and reacting to violence in entertainment and art?

It might be surprising to learn that I’m not a fan of horror movies, and that frankly I think Tarantino is a little bit of a sociopath. I love Scorsese (image seen above), and sometimes people lump those two together because of the violence. But if there is such a thing as an ethical portrayal of violence, I think Scorsese is way closer to the mark. The violence in his best movies tends to be fast, and jarring, and emotional. Maybe it’s a little fetishized, but it’s nothing close to what Tarantino does in that regard, and, I don’t think he gets much of a thrill out of it intrinsically. Except maybe for that little thrill catholic boys get out of being bad. Tarantino’s a cartoon. I usually enjoy his movies, but I don’t really approve of them. I may be the only person under 40 who thought that Kill Bill 2 was terrible.

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I don’t know how to defend the violence in Blacklung, except to say that I wanted to completely destroy all of the romantic identifications that come with the idea of Piracy. I mean, I love Errol Flynn movies, but I decided that if I was going to take this premise on, I was going to take it all the way. I don’t think any of the violence in Blacklung goes down as thrilling or fun, and if you remember, even Mose is horrified by what happens at the fort.

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There is a hierarchy to the psychopathy in the book. Mose is a rough character, but sadism is foreign to him. Brahm no longer enjoys what he is doing, and is going through the motions. Others are following orders, and only Sweany really takes glee in the suffering… And he’s lost his mind, in every sense. From an entertainment point of view, I don’t think there is any gratuitous violence in the book. I think it all relates to story, and thematic functionality. All of the horrors in the book are based on historical accounts.  History is WAAAAY more horrific than entertainment could ever be allowed to be.

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Part Belly of the Beast, part Empire Strikes Back—my favourite page in the book is when the Captain punishes a guilty man by stuffing him into a whale and throwing him off the ship. Can you elaborate on how you arrived at this terribly effective dreamlike imagery?

People seem to respond to this sequence. It was actually based on a dream, but not my own, and actually I don’t want to say much more than that in public if that’s okay with you.

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On my second reading I was surprised when the character Outwater completely disregards his role as Sweany’s assassin when they get aboard the ship. There are a few indicators in the book that despite the chaos, there is still the need for an honour system. Am I naive in expecting Outwater to keep his word, or is it every man for himself?

No, I don’t think it’s an honour system exactly… I think Outwater has kind of had it with the whole thing from his first appearance, he just hasn’t figured out how to move on yet. I think of him as the smartest of all the characters. He has a loathing of Sweany, but doesn’t want to push the contention too far. He thinks Brahm is a little ridiculous, but finds him worth following, because at least he has something going other than moneylust. He may not be admirable, but at least he is crazy.

And Outwater is actually the one keeping Sweany in check, in a way. He is outranked by Sweany, and Sweany is also stronger than he is, but for all his pretentions, Sweany is not that bright, and Outwater can manipulate him fairly easily. I even think that Sweany is aware of this power dynamic, and knows that he kind of needs Outwater. Outwater leaves the crew of his own free will, and Sweany doesn’t fuck with him. Their fight was fraternal, and  Brahm always liked Outwater better, but wanted a psycho as his first mate. The whole relationship is about power dynamics.

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Some of this I prefer to keep mysterious. Why did those guys care for Sweany while he was dying? Maybe he was good to them, for all his psychopathy, maybe a few moments of deranged kindness occurred, that made them want to watch over him. Maybe not, maybe they were so terrified of him, that they took care of him for fear of vengeance from his ghost. Sometimes, when you make stuff, you have to give up your intentions, and just let it sit there.

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INFLUENCES
I always find it tricky to overtly reference a piece of work from the same medium you’re working in, especially in comics. It feels almost incestual. I recently saw Dumont reference Courbet’s L’Humanite and Paul Thomas Anderson referenced Gursky in Punch Drunk Love, and thought that it really complimented their vision. There seems to be a mix of Melville, McCarthy and David Milch in the attitude of Blacklung. More literature minded. Who where you thinking about, and who do you think seeped in when putting it together?

I may have already answered a couple of these points in previous answers, and I would love to belabor them, but I probably shouldn’t. I have always said that Blacklung is what would happen if Bergman made a pirate movie with muppets. Blood Meridian was a huge influence, as was Bergman, and Tarkovsky… and Fellini was always in the back of my mind (image seen above). Bob Dylan, Leonard Cohen, and Tom Waits.

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I came up with Blacklung, before I was aware of Deadwood (image seen above), but once I saw Deadwood, I was relieved to see that somebody else was taking an interest in some of the same ideas. Not that would compare myself to Milch. I do not exist in a space that is close to his literary intelligence.

I have never really been a literary person. I might be a little dyslexic, or maybe I have some weird anxiety around reading prose fiction. Most of my influences are filmmakers, and songwriters. Playwrights to some extent also, but usually in the context of film. I’m not as big a reader as I would like to be. I read an interview with Fellini once, in which the interviewer asked him about similarities in his work to Proust, and Joyce, and Fellini admitted that he had never read either of those authors. And that brought me so much relief, to know that it was possible to make La Dolce Vita, or 8 1/2 without having read Proust or Joyce.

If you just engage deeply enough in the thing you are doing, and you are completely honest with a certain part of yourself, you can do really good shit. It’s not all about book learning… Thank Christ.

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OPENING QUOTE

Old gods are terrible to look at when they weep, all bloated like spoiled fish. One wonders if they ever understand that they have caused their own grief” – The Epic of Gilgamesh

You’ve mentioned that opening up Blacklung with a quote from Gilgamesh points possibly to a the characters being tangled up in events beyond their jurisdiction. Does this reflect a notion that we are less in control of our lives, decisions and free will than we think we are?

I think we construct all these mythologies to give ourselves a sense of control. Even the myth that all you need to do is meet that perfect person, and have that perfect child, and you’ll be good, everything will be fine. We are just apes with defense mechanisms against the void.

That quote is interesting to me for a few reasons, but mostly it’s because the Gods looked down on what they had done and saw that it was not good. They had the self awareness and lack of selfishness to mourn over the consequences of their actions. In Blacklung, Brahm comes to a similar kind of self awareness. We walk through life in our passion, and conviction, or in our spite, and are only actualized when we realize how wrong we are to feel any of those things in the configuration we originally found them in. Once this is understood, the configuration again becomes original. It’s a continuous process ended only by death. We can only aspire to our higher selves through humility, and a glad resignation. I am horrible at all of those things.

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Brahm is going through the motions in that torture scene. That’s why he pours his history out to Isaac shortly after. Something about their contact has made him realize that his intentions are empty. He is just staring into the evil he has created, and he can’t make it heroic anymore, he can’t mythologize it. When he rejects his own mythology, he is finally embraced by a “higher power,” and, in that moment, is sent into the underworld. He steps down into the ocean, and, water being a symbol of the unconscious, finally into his own mind. It’s the moment where he liberates himself from himself, and realizes that he has to destroy what he has created and die in the process. His moment of self actualization, is a moment of intrinsic cognitive self destruction. To answer your question… I believe that human beings have the power to make choices, but I don’t think they have much say in the creation of the machine that ends up making those choices.

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Joseph Campbell says that, “the achievement of the hero is one that he is ready for and it’s a manifestation of his character. The landscape and conditions of the environment match the readiness of the hero. The adventure that he is ready for is the one that he gets.” I would need to re-read the ending again to be sure, but It seems like Isaac experiences an awakening by the end of the story—that the level of violence surrounding him frames his existence in a way that is ultimately liberating. He seems humbled by the recognition of a force bigger than him, an annihilation of the self. Since he survived, does that mean he was ready for the adventure he was given?

I actually did a lot of thinking about Joseph Campbell while I was writing Blacklung, and I wanted to play with certain mythological motifs. I wanted to engage with the hero’s journey, without the forward momentum those stories usually provide. At the end of Blacklung, the villain is the one who is changed.  Isaac, while maybe more adapted to his circumstances, remains, for all intents and purposes, very little changed. He is just a shell, in a world he thought himself above. In the last panel he is faced with his books, and his supplies. There is still the potential for regeneration, and transformation, but for what, or to what, or to whom?

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He still hasn’t achieved the wisdom Brahm acquired, and the question at the end of the book is will he bother to try? It’s a personal matter, when ego is divorced from an appreciation of art, and wisdom texts. When you aren’t just reading things, and talking about things to prove that you are so smart, and are actually evaluating, and processing them as they relate to your own actual heart. It seems cruel to leave Isaac on that beach, but really he was always on that beach he just didn’t know it.

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Thanks to Dimitrios Koussioulas for helping with copy and editing.