Thursday, 4 December 2008

LADRÖNN interview [2]

Interview by smoky man & Antonio Solinas. Conducted in May 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto magazine (N. 61, July 2008, Coniglio Editore).
Presented here in English for the first time.
Above: Cover for The Atom N. 25.
The Atom published by DC Comics.
LADRÖNN interview [1]

11. In a interview, talking about his style, John Romita Jr. said: “I still don’t believe I have a style as such. If anything, I call it a deadline style; whatever comes out on time, that’s me. You’re given a plot and told you have approximately three weeks to finish it or you don’t get paid. […] I’d be interested to see what my work would look like if I had plenty of time and plenty of money. I’d love to have the amount of time that some European artists seem to have, which is maybe a year, or year and half to do one piece of work. I suppose then it would have a very different look, and maybe I’d develop a style of my own. But then again, maybe it wouldn’t be as good, because I would be overthinking and overworking the pages. As it is, it’s rapid fire and immediate and it works out just fine.” [from Artists on Comic Art by Mark Salisbury, Titan Books] I am curious to know what your opinion about this. Also, what do you think of deadlines and was you ever conditioned by them?
Ladrönn: The deadline is definitely something you need to learn to deal with. Romita said something that is true, and that is the sad reality of the USA comics books industry. Romita - and many other artists - have the same problem: the big publishers like Marvel and DC Comics need to produce a lot of books and the artist must draw on a page-a-day basis. This is a very complicated task because the quality of the work is not always is the best at the end of the day. When I started to work at Marvel I saw the deadlines as a big issue… you feel that there is no time to work out the details. For that reason I prefer to stay on the side, not drawing comics books for the mainstream, not only because I don't want to compromise my style again but… my health.

12. When you work on a story do you prefer working on a full script or do you like more working with the Marvel approach of a simple plot to be developed by the penciler?
The best way is the full script, because you know what the characters are talking about, if they are happy or sad, otherwise you can't add feelings to the story. On the contrary if the penciler develops the plot I think it will work better, because he knows what is going on in the story, unfortunately the writer is the one who creates plots the most of the time and artist never know what the writer is thinking between the lines.

13. Any desire to write and draw your own created comics?
Absolutely, I like to write but you need time to create a great story so, maybe some day, when I have the time I will prepare something.

14. What does it mean for you - as a professional comics artist - “experimenting” with your Art?
I experiment with my art all the time. I like to improve my work everyday, there is always a way to do your artwork even better.

15. From your privileged point of observation, what’s your perception of USA comics market status? Is it too much super-heroes based – even if in this period we can see some diversity?
The comics are a mirror of the society in every country. In the USA the hero culture is very strong. They have a very particular vision of the world: sometimes for US people is difficult to see beyond their borders but I hope it changes some day and the horizons will open even more for the comic readers because there are wonderful books outside the United States domestic market. At the moment I think publishers like Image Comics, DC Comics and some others have been bringing great European and Asiatic works to the States. I also think that a line of comic books like Vertigo is very good and healthy for the USA readers.

16. On the other side, what about the French comics market?
I don't know very much about the business side of French market: this is the first time I have a book done specifically for the European mainstream… ask me the same question in ten years and I will let you know, but I know the quality of the French books, and how much care the French and other European publishers put in their products. As I said before my biggest artistic influences come not only from French but European graphic novels and now that I'm involved I can see how professional they are.

17. What’s your opinion about the “graphic novel” tendency?
I think the US comic book mainstream publishers need to take some time to think about the future of the industry, starting with a big filtering of their products, because there are many books and editions published every month with very bad quality. This happens because there is no time to do something better, it is a endless race without sense. I think the graphic novel is the best way to start producing less but better books because, if you start taking more care of your comics books then the readers will learn that they can be something which deserves a special place in their home library.

18. And about the strong connection of comics and Hollywood? Any pros and cons?
Comics and Hollywood: I think that formula is working pretty well in the USA now. Hollywood has discovered a new market, I only hope the movie industry opens more to characters from other cultures. I would love to see a live action movie of Ranxerox. The only big con I see here in the USA is the media censorship at any level: in the United States everybody is frightened of being sued by some stupid association or people.

19. Your dream project?
The Incal.

20. Which comics do you regularly read?
I don't read many books nowadays. I don't have much time to read but, I like European comics, I always buy the Spanish editions and I also like to read manga.

21. Let’s close with a big one. Comics: industry or art?
Both but I think the industry is leading the race.

LADRÖNN interview [1]

Interview by smoky man & Antonio Solinas. Conducted in May 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto magazine (N. 61, July 2008, Coniglio Editore).
Presented here in English for the first time.
Above: Cover for the Final Incal T. 1 deluxe edition.
Final Incal
published by Les humanoïdes associés.

1. Let’s start talking about your last project. It’s recent news that you are currently at work on Last Incal, the sequel of the famous saga created by Alexandro Jodorowsky and Moebius, written by Jodorowsky himself. How did it happen? What can you reveal about the story in itself and about your collaboration with the great visionary writer? If I remember well you two already collaborated in the past on a short story printed on the last version of Metal Hurlant magazine.
Ladrönn: It is not easy to explain sometimes how things happen in life, I always say. I met Alexandro Jodorowsky three times: first when I used to read his books, the second time in 1997 at the San Diego Comic Con, but it was only in 2000, in the headquarters of the Humanoids Publishing, in Los Angeles California, that I was officially introduced to Alexandro in a more formal way by the Humanoids owner, Fabrice Giger. It was during that meeting that Alexandro thought that I could do a short story for the Metal Hurlant magazine. One month later I got a sadistic script written by Alexandro, "Tears of Gold". I think that was the work that allowed me to show Alexandro my artistic skills. After that short story was published, Alexandro talked with Moebius and they both agreed that I could be a good candidate to continue with the final part of the Incal saga. Then, some time later, Alexandro contacted me and in a few weeks I had the first script: this time the story was real and not a dream like in the Moebius' Incal. Now I only know the Final Incal book is done and John Difool is back again with a fantastic story. 2. Were you a bit intimidated by this work? I mean, it’s Jodorowsky, you have on you Moebius’ shadow, it’s one of the most acclaimed saga in comics…
You feel intimidated by the unknown but for me the Incal has been part of my life for many years. I was very young when I saw Incal Noir, that beautiful book that Jodorowsky and Moebius did many years ago. I can say that in that moment I thought for the first time that I should become a comic book artist. Many years later I started to work for USA mainstream publishers and after some years in the business I had the opportunity to meet some people from the Humanoids Publishing in Los Angeles. They invited me to do some covers for the USA edition of the Incal: I think those cover works were very important, because I was able to show Alexandro and the Humanoids my personal vision of the Incal.
3. Previously you focused you activity on making covers for DC (The Atom series), Marvel (The Incredible Hulk) and Image Comics (Elephantmen). What’s your approach in creating a cover? Do you usually read a preview of the story or any sequential art samples? What about your interaction with the editor?
I love to do covers. I usually ask for a small synopsis of the story so I can have an idea of what the story is about or I ask the editor to tell me a couple of ideas about what he think could be great. At the end of the day I start doing a couple of sketches, and after the design is approved I start drawing. All kinds of references are always welcome so I can have a neat idea of the characters. At the very beginning I prefer to work quite traditionally but I always end up doing the important retouches and adjustments by using the computer.
4. What does it mean for you to be a cover artist?
Being a cover artist is a great thing. Your art becomes the face of a book, and because it's always a single image you can do - if you want - not one but two or three covers every month. The best thing is that you don't get stressed as much as when you are painting a comic book page which is a really hard job.
5. Let’s take a step back. The first time I saw your art was on an Amalgam book starring Spiderboy, a funny mix of Marvel’s Spiderman and DC’s Superboy. It was 1997, wasn’t it? Long time ago… I was delighted by your style so fresh and at the same time an instant classic. It was your first work for the USA market, wasn’t it? In the same period, I also remember a short black and white story in Marvel’s Shadows and Light. At a first look your art revealed - especially in your past Cable’s run - a deep influence, maybe a legacy, from Jack Kirby. How much Kirby is in your style? Which is the most important lesson, the big secret, you learned from The King?
Spiderboy was definitely a very funny work, quite silly though. It was a strange mixture of the DC and the Marvel Universe, what a mess!... My very first work was a short story featuring "Blade", the vampire hunter for the "Marvel Shadows and Light" book. I remember very well: it was a book only with black and white art. I think that was very nice to me because I love comics in black and white only. My style has always been more European but when I started to work for Marvel I had to adapt it to something more commercial. It had to be in a language which could be easier to understand for US readers and I thought immediately about the books that I used to read when I was just a child: Kamandi, The Demon, Mister Miracle, The Fantastic Four, all works by Jack Kirby. When the time allowed me, I put a lot of details on my pages but a monthly book is an insane way of working. I think Jack Kirby is one of the greatest artists, not only because he drew a lot of comic books but because he fought with the big companies in order to get very important rights for USA artists; his legacy is extremely important. I think I have learned from him a lot of things: he was a master of the sequential art and the dynamics of the characters but there are many others things. One of the most important things I learned is the way he used to add such great energy to every page and how to place elements in order to achieve an efficient artistic composition.
6. Apart from Kirby, I see in your art a certain passion for details (such as in Geof Darrow’s works), a touch of manga and ligne claire (especially Moebius). What are your influences and artistic references, not only in comics medium?
My biggest influences are from the European artists, but I grew up reading books by Jack Kirby, John Romita… I also saw books by Will Eisner and Buscema… but my style always pointed to a more sophisticated direction. I think the works of Moebius, Druillet, Boucq, Bilal, Manara inspired me a lot. I love manga, artists like Otomo, Masamune Shirow and Naoki Urasawa are so brilliant. I also love movies. My favorite movie director is Ridley Scott and in recent times Guillermo Del Toro.
7. Your style then moved into painting more than just pencils. I think this approach started on the wonderful and powerful Inhumans miniseries and on a brief Thor story. Absolutely stunning with its Gimenez’s Metabarons and Bilal look! And this continues today even if I suppose now you are also using a bit of pc coloring programs such as Photoshop. Was this just a creative change that you wanted to go toward? Is this “painted Ladronn stuff” the “real” Ladronn?
I'm not an artist married to only one technique or media. It is the work, which always demands what kind of tools you need to use. When I was working on Cable, I was only using a pencil; for The Inhumans book I started to ink my pages but when you move to the color stage things change a lot because you always draw keeping in mind the way you are going to color it later. Sometimes you don't need to draw many things if you are going to paint those specific areas. My covers and my pages use all kind of media. I employ what I think will work better. I think you can see the real Ladrönn in all the Hip Flask books, but especially in the Final Incal.
8. What kind of tools or techniques do you use? What about your standard work day and your average daily page production? Do you work in a studio or at home?
I work at home, that is great for me because I have all my tools and books always with me. I think it helps me to feel comfortable. About my work: it is very difficult to say how long it takes to do this and that. It changes all the time. I have done two pages in a day but there are pages which take 4 or 5 days, the same thing happens when I paint a cover or a single page. I work with many traditional tools: my drawing tools are the same used by manga artists, the paper and all my pen line markers are Japanese. I prefer them for their quality. I love to paint with watercolors, acrylics and gouache but the deadlines are more and more tight every time so I work a lot with an Apple computer and a Cintiq tablet, that is the only way I can meet my deadlines.
9. I know you come from Mexico. When and where did you start your career in comics?
I started drawing comics books in the United States for Marvel. Before that I worked in a design agency in México City, in a newspaper and in a broadcast company doing all kind of promos and TV commercials for the station.
10. Did you attend any art school? Which was your artistic training?
I studied graphic and technical design but I learned to draw and paint by my own. Schools don't teach many things so you need to have some skills and a lot of patience to learn to do the things in the way you want.
LADRÖNN interview [2]

Friday, 24 October 2008

Article: Mike Carey on Watchmen

At the end of 2006 - in the occasion of its 20th anniversary - I edited an Italian Watchmen tribute book which was basically a collection of 12 brand new essays by well known comics experts analyzing Alan Moore & Dave Gibbons masterpiece. The volume was published by Lavieri, a small Italian publisher, with all net profits donated to AIMA, the Italian Alzheimer organization.
Popular comics writer and novelist Mike Carey wrote the afterword and now, for the first time, he gives his permission to show here the original English version. Enjoy! And thanks to Mr. Carey of course!

Meanwhile, Up on a Huge Hill

by Mike Carey

Sometime around the Easter of 1987, I was coming back down to London from Liverpool in a National Express coach, and I stopped into that comic shop just off Lime Street, a few doors up from the Legs of Man pub – you know the one, yeah? – to buy something to read for the journey. A lot of people had been talking to me about Watchmen, so that’s what I bought – the first six issues, all at once. It was, in some ways, an irrevocable step.

Two decades on, the central metaphors of Watchmen continue to ricochet around inside my head, hitting the other objects that are piled up in there and setting them off in turn in a sort of perpetual chain of Brownian motion. There’s no help for it: that’s what great art in any medium does. You just have to learn to live with the constant feeling of slight vertigo that it brings about, and not drive or operate heavy machinery while under the influence.

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes? Who will watch the watchmen? Well that’s what we all want to know right now, perhaps even more urgently in the age of Bush and Blair than in the days of Thatcher and Reagan. It’s a question that never goes out of fashion, more’s the bloody pity.

But I said metaphor, not allegory. Watchmen isn’t the sort of book that opens with a key, and turns out to have been talking about one particular thing all along, under the light disguises of fantasy. It resonates on every level, from the psychological to the mythic by way of the political. It has meanings but no morals. It refuses consolation both to the new frontiersman Rorschach and the utopian dreamer Ozymandias.

Perhaps that’s why it’s aged so well. It’s a trite truth that nothing dates faster than the topical, and nothing is more topical than the timeless. By cutting itself loose from any real world context, and yet at the same time tying itself so precisely to an era that could have/couldn’t have/could have happened, Watchmen has the best of both worlds: the acerbic accuracy of social commentary, and the endless, effortless now of fairy stories and myth cycles.

In trying to sort out my feelings about the book after all this time, I find Terry Gilliam’s response to it a useful index to my own. Gilliam loved Watchmen – famously calling it “the War and Peace of comic books” – and for many years fully intended to make a movie version of it. It’s listed in Bob McCabe’s “Dark Knights and Holy Fools” as one of the “great unmade”. But in retrospect, Gilliam has no regrets about not making the film: he ended up feeling that the process of translation would strip out most of what made the book so valuable, and leave you with “just straight comic book heroes again.”

In the same way, earnest commentary runs the risk of strip-mining the dense intra-textuality of Watchmen – the way it comments on and modifies and inverts and undercuts its own narrative – and taking out of it a single, narrative thread with a single paraphraseable meaning. I think, as academic endeavours go, that would be the sort of project that King Canute would endorse.

Sometimes you just have the good fortune to set up your tent in the right place. It can be a complete accident – choosing a theme or a setting that turns out to be right in ways you couldn’t anticipate – or it can be the result of long and meticulous planning. Watchmen, I think, is an example of both. Some of the most haunting and successful aspects of its rich tapestry, like the playing on Einstein’s famous “watchmaker” quote and the agonising ironies of having a well-meaning psychiatrist trying to read meaning into Rorschach, were clearly always part of Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’s many-dimensional game plan. Others, like the blood-stained smiley badge which became so resonant an icon, happened along the way and were incorporated and added their own unexpected richnesses to the whole.

And history, in its different way, does the same thing – adds layers of meaning to the text, and changes the way you respond to it. I don’t want to draw a comparison between Adrian Veidt’s grand design and the events of 9/11: there are good reasons for not going there. But I can’t help, now, when I’m re-reading the book, comparing the real and the fictional disasters, and measuring Veidt’s ambitions and his qualified success by the standards of a world which now has some vivid, recent examples of the public and official responses to immeasurable tragedy.

As we go through life, we look for guides and interpreters to help us turn its noise into signals – not because we believe that life has to make sense but because we can only bear so much ambiguity and pointlessness before we get sick. If you’re smart, you’ll avoid the snake-oil salesmen who’ll offer to explain the whole thing for you, sell you a map or give you precise directions. Trust the guys who look puzzled and worried themselves, and who don’t pretend to have all the answers: just some different routes through the questions that you can take for yourself and chew over at your leisure afterwards.

With Watchmen the more you keep coming back, the more those routes keep opening up and taking you away from the conclusions you expected to reach. As Donne said,

“On a huge hill,
Cragged and steep, Truth stands, and he that will
Reach her, about must and about must go.”

Yeah. I couldn’t have put it better myself. But Moore and Gibbons could, and did.

Mike Carey
April 2006

[this article is copyright Mike Carey. All rights reserved. Published here with the author's permission.]

Read the book introduction by legendary writer Michael Moorcock here.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [3]

Interview and translation (from Italian) by smoky man & Fabrizio Lo Bianco.
Originally printed in Studio Space, a book about comics artists in their studio by Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall published by Image Comics in 2008.
In his review CBR columnist Augie De Blieck Jr. wrote: "Hey, it's not like you're going to read too many interviews with Sergio Toppi anywhere else. That was a pleasant surprise in the book."

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [1]
Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [2]

Personal comics selection
I used an illustrative approach for my version of 1001 Nights because it’s a character-based story, it’s related to situations, there isn’t a lot of dynamic action. It’s was a personal choice, it came from the story, from its pace. These are still my favourite works.

Blues and Isola Gentile (The Peaceful Island)
These are works that I feel that I am bound to.

I tesori del Cibola (The treasures of Cibola) /La leggenda del Potosì (The Legend of Potosì).
These were two books I did for the celebration of the America discovery back in 1992 and they are some of my personal favourites.

The Collector
The Collector is the only serial character I created. I casually gave him that strange moustache and long legs. I have short ones, so maybe it was a sort of compensation. He is a man with many resources, able to get out from the most complicated situations. He always gets what he wants, has a good sense of humour, sometimes sarcastic, a bit merciless. I like him, he is a bit, just a bit, bad—but I am not exactly like him!

When Panini Comics editor Enrico Fornaroli offered me the chance to illustrate the covers for the 1602 sequel I was really pleased to accept. I am not a big comics reader and I can’t say I’m a great expert of the superhero genre. Nevertheless it was an opportunity for me to confront a comics world different from my own.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [2]

Interview and translation (from Italian) by smoky man & Fabrizio Lo Bianco.
Originally printed in Studio Space, a book about comics artists in their studio by Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall published by Image Comics in 2008.
In his review CBR columnist Augie De Blieck Jr. wrote: "Hey, it's not like you're going to read too many interviews with Sergio Toppi anywhere else. That was a pleasant surprise in the book."

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [1]

The Studio Space
I work in my home, in a room with a big table which I’d like to be even bigger because it’s always loaded with drawing materials and reference. All around me I have books and magazines. For the most part they are useful for my work but there are also publications I take in the studio simply because I am bound to them. National Geographic is one of the magazines which fill the room. I used to buy it regularly, but not anymore for the simple reason that I need to free up more space. I do like to look around and see my toy soldiers and my collection of helmets. This is a great passion of mine which I have in common with many illustrators of my generation. I also have a small music player system—a gift of a friend—and a photograph of my wife Aldina.
For a long time I would listen to the radio while I was drawing, but I have discovered again the importance of silence. I sometimes think that in modern society silence and the ability to listen are very rare goods. Some time ago I received as a gift a fax machine which is placed on the table edge. It’s very useful for my work as I have never owned a computer, despite many of my colleagues telling me that they can be a very useful tool, especially for doing research over the internet. I also always keep within reach a small hairdryer for drying the inks. So this is the space where I work and, apart from it being as full as an egg, I find it very comfortable.
You know I am not inclined to consider comics as art. I think comics are a ‘handicraft,’ though sometimes they can be handicraft of the very highest quality. Comics are just a handicraft work because they have such complexity; you need a script, there is the drawing, a time scansion, you need colouring, you need to present the story in a strict amount of pages. A ‘fine artist’ could do everything he wants, he could draw a chair with five legs and nobody can say a word... a comics artist has to draw that chair with four standard legs. So this becomes a process of activities that are more similar to handicraft than art in my humble opinion.
Compared to illustration, comics need much more dedication, both in time and effort. You really have to plan things. With illustration there is less constraint, there is no sequence to do. So sometimes I have more fun doing an illustration, it can be more direct, from the idea to the page. So it’s a very different approach for me. An illustration, even an elaborate one, has a specific location on the page. You just have to pay attention to the right balance of the composition. With sequential art, with comics, things are more complicated, you have to consider many more factors and elements.
Before starting a new story I spend several days searching for reference material. It is very difficult for an artist to imagine everything so I will go to bookshops and libraries, because it’s important to have a good photographic library. I know today things are much easier with the computer, but as I mentioned I don’t have one. So, it’s important for me to go out and collect images and references and put them in a personal archive that is ready to be used if needed.
An artist has to be able to find elements for his work from everything he sees during each day. When you work on your own story you know from the very beginning how you will draw things and that they will engage you. When you work with a writer however it could happen that you find yourself having to draw something that you don’t like. It’s a very difficult thing to have a perfect symbiosis between the artist and the writer. Both of them try to prevail.

You can go in your favourite direction when it is just yourself writing and drawing. I don’t write a full script. I prefer to progressively develop a story which has a sense of its own. Usually I don’t make any storyboard. I don’t like to work on a story totally planned from the beginning. Once I have the story and I know how it goes, I will put down some brief notes, a list of the key events, just to visualize the sequence, but usually I go directly on the page.
I often see that a first drawing has an energy, an impact that you can’t find in an inked piece.

Generally I draw the pages in the right order starting out at the beginning, though it could happen that I start from a specific page, or a panel, and I build the rest around it. I draw the pages in full, adding the text and paying a lot of attention to the balance, such as where to place the balloons. I will deliberately sacrifice the balance of the page though to put focus on a particular element or figure. Sometimes I draw a page at the first attempt. But in other cases I could need more time. It’s really difficult to predict. I do have a very flexible procedure, but knowing the deadline helps!

I try to maintain a sense of freshness, often by just doing a preliminary sketchy pencil and then going directly to the final version in inks. I am fascinated by the strong contrast between black and white. It seems to me like something ‘definitive.’ For this same reason I love etching. And maybe you can feel this passion reflected in my own style. For colours, I again prefer using inks. I like the transparency you can obtain with them.
It is fundamental to be very critical, very severe regarding your own work. If I am not satisfied with a page, I feel a great discomfort looking at it. Drawing is a means of expressing myself, doing what I like, recreating on paper some historical events or legends that have fascinated me. So if a page is ‘wrong’ then it is something to be eliminated, even if you have worked on it for a long time. So trashing a piece becomes a sort of liberation. On the other hand I like to keep with me the pages I consider to be well done.
That said I really don’t know why my art has become so appreciated. I know of this admiration for my work and I am pleased by this, but I don’t know what the inner reasons are. I have no explanation, and I don’t speak English so I don’t think I will ever be able to get in direct contact with many of the American artists who have expressed pleasure from my work.

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [3]

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [1]

Interview and translation (from Italian) by smoky man & Fabrizio Lo Bianco.
Originally printed in Studio Space, a book about comics artists in their studio by Joel Meadows and Gary Marshall published by Image Comics in 2008.
In his review CBR columnist Augie De Blieck Jr. wrote: "Hey, it's not like you're going to read too many interviews with Sergio Toppi anywhere else. That was a pleasant surprise in the book."

Sergio Toppi
continues to be a maestro of the comic form, consistently producing artwork for the most influential Italian publications and publishers. Rightly considered to be one of the finest European comics artists working today, where Toppi succeeds more than most is in making the impossible look easy. Exhibited around the globe, Toppi has drawn a loyal following, and is hugely admired by his peers, claiming the likes of Jim Lee, Walter Simonson, Chris Weston, Daniel Zezelj and Frank Miller amongst his many fans…

Getting Started
I began my career while I was still attending high school in the early Fifties. I did some illustrations for an encyclopaedia aimed at a young audience, published by Mondadori, an important Italian publishing house. I continued with illustration throughout the ‘50s and early sixties, working for the UTET, Italy’s oldest publishing house, and as an animator working on various advertising campaigns for Pagot animation. The comics would come much later.
It wasn’t until the mid-Sixties that I actually began to draw comics professionally. I drew Il Mago Zurlì (The Zurli Wizard) which was followed by a biography of Pietro Micca, the hero of the siege of Turin, in Il Corriere dei Piccoli. So I found myself drawing primarily historical comics, lots of war stories, with writer Milo Milani. This formed the series Grandi Avventure di Pace e di Guerra, even though, like much of my work it was really a collection of “one-off” stories. If I’m going to draw a series rather than a single story, then I do prefer to be the writer, which is how Sharaz-de and Il Collezionista came about, as well as the numerous stories that have appeared in the Corto Maltese magazine over the years.
My style is often described as unique, but I have been drawing for a long time now, so the influences come from everywhere.

It’s important to look around and be aware of what’s happening. But the main thing is to find a personal voice. When you work in comics, in any artistic field, the most difficult thing is researching for a personal style. Which way you’ll find it, I don’t know. There is no formula. It happens. It’s natural to look at other comic artists, the ones you like. But you have to avoid repeating things already done. Here in Italy, I like the work of Angelo Stano, Nicola Mari, Lorenzo Mattotti and Sergio Zaniboni. From further afield I enjoy Daniel Zezelj who did many works in Italy too, and André Juillard, a French artist. Also I really like Enrique Brecchia, who, like his father Alberto, is a great artist. But I am sure I am forgetting many others.

I watch many movies. Even in a minor production it’s possible to find an interesting sequence, a good shot, different kinds of shots, so that each and every frame could be very useful. From a technical point of view, I think that for a comic artist, cinema can have a big influence. A cinematographic drawing style is very important, it’s useful to capture the figure in motion. I also find the period between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century to be very exciting with regards to the creativity amongst the ‘fine artist.’ I like Schiele and Klimt, all the artists from the Secession movement, even the minor ones, I think are extraordinary. It was the time of applied arts and even a napkin could become an art object. They were great ‘craftsmen’ able to work in many different artistic fields.

Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [2]
Interview: SERGIO TOPPI [3]

Monday, 1 September 2008

Comics: Antonio Solinas & Dave Taylor

[click on the above image to ENLARGE]

And again, a story for Italian magazine Mono (Mono N.2, to be precise). We have already spoken about Mono, so all that is left to say is that the story was prepared for the music-themed issue.
The story was written by me and drawn by the insanely talented Dave Taylor, who was kind enough to listen to my ramblings about the Wu-Tang, insert all the references I requested and even to adopt a “Shaolin-style” art approach. As smoky would say, “Enjoy!”

The story is presented in English here for the first time.
The Saga Begins is © Antonio Solinas (story) & Dave Taylor (art).

Wednesday, 27 August 2008

Comics: smoky man & Chris Weston

[click on the above image to ENLARGE]

In 2007 I contributed with a one-page comics short story to Mono N.3. Mono is an Italian no profit comics anthology of one-page comics stories about a selected theme. All profits from Mono (printed by Italian publisher Tunué) support the distance adoption of a Peruvian child.

Theme of issue N. 3 was "water". Originally I thought to write a sci-fi thing but the amazing Chris Weston - who generously agreed to draw the page - asked for something with… piranhas (?). So I conceived a sort of Pulp Fiction-like homage with those cute fishes as guest stars. Enjoy!

The story is presented here for the first time in English.
Out of Water is © smoky man (story) & Chris Weston (art).
Lettering by Bruno Olivieri.

Tuesday, 5 August 2008

Melinda Gebbie interview [2]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

In the photo by Alan Light: Catherine Yronwode (left), Carol Lay (middle), and Melinda Gebbie on the right, at the Women In Comics panel at the 1982 San Diego Comic Con (today called Comic-Con International).

Melinda Gebbie interview [1]

10. The style you used in Lost Girls, in a way, mimics certain artists of the era, while still retaining a certain individuality. What was the rational approach to the artistic process?
First of all, I thought the most reassuring and warm and inviting way to illustrate the book, was to make it seem like it was a book for adults. The pictures were soft, with positive memories and there weren’t any sharp edges, or shades. You know, you want people to feel a sense of reverie and safety. I conjured up feelings of several different children books that I liked, you know, with a kind of a soft illustration style and, of course, with The White Book, they were all pastiches of well-known artists, so that introduced different styles, thinking mostly, I guess, of Alice and Dorothy’s art styles, because they are the softest. Alice’s are oval, like a pool of water, you know, the memory part, and Dorothy’s are kind of an American vista, and Wendy’s are like church windows, kind of rigid and outlined in black, not exactly threatening, but just encased in something as if, her personality is being kind of revealed in it, you know, English rigidity. There definitely was a kind of thinking behind how these things were registered, how people would take them in.

11. I don’t want to investigate into your personal life, but obviously this book was instrumental in your relationship with Alan. When did you realise that the book needed a sort of intimacy related to living in the same place?
Actually, it wasn’t quite like that. What happened was, he had to work quite hard at any one time on seven or even eight other projects, while he was working on Lost Girls as well, so he had a very, very rigorous schedule, and I needed time to work on Lost Girls. I lived in a different place than he did, and we got together three times a week and if we hadn’t lived separately, that wouldn’t have worked, because we both needed time alone. Being an artist was quite frustrating because, I mean, he was able to do so much work during that period, many different things, and I was only able to do that book. But I had to be able to keep that particular reverie that I needed, so, if we had been living together, I don’t think that it would have worked like that. I mean, we got together several times a week and we were very close, but of the work, we lived apart, and I think that was a very important and functional thing: that was part of the reason why I think it was successful.

12. And then what happened?
You mean after the book?

13. Well, obviously you got married, so something must have happened…
We lived together now, once the book was over and… I’ll tell you, one of the very important things about this, as well, is that we couldn’t afford to have arguments. We couldn’t ever afford to have an argument, because if we argued it would affect our relationship with the book, because… it just does. It was a real work of romantic alchemy, and like many romances, it kind of required that we, like our characters, would not settle, but were anticipating seeing each other, looking forward to seeing each other and being together. It constantly remained a romance that we anticipated.

14. Sorry, I thought that you moved in before the book was finished, I didn’t mean to be rude…
No, no, I don’t mind talking about this because I think the way people work on something like this, is useful to know…
He is working on this marvellous book now, and I have a studio in the back of the house. It has all worked out exactly as it should have.

15. Do you want to talk about your workspace, now that you mentioned it?
Well, it’s great! I have got two little skylights in the front, I like to do a lot of big paintings. I have got my paintings from when I lived in San Francisco, of which a friend of mine said, very kindly: “I have seen the future of psychedelic painting”. I am having a wonderful time with them.
I am also intending to write a book about my life in San Francisco, because I knew a lot of amazing people, fantastic people. I really want to be able to offer that the public, so these people get to be remembered, because they were fantastic. Some of them are gone, you know, some of them are still around. Life changes, everything changes.

16. Speaking about conventions, Alan is famous for not going to conventions anymore. Do you think he will ever change his mind?
Well, he did a signing for Lost Girls a couple of weeks ago at a comic shop in London that we are fond of, Gosh Comics, which is a personal favourite. I don’t know if he will ever do anything again, though, in public.

17. I would like to leave you with one last question. Do you want to tell us what the future holds for you in terms of your work and comics work in particular? As I said, I am doing a painting and I will do a book. As for comics work, Alan has asked me to illustrate a poem that he has written about William Blake, the English visionary. That’s as close to any comics that I can tell you about. I am doing a couple of illustrations for his Magic Book. Other than that, I haven’t really thought too much about any more comics. Perhaps, when I get my painting done, and I finish my book, if something comes along… I am not adverse to it, I just haven’t really thought too much about it.

18. I suppose you are going to be busy for quite a long time, with both the book and the painting…
Yeah, maybe (laughs).

Monday, 4 August 2008

Melinda Gebbie interview [1]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

1. Do you want to introduce yourself to Italian readers that probably know your work for Cobweb, but have not been exposed to your underground period?
I started in the underground scene a long time ago: that was when Robert Crumb was still selling his comics on the street, and the early issues of Zap! came out. I came in through Wimmens’ Comix, which was just about the only comic book that women were doing at the time. There had got to be something like maybe up to forty men doing comics at some point, and there were still only ten women, but I think at the very beginning it was pretty much the Zap! crew and no women. This was in the seventies, you know. That was a very fun period, I mean probably a lot of our comics didn’t get very far, but some of them got to England. My solo comic, which was called Fresca Zizis, came to England and got involved in a bust through Knockabout Comix, so I had to defend it to Richard Branson’s dad (the guy who owns Virgin Records), who was the judge in that trial. My comic was being sold at his comic book shop and record store just down the street from that: that was my introduction to England. Even then, our comics were not all that well known in England, even, so I am not surprised they wouldn’t be very well known in your neck of the wood.

2. What kind of approach did you bring to the table when you were working in what was essentially a men’s world?
My particular sort of approach was that I didn’t see why art should be immediately recognisable as being done by a woman. I thought that what women generally should do is to be gutsy about what we wanted to say as (much as) men were about what the want to say, to be un-self conscious, to be not so much feminine in our work as self-revealing, because that’s the only way you really give your audience something that they can use. The eternally feminine, which is still seen a lot, you know, the very pretty little drawings, very dainty and tasteful: girls are not supposed to draw cars, they are not supposed to be able to draw motorcycles, and they are not supposed to draw rough, tough sex scenes: basically, they are not supposed to have that much of a grasp on really what is going on in human psychology or in society. I got accused, to my own great delight, of drawing like a guy, and someone from a local newspaper in San Francisco said: “Oh, this is shocking! This is disgusting, this is really sexually explicit and violent! Who is this terrible man?”. (laughs) But it wasn’t done by man, it was done by a woman. I got compared to… do you know who S. Clay Wilson is?

3. I really don’t know if he has been published in Italy, to be honest. Even the most famous underground comic artists might be obscure, apart from Crumb and Shelton…
That’s interesting. I don’t know much about the comic publishing scene in Italy at all…

4. When you were talking about being an artist rather than a female artist, how do you feel about the manga influence, with women reverting to drawing pretty pictures?
Well, I have met a woman named Jill Thompson, who I think is doing quite well in that kind of thing, and she kind of explained to me a little bit of the visual vocabulary involved with it, and she said that there are very strict rules to it, and there are always supposed to be little tea parties and things like that. I was quite impressed because I have been to Japan and I picked up a lot of manga books: I love Japanese stuff, I am very interested in it. I am interested in someone following rigorously a sort of situation and doing well in it. It is quite interesting. It seems so back and forth, I mean: I was just thinking I sort of made my name in comics for having kind of an aggressive and sexually tough art style, but with Lost Girls I actually turned back around and use the softnesses and the delicacies of looking at things through a woman’s point of view, to actually be able to achieve the visual storytelling in Lost Girls. I think if another man had done it, it wouldn’t have worked, because that was the whole problem of pornography for women, and it was women who I was trying to reach. Instead of trying to be hard as men, I started to try to appeal to women, because I really wanted Lost Girls to be a book that women would like. I think for a long time the idea of pornography itself has been horrible for women, and they have not responded to it at all in the past. In 2006, when Lost Girls debuted in San Diego, there were just so many women buying it as men: a lot of them were young, and quite a few were middle aged; there were all different ages. One young girl… well, she wasn’t too young to buy it (laughs) (we had to be very strict about that) she had a very cute little short hairstyle, really cute, she came up to me and she said: “I can’t wait to read this, I’m going to take it home”. She came back the next day, and she said: “I stayed up all night reading it”. She had tears in her eyes, and she said: “I just wanted to thank you for doing this”. We held each other’s hand and I said: “You don’t know how much this means to me, that it’s affected you so much”. This is the whole reason that I did this.

5. You must have realised since the early stages that you had something that would have a massive impact on many people. How frustrating was it for you to wait for so long to see Lost Girls finished?
It was very, very frustrating. I think the reason it took so long to do it… I worked it out just out of curiosity, and it turns out I spent about three days per panel on the book, which sounds reasonable, but this sort of distillation of trying to come up with the most positive and blissful and communicative feeling about sexuality in my mind, so that the colours were wonderful, and all the objects, the architecture, the light, the shadow, I wanted everything to be as blissful as people’s most beautiful memories of sex. And it was inventing this new language, because I have never seen any sex art done like that, not even single-panel pages. I have seen things that are charming, I have seen things that are amazing, like Hans Bellmer, I have seen things that are articulate, but not blissful. It was a matter of coming up with a new language, and there hadn’t been one before. When I was a little girl, I thought: “When I grow up, there must be a book about sex, that tells you everything you want to know about it, and it’s really beautiful and you learn everything you need to know, and then you can be confident and you don’t have to worry about this strange thing that is coming up, not knowing what to do, not knowing what to think, not knowing what to feel”. And, of course, there was no book like that, but I think, actually, Lost Girls is that book.
I guess I have a sort of evangelistic attitude about it. I really hope it will help heal, I really hope it will help people to have confidence, hope it will just make them feel better about the fact that they are sexual, since we all are, whether we pretend we are or not.

6. We discussed with Alan about how much Lost Girls and the relationship you have helped him to grow both as a man and as a writer. What about you? How much did this book change you, in a way?
It’s amazing because the after effects of the book, not the immediate ones (were that) it’s done for me what I hoped it would do for other people, because I had my own bad experiences, unhappy experiences in that realm, like everyone has, and I found that the book actually addresses these things, the fact that I can do this book is kind of being an astronaut, you’re going out into a space you have never been in before, and you actually come back with something you yourself really needed. It’s been great. I mean, first of all, it’s really been important that the response has been so positive, because people seem to feel that they really needed it. I needed it as well, and it’s helped me as well. It was just a matter of getting through this really long process: we had trouble getting it printed, and when I took it down to London, luckily the printing process was much more sophisticated than they were when we first started the book, because a lot of it is colour pencil, it’s very delicate, and printing has caught up with the processes, because it couldn’t have really been presented adequately before.
The printers that I went to, the guy that was supposed to help me and do the book specifically, I think he thought I was kind of odd and we didn’t get along, and it was very frustrating for me, because I really needed him to be enthusiastic and to be positive about it, and for us to have a kind of little friendship over it. But luckily I found a friend in one of the other men at work there and so it went all right, everything was fine. It just took what seemed a very long time…

7. I know, I remember buying the first two issues of the Kitchen Sink edition…
They were done in colour Xerox, we couldn’t even get printers for them!

8. It must have been tough for you in the beginning, to get used to Alan’s way of working. Alan said you two had to discover the proper way to collaborate, with a thumbnail method to substitute his detailed scripts…
I am probably the only artist to have a few pages of Alan’s thumbnails! (laughs)
They were much better for me, because I could see exactly where he wanted this table, or that shoe, that window, or that teapot. I would read the script, because it was so beautiful and so detailed, but I’d get a bit lost. I would draw something, but actually it wasn’t quite correct, I would put something in a wrong place, and so when he did the thumbnails I would know exactly where everything was supposed to go, and so when I chose the three women, of course, we got together over them constantly, so we were much more in sync. The other thing is that, because we were so close, we could have really long conversations about the sexuality itself, the history of it, what it means to people, how it affects people in literature or pornography, why it is a defective medium, why it didn’t work, you know, all those thing. We got so much conversation, that these others artists don’t get the advantage of it, really.

9. Did you have any disagreement about the way to do certain things in Lost Girls?
No. There wouldn’t be disagreement; there would be little things, again, visual. In some of the things, where he would suggest a scene that would possibly be a bit more obviously sexual, I would change sometimes something, so there would be a bit more use to looking at someone’s hand, or their facial expression, and then work out the other things, because one of the important things about Lost Girls is sexual anticipation and desire, and of course he (Alan) very skilfully worked out all three books so that they start out at a certain level and then reach a gradual higher and higher peak, so it isn’t always on a really high-pitched level, but little things that you do with the drawings, which just sort of talk about the body language of desire, what people do with their hands when they sit with each other, or their longing looks or the colour of the shadows, or something like that.
No, we never actually did disagree. I did do two pages, which he felt were not very effective in getting the story across, and in the end I actually redrew them because I realised they weren’t getting the story across. They were very complicated. It was the shadow sequence, where Wendy and Harold are in the bedroom, and she is saying for him, and he hands her a little roll of something, and it’s just a little ordinary activity, but the shadows behind them are having sex, and I hadn’t really drawn it explicitly, it didn’t make sense visually when I drew it. That was the only thing I redrew: we discussed everything so that we agreed on stuff, we made sure that we agreed on everything, because it was very important that we had a sort of positive and open feeling about it, because the alchemy between us was going to be part of the alchemy that other people were going to read.

Melinda Gebbie interview [2]

Friday, 1 August 2008

Alan Moore interview [5]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto (N. 60, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) and Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

Alan Moore interview [1]

Alan Moore interview [2]
Alan Moore interview [3]
Alan Moore interview [4]

20. Do you know the work of Italian erotic comics artists at all?
Yes, I mean, I am familiar with a number of the erotics comic artists. For some of them, I think their drawing ability is fine, and there have been a couple of works that I thought were particularly ok. Generally, it’s not to my taste. That’s not to say there is anything wrong with it, simply the majority of it is not to my taste. Even with, say, somebody like Milo Manara, who I recognise as an incredibly good draughtsman (I mean, he did some work with Hugo Pratt, the Indian Summer, that was I think some of the best stuff of his that I have seen, possibly because of the pairing with Pratt), when I have seen some of Manara’s solo erotic work, the draughtsmanship is perfect, but it’s not to my taste. The women seem to be pretty much the same woman with different wigs on, there doesn’t seem to be any individuation of the female characters and they do seem to be largely sex mannequins, which is fine if that is the kind of material that you like, but I never really responded to it. In Guido Crepax, I can see the stylishness of his work, but his women have a starved quality, they look like concentration camp images a lot of the time, which I recognise it’s just his style, but it tends to make the work appear morbid, in my eyes.
Like I said, while I can admire the technical excellence of a lot of these people, the actual material produced is very seldom to my taste, which is not in any way meant as a criticism, but simply to say that I suppose you can’t please all the people all the time.
Robert Crumb is someone I have got unreserved admiration for, although I don’t’ know if he is classed along with the glamour artists. I don’t know if he would be classed in quite the same category, but his stuff I can engage with: it seems human to me, whereas in a lot the more glamour-oriented artists there’s a coldness, a certain inhumanity, or at least in my perception. Not to take anything on their abilities, it’s just something about the atmosphere of the scripts or the presentation of the people in them. It kind of leaves me a bit cold.

21. It is a known fact you were dissatisfied with the way people handled superheroes after Watchmen. Do you ever get worried that Lost Girls could suffer the same fate?
We did actually talk about this and, in the early days, we occasionally said: “Wouldn’t it be nice if, after Lost Girls, there was a wave of people liberating their sexual imagination and seeing all sorts of new ways that they could tell sexual stories but with a different sense”, but I think that we both… I mean, I am probably more cynical of the pair of us and with regards to that, in light of my experience with Watchmen, I did say it would probably more likely that we might get a number of books that were coarse imitations of Lost Girls.
But actually, as with Watchmen, I have come to the conclusion that, whatever kind of books come in the wake of work, they don’t diminish it in any way. It’s unfortunate, but slavish imitation seems to be people’s first response: it’s kind of inevitable, I can’t say that it upsets me a great deal. And yes, I recognise that is a very likely possibility, but I don’t think that that will in any way alter the way that I feel about Lost Girls.

22. I hope not. It would take quite something to tarnish that…
Definitely, it would have to be pretty bad.

23. In a recent interview, you said: “Comics is now, I’m afraid, just going to have to be a corner of my working landscape. They’re very dear and it’s a fondly regarded corner, but just one corner of the landscape all the same.” What can we expect from you then?
Well, at the moment, among the things I have in the pipeline there is some comics work. That is largely restricted to Book 3 of the League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, which Kevin O’Neill is well into the first chapter of it, the first issue, because it will be told in three 73-page volumes, set in 1910, 1968 and 2008, respectively. And he’s getting around halfway through the first volume: that would be most of my comics work. I am doing the Bumper Book of Magic with Steve Moore and a galaxy of wonderful artists. That includes a little bit of comics work but not very much: it includes text, stories, articles and games, puzzles, but very little comics script material. There is a sort of running Kevin O’Neill one-page humorous comic strip that recurs throughout the book, but I think that’s about the only comic strip material in it.
The main thing that I am working on is my second novel, which is called Jerusalem and which is entirely about the area in which I grew up, a small area of Northampton named The Boroughs, which is the oldest area of the town, and today is the most deprived and troubled area of the town, but which has got a lot of absolutely fantastic history that has occurred there, and some marvellous figures that passed through that landscape. I am trying to write a wonderful fantasy story that will encompass part of the history of that area, part of my family’s history, will include ruminations upon the art of life, and upon religion…

24. And it’s going to be a massive book as well, I heard!
It’s going to be probably around about three quarters of a million words: that sounds like a couple of thousand pages to me. It will probably end up as three books in a slipcase or something, but it’s meant to be a single book, it’s definitely not three volumes, it’s not like Lord of the Rings… It will probably end up as three books that have to be read together: I doubt that we would be able to get it in one book, too big to pick up. Jerusalem is taking most of my energies at the moment. I am working on some songs with a local musician, a guy called Joe Brown, who’s very talented, very young and full of enthusiasm, and we are having a lot of fun just writing some songs.
There’s a lot of different things that I might be messing around with in the future, and comics almost certainly will be part of that, but it won’t be as prevalent as it has been in the past: I am having a great deal of fun trying all these new things.

Thursday, 31 July 2008

Alan Moore interview [4]

Interview conceived by smoky man & Antonio Solinas.
Conducted via phone by A. Solinas on 19th February 2008.
Originally printed in Italy on Scuola di Fumetto (N. 60, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) and Blue magazine (N. 189, May 2008, Coniglio Editore) on the occasion of the Italian edition of Lost Girls published by Magic Press.
Presented here in English for the first time.
Lost Girls orginally published by Top Shelf.

Alan Moore interview [1]

Alan Moore interview [2]
Alan Moore interview [3]

13. Obviously [with Lost Girls] you were dealing with a sort of touchy subject, as you said, pornography. Given the vast exposure that your work would receive, was there any conscious attempt to be controversial?
Not at all. You have to remember we started this in 1989, when it was a very different social and sexual climate. Now, back then, for one thing there wasn’t the kind of paedophile panic that has seized Europe and America so brightly in the last decade. Obviously, we were aware of these issues, but there was not the wave of internet paedophilia, which is largely what has caused the sort of semi-hysterical response in some parts of the tabloids press. It was a different time. And also, we weren’t under a George W. Bush presidency: there wasn’t the same leeway given to the religious right, who are notoriously antipathetic to sexual expression or pornography or anything like that. So, we were aware that if we were going to follow this material to what seemed to be its logical end, and if we were going to be honest in our presentation of the work, if we were going to approach it seriously, that of course we would possibly offend various people. That was possible. For example, back when we started, probably the biggest voices raised against pornography were from the feminist camp. Now, we were reading feminine critiques of pornography, because at least they were rational, even if we didn’t agree with them. And we were trying to design Lost Girls to answer a lot of the questions raised by feminism.

14. Therefore, there was an effort to raise a debate about what is really pornographic and obscene…
Absolutely. I mean, we couldn’t really take on the Christian anti-pornographic debate, because that is not rational. With the greatest of respect to Christians and the respect to anybody to believe in what they want to believe in, you can’t base a rational argument upon your supposition of what the creator of the universe likes or doesn’t like: that is simply not rational. But the feminist argument was rational, and so we thought about that very deeply and we tried to raise the level of the debate by answering some of those feminist critiques, by making sure that the women that we had as the main characters, they weren’t merely facets, and that the book was not written from a strict perspective of heterosexual men, but it was written for women as much as it was written for men, and it was written for homosexuals as much as it was written for heterosexuals. We were trying our best to make this as beautiful and as bulletproof as possible. We wanted something that was not rigorously politically correct, still a genuine work of pornography (or erotica), but we wanted something that would be just so beautifully drawn and so beautifully written that it would transcend all of the obvious questions about the subject matter. When it came a little closer to the time of the book being published, when we got the work finished and we realised that it would be coming out in 2006 (at least in America), then we started to have a little bit more of an idea as to what sort of reaction we might expect. It was coming out under a George Bush administration, it was coming out in a time which might be seen as particularly risky for a book like Lost Girls: we thought that we might be getting a sort of hysterical tabloid reaction to it, although that has proven not to be the case.

15. Did you devise any strategy to respond to these possible critiques?
We had been through all of the possible questions that we could be asked quite a lot over the past eighteen years, and I think that we could have defended Lost Girls as well as anybody. There was nothing in Lost Girls that I would not have been happy to defend to my last breath. I thought that our motives in doing Lost Girls were unimpeachable, but I was still prepared for encountering people who might not agree with that assessment. Indeed, there were some quite worrying issues: for example, there was the fact that the laws in Canada specifically forbid any drawings of imaginary underage people having sex and class them as child pornography, so we thought that we might very well have problems with Canada. So, what Chris Staros, our publisher did, was to compile a dossier with quotes from prestigious American and British journals talking about Lost Girls, there was a letter of intent from me and Melinda, where we explained our motives, and we got back a wonderful letter from the Canadian Customs Authority, basically saying that, even though there were scenes that were tantamount to bestiality or incest, this could in no way be consider obscene, and even though it did appear that there were underage people taking part in some of the sex scenes, this could in no way be considered as child pornography, and that it was a work of great social and artistic benefit. This is pretty much what the British Customs said: I mean, we didn’t know how they would respond to it, but eventually they gave us the all clear to import it, saying that on artistic grounds, it is seen as a work of art, and therefore exempt from the debate upon pornography. Even in fundamentalist America there have been no copies of Lost Girls seized, even though most much more innocuous books have been seized from shops, especially in the Southern States. But no seizures of Lost Girls. I think that in some ways it’s surprising, but I wonder if in some ways it’s a response to the fact that we called this pornography from the start. I think that the surprising lack of a hostile response that we received for Lost Girls may have something to do with the fact that from the very beginning we have insisted upon calling this a work of pornography. I think if we had come out and said: “This is a work of art”, then the instinctive reflex reaction from its critics would have been to have said: “No, this is a work of pornography”. It seems that by coming out and saying: “This is a work of pornography”, then, most of the people who have read it, who would potentially have been our critics, have been wrong-footed in some way so that they had to respond: “No, this is a work of art” (laughs). I am not entirely sure why this has happened, but I am very glad it has, and I think that also me and Melinda were both pleased that, although we couldn’t have known that (the book) would be coming out in 2006, it has done. Because if it had come out say seven or eight years earlier, then it would have come out during a Clinton administration, which was significantly more liberal than the Bush administration, and the world, although by no means free of war, was a lot less war-toned than this at present. And one of the most important things in Lost Girls, as well as its pro-sexuality message, is its anti-war message.

16. Is this the reason why you chose to set the book in 1913?
Well, we originally chose to set it then because those were the dates suggested by the three characters. When we decided upon those three characters, we tried to work out imaginary chronologies for them, based upon the publication dates of the three books, and we realised that if we wanted to tell a story in which Dorothy was not too young nor Alice too old, then we were pretty much restricted to this kind of window around about the 1913 to 1915 period. And that immediately suggested all sorts of things, the First World War, the debut of the Rite of Spring at the Paris Opera, the resulting riot. It seemed such a wonderful backdrop against which to set our story, because that particular period was the juncture of lots of different things: in terms of politics, the world was changing, and it would never be exactly the same again, but the world of art was also reaching a point of change and crisis. You have got the remnants of a more romantic art nouveau sensibility, but you have also got the birth of modernism, at around the same time.

17. Did you try to convey this, in terms of visual imagery, into the book?
That’s right. You know, it provided a sort of stark contrast, everything to the way the characters were dressed, and all of this made a beautiful and stark setting, a backdrop against which to place our fairly delicate emotional sexual fantasies that were going on in the foreground. And yes, we were glad it had come out, somehow, in 2006, because, if it (the book) had come out eight years earlier, in a less war-toned, a more liberal American administration, it might not have been so relevant. The contrast that it struck might not have seemed quite so stark or so pointed. So, I think we are both very glad that it’s coming out when it is, because I think that if ever the world actually needed a book like this, it’s probably around now, that it seems that this rather simplistic hippie message, perhaps, of “make love, not war”, it seems that we need that restating, every once in a while, and I think that the current period that we are moving through, is one of those periods in which that message does need to be restated, because we appear to have forgotten it.

18. How many times have you been asked if you were trying to redeem the pornographic genre? Do you find it annoying? No, because it’s a straightforward question, and of course, yes, I was trying to redeem the genre. I mean, one of the things that I like that I have noticed a pattern in the way that I tend to work is, I look for areas of culture that are neglected, and which I feel have got potentially a great deal of importance. That would apply to comic books, back when I entered the field, it would apply to pornography, and it would apply to magic. All of these are areas that are of potentially tremendous importance and tremendous value, but they are completely neglected. I find that kind of territory very fertile, and it’s something that I enjoy doing, especially if nobody has done it before, which was very definitely the case with Lost Girls. I mean, not just in comics, but actually in the much broader world of erotic art and writing, there has never been anything of the scale and ambition of Lost Girls, even if it took us a long time to do it.
I am not saying there never will another work (like that), but you’re going to at least have to wait for another eighteen years before it appears.

19. In this respect, although there is no doubt about the high value of Lost Girls, did you get exposed to “low-class pornography”? How did you re-work that kind of material and how do you relate to the porn industry?
When I did Watchmen, yes, I was bringing in values from outside comics, but Watchmen was a result of reading an awful lot of crappy American superhero comics. I had to absorb all of the tropes and the traditions of the genre in order to be able to write it properly, or to write a newer version of it. That was true of pornography. I’ve not got really any time for most modern pornography. My interest in pornography does tend to evaporate around about the Edwardian period. I mean, there are some exceptions to that: there are some of the Olympia Press novels and things of the 50’s that were very, very good, and the early 60’s, but I tend to find that, to some degree, the Golden Age of pornography was probably the Victorian-Edwardian era. That’s not to say that the stuff was without problems, or either that it was terribly good, but there were some good things about it. In my by no means extensive readings, I kind of isolated a few things that I thought were good about that Victorian-Edwardian pornography, and I tried to import them into Lost Girls. I think it was the same, to some degree, for Melinda with the artwork. She was looking at illustrators and artists that she actually found some resonance in, in that kind of material, and she was kind of trying to bring those values to the artwork. You got to be aware of what the other material is, out there, although really that’s not to say that we have ever bothered with looking at any pornographic movies or pornographic internet sites or anything like that (laughs). I mean, we don’t have an internet connection, and that stuff doesn’t really interest us. We are print media people, and we wanted this to be something that reflected the values of literature and art in a period when those things still had high standards and values.

Alan Moore interview [5]