Interview with Andrez Bergen @ Chicago News - November 2015
What’s Tales to Admonish all about?
Matt: It’s all about paying homage to our heroes. Andrez and I have similar taste in comics; we're both golden age aficionados. Andrez tries to emulate the writing style, pace and narrative (often with a modern twist) and I try to match the art style to those of legendary artists such as Kirby, Eisner, Wood, et cetera.
Andrez: Principal for me is the sense of mirth, of tongue firmly in cheek and paying respect to the old Warren, DC and Marvel comics of the late 1950s and 1960s. Having fun and telling stories with a zany zing. But some of this is also about pushing the boundaries and trouncing comic book constraints and blinkers. Artistically speaking, you didn't see Jim Steranko, Jack Kirby, Will Eisner or (more recently) Frank Miller in his prime, abiding by same — not that we imagine we have one percent of these guys' talent, but just to make the point. I do think we're trying to do this with the writing as much as the art, and Matt is a great foil to bounce off.
What can we expect in coming issues?
Andrez: Dare I say that old, hack standard — more of the same? Probably that’s wrong anyway. I know Matt likes to challenge himself and push perimeters, and that’s exactly my cuppa tea too. We’d like to further explore the noir/horror/comedy characters Roy and Suzie, and do some more offbeat yarns, while continuing to pay homage to the golden oldies of comic bookdom.
Matt: Talking heads. Not the band, actual talking heads. Expect more Roy and Suzie, a werewolf or two, a World War 2 fighter pilot, a goddess, and a heap of Andrez’s unique, twisted humour.
When creating the comic and drawing its panels, did you take inspiration from anyone or anything?
Matt: It’s really easy to work with Andrez on Tales to Admonish because he has been sitting on many of these yarns for a long time. As many of them came from his novels, there are very vivid descriptions of the scenes. In addition to this, Andrez often suggests artists to reference and he supplies me with loads of reference material.
Andrez: I usually send Matt a wad of reference pics, anything from obscure old Hollywood actors to particular handguns, cars, clothing. I'll suggest angles and staging — but, really, all that is up to Matt, who I trust implicitly. The guy is a magician.
Do you have a favourite panel or piece of art you have drawn?
Matt: I’m very fond of the art in our story ‘All Fur Coat, No Knickers’ which was influenced prominently by [Will] Eisner. There are a few panels in ‘Salvation Nation’ that feature futuristic technology based on Kirby’s work. These panels in Tales to Admonish #2 took longer to draw than the entire first issue."
Andrez: For me, the opening three-panel sequence on the first page of Tales to Admonish #2 ('Adam's Ribs') takes the cake. I also love the Kirby-inspired machinery in the same issue in 'Salvation Nation', and the John Brack inspired panel in 'Sugar/Spice/Dice' (#1). But there are so many other moments in the two issues that render me in awe of Matt's story-telling (and jocular) skill. Seriously.
READ THE REST OF THIS INTERVIEW @ THE CULT DEN.
In 70 words or less, what is Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? about?
Um... can I cheat and man-handle the spiel we just put together for the back of the book, plus rip out a couple of words?
"Heropa is a vast, homogenized city patrolled by heroes, a pulp fiction fortress of solitude for crime-fighting team the Equalizers, led by new recruit Southern Cross - a lifetime away from the rain-drenched, dystopic metropolis of Melbourne. In a paired homage to detective noir from the 1940s and the '60s Marvel age of comic books, the question arises: Who is killing the great Capes of Heropa?"
I think that's 67 all up...
What is the most exciting thing about Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
There's a good question. For me, the most exciting thing would be the chance to fuse two things I love—1930s/40s detective noir and the 1960s Marvel silver age of comic books—but pipping that is the opportunity to resurrect a character I created in high school: Southern Cross. Yep, I wanted to be a comic book writer/artist back then, and he was my baptismal superhero. I sent him off to Stan Lee in the mid '80s and Stan actually wrote back to say he really liked the character. Trouble was he'd retired as editor-in-chief at Marvel, and Stan's replacement was not so enamoured. So I shelved Southern Cross until two years ago, and now he's the protagonist in this tome.
The most exciting thing for other people? I'd say the wildly diverse artwork.
When did the artworks become a part of the novel?
That was something that developed concurrently with the novel. I already had the logo concepts for the Equalizers and the Rotters, and initially—during the first write—I organized character designs and concept sketches of lead character Southern Cross by people like Paul Mason and Giovanni Ballati. At a later stage in writing I asked my wife to do the reference images to Roy Lichtenstein and Jacques-Louis David, and then—while awaiting the publishers' consideration of the manuscript in its first incarnation, back in December 2012, I got itchy feet and started thinking about other ideas: putting more pictures in there, to make this more truly an homage to comics, with a wide variety of styles and better insight into the other characters aside from Southern Cross, which I'd grown to cherish during the writing process.
Did their existence affect the story in any way?
For sure. Getting designs done made me really think about how they were described in the novel, as I had to send these descriptions to the artists. Often I thought deeper and harder about the visual side of things and this gave me a far better picture of what these people actually "looked" like. Sometimes I accompanied the descriptions with pictures of famous 1940s/60s actors, fashions, gun designs, and classic comic book characters. The design of Bullet Gal, for instance, was equal parts a nod to the Fawcett Comics' character Bulletgirl from the 1940s, Hollywood actress Veronica Lake, Tarpé Mills' Miss Fury, and Sand Saref from Will Eisner's The Spirit. I think Javier [JG] Miranda did a great job there, and I ended up using that picture as a key point in the story.
The same with Juan Saavedra's concept art for Pretty Amazonia, who is heavily based on Cure Blossom from the PreCure anime series HeartCatch! from 2010-11, but also references Wonder Woman and Sailor Moon. When I saw Juan's final composition, I tweaked the text to accommodate the picture, so it becomes part of the story. Most of the images held similar sway.
You've cited manga, gold/ silver age comics and hard-boiled detective stories as inspirations for Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? What elements of these did you find worked best in your story?
I wear my hard-boiled/noir influences on my sleeve, like military epaulets. I think a lot of people know by now that I adore the writing of Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and two novels of theirs--The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon—take pride of place in my crowded bookcase. I think I've read both a dozen times each. Chiefly, it's the dialogue and the characters that matter there, even above and beyond the good old-fashioned mystery.
And comic books?
First up golden age stuff, especially those from the 1940s, played a key part since they helped define and create the comics we know today. Batman, Superman, the Spirit and Captain America were all created during the golden age. Hence the Equalizers' building is named Timely Tower, in honour of the predecessors of Marvel Comics, and one of the characters in the novel is obsessed with his golden age classics. But this book is far more influenced by the silver and bronze ages of comics, chiefly from the 1960s-early '80s, most of it produced by Marvel. The story-telling techniques developed by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby with Fantastic Four, X-Men and Captain America in the 1960s, Roy Thomas and John Buscema with The Avengers in the late '60s... and later on Chris Claremont with John Byrne doing their thing with the X-Men in 1980 and Frank Miller working magic on Daredevil a couple of years later—all these moments had an effect on me, and the notion I possessed of story-telling.
But most of all I loved the innocence, normality and frivolity of the 1960s Marvel comic books, the way in which superheroes had lofty ideals but human failings, and in spite of themselves tried to do the right thing—with a quip thrown in for good measure. There's a positivity and exuberance there that declined as comics embraced more realism and a darker edge, especially in the 1980s, not that I'm knocking such inroads—I really dig what Miller did with Batman.
Were there any specific works (novels, comics, tv etc.) that you referred to while writing?
Ha Ha Ha... a lot. I tend to source material, cannibalize from and mostly pay homage to a broad swathe of contemporary and classic cultural entities, from cinema to literature, even the language of flowers—they have one, you know. In this new novel I've riffed off the written works of Chandler and Hammett, a lot of 1950s and '60s cinema like Peter Pan and Breakfast at Tiffany's, and very heavily referenced 1960s Marvel comics. The title I paid most attention to was Fantastic Four, particularly when Jack Kirby, Joe Sinnott and Stan Lee held sway on the title, but things like Tintin, Little Orphan Annie, Ginger Meggs and Judge Dredd also get a shoo-in.
So there's a massive thematic bookshelf. The owner is a bit of a nut and has ordered everything by tone and mood and theme. Between which two books would you put Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
Hmmm... perhaps I'd jam it between Dashiell Hammett's The Maltese Falcon and Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay. But that's just me. I'm sure Hammett and Chabon would complain.
Are there any modern comic books/writers you are particularly enjoying?
Actually, I fell out of comic books in the 1990s, in particular Marvel who I felt by that time had stretched themselves thin and expected more money in return by doing stories across several different titles. And the price kept going up. However, there were exceptions I picked up that decade, like Frank Miller's turns with Sin City and 300 and, in the early 2000s, his work with Batman: The Dark Knight Strikes Again. I also dug Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.'s Kick-Ass, and some of the stuff coming from writer Ed Brubaker--Gotham Noir, with Sean Phillips, was very cool, along with Brubaker's run with Steve Epting on Captain America. I absolutely love Matt Fraction's recent work with David Aja and Annie Wu in their reinvention of Hawkeye.
But I've otherwise steered away from the major American publications. Manga was one avenue I pursued in the past 20 years, by people like Katsuhiro Otomo, Eiichiro Oda, Masamune Shirow and Yukito Kishiro.
More recently I've also veered towards indie stuff, much of it sourced from Australia. I'm thinking in particular of practitioners like Bernard Caleo at Cardigan Comics—and all the things he's done like the Tango collection and Mongrel issues—along with Paul Mason (Soldier Legacy), Matt Kyme and Arthur Strickland (That Bulletproof Kid), Craig Bruyn (From Above), Matt Nicholls (Collateral) and Jason Franks (McBlack). Australia seems to be a hot-bed of activity right now, which figures since I've been absent twelve years!
From internationals in the past couple of years, I've really enjoyed Michael Grills' online noir Runnin' With a Gun, Drezz Rodriguez's El Cuervo, Nathan St. John's very cool art on Baja, Denver Brubaker's Tales of a Checkered Man, and Marc Crane and Mike Young's output with LIL.
And on a sharp right turn: What is your writing process like?
Anarchic. There's usually no rhyme nor reason nor strategy, aside from giving myself insane deadlines to abide by as I've been well-trained with these after all the years as a journalist. Supposedly.
Do you write every day?
If I'm entrenched in the writing of a novel or short story, definitely yes. I can't help myself. I eat, drink, choke and dream the story, beating it with some obscure swizzle stick in my brain.
Do you outline?
Yep, although I'm not sure this is in the traditional sense. Usually I come up with a vague concept and make notes on scrap pieces of paper—and then I start writing. Often the story hardly resembles the original outline, but it gives me a rough guide.
How many drafts of Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa did you write before you felt comfortable showing it to people?
I actually did two different versions. The first one I finished in August 2012—and was not satisfied with the finale or much of the detailing and characterization. That manuscript was around 280 pages. It was also written in first person, like my previous novels, but that style wasn't working here. So I hit up the whole thing again, changed the narrative to third person, introduced new characters, and shaped out the villain far more. The end is completely different, and the second version, finished in December 2012, was around 460 pages. After that I spent two more months fleshing out the details and adding substance, and by February 2013 I was happy to show the manuscript to the publisher. Even after that I whittled away at some sections, but now it's been published [in Sept. 2013] I have to forever hold my peace.
Where is your favourite place to write?
Anywhere suits me, so long as I have a biro and a shred of paper on which to scrawl stuff—sometimes I end up doing so on the train, on the edge of the gutter, in the middle of Shibuya, wherever. But I get my best writing done at home on the Mac, usually in the wee hours of the morning before the family awakes. Like now. It's a tiny workspace since our apartment is thirty-three metres squared, a real squeeze for the three of us. So in close proximity to the desk I have my 12-inch vinyl collection, my manga, CDs, pics of my daughter as a baby (she's eight now), a framed still by anime/manga pioneer Osamu Tezuka, a clock illustrated by Ed Emberley, and a poster of one of the "Nora Neko Rokku" (Stray Cat Rock) movies from the 1970s.
How important a role did setting play in the writing of Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?
Good question, and the answer is a vital one—or two, since we have a double locale in the novel. First up, Melbourne. Not only is this my hometown, the city in which I was born and bred, but the place has two train stations called Batman and Southern Cross, perfect for use in a tale ostensibly about superheroes. Also too I'd already set up the acid-rain swept dystopia of near-future, conglomerate-twisted Melbourne in my first novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (2011) so it was a place I knew well and could inhabit again without having to set things up from scratch. Much as I love Melbourne, it must have something that makes it prime material for the last city on earth, since it played that role already in Nevil Shute's On the Beach.
The other locale, Heropa, is supposed to directly contrast the fatalistic, worn-out nature of Melbourne. It sparkles and is all monumental flourish, with its head buried in the past. Most specifically the places references the 1930s-40s, but elements do drift into the '60s. There are direct riffs here on the cities found in cinema in movies like Singin' in the Rain, The Big Sleep and Breakfast at Tiffany's, along with that found in comic books from the mid '60s. And while this sounds all very Americanized, there's an Australian undercurrent to be found in some of the cars, the advertizing and an occasional comic in a bookstore.
What was most difficult about using real-world places?
The same problems I had while finishing off Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat three years ago... having the facts straight, and getting my head around locations I'd either buried in the recesses of memory—I left Melbourne in 2001—or had never actually visited while living there. Being over in Tokyo, I couldn't just hop on a plane and hop over for a scout around to re-check the terrain. But most of the locations are places I do recall, and they're in some ways homage to a decade-old past, cast in a not-so-distant future Melbourne, and I do have artistic license to get things wrong. I pay up that fools' paperwork every year.
Where is your dream location for setting a story?
Seems to be Melbourne, since all three of my published novels—and the next one too—are set foot there, to differing degrees. Tokyo and Kyoto have been fun as well, while I loved the artificial construct that was Heropa. I think anywhere is okay, so long as it helps fire up the imagination and offers sufficient fodder to bounce out of. The setting is just that—a set, or a background prop, in front of which you want your characters to shine.
If you could collaborate with anyone, living, dead or reanimated, who would it be?
Anyone? Singular? Zounds... Pairs are easy. I'd have loved to work with Ray Harryhausen and Gerry Anderson on a videoclip, and it was heart-breaking to have them both pass away not so long ago five months apart. I'd dig sharing highballs with Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett. But only one person? I guess right now, with Heropa in mind, I'd have to say Jack Kirby, circa 1968, in order that we could collaborate on a comic book. Man, that would kick.
If you could give a work of fiction to anyone, living or dead, who and what would it be? And why?
Can I suggest passing on The New Testament to Jesus Christ? I'm sure the real gent would be surprised by how he was perceived (and reconfigured) after he kicked the bucket.
The Ancient Ones have finally got their act together. The inter-dimensional spaceship leaves in 7 minutes exactly. What 3 books and 2 movies are you going to take with you?
Easy—packing the toothbrush would be more troublesome (which colour to live with?). Two films first: John Huston's The Maltese Falcon (1941) and the Marx Brothers movie A Day at the Races (1937). Norman Jewison's Rollerball (1975) got narrowly squeezed out. Books? Nicholas Christopher's Veronica, The Big Sleep by Raymond Chandler, and Essential Fantastic Four #3 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby.
What are you working on at the moment?
Six months ago I was supposed to have started my next novel, called The Mercury Drinkers—a sardonic noir romp set in contemporary Japan—but as yet that's still just notes on bits of paper, and I lost half of those (along with my diary) on the way to work.
So instead I've written up novel #4, which is titled Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth. It's set in 1986, again in Melbourne, amidst the post-punk/goth set and is a kind of surreal coming-of-age-cum-horror-crime yarn. I finished it in December and it's currently being copyedited by my publishers Perfect Edge Books, and we're hoping for a publication date in around June.
I've also been doing my own comic book in collaboration with fellow Melburnian Matt Kyme — it's titled Tales To Admonish and we've released two issues already, with the third on the way. Achieving that childhood dream was actually one of the highlights of 2013 — and working with Matt is a joy.
What else would you like to be working on?
God, so many things. I'd love to be further into novel #5, and I'd really enjoy doing more comic book stuff and short stories. Tales to Admonish #50. I'm supposed to be converting my 2012 novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude into a play/screenplay format, on the back-burner for now yet still likely. But most of all? Stop writing for a bit, take a holiday, and spend quality time with my eight year old daughter Cocoa.
What would your ideal situation be ten years from now?
I think most writers, artists, musicians and people pretending to be any of these types would like to be in a position of independence—financially flexible to support what they love doing and having time to do it properly. But to be honest, I hope my situation is similar to where I'm at now. I'm very happy with the way things have turned out writing-wise and life in general is pretty darned good. A healthier wallet would make things that much better, but I'll live.
What's next for Mr Andrez Bergen?
Um... dinner? I love food. It makes my world go round.
Otherwise, I'm looking forward to getting the new novel published, and hoping to get back to Melbourne for a whirlwind visit... depends on the winds as much as the cash. I'm supposed to be working on a new Little Nobody album (music is my ulterior hobby), which is already months overdue, but the process of doing music is fairly similar to the one I employ in making stories... so I should be able to get back into the swing of things. Fingers crossed.