Monday, July 20, 2015

Interview: Alex Degen

Alex Degen is a cartoonist. His most recent comic Mighty Star: and the Castle of the Cancatervater was published by Koyama Press.

This Interview was conducted by Oliver Ristau and Shawn Starr.

I finished reading Godard on Godard a few months ago and in it, during an elongated interview with Cahiers du Cinema, Godard speaks about how the shift from silent film to “talkies” resulted in a mass unlearning of several essential qualities of silent film. While comics never underwent such a major change (or any depending on what you define “as” comics) you’re one of the few artists I can think of who works primarily in “silent” comics. Recently though you have been introducing words to your work. Do you see any loss, or possibly gain, between silent and “dialogued” comics, both narratively and artistically.

I don't want to reject the premise of the question outright but I'm not sure if I know or believe in any essential qualities of anything, that seems like it would turn into a conversation about labels or some kind of socratic dialogue where we figure out art has no feathers and casts two shadows.

I do like silent movies a lot.  But the change from silent to talkies was based in technology.  If I remember correctly people like Chaplin initially pushed back against the idea.  The idea of the tramp having a voice, that would place him in a specific culture or place.

I read somewhere that silent films were very international and easy to localize and translate because the only thing that needed to be changed were the title and story cards.  And in the silent age the idea of a movie was less formalized and the presentation and audience engagement was really different across cultures.  Like how in Japan they had Benshi, who were a mixture of narrators and actors, an evolutionary offshoot of storytellers and kabuki chorus.  Akira Kurosawa's older brother was a Benshi and was instrumental in Kurosawa's interest and understanding of film.

As long as we're talking movie stuff let me hit you back with this interview I read from from 1967, where Gerard Malanga asked the director Jack Smith (Flaming Creatures, etc.) "Do you ever worry about a particular subtlety in your films not being understood?"  Smith responded "How can you not - you know- understand the movements and the gestures?"  You could say that Smith was being cagey, maybe aggressively anti-academic or a-literate, but I respect the conviction he has in his work and the good faith he has in the viewer.

I think the above quote speaks to the reasons I like to make silent comics.  I like jokes where you put the punchline together in your head, where it is not telegraphed.  I like art with enough open space to allow me to inhabit it.  Not a simple thing to read, look at, hear, and then move on knowing I have "got" it.  Something to revisit.  Something that isn't a delivery system to a simple idea, a slogan, a riddle.  This is what I'm trying to do.  Because it is narrative work it will have a form and a direction, a beginning and an end.  But hopefully there is enough mystery, in the sense of satisfyingly un-answered and un-answerable questions, inconsistencies, parts that aim at something larger that exists off the page.  If ideas exist in the work they exist alongside conflicting ideas, with doubt and distraction, the work itself is not a delivery system for these ideas, but an experience of them, if this makes sense?  The stories I tell are simple ones anyway.  They have to be, because I can't voice any external or internal words in and around the characters.  But luckily sometimes I seem to pull it off and readers care about these characters, and understand the story, the themes, the feelings.

I believe in the power of this form, the silent comic, and am trying to get better at conveying complex feelings and concepts with it.  Because when it connects it seems to connect with readers on a deep level.  I was surprised just how invested people were in the first book-length silent comic I did, AREACC.  That made me want to try to make more long-form silent work.

The most recent book-length comic I made with words in it is THE PHILOSOPHER (available from snakebomb, please read it), and it is a strange book.  Because it is made up of two parts, which at first don't seem to be explicitly connected: a story about a 'garden' in reference to the pardes legend from ancient rabbinical texts and a story about a philosopher working on a thesis about human progress at the dawn of a 20th century-like age.  Both are narrated, the first in stilted, possibly poorly translated religious language (with the words seeming to be the long shadows cast by older words in other languages) and the second as an almost clinical study or abstract in an encyclopedia.  This book is a companion piece to Mighty Star, and focuses on the villain in mighty star, a character who is more of a presence than an actor in the story, the character called The Philosopher.

So I attempted to write this book in the same way that I would do a 'silent' comic.  Meaning that I wanted to provide the pieces and the ideas, some of them hard to convey beyond just a feeling, as a creeping feeling and realization in the reader.  The narration, literally the text on the page, is there as the thing that moves the story forward.  But the actual questions and meanings are not outright telegraphed in the words.  Not sure if any of this makes sense in description.  I'm also not sure if this is a good way to make comics.  But oh well.  I think the book ended up being very good.

Because THE PHILOSOPHER has words on the page I can deal in concepts and ideas without having to literally stage and introduce and show them, unlike if it was a silent comic.  I think that might be the main difference between silent comics and comics with words in them, for me.

And as for Godard, I really like his early work up to "Two or Three Things I Know About Her".  I remember seeing Alphaville as a teen and being surprised it was 4 decades old, it felt so alive and strange, so current even if the cars and hairstyles weren't.

Mighty Star's uninterrupted flowing artwork reminded me conceptually of stuff done by Andreas (Germany) or Alex Niño (Philippines), so here's the annoying question about your favorite record (or file) and clothing label.

I think the flowing artwork and the constant action comes both from the fact that the work is silent and because I got really used to making short comics for anthologies with strict page limits.  Hopefully in the future I can make longer comics with more quiet and static scenes.  Though I hope I never make a comic with talking heads talking back and forth.

I like all types of music, same as everyone my age and older and younger.  I like calypso.  I like the Misfits.  I like dancehall reggae of the late 80s early 90s.  I like Wu-tang.  I like the Talking Heads. I can't claim my authority or authenticity about my involvement in or appreciation of this music because I didn't make these songs, but I like having these songs, and hearing them.

I used to wear t-shirts with pictures and words on them but then I was at an event where everyone was wearing similar t-shirts.  It was a sponsored event with ads on the DJ booths and monitors flashing words and pictures.  Considering I was not being paid to be there or wear t-shirts with words and pictures on them I decided to stop wearing t-shirts with words and pictures on them.  I started wearing 20 dollar button down shirts that were made in America, and black pants.  This seemed to work for a good while though sometimes I got teased about it being my 'uniform'.  Eventually the shirts got more expensive, and they were being made in Nicaragua (and this only bothered me because I doubt they were paying the Nicaraguans very well), and they slapped giant logos on the shirts for no reason.  I looked on the internet and I could still get the shirts I liked, without logos, but they were sold by uniform companies, so I had to own up to it being a uniform.  Also I was briefly dating a girl who was very fashionable and she said that she liked my clothes, but the colors sometimes made me look like a 'janitor'.  Or I guess the word she used would be 'custodian', but that includes 'janitor'.  So after all of this I just started wearing cheap black shirts and pants.  I think I thought it would be some kind of negation, some choice that wasn't a choice or declaration.  Now my friends tease me about how I wear all black.  So there's no escape.  Maybe next year I will dress like those NASCAR guys with all the logos and start from the beginning.  Maybe I can get sponsored.

Superheroes, kid detectives, phantoms/mummies and self-improving automatons, what's your goal in life?

I'm sure I had a goal in life at one point but I don't remember what it was.  I have a few, maybe, still.  These goals are so simple putting them down in writing might jinx them.  I don't know.  Be a better person, make better art.  Get paid.  Quit smoking.  Eat better.  Fall in love again. etc.

Besides McCloud and smashing ancient monuments to pieces like ISIS, what does sculpting mean to you?

I work entirely in 2d and think of my pages as being 2d planes.  I guess you're referring to how I draw a lot of broken statuary?

It's not just ISIS smashing monuments, it's something that's been going on my whole life.  I was alive when the Taliban destroyed the Bamiyan Buddhas in Afghanistan, when the Soviet Union fell and we saw the wall come down and the statues of Lenin taken down.  Later after the invasion of Iraq I saw the staged photo op where they tore down the statues of Saddam Hussein, and to make sure we didn't miss it, the commentators made the connection between the toppled Hussein statue and the fall of the Lenin statues with the fall of the Soviet Union, because in the illogic of that war, where our leaders forced a connection between Iraq and the September 11 attacks, why not make 'victory' in Iraq a decisive retroactive victory in the cold war? (The language surrounding America's invasion of Iraq was put in the terms of 'liberation', to echo the US' involvement in Europe in World War 2, and the people selling us that war evoked an image of Iraqis greeting US forces with flowers. Then there was the shitshow when Hussein himself was executed and his hanged body was torn down from the gallows like an idol)  Three years ago in Ukraine I saw the Lenin statues torn down again.  Last month in Donetsk, Russian backed separatists began destroying art spaces, smashing a large smokestack that was made to look like a tube of lipstick, burning books with naked pictures in them. The language the separatists use seem to echo Nazi sentiment, the destruction of perverse and unhealthy art made by people who on a racial and spiritual level are bankrupt of true spirit.

So I use a lot of statues in my work.  A simple explanation comes from two poems I was made to read as a kid.  Shelley's Ozymandias and Sandburg's the Hammer.

There is the obvious 'mono no aware' and 'lacrimae rerum' aspect to depictions of old and broken things.  But that's not the whole of it for me.

I like statues and monuments because they are of an age, of that age's culture, of a time's logic, and because of this, of the present.  Parts in an exhausting cycle of icons and iconoclasm, rise and fall, flowering and cataclysm.  The way a culture and a time dreams itself and its world. I was lucky enough to be taken to museums a lot as a kid.  And saw these statues in various levels of intact and broken.  At the Brooklyn and Metropolitan museums I saw the treasures of the world at eye level in silent rooms, and I didn't have any context for them.  Perseus naked and beautiful holding up Medusa's severed head, Akkadian Lamassu that looked both kind and frightening, suits of armor, Hopi Kachina that looked like robots or astronauts to me, rooms of sad looking saints with their eyeballs on plates or their skin flayed off, the benevolent smile of the Nyorai, beautiful roman statues intact, with limbs missing, just limbs and heads, broken jugs and plates with paintings on them, frightening warrior deities attending to a bodhisattva, cooking utensils, netsuke, giant scrolls of cloudy mountains in China, a saint praying in a sunbeam in the wilderness, etc. etc. etc.

I don't want to make this answer to an abstract question in a comic-book interview into some book-length treatise on time, so I'll try to be brief.  I do not think history is simple, nor do I trust the abstract and broad sequence of events we are given as an explanation of cause and effect.  I do not trust arguments of authenticity, origination.  Monuments and idols were made by people whose lives and reality is not always represented in them.  Sometimes old ideas feel as new as if they belong to us now.  Sometimes old ideas and images are as alien as an unknowable future.  Do long buried ideas go senile?  Does the logic of the world change and old images no longer make sense?  Does the truth exist in authentic expressions of the past that we have strayed from in our modern age?  I don't know.  "What man is only history tells"(?)

Masks are interesting to me not because they are a false face that hides a true face, but because they are an exercise in the fundamental fragility of identity.  The idea of the illusory nature of our world is interesting to me not because of the goal of breaking through the illusion to a real world, as much as illusion is how we perceive and understand the world; that perception is dealing in illusion.  In this way monuments and idols are interesting to me because they mark time and thought, in an unending cycle.  If you were a true believer and an iconoclast, the destruction of an existing idol would reduce all of your own beliefs to a competing idol. To try to make a thing, a thought, an idea, an emotion, into an expression, to give it life, is to immediately give it mortality.  Maybe it will survive, maybe not.  Neither quantity nor quality are invincibility.

In Mighty Star and THE PHILOSOPHER the idea of "the past" or "history" is shown in this broken statuary and I don't want to over-explain it.  The past as something contentious and controlled, alive, dead.  If we believe in an upward motion, a progress in the movement of mankind forward in time, what does that make the past?  If with our ideals, our great works, our new art and technology we never break free of killing and destroying ourselves, does this say something about our fundamental nature no matter what the age?

Sometimes the past is the tohu wabohu before the light of our current age's creation myth, sometimes it is the only legitimating and authentic expression of what is real now, the pure logic built into the creation of the world.  I don't believe either of these cosmologies.

Anyway I'm going to stop writing now.  I mentioned 'lacrimae rerum' earlier and decided to google it.  Wikipedia tells me that the meaning I learned behind 'lacrimae rerum' could be a misreading.  The phrase comes from Aeneas looking at a mural on a wall depicting all of his friends and illustrious enemies who died in the Trojan war.  He cries, because there are 'tears for things', and because 'mortal things touch us'.  This is how I learned it.  The next line in the verse can either mean that the death of Aeneas' friends were worth it because with fame it has brought a kind of immortality, or, that because even here in this temple the sorrows of war are known, and that Aeneas doesn't need to fear for his safety among people who know sorrow.

What do I know?  I can't read Latin.  And anyone can edit Wikipedia.

Junior Detective Files feels like it is forcing the reader to create their own narrative. Mighty Star too, although in a much lesser extent. With your work primarily being wordless, do you find creating a strong narrative important, or is narrative something you use as a framework to hang the rest of the works ideas on.

YES!  Exactly.  Junior Detective Files, for the reader who may not have seen it, is a comic I made published by Scott Longo of Sonatina, that I guess could be called an "illustration" book, because each page is a single image.  It follows a bunch of kid detectives solving mysteries.  There are no words other than the title and page that introduces the characters.

I wanted to cultivate that feeling of mystery in the reader, that need to put together clues and narrative, to make sense of what is being seen.  It also, mainly, is about childhood.  That feeling and freedom, fun and also total dread of discovery.  I tried to capture what being a child felt like to me.  Especially when trying to navigate the clues being given by the world of adults, the things adults are afraid of and have never really come to understand, and the scarecrows and boogeymen you find around death, identity, sex, etc.

I was thinking about Ernst's Une semaine de bonté as a kind of mysterious object.  A thing to look at and think about, a series of prompts, some mysterious treasure.  I wanted the Junior Detective Files book to feel like an artifact, a clue, a mystery.  So yes, though I don't know if I was 'forcing' the reader to create their own narrative as much as attempting to invite them to make one.

Mighty Star is a simple pulpy superhero story on its face.  I was attempting to make something that had the speed and pluck of an early Tezuka or Ishinomori Shotaro comic, as well as the dread and depth, joy and pain.  The guts of the Mighty Star story is a lot of complex ideas that may or may not be apparent but are there quietly doing their job, like your liver or pancreas is right now.  I don't actually remember what the pancreas does.  Probably something important.  Give it up for the pancreas everybody.  The plan for Mighty Star, whether I continue it, which I hope to do, is to have each episode focus on some kind of philosophical idea as the setting for the action, as a stage for the drama.  I have about six of them outlined in my mind.  It would be interesting to continue Mighty Star as he grows up into an old man and the world changes around him, because of time and because of him.

So whether the narrative is a framework for the ideas to be hung on, or whether the narrative is more important than the ideas is a kind of 'chicken and the egg' style causality question I don't have an answer for.  The answer is yes to both.

I always appreciated the idea of doing a Will Eisner's American Visuals Corporation kind of thing, only in your case it's about infectious birds instead of murderous weapons. Do you plan to reshape the "idea of graphic novels" too? ...I mean "paper jazz" and all that.

I had to google that.  I haven't read a lot of Eisner but what I have I really liked.  The Tenement book, Contract With God, those might be the only ones I read.  For a long time I had Kurtzman and Eisner mixed up in my mind, I really like the early weird MAD Kurtzman stuff, but that has nothing to do with Eisner I guess.

The term 'Paperjazz' was actually coined by Tom Whalen (musician, artist, Canadian, bon vivant).  It came out of a conversation me and Zach Hazard were having about the term 'comics' on social media.  Joking about using 'graphic novels' vs. 'comics' etc.  Tom tweeted "Paper Jazz" and Zach removed the space between the words.  It's a good term because it is pretentious, self-serious, and ridiculous, hilarious.  I like Jazz.  I like the word Jazz.  It's such an abstract term that contains both rigid formalism and chaos.

I honestly don't care about defining comics, defining the term 'comics'.  I never liked manifestos though I like a lot of art made by people who write manifestos.  I care more about interacting with art than the PR campaigns around it.

The only way I could hope to 'reshape' comics is by making them.  Taxonomy as the ultimate defining aspect of art is a battlefield for bores and cowards.  This morning I unthinkingly clicked a link in which someone wrote a bunch of words trying to attack Grant Morrison for calling early Heavy Metal magazine 'punk' (1977).  I gave up after the first few paragraphs, I guess the thesis was that early Heavy Metal magazine was more prog-rock than punk?  The future of art hangs in the balance.  2015.

I hate the discourse around comics, at least as it exists on the internet. I'm not sure why this is.  Maybe because it comes out of a fan tradition and is based in preening, performative nerd-certainty?  The urge to make rules and a wiki, to make an air-tight narrative of history and succession of ideas.  All of the problems of academia with none of the gravitas or beauty of thought and language.  On a fundamental level I cannot define art and I'm not interested in thinking a definition would be helpful in any way.  I know that ideas and works of art are bigger and smarter than me, contain infinities, and trying to lock them down into definitions based in laws written about Joss Whedon and Bechdel is ridiculous.  Like naming your penis after a greek hero and dressing normcore (note to editor: if babycore or thotgoth are finally bigger than normcore at the time of printing please substitute one of those).  

I used to take this personally.  Reading comics websites and thinking about getting up from the computer, breaking one of the legs off my chair, and brandishing it, stepping out into the world to bust heads.  This wouldn't help anyone though, not me, and not the unpaid people writing about comics.  Ultimately I don't think the two or three comics websites that exist to serve alt-comics are for anyone at all.  I don't think they reach new readers who would be open and interested.  Both their language and range of topics is insular, designed for initiates and people who think there are sides and have already picked one.  Maybe those people do want to read about and discuss the Fantagraphics bathing beauties of 1993 in 2015, do want to have an argument about just how racist or sexy Sexy Racist Batman '83 is in 2015.  When I first joined twitter I saw an essay being passed around that people were calling 'genius'.  It was about comics, and its premise was "Some people think the words in comics are the most important part, but think about it, the art is important too".  I couldn't wrap my mind around it, thought it was some ironic joke.  

This is strange because at this moment in time there are so many people from so many different backgrounds all making comics.  There is so much good stuff being made right now it is shocking.  People are writing interesting reactions and art crit on their individual blogs.  So who knows.  Maybe there will never be a centralized place for good writing and ideas about comics on the internet.

So I'm not interested in definitions.  Twice and with two different comics reviewer-people I engaged in arguments about the use of the word "manga" as a descriptor and twice I got shouted down.  My argument was that "Manga" just means comics and describing a thing as "very manga" means nothing.  Because both Naruto and Nejishiki are manga.  Immediately after getting involved, both times, I regretted it.  Because I had to question honestly why I was even arguing about it.  Was I just doing it for ego-reasons, preening to show how much I know?  Probably.

If I look honestly at why I hate the writing in the two or three comics sites that exist to talk about comics, partly I am just angry that my work and the work I care about, the work I think is the most interesting, being made by my peers, is not discussed.  Though who knows, if interesting new work was discussed there it would probably be in wikitrope words and that would be annoying too.

Maybe it would be smart, commercially, to launch a pr campaign, make up some new words for comics, write a manifesto, spotlight myself as some hero or mascot for the New Comics.

The truth is I don't even know what 'comics' means, I am trying to figure that out by drawing them.  I do know that all I can do is make the kind of comics I want to see.  That's the goal.

Spanking, apples, puppies and disembodied former employees straight out of Silly Symphonies getting at each other's throats: Would you favor a remake of Disney's Fantasia by Hideshi Hino?

Hideshi Hino made a bunch of live action movies, you know that right?  The Guinea Pig series.  Schlocky video horror stuff, I've never been able to make it through one.  I didn't know about those until Zach Hazard told me about them.  Apparently someone gave a copy of one of them to Charlie Sheen who thought they were real snuff films and he called the FBI.

I like Hino's art but I don't like a lot of his comics.  Misery and brutality without end becomes pretty tedious, which in and of itself is kind of horrifying.  "No Beast is there without glimmer of infinity, no eye so vile nor abject that brushes not against lightning from on high, now tender, now fierce" etc.
I like Hino's 'Oninbo' because it seems like it was trying to be more of a crossover work, to reach kids and general audiences.  To have some kind of 'normalcy' or good in between the trauma and horror.  Which offsets the horror, and weirdly, makes even the supposedly nice and trustable authority figures like parents and teachers suspect because they exist in a world of endless blood and abandoned corpses.

While writing this I have figured out that I like Hideshi Hino's comics a lot.  Thank you for this.  I have been wrong for a long time.

The grid in Mighty Star changes on an almost page by page basis, but all within fairly well established layouts. Do you have a favorite grid, and what about it appeals to you.

I'm still trying to figure out what works.  I guess the grid I use most regularly is three lines of panels.  I arrived at that based mainly on how a page looks when I'm making it.  Sometimes big splash panels at a dramatic turn or reveal in the story.  I spend a lot of time thinking about this while making the work but it is hard for me to explain it afterward.  Mainly because the work is 'silent' I want the narrative beats to resonate as images on the page, and the main control I have over this is pacing.
I'm not a very good artist but I think I'm getting better.  I am trying to get better at composition and drawing in general.  I'm trying to use composition and pacing to convey complex ideas and I am never sure if the amount of sweat and thought I put into the construction of a page comes through.  Hopefully it does.

I'm working in color now and that is another interesting and rewarding aspect to constructing a page.  I am trying to use the variance in color and the introduction of different colors to 'color' the emotion and narrative.

Mighty Star's uninterrupted flowing artwork reminded me conceptually of stuff done by Andreas (Germany) or Alex Niño (Philippines), so here's the annoying question about your favorite record (or file) and clothing label. [Editor’s Note:Sorry. Copy/Paste is a bitch.]

Hey, I already answered this question.  It looks like you asked it twice by accident.  I don't want to leave this space blank.  So here's a four line quotation from the last chapter of the Diamond Sutra:

All phenomena
are like a dream, an illusion, a bubble, a shadow
Like dew, or again, like a flash of lightning
And thus we shall perceive them

I just re-read that this morning and I like it.  Was reading about Zeami's writing on Noh play, and the Mugen school of Noh (plays that deal with a world with no distinct barrier between dream and reality, life and death, where ghosts, people, apparitions hang out and do whatever).  Mugen, apparently, the word for dream/illusion「夢幻」 originates in the above sutra, according to this historian.

That's my fun fact for today.  I thought this was very beautiful.  Hopefully your readers enjoy it.

Mighty Star is your first long form work, did you find transitioning from short stories to longer narratives difficult. Also what was behind the decision to split Might Star into individual issues, and how do you think that process turned out?  

The original plan was to have Mighty Star in individual episodes or chapters.  I think a really long work with no breaks and no words might be really taxing on the reader.  The length of Mighty Star grew organically.  Initially it was going to be made up of three fifteen page chapters and be like a little 45 page book.  Then I was putting it up on the internet so I didn't have to worry about space constraints.  And each individual chapter grew longer as the story progressed.  The published book, with the prologue and epilogue I made for the book comes in around 170-something pages.

Making longer comics is easier than making shorter comics for me.  With shorter comics, especially shorter comics with no words, you really have to sweat an economy of space with no waste.

I'm trying to get better at this.

I think all of the early short comics I did for anthologies were good practice.  And at first I hated the work I made in 2011-2012 but enough time has passed that I can look at them and see good stuff in them.  Most of the anthologies they appeared in are out of print though.

The comic I am currently working on is made up of chapters that serve as stand alone vignettes but also as points in a story.  I am not setting any formula length for the chapters so there are stories that are 30 something pages long and stories that are 8 pages long.  I think it really works when you read them together, too.

In your interview with Graham Sigurdson for Comics Workbook you mention reading foreign language comics without actually being able to read the text, but later, when you could, finding that you understood the story more or less the first time. I’m intrigued if you still continue this practice, or if you’ve ever done it with works you can read.

I don't remember what I was talking about there, I think I meant specifically Tezuka's Phoenix, the first book of it.  That happened a lot when I was in Japan and learning the language, learning to read.

I can think of a lot of counter-examples where I looked at a bunch of comics I couldn't read and tried to figure them out, and was wrong.  My friend Kei gave me a whole set of Shiriagari Kotobuki's Yaji/Kita in Deep because he thought that I would like both the story and the art, and he was right.  But I remember poring over it but having no idea what was going on until I could read it.

Comics were instrumental in me learning to read Japanese, because if I couldn't place or understand a word or phrase in the text there were accompanying pictures.

 I try not to skip over words or ignore them.  But I have a bunch of comics in languages I can't read and sometimes there's no other recourse.  I like David B. and most of his books don't come out over here.  So I've bought his books and read them with a pocket dictionary before, or used the internet.  Which is not an ideal way to read things except when you have no other choice.

Despite your social media chatterbox performance there's a conspicuous absence of words/dialogue in your work, though I noticed a recurring use of the letters N, H and K. Knowing that you did spend some time in Japan, did you just watch a lot of TV or is this an almost unidentifiable Hikikomori joke?

Yeah, the fact that the letters N, H, and K are involved has nothing to do with the broadcasting company.

It came from a dream I had where everything was written in numbers and a combination of N, K, H, R, and T.  It was either a recurring dream I had or a single dream powerful enough to feel like a series of dreams.  I don't remember any of the details other than frustration over not being able to read anything.  I had this dream while living in Japan, so who knows if it wasn't influenced by the difficulty of reading a foreign language?

The first few comics I had ever made and completed, my first comics to be published were with Mashcomix in Japan.  They weren't silent comics, they had dialogue.  I remember using the NTKH language for sound effects and writing in the background but I can't remember any conscious reason why.  My Japanese penmanship is bad enough that I didn't want to write out sound effects in Japanese, at least.

It makes sense that I use that language in silent comics because because actual words on the page would be jarring and given the weight of the written word, would throw the whole narrative out of balance.  (though there are a bunch of actual words hidden in my work)

I remember in the initial dream(s) the letter K was kind of threatening, especially if seen by itself.  So I used it as the sound effect for any violent action in the work. For whatever reason I don't use the letter T as much and the letter R seems to have dropped out of use all together.  Hey, I just work here.

Coincidentally my brother also started making a lot of paintings that had scrambled letters and numbers replacing words in them, at about the same time I started using the scrambled language in my comics.  We hadn't even talked about it, it just showed up in what both of us were working on.

The nutcracker army, a masked society, a group of investigators...your stance on mass appeal?

Oof, I don't even know what mass appeal is.  I've read interviews with artists who say that they don't even care if their work is seen or read and my gut instinct is to not believe them.  I want my work to be seen and read by as many people as possible.  This would be nice for obvious commercial reasons, but also because I don't know if my art is anything without an audience.  I don't want to talk unless there is someone to hear it and respond.

That said I don't know what mass appeal means in 2015.  Something old with a fresh coat of photoshop?  Some kind of toy that is sold back to you again as your childhood?  Some sterile mashup of two known things that won't birth a third new thing?

I can't see anything in nerd culture, our current dominant mainstream culture, as anything but servile devotion to giant corporations.  That's fine, maybe it has always been like this.  But I can't shake the feeling that advertising and hype have been internalized and is now how we talk and it effects our art.

Generating meaning, community, identity on passive consumption scares the hell out of me.  The accepted truism that now as an artist you have a 'brand' and that you have to constantly be selling and self-promoting scares the hell out of me.

I don't know.  I don't want to sell people ideas of who they are, I don't want to make advertisements.  I don't believe in an automat style world of art where you know what you want, push a button and pay, and get it.  And the audience is given what it wants.  I am a member of the audience more than I am not, and I don't know what I want.  Ideally the familiar should be a starting point, to jump off into the unfamiliar.  But instead we get movies based on childhood board-games, reboots, safe and soulless monstrosities, formulaic entertainment that makes us feel sophisticated when we internalize and understand the formula, big cgi apocalypse spectacles, etc..

So who knows.  Maybe this is the only game in town and I should get the fuck on it if I want to feed and clothe myself through art in the future.  Support my kickstarter.  The popples are back.  Remember the popples?  The popples but dadbod, the popples but libertarian, the popples ronpaul vaping 2016.  True videogames ethics popples, for you and your gamerz (livestream).  Scott Walker Wisconsin 7-day work week popples.  Remember how popples felt in your childhood?  Is your popple felt?  Would you like it to be?  New $20,000 stretch goal, felt popples.  At $30,000 the popples can stretch.  Join in, we're doing this, we're making the numbers get bigger together.  Thinkpiece: popples are feminism, where occupy wallstreet failed popples work.  What mankind can learn from popples.  What color popple you yourself are and always have been, how to choose your popple and ultimately choose yourself.  Post-colonialism and popples.  Hey remember popples?  They're back, and 20 reasons why this is better than you could ever imagine.  You won't believe how this awesome boy sewed himself into a giant popple and was never heard from again.

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