Friday, September 29, 2006

yet more BRENDAN McCARTHY malarky

(Here's the text of another interview Brendan has just done re: SOLO #12. This one has the benefit of having been done in retrospect, with the interviewer getting to ask about some of the personal imagery McCarthy loaded the issue with. A fitting capstone on one of the smartest single issues of a comic either of The Big Two have released since the end of the Eighties, or start of the Nineties.)


BRENDAN McCARTHY: 10 QUESTIONS ON COMICS.
from Steven Fuller. September 2006


1. SOLO #12: WHY IS SMALLVILLE MADE OUT OF JELLY?
I think memory is a bit like Jelly... wobbly and semi-transparent. Starting off the comic with a framing narrative that unhooks you from your usual expectations means you really have no idea where you're going to be taken in the story... And I wanted to write something that I haven't seen in a DC Comic before, something jolting about the DC Universe.

There's a whole tradition of surreal 'dream art' outside of comics: Listen to "The Bewlay Brothers" by David Bowie. Look at how the Monty Pythons structured their TV shows. So-called nonsense actually expresses a different kind of sense, that's all. Check out the stories of Chester Brown or Renee French or Jim Woodring. I like to imagine David Lynch doing a comic book.

I was listening to Syd Barrett's solo records and was inspired: there are finished songs, but in other places it's kind of sketchy and fragmentary. That's the feeling I wanted for the SOLO comic: Lots of little stories inside a bigger story. It seems quite odd to me that a person will accept the experience of say, listening to sprawling flow of The Beatles 'White Album', yet reject a similar kind of feeling from a comic book. Musically structured storytelling is interesting, I think.

I still like to see stuff that is different and original... I wanted THE FLASH story to be just a fragment from another kind of FLASH story, one that uses the FLASH's iconic imagery to give us a glimpse of another whole new take. DC should try out this new one... He has a new story to tell, new places to take us, new villains to fight. And this FLASH is about Light, not Speed. Running fast doesn't seem like such a thrillingly big idea these days... The Silver age gives way to the Luminous age!

If you're looking for the usual stuff, then there's reams of that to read out there, but how about about a bit of the unusual now and then? I can do 'straight' narrative stuff if I want to, butI really am bored to distraction by the stories in comics aping film narrative techniques. I don't want comics to turn into just a kind of "pitch" document for the movie industry. It's the job of comics creators to go where films, or any other media, can't go - in style, storytelling and concepts. Let film follow where comics lead!


2. WHAT'S WITH ALL THE TRANSVESTITES IN SOLO?
Well, I've always liked that camp Bowie-esque, early Hockney, early Roxy Music, New York Dolls, Morrissey, dodgy glam-rock thing that surfaces from time to time in popular culture. Teenage misfits are always gonna put lipstick on! I strongly suggest you go on YouTube and search out some spiffing footage of a heavily made-up young Bryan Ferry and Brian Eno battling it out in some classic 70's Roxy Music concert footage of"Virginia Plain". Sublime!

The character "Toby" is a homage to those droll northern English drag Queens like Lily Savage - when he was good. And I want to explore further the idea of comic characters hanging about, waiting to appear in the main strip, or not even turning up at all. A backstage soap opera. I'll call it: "Went in a wasp - Came out a hare" - the miniseries.

'Duke' Hussy was named after the guy who once ran the BBC, honest! These comic book trannies are meant as a glittering antidote to all that hideous militaristic machismo that pervades some US comics these days.

At the moment I'm reading a mighty strange memoir by Alvin Schwartz, the 'Superman' comic book writer who created the Bizarros, and it's reminding me that comics have a duty to get up peoples noses and mildly annoy those who Know Best by being weird, and wonderful, and secretly subversive.


3. WHY DON'T YOU EVER DRAW IN THE SAME STYLE?
Different styles suit different things: In movies,"Bladerunner" looks very different to "Casablanca" or to "Kill Bill" for example. The Monkees sound different to Gorillaz who sound different to TheThievery Corporation.

So within the pages of SOLO, The Lord Of Nothing looks different to the Batman pages which look different to the Johnny Sorrow strip. I like that the comic changes all the time. It keeps me interested in drawing it, and reading it. I love turning over a page, not knowing what is coming next. I like a high level of novelty.


4. JOHNNY SORROW: A HIPPY JAMES BOND?
A good way of putting it, yeah. Kind of 60's "Rain"-era John Lennon but dressed in the "peace years" white suit. I gave writer Tom O'Connor the germ of the idea with a drawing of an Angelic Assassin, using DC's name Johnny Sorrow, and he came up with an great story.

I was surprised at how overtly Catholic he made it, so I pushed that much further and added more of the 'sacred technology' stuff like Theolotrons, PrayerBombs and Hyper-Novenas to give it more of that Steranko super-spy gizmo 60's vibe. And we set the HQ inside a mausoleum and made Eramus, Johnny's female driver, an 80's Annie Lennox style Kato-nun... I love mixing pop iconography into new and improved hybrids.

I colored it up with digital maestro Howard Hallis, using heaps of wild electronic graphic 'noise' effects, to give it an 'electropop' vibe. I took a highly experimental approach to the coloring... and frankly, in a few places it just didn't work. But mostly, I thought it was good, and different to what else is out there.

But I'd like to develop a DC series of Johnny Sorrow. I think there's a lot of possibilities in that world. He's a great character, and it's a great stylish 'look'... The DaVinci Code meets James Bond, indeed!


5. WHY IS YOUR TOMB UNDER THE HOLLYWOOD SIGN?
All my work is obliquely autobiographical. My feelings about living in Hollywood and my thoughts on death and spirituality kind of merged into an abstract narrative sequence in that last strip, "Slouch World". It starts off with two slacker "Beavis and Butthead" characters trying to get to a party, and then morfs into an abstract discourse on ending identification with the 'tomb' of ego, an experience of no-self and then an awakening from the dream.

I found that the desire for power or fame etc are "immortality games" that the ego creates in order to somehow live on and beat death. "Hollywood" is the 'Heaven' of capitalism, and 'celebrity' it's state of grace. It's an alluring, but completely worthless distraction. Most of us will be totally forgotten within a few decades of our passing. Maybe a few of us will be remembered through our art or achievments a thousand years hence... but in a few hundred thousand years, in just a blink of the cosmic eye, we will have all totally vanished without leaving a trace. Even Paris Hilton.

So what is left? Well, there seems to be a sense of "me" here now... An "I" that is the'experiencer' of all my thoughts, feelings and actions, and has been for all my lifetime.

So what is this "I"? As far as I can tell, it seems to be a localised field of awareness, a core psychic cluster, a central thought that is identified as 'myself'... This "I" is the primary thought that seeds all the others: my imagination, memory, opinion etc. And in dreams, this "I" creates everything: I experience my own thoughts as totally real, as a completely immersive reality.

And then suddenly and incredibly, I wake up!"I" wake up out of what is now seen as a dream.

There are people who claim to have 'woken up' out of this dream as well... If you're interested,I'd recommend reading Huang Po, Wei Wu Wei,Nisargadatta and Douglas Harding, and to avoid all 'gurus' - especially ones in comics. Like me.


6. WHO IS DITRANKO?
An imaginary artist, a homage to two of my favourite comic book creators, Steve Ditko and Jim Steranko.


7. ANY OTHER COMIC STRIPS YOU'D LIKE TO DO?
I've recently been mulling a dimension-sprawling adventure with Dr Strange and Spider-Man... That classic Lee-Ditko story from the 60's is one of my favourite stories. I'd love to draw Dr Strange in the manner of Steranko, but I've never really done anything for Marvel before. Perhaps I should pitch it to them and get it out of my system.

Another thing I'd like to do is a sequel to Barry Smith's RED NAILS, that really freaky CONAN story he did in the 70's. It's one of the weirdest storiesI've ever read in comics: all those decapitated heads and lesbian witches flogging young slave-girls. A very perverse and unsettling story indeed... I'm not quite sure who owns all that stuff now. Maybe it's Dark Horse comics.

And I'd really like to do an "Eightball" style comic...A SOLO type of mix of anything I like, and it comes out whenever it's ready! That would be ideal for someone like me, because I can't seem to predict my creative abilities. One day I might be great, the next day I'm useless. I seem to find it very difficult to sitat a desk, day in day out. That's a kind of death by boredom to me. I have to somehow be inspired... I've got so many characters and story ideas of my own, I'll probably never get through a tenth of them.


8. ANY MORE COMICS WITH PETER MILLIGAN?
Well, there aren't any plans at the moment, but who knows... I think working with Pete kind of spoiled me in a way. We had great chemistry and we made each other laugh a lot... we had a looseness, a freedom and nonchalance about it all that shone through. Sometimes writers can be real control freaks, and artistically, I don't function well under tight reins.

Pete's scripts were a joy to read, and he made everything better than I thought it would be... I remember when he gave me the script to SKIN after we'd kicked it around a bit, and I was kind of shocked at how good it was... It had this utterly original voice and it was so moving... And then he'd hand me MIRKIN THE MYSTIC, all pomp and drollery, or Brett would get those hilariously violent JOHNNY NEMO scripts... Now that's what I call a fucking writer!

I think that people have periods when the stars align or whatever, like any creative partnership, and that's when the great work gets done. But I certainly enjoy co-writing... It's a lot of fun. As long as I am given space to be spontaneous, I'm happy. I'd probably be up for a new MIRKIN series, drawn in Deluxivision...


9. IS MAD MAX 4 EVER GOING TO GET MADE?
I have to be careful saying anything about this type of thing as it gets plastered all over movie internet sites as some kind of scoop. I really have no idea, it's out of my hands. But I hope so, as I put a lot of very good work into writing and designing it.

I always loved that character, and it was an incredible thrill to find out what happened to Max, pulling him back here, out of the mythic ether. It was very strange... It was like he told us his story -and we just wrote it down. Yeah, I really enjoyed working on that movie.


10. ANY FINAL THOUGHTS ON COMICS?
Yes. I always liked the idea of "Imaginary Stories" in the DC Comics of yore. That text proclaiming: "This is an Imaginary Story!" Like they aren't all imaginary anyway...

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I think a new British monthly comic with say, 8 page installments of new creator-owned material by lots of the top names would be a rather spiffing wheeze! A new Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons strip, a new Gaiman/McKean, a Morrison/Quitely, some Millar/Hitch, a bit of John Wagner/Brian Bolland... and naturally some new Milligan/McCarthy, would be tres fantastique! There's loads of UK creative contenders out there. It would probably be the best comic in the world.

After a year, a creator would have about 100 pages of material - a great platform for graphic novels, movies, games etc... Well, I'd certainly buy it.

Perhaps it should be titled "BUGGER, SNIKT!" to evoke a suitable Bunteresque, X-Men vibe.

That's yer lot I'm afraid. Time for my Time-Tea.
Brendan

3 comments:

RAB said...

God bless him. It's like the people who create (or read) Marvel and DC comics are all sleepwalkers, while Brendan is awake and trying to tell us "You don't all have to walk in this direction, you know!" It's like the end of Spike Lee's School Daze -- we could wake up and see a whole beautiful landscape to explore beyond the furrow we've dug with our own footsteps.

I mean this seriously.

Anonymous said...

I've mentioned this elsewhere, but I think a new British monthly comic with say, 8 page installments of new creator-owned material by lots of the top names would be a rather spiffing wheeze! A new Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons strip, a new Gaiman/McKean, a Morrison/Quitely, some Millar/Hitch, a bit of John Wagner/Brian Bolland... and naturally some new Milligan/McCarthy, would be tres fantastique! There's loads of UK creative contenders out there. It would probably be the best comic in the world.

and dez skinn could edit it?

Mark said...

Well, anonymous, in jest you make a good point. Any new British anthology would do well to look at WARRIOR as a template. Though it came a cropper after only a couple of years, the ideals behind it were spot on.