MA | The format of the short story has limitations which can be frustrating as well as rewarding. It forces you to boil the material down to the most important elements, which is a good and even necessary process. But you can't develop characters or narratives beyond a certain point. After a while it felt like such a waste of good ideas. It's easy to be funny in the small format, but difficult if you also want to achieve a lasting emotional impact. Very few artists can do this, and I really admire those – Mark Beyer is one, and Kaz with "Underworld" for instance. On several occasions, my longer stories developed out of a one-pager that I was frustrated with because I had to end it with some sort of punchline even before it had a chance to get really interesting. So once I began to concentrate on the novel-length material, I grew less interested in the short format, especially the one-pager or strip. The problem of course is how to finance working on a long book, when you only get paid for shorter works. And magazines and daily papers have less and less space these days. When you look at the Sunday comics, and even daily strips, from a hundred years ago it's incredible how much space they had. Which is part of why they are so good.
MES | In the 90's, I also remember seeing your work in french in L’association in Lapin magazine and your work seemed to me different than reading it in English in narrative terms. Have you changed something on your narrative in order for readers to vision your stories better In your mind?
MA | Not that I'm aware of. Maybe it's easier for others to see the gradual changes over time in the works of an artist. A funny thing I've noticed since I speak three languages fluently, is that I create a slightly different persona for each language. I'm still basically the same but there are parts of my personality that become more or less prominent depending on which language I use. It makes sense since our consciousness is essentially a structure we build using the tools of language. Interesting but a bit disturbing. This probably reflects itself in the English versus the Swedish versions of my comics, as I do both of them myself. But the French is translated by someone else.
MES | You're one of the best artists that I've ever read in comic books along Daniel Clowes, Los Bros Hernandez, Santiago Sequeiros, Peter Bagge, Julie Doucet, Charles Burns, Seth or Chester Brown but your stories touch more the funny subject of how life and death is. As an artist how do you "see" yourself while creating your own stories?
MA | I think the whole point of making art is to sort of experience yourself without thinking about it while you're doing it. Otherwise you're probably not doing it right.
MES | I've seen some of your videos and even "Tito on ice" based on "Bosnian Flat Dog" that you created with Lars Erik Sjunesson and they're awesome. I think that your animated works aren't that different from your stories in international magazines and they're different forms of art, being comic books a static art form and animation an animated art form. How did you achieve to give readers the same kind of movement both in comics and animation?
MA | Yes, film and comics are extremely different mediums, contrary to what people commonly believe. They think that because they are both based on visual storytelling, they are close relatives. But comics depend on an ability in our brain to build patterns and meanings by connecting separate images. Film, on the contrary, depends on a defect in our brain, which makes us unable to see separate images if they are shown in quick succession, instead creating the illusion of movement.
Working with comics means that you’re constantly forced to reduce your narrative to the absolute essentials, to a degree that is not necessary in film. This is because you don’t have the element of time, the linear flow of action that will almost automatically keep the film viewer watching because things seem to be continuously moving all by themselves on the screen. With comics, you need to motivate the reader to actively proceed from one panel to the next, in order to create movement in the story. And you only have a very limited number of pictures to achieve this, forcing you to be economic and choose your content well. So I think it helps if you’re trained in comics, to be able to cut superfluous information from your film. Also, as in my comics I always work with pretty crude and primitive techniques in my films, because the brain does not perceive smooth and steady, high-definition movements as natural. It's not how we optically experience life. The brain "edits" the constant stream of information transmitted from the eye through the optical nerve in real-time, creating virtual jump-cuts from one important moment to the next.
MES | Can you tell us what are your favourite artists in arts in general that influenced your work a bit?
MA | Georg Grosz, Mark Beyer, Goya, Tove Jansson, Henry Darger, Hieronymus Bosch, Gustave Doré, Andy Warhol, Richard Hambleton, Fletcher Hanks. To name just a few.
MES | Pixy's a masterpiece with a long narrative. You put there all kind of weirdness and it all makes sense. How do you see "Pixy" right now in your life?
MA | It was an important work for me, and when I look at it today it still doesn't feel outdated. It's weird because I did that book 25 years ago and there seems to always be some new edition published somewhere. It never quite disappears out of sight. The last one was in Mexico, which I found terrific because finally Pixy and his friends got to celebrate the Día de los Muertos.
MES | Animation is an amazing art form and your work resembles to me a bit the work of british artist Phil Mulloy and Ray Harryhausen short movies. How do you vision animation and short movies as an art form?
MA | I love the work of Harryhausen and Willis O'Brien, it's still so much better than any CGI effects. Computer animation always looks fake to me. But analog animation on film is like alchemy - even if it's crude and made with simple materials, it's immediately convincing. I'm not sure why. Maybe because it's real light, real textures, real traces of silver crystals on the film emulsion. Deep down we're still animals and we can't be fooled, our sensory organs know the difference. I tend to prefer animation that doesn't aim at technical perfection. The animation world is full of on one hand mediocre politically correct stuff pretending to be art, and on the other hand mediocre commercial stuff not pretending to be art, all of it often technically very well made and visually impressive. But it's the little things in-between that are interesting to me. Jan Švankmajer, the Czech surrealist, was a big influence at one point. More recently, I really liked CONSUMING SPIRITS by Chris Sullivan.
MES | You're Swedish and you live in Berlin - Germany. Do you think that changing your private environment, country and city directly affects your work while communicating with people in a different language, country and in a city that several artists went there to create a different movement in their art careers? (Instantly pop in my mind well known examples in music like David Bowie, Brian Eno and U2 whereBerlin changed how they saw arts and even their private careers)
MA | Those artists didn't move to Berlin as we know it today, they all moved to West-Berlinwhich was a very unique city that existed in this form, surrounded by a wall, between 1961-1989. I was very fond of West-Berlin and spent a lot of time there after I discovered it by chance when I was trying to escape Christmas in Sweden in 1983. It was ugly, claustrophobic, dark, broke, desperate and absolutely wonderful - it fit perfectly my mood at the time. This was just when I was in the process of shaping my personal aestethics, and I think it had a decisive influence on the direction I took as an artist from then on. The Fetus District in Pixy is sort of an imagined, idealized version of that place and period in time. So this happened early on, long before I even decided to move to Berlin permanently. When I finally did, in the 1990's, West-Berlin was already gone and a different city had taken its place. I don't mean that in a negative way. It's different but it also has a much wider spectrum. East-Berliners generally had a more positive, relaxed and less self-destructive attitude than the population in the West so now the city is a combination of both. By now I've lived here longer than I have in any other place in my life, so I guess it is officially my adopted hometown. I'm fascinated with the German language and I like to use it. They have more and better words than Swedish.
MES | How do you see the departure of Kim Thompson from this life and how he dealt with foreign artists when he was alive and how do you see Gary Groth as a man and publisher trying to fill that huge gap?
MA | It was so sad. I was actually visiting the Seattle film festival with "TITO ON ICE" about a month before he passed away, and I was supposed to see him but the chemo therapy made him so sick those days that it simply wasn't possible. He was the guy that pushed for PIXY to be published at Fantagraphics in the first place, and later as the editor of ZERO ZERO he prominently showcased my short stories, after which he gave me a regular platform to do pretty much whatever I wanted with my solo comic DEATH & CANDY.
Kim was half Danish, and although I write the English version of my comics myself, he proofread everything and made suggestions for improvements which were usually spot-on because he could also understand Swedish! It was a unique situation for me to be able to work with somebody like that.
I got to know Gary well over the years too, but he and Kim were known to have different tastes in comics so I was never quite sure what he really thought of my work. Naturally I was a bit nervous when I sent him THE EXCAVATION to consider for publication, but his immediate reaction was "Holy shit, this looks like a goddamn masterpiece", so I figure I'm in good hands. Also, Gary has a lot of very capable people around him. But of course it's impossible to replace an individual who was a great editor AND could read original material in half a dozen languages himself. On the other hand, since Kim had these capabilities everyone else probably got used to letting him deal with most of the foreign material on his own. So this could motivate others to get involved with that, which may have unexpected consequences. Let's see what happens.
MES | I've read "The Excavation" and it's really awesome, it's one of the best comic books that I've read in my life. Your panels seem to be bigger and the narrative has even more movement in it than in Pixy. Did you put the panels bigger in "The Excavation" in order to produce a different movement in it?
MA | The panels are not really bigger, but they are reproduced in 1:1 meaning that the originals are the same size as the printed page. Normally I work much bigger, like the originals of PIXY are four times bigger than the book. Working in scale 1:1 gives an unpolished, more naked and almost intimate impression, all the little mistakes are more visible to the eye. I wanted a dirty, more unfinished look for this story. And I discovered that the one-panel-per-page structure created a very strong claustrophobic atmosphere that fits the theme perfectly. It has a relentless pace and it's designed to be a quick read if you want to, but I hope the reader will return to it more than once, to find unexpected openings and sidetracks leading to new discoveries.
I know that by using a non-linear narrative and a somewhat unorthodox representation of time and space in my later works I'm testing the patience of those readers who are always expecting some kind of new "Pixy", but I need to keep challenging myself. However with THE EXCAVATION I think I've reached about as far as I want to go along this road, at least for now, so my next book may be much more traditional and straightforward in the formal sense. It's not like I don't know how to do that, it's just that the standard approach didn't fit the particular projects I've been working with.
MES | Your short stories seem to me that they were collected in several languages and publishers all over the world, but I think that they weren't collected in Fantagraphics or in English. Why do you think that this never happened?
MA | Kim would talk about this from time to time, he always claimed that he wanted to do it but either the time was not right or they were going through one of their periods of financial trouble. He loved the big CONTAINER collection published in Sweden and Germany but it's a very thick, oversized book partly in full color, so he considered it too much of a risk for them at that point. You have to keep in mind that each issue of DEATH & CANDY sold less copies than the previous until Kim reluctantly decided to cancel it in 2005, and simultaneously the focus of the comics market was clearly shifting towards graphic novels. BOSNIAN FLAT DOG and THE EXCAVATION both fit into that category, but I guess a big collection of short stories by a not too well known foreign artist wouldn't be that easy for them to promote under the circumstances. I still believe it would be a great book and I hope it will materialize eventually, one way or the other. After all it's very funny material, and it has a whole bunch of cute characters.
MES | Can you give us a list of your favourite artists in books or movies?
MA | This will be an incomplete list because there are to many to mention. Generally I prefer books by dead artists who haven't published anything for a hundred years or more. Euripides, The Arabian Nights, Cervantes, Herman Melville, Emily Brontë, Proust, Kafka… you get the picture. But even if they were published in the last century they can be OK: Beckett, Nabokov, John Fante, Agóta Krystof and Patrick Modiano come to mind. Modiano is even still alive.
EDIÇÃO COMEMORATIVA | CENTENÁRIO DO SURREALISMO 1919-2019
Artistas convidados: Frank Miller, George Herriman, Grant Morrison, Katsuhiro Otomo, Max Andersson, Moebius, Neil Gaiman, Paul Kirchner, Robert Crumb, Tsuge Yoshiharu
Agulha Revista de Cultura
20 ANOS O MUNDO CONOSCO
Número 140 | Agosto de 2019
editor geral | FLORIANO MARTINS | firstname.lastname@example.org
editor assistente | MÁRCIO SIMÕES | email@example.com
logo & design | FLORIANO MARTINS
revisão de textos & difusão | FLORIANO MARTINS | MÁRCIO SIMÕES
ARC Edições © 2019