This Fall, Penguin Canada’s Hamish Hamilton will publish a novel The Road Narrows As You Go, based on these pages. Pictured are six years worth of sketches, early drafts, total failures, revisions, rewrites, and research notes. Not pictured is a final draft, completed about a week ago. I’m about to start copy-editing and I’m curious what changes I’ll make with the Penguin team in the final-final edit. Phewf! Already my head feels a little lighter on my shoulders and aches a little less knowing this is the home-stretch.
Decadence Comics is a Euro / London, UK – based independent comic publisher that’s been going for about ten years now, specializing in a style of science-fiction comic that reminds me of the twists and turns in the short stories of France’s master, Moebius, and Japan’s Akira creator, Otomo Katsuhiro, and in a way, these comics also remind me of Canada’s Martin Vaughn-James‘s early-Seventies graphic novel The Cage, a surreal post-apocalypse published by Coach House Press in 1975 and never reprinted. A fluke connection, as I learn. There’s two main artists publishing with Decadence, Stathis Tsemberlidis and Lando. The comics are all printed / Xeroxed on quality paper and handbound with painter’s tape or spine-stapled. Worth a look. Affordable in bundles and fast delivery — shipping from overseas these days is faster than domestic, I find. Very unexpected stories, too, coolly detached POV, cruel twists, and funny ideas, with a wild intense concept of what science-fiction can portray for us. Future classics about the future. Out of curiosity, I asked them about the movie Prometheus, which seems to divide artists and sci-fi fans.
You can tell a Stathis comic by its controlled use of texture dots all over everything, skin, cement, every surface on every panel is meticulously textured with flakes of pollution, toxicity. His comics conflate outer space exploration with the inner life of the unconscious, alternate dimensions of consciousness, and so good, like grime music turned into comics.
Lando’s style is a sweet combination of gestural drawing and connect-the-dots style computer line drawings, and his stories revolve around lonely rebellious broken androids and vivid documentary-style narratives about lost-in-space military platoons — Lando’s stories flicker between images of another galaxy, and direct references to the Western invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan and military alienation.
Both Lando and Stathis take direct aim at the matrix veil covering the Western world’s eyes, blind to our complete immersion in the lie of late-capitalism.
There is a brilliant Stathis comic called Upheaval where he conflates the rioter with the riot police in a psychic science-fiction narrative that makes a portal of the third eye. Stathis is also hellishly prolific for an artist whose every panel requires so much textural noise pollution and mottling — his stories trip between organic imagery, human forms, spacemen, vast landscapes and crystalline shapes acting as maps, portals, and vehicles for extra-planetary inner exploration. Mind lizards, devolution, acid baths are all signatures of Stathis’s comics.
Lando’s Untranslated series is a graffiti-style war between soldiers and aliens that look like emaciated anteaters. Lando’s comic series Island 3 looks prepped to become an epic graphic novel — it has all the existential dread one hopes to read from the best in literature and storytelling. Here is a fast-as-hell Q&A I did with Stathis and Lando via e-mail. The pictures are all care of the Decadence website.
What’s it like where you live?
S- I live between Copenhagen and Athens. Both are very interesting cities.
L- I currently live in the town where I grew up for the moment. Its a commuter town outside of London, mostly built in the last 30 to 40 years. There is a generic style of architecture on my housing estate and some of the surrounding ones which gives it a kinda failed utopia vibe which I still find inspiring.
How many comic artists would you say are working in your Decadence Comics scene?
L- Between 5-10 artists contribute to the anthology. Its just me and Stathis publishing our solo books.
When did you start Decadence and what inspired you to launch Decadence Comics?
S- It started in 2003 when Dave and me were studying animation. It was all these long conversations we had about politics and our common interest for sci-fi films and novels that inspired us to start putting out Decadence.
What’s your drawing studio look like and what’s your favorite tools to work with creating a
S- It a big messy desk with loads of objects lying around. I work with pencils and pens.
L- I sleep, draw, print, make comics, and sometimes make music all in one room so its a mess and in a constant state of flux. I draw on a large lightbox that I built, on cheap photocopy paper with Rotring pens.
Almost all of the comics you publish for Decadence are really coherent and consistent in style and voice and presentation. How long did it take for you drawing comics and coming up with ideas before you found this combination of goods that made you want to start publishing them?
L- My story in decadence #1 was pretty bad…I had always drawn comics but they had been long so I never managed to finish them beyond super rough story boards, or just producing a few pages to begin the story. The Decadence anthologies forced me to figure out much more simpler manageable ideas. There was the challenge of trying to do something in five or six pages. I also started to work in a cleaner line in issue two which I think made my work a lot more readable. I think it was the same for Stathis too as his drawing style was a lot more rough in the early issues, but he gradually started to formulate his clean but ‘noisy’ style.
When I look through the comics you’ve published, a recurring theme throughout them is a kind of science fiction awakening of the pineal gland, whether it is in the distant future, outer space, some other universe, or on top a balding man’s head — the third eye and the lizard brain seem to have a lot of significance to the story lines. Would you say that’s true, that the experience of your comics is partially a study of the deepest brainstem’s desires and identities? Why?
S- Consciousness and matter are entities that form the Cosmos. Brain is the product of billion of years of random transformations of the matter. The universe is finally conscious of its self. The study of the brain is a doorway for a better understanding of human beings and animals. If the lizard brain is the primitive centre that controls the basic survival instincts the opening of the third eye is a metaphor of enlightenment through the use of the frontal lobes which are the more recent revolutionized part of the brain. The balance between the duality of these manifestations might be the key to the survival of humanity. This is a very challenging realm that we both are investigating with our artwork.
A few questions about inspirations, do you listen to music when you draw?
S- Sometimes I listen to music while drawing
L- Yes quite often. Sometimes it can play an important part in the creative process and mindset.
Favorite foods and drinks to have by your side while making comics?
S- I don’t drink or eat while making comics
L- Usually have a coffee in the studio once a day with a muffin or whatever I can find.
Best comic books ever?
S- The Nikopol trilogy, Incal, Akira, Metabarons, Lone Sloane
L- Akira, Memories Otomo collection, Airtight Garage, Grey, Arzak, Memories of outter space.
Most impressive living artist?
S- David lynch, Alexadro Jodorowsky
Won’t miss an issue of what ongoing comic book?
S- Nothing in mind
L-The pulp anthology that serialised Akira in the 90’s but that shits over…
Favorite comic book argument with friends?
S- Never had one.
L- No, The Angouleme festival hates us so we never went other wise we would have definitely tried to see the guru.
Of all the storytellers, the way the comics Moebius made leap from idea to idea with such imagination, and the great twists he can pull off in the final panels, he seems to be a great precursor to what you’re doing. Would you agree?
S- Yes. Moebius and many other European comic artists from that time period expressed a far more complex way of storytelling.
L- It is truly amazing and inspiring what he did with comics. Metal Hurlant was a great format for artists to experiment with ideas in science fiction. But also a lot of the great Sci-fi writers came up writing short stories in pulp digests which also provided this sandbox outlet for ideas but in a different medium.
S- A cheap western propaganda about the fear of the unknown and the alien. The cross as a symbol of Christian faith overpowering the vanity of immortality, physical and mechanical. The monstrous other that carry’s weapons of mass destruction ready to destroy our beloved planet. Hollywood continues to reinforce with multi million dollar films the mirror that creates only reflections.
L- I didn’t bother going to see it
Curious if you ever heard of a graphic novel called The Cage by Martin Vaughn-James? It feels like some kind of strange precursor to your style, very obscure and almost forty years ago…? (below images are by Stathis, not Vaughn-James)
L- Same here. It looks way before its time.
What are some of your touchstone stories, favourite science fiction comics, best art you can’t forget or keep going back to learn from?
S- Starmaker by Olaf Stapledon, Ubik by Philip K.Dick, Brave New World by Aldous Huxley, The Star Diaries by Stanislaw Lem.
L- The Drought, and The Crystal world, as well as the Terminal beach short story collection by J G Ballard. Tarkovsky films Solaris and Stalker and Kubricks 2001 space oddessy
Do you script your comics and do thumbnail sketches and careful planning before you start a new story, or do you just begin by pencilling the panels and take it from there? Like, how much do you plan?
S- I don’t really plan much. I tend to be spontaneous with blending together sketches and drawings into some sort of a storyboard. I am pencilling the panels and finalizing the drawings by tracing them with a pen.
L- I doodle a lot of ideas…never in sketch pads but on large sheets of paper paper usually. Characters or a setting usually emerge and then some key moments. I will then usually try to thumbnail the first 2 or 3 pages, rarely any more then that before I start penciling and inking. I never write anything and it can be a chaotic and uncertain way of working, but this way the story and characters are more alive and real, Often I don’t know how the story is going to end till the last few pages.
Some of your comics, like Upheaval and Olympic Games seem to pull imagery from current events, like the riots and the 2012 games, and use these dramas to take readers in the realms of the unreal, questioning the authority and the dissenter — there’s style to these that would look good on a brick wall — do you wheat paste or look at your city’s graffiti or draw from photojournalism or personal experience?
S- I let my senses open to the world. I like to construct new ideas within my brain by using all this raw material that is out there. The city is a pool of inspiration, I try to keep this flow running without judgements or restrictions. My intuition does most of the job.
L- Real politics and news plays a very important part in my work, as well as my own reality and environment. I am not interested in creating and escapism, but rather try to make work that reflects the present times while looking towards a future or alternate reality.
Do you suspect NASA is about to find evidence of life on Mars?
S- I believe that life is everywhere within the cosmos. I am positive with the idea that there is some sort of microbe organisms living on Mars.
S- Never heard of it.
How would you describe the UK comic scene I mean, is there stuff coming out that you like and stuff you wish didn’t exist?
L- The UK has a very strong community and scene for comics that has evolved a lot in the last few years. Due to the lack of publishers for comics until recently the only option has been to self publish, so there is a very diverse range of comics. We have always been a bit oddball among UK scene and sometimes have found a more receptive audience in the zine and alternative press community.
Do you show your art in galleries or sell your pages?
S- Yes, we are occasionally having exhibitions in galleries and sell original artwork.
Some of your comic titles reference classic conspiracy theories, MK ULTRA, and HAARP, for example. I read the titles almost like fresh science-fiction tropes you’re creating for the Decadence universe, that pineal gland combination of mindfuck, thought control, and violence. What is the most convincing conspiracy theory you’ve come across so far in your research?
S- Rhetorical politics and Capitalist democracy is the most convincing conspiracy theory. The very few elites are managing to control the far more in numbers masses within a total unequal system of power distribution. The masses are accepting this condition for hundreds of years, makes the perfect conspiracy for me.
You’re making an animation based on one of your comics?
S- Actually my latest short sci-fi film called MOA192B is based on a comic story called Protoconscious. Here is the site of the film where u can find all the information about this project.
L- I have an unfinished 20 minute 2D animation that fits in with my Untranslated comics setting that I hope to one day make public.
S- At the moment I am working on a project called Human Body Transmutation and Fauna and I am planning to release all the drawings in a book. We are both collaborating on some ideas and storyboards for a future full length film.
L- We will be putting together the 10th Decadence issue soon, it will be 10 years since issue 1 next year. Im currently working on a story about space exploration and evolution to be in a new anthology being published in Sweden.
Steel Pole Bathtub is my favorite noise rock band from the 90s. Dale Flattum aka CC Nova, did visuals for his band and their other project, Milk Cult, which took the sampling and industrial crunch of their rock outfit and made the kind of music Flying Lotus might like if Milk Cult came out today. In 1993 I went to San Francisco by Amtrak with my friend Seven Brothers, and found some of CC Nova‘s comics in an underground paper I picked up at a Haight bookstore, as well as bought his two latest albums, Miracle of Sound in Motion, and the Milk Cult soundtrack for Love God (best weirdest soundtrack ever recorded?). When I moved to Vancouver the first album I bought at Scratch was C.C. Nova’s Dispatch, a collection of his Satanic vinyl & masking tape experiments. I also found SPBT’s e.p. Lurch on vinyl when I moved to Vancouver. It came with a comic book featuring Flattum’s art and that of some others, including Satan Lee. I have the comic in front of me now. It’s kind of a noisy mix of horror comic tropes, Bay Area punk ‘zine and vinyl insert collage tactics, and a toss of Fluxus fuckery.
A while back I went looking to see who else on the internet has this old comic book, and came across Andrei Molotiu‘s blog attached to his Fantagraphics book Abstract Comics. AC is doing an amazing job covering off almost every size, shape, and concept that artists have employed to rethink the panel form. And the blog features some hi-res scans of the centrepiece of the Lurch comic book, Dale Flattum’s black ink garble narrative treatment of “Hey You.” And there’s so many others surrounding Flattum’s work on the blog that are worth checking at Abstract Comics. It’s become one of my favorite sites.
Here’s a couple more examples from the Lurch comic that I’ve scanned from my own copy… Read the rest of this entry »