Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Interview: Andrez Bergen (author of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA?)

Having just published the noir/superhero romp Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, Bergen is currently putting out an anthology of short stories and comics by himself and other writer/illustrators relating to the dystopia of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (2011).

Bergen makes music and videos under aliases Little Nobody, Slam-Dunk Ninja, and Funk Gadget, he ran indie/experimental record label IF? for fourteen years, he creates the occasional comic, and he's a self=professed amateur saké connoisseur. 

Bergen is married to Japanese artist Yoko Umehara, and they have a daughter, Cocoa.

Find more at: facebook.com/andrezbergenauthor

Andrez was kind enough to stop by the blog to answer some questions about his latest book, Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? and comics in general.

(Josh) Your love for the graphic medium of story telling is apparent throughout WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? At what stage did you turn to the longer form of fiction?

(Andrez) I think I've loved both mediums since I was a kid. Comics were the easy romp I spent a half-hour or so reading on the floor, but books were long haul stuff so I’d find somewhere more comfy. And much as I dig graphic novels and comic books when great writer/artist combos do them, I like the idea of allowing my imagination a wider wingspan while reading a book with no pictures.

What was the inspiration for your latest novel? Superheroes are a niche market yet this works on so many levels (noir, detective, mystery, Sci-Fi), was it a conscious decision to make this diverse to capture more readers or was it something that naturally evolved throughout the writing process?

Simple response first — the big motivator came two years ago while I was visiting my mum back in Melbourne, and while cleaning up the odds and ends I store with her I stumbled across an old sketch I did for a character I created in high school called Southern Cross. While the costume was original, if passé 1980s, the drawing wasn’t. It was a mirror-rip of Jack Kirby’s superb cover picture for Captain America #102 (1968) — and straight away I remembered just how passionate I used to be about comics and how much various creators like Kirby, Jim Steranko, Stan Lee, Barry Windsor-Smith, Steve Ditko, John Buscema, Frank Miller and John Byrne affected me when I was growing up.

The book pretty much wrote itself. It was always intended to branch out of the near future dystopia of Melbourne that I explored in Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, but aside from that I set myself no perimeters. Since I came up with the title early (it’s a play on the 1978 George Segal film Who is Killing the Great Chefs of Europe?) I kind of had no choice but to make this a murder-mystery as well.

As for the old school noir elements... well, I think anyone who knows me understands how much I love Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett and James M. Cain.

Fusing them all together i something I have no problem with. I learned this making electronic music, when I refused to let myself be categorized as techno, tech-house, house, trip-hop, experimental, or whatever — by throwing the lot together into one stainless steel cocktail shaker.

The resultant concoction can be a right mess, but sometimes it brews just right.

I love the dystopian Melbourne setting briefly touched upon as Jacob finds his way to Heropa. You introduced this in one of your earlier novels, should readers first read TOBACCO-STAINED MOUNTAIN GOAT to gain an appreciation of Melbourne?

Thanks, Josh. Feels like Melbourne's made for the role!

I am only kidding round. I love Melbourne. I think it would help to have read that book, but I doubt this is essential — it’s a big ask and a wee bit cheeky getting people to read three or four of your novels. By having a look at Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat you do gain a better understanding of the status of Melbourne and the rest of the world, along with the environmental problems, the politics and the oppressive police state that robbed Jacob of his parents. It goes further into technology like idInteract gaming and the proliferation of plastics.

With Heropa we venture back there but I didn’t to rehash the details since Melbourne plays second fiddle to Heropa, and the background — the whys — weren’t important to the unfolding tale.

The again, perhaps because he hadn’t read any of the prior books, a reviewer recently complained about a lack of world-building going on in Heropa. I couldn’t sworn I put a lot of energy into expanding upon this digital city and the rules prevailing there...

At the end of the novel, you mention some of your favourite comic issues. Of the plethora of heroes to choose from, who are your favourite characters (The Thing, Wonder Woman, and Cap are obvious inspirations for the characters in Heropa)?

Good call, and you’re spot on — the Thing and Captain America do vie for top billing in my headspace, but it does come down to the artists involved. For me Kirby and Joe Sinnott created the perfect Thing in the mid ‘60s, while Cap sparkled in the hands of first Jack Kirby and Syd Shores in around 1968, and then Jim Steranko for all-too-brief a time. The stories involving these guys were patchy, but one of my all-time favourite comic books is Fantastic Four #51 (1966), in which the Thing shines — and for the better part of the book it’s not actually Benjamin Grimm.

I also really dug Wolverine when John Byrne and Chris Claremont handled him in 1979-80.

Funnily enough I was never all that enamoured with Wonder Woman. Of the DC roster I preferred the Flash (when he was still Barry Allen) and Batman in his various incarnations, from the whacked-out 1950s to Frank Miller’s spin in 1986.

I think when it comes to female superheroes I prefer Japanese manga and anime, people like Major Motoko Kusanagi from Ghost in the Shell, Battle Angel Alita, PreCure and Sailor Moon.

When I was younger I was moved by the path that Byrne and Claremont took with Jean Grey in X-Men, leading up to her death in 1980, but there’ve been so many similar routes taken in comic books since, a lot of them plotted by these same guys, that the power of the finale (#137) has waned.

Talking about comics and superheroes, the golden age of comics is most collectors’ favorite age. What do you think of the recent reboot of DC (New 52) and Marvel (Marvel NOW)?

For me it's the silver age, particularly Marvel in the 1960s that holds sway — though I grew up with and respect much of the bronze age stuff from the 1970s and ‘80s. I also appreciate the inroads and development phase of comic books from the 1940s.

Which brings me to more recent comic books and the reboots. I’m not going to get all grouchy (and old!) and say it’s nonsense, but to be honest I’m not particularly interested. I have read recent comics, mostly Marvel — things like All-New X-Men by Brian Bendis and  Stuart Immonen (I loved the concept of bringing back the original team, and it's created some interesting possibilities).

I also checked out the rejig of Captain Marvel by Kelly Sue DeConnick, which was cool, and some issues of the reformed Avengers.

Still, nothings really grabbed me. Maybe the glossiness of it all — and the exorbitant cover prices —overwhelm my pickled brain? P’raps I’m missing something. But I’d prefer to kick back and read Essential Fantastic Four Vol. 2 (in black-and-white on crap newspaper-print paper), old issues of Judge Dredd, or one of Tintin’s romps with the gloriously drunk Cap’n Haddock.

There's a big push in comics to bring back the pulp classics of yesteryear (largely thanks to Dynamite), could you see yourself writing a monthly at some stage and follow the footsteps of authors such as Duane Swierczysnki, Victor Gischler, Jason Starr etc. who have all written great books (comic and novel alike)?

Yep, I noticed Dynamite brought back Tarpé Mills’ Miss Fury, one of my favourite golden age comic books (that’s why in the novel Louise has a doll named Tarpé). I’m right into the idea. And I’d dearly love to do a monthly comic — that was my dream back in high school, though at that stage I saw myself as an Orson Welles wannabe who ran the whole show, from writing to art and production. These days I’m more aware of my artistic shortcomings, so hammering out sentences would be fine.

I've actually been working on a few noir-based sequential art short stories over the past couple of years, eking the words for artists like Michael Grills (Runnin’ With a Gun), Drezz Rodriguez (El Cuervo) and Nathan St. John (Baja). These are finally being released - most of them this morning via an anthology I put together with fellow Aussie scribe Guy Salvidge for Another Sky Press in the U.S. This book's called The Tobacco-Stained Sky and brings together a lot of writers and artists looking afresh at the near-future, rain-washed dystopia of Melbourne. Again.

And I'm publishing my first comic book next month (October) in collusion with fellow Melburnian Matt Kyme (That Bulletproof Kid), who did the art. This comic will be 25-pages in full colour — titled Tales to Admonish. Yes, it’s a play on the famous Marvel title (Tales to Astonish) from the late 1950s, and Matt’s artwork roves from classic golden age to silver and on into a modern sensibility — or lack of it. We put this issue together, from scratch, in about two months. The guy is a whirlwind to work with, and it’s been a hell of a lot of fun.

More, please!

I found myself deliberately slowing down as I came towards the end of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? because I didn’t want it to end, any chance of a sequel/series? Southern Cross and co. certainly have series value.

Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?Ha Ha Ha... a few people have asked me that now, and that was never my intention. Once I finish a novel I like to leave the finale open-ended, more for the reader to imagine a continuation in any way he or she sees fit rather than to leave myself room to do a sequel.

But all three novels I've written are related, and I have explored the characters further in short stories and now sequential art form — in the comic I mention (Tales to Admonish) there’s actually a Heropa prequel tale featuring Sir Omphalos (the Big O).

I have since thought about possible avenues (sequel/prequel/offshoot) but nothing solid has come to mind as yet. I’d certainly like to update Southern Cross’ union suit.

By the way, thanks for telling me that. It was really nice to hear you didn’t want to depart this world so quickly. Neither did I, to be honest. 

Lastly, what can readers expect from Andrez Bergen in the future? Any books currently in the works?

Well, I mentioned the anthology out in September, The Tobacco-Stained Sky — which I have a few stories inside, but it also features people you’d know like Josh Stallings, Paul Brazill, Liam José and Gerard Brennan. It’s up for pre-order at Another Sky Press and is diabolically cheap: $5.46 plus postage for the trade paperback (http://anothersky.org/asp/in-print/the-tobacco-stained-sky/).

I also have the comic book Tales to Admonish being printed up and published in Australia by October. We have a Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/talestoadmonish

Otherwise I'm trying to decide the next novel.

I'm tossing up between a contemporary procedural set in Japan called The Mercury Drinkers, but think I’ll shelve that for now and do a DC/Marvel reboot thing of an old manuscript I last fiddled with in 1993. It’s titled Well, Actually, My Favourite Colour is Red.

And a nice long kip would be good.

You can read my review of WHO IS KILLING THE GREAT CAPES OF HEROPA? here:

http://justaguythatlikes2read.blogspot.com.au/2013/08/review-who-is-killing-great-capes-of.html

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