The PNP Crew Q&A Series, #4: ANDREZ BERGEN

The PNP Crew Q&A Series, #4: ANDREZ BERGEN

TSMG issue 1_COVER ARTRaising the profile of the people we work with — both creators and admin — next cab off the rank is Australian expat writer/artist Andrez Bergen, in Japan. He’s the man behind the Bullet Gal trade collection and Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat via PNP. Bergen also currently works as the writer of Magpie in Australian zine Oi Oi Oi!, did the Trista & Holt series, and is co-scripter on the upcoming Crash Soirée.

[BTW, if you missed #1 with PNP’s Galo Gutierrez you can check that out here, the one with Matt Kyme here, and #3 with Graeme Jackson here.]

 

Who are you, and what do you do?

I’m Andrez Bergen, from Melbourne (Australia), but based in Tokyo for the past 15 years. I’m a journalist, DJ, author, artist and hack saké connoisseur. I’ve published six novels, wrote and illustrated three graphic novels, and published four comic book series – including Bullet Gal and Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, which are out in the U.S. via Project-Nerd Publishing.

My fiction and comics have appeared through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, All Due Respect, Perfect Edge Books, Dirty Rotten Comics, 8th Wonder Press, Alterna Comics, Open Books, Roundfire Fiction, IF? Commix, Project-Nerd, and Another Sky Press.

I occasionally adapt scripts for feature films by the likes of Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell) for Production I.G in Japan, and on the side make music as Little Nobody and Funk Gadget.

BULLET GAL_US_trade comic collection_cover by Graeme JacksonHow did you become involved with Project-Nerd Publishing?

Ahhh, here you can blame Galo Gutierrez, who’s a huge supporter of Australian indie comics. I met him back in 2014 when he supported the Kickstarter for my graphic novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, and we’ve been tight mates since. He introduced me last year to Iggy at PNP, and things have swung beautifully from there.

Why are indie comics so damned important?

A better question might be: Why aren’t they? Independent anything is where the cutting edge in all arts lie, be it music or comics or fashion; whatever. Being indie means you have the space to make your own artistic decisions, to flex muscles heedless of corporate sales needs, and to push the perimetres.

Who are your favorite three comic book artists?

Too hard to limit myself to three… sorry! From the old school, I’m a huge fan of Jack Kirby, Will Eisner, Jim Steranko, Wally Wood, Tarpé Mills, Steve Ditko, Barry Windsor-Smith, Hergé, Francisco Solano López, Stanley Pitt, Joe Kubert, Jean-Claude Forest, Neal Adams, John Buscema, Alex Toth, Akira Hanasaki, and Kazuo Umezu.

In the ’80s I’d opt for Frank Miller, John Byrne, David Lloyd, Jim Starlin, Katsuhiro Otomo and Garry Leach. More recently? David Aja, Steve Epting, Emma Ríos, Sean Phillips, Michael Lark, Gabriel Bá, Sean Gordon Murphy, Butch Guice, Benjamin Dewey, Christian Ward, Mitsuru Adachi, Darwyn Cooke, Fiona Staples and Fábio Moon.

And then there’re the incredible artists I’ve been blessed to work with: Frantz Kantor, Chris Wahl, Stu Campbell (Sutu), Graeme Jackson, Matt Kyme, Gareth Colliton, Marcos Vergara, Dan Watts, Cristian Roux, Tom Tung, and a bunch of others who keep me mesmerized.

Huh. That’s 44 — and only the tip of the sequential iceberg.

TRISTA + HOLT 7_COVERWhat style/genre of comics do you prefer to read?

I’m into anything, so long as it’s well-written and illustrated. I do like my noir, but I’m equally a fan of good fantasy, sci-fi, comedy, gothic horror, and superhero-related stuff.

One moment I’ll immerse myself in baseball manga by Mitsuru Adachi, while leafing separately through a Criminal episide by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips — and re-reading the Captain America run by Brubaker, Steve Epting and Michael Lark. Over food I love dwelling on Tetsu Kariya and Akira Hanasaki’s Oishinbo (The Gourmet) series.

In terms of your creativity, which styles/genres do you prefer to work with?

Definitely noir/crime, filtered through a veil of dystopia, when I’m doing the art as well. Otherwise, as writer, I’m up for anything — think superheroes, sci-fi, World War I dogfighting, horror, mirth, samurai, whatever.

What is the most innovative, landmark comic book title (or graphic novel) in history?

I think Matt Kyme nailed it when he mentioned Maus, The Dark Knight Returns, and Watchmen. I’d add other Alan Moore romps V for Vendetta and Miracleman, which meant so much to me and still do. Ditto, Will Eisner’s entire run with The Spirit and Stan Lee and Jack Kirby’s initial hundred issues of Fantastic Four.

Frank Miller also pretty much redefined comics for me with his run on Daredevil at the beginning of the 1980s, as did Katsuhiro Otomo’s Akira. Ed Brubaker’s work with artists Steve Epting and Michael Lark on the ‘Winter Soldier’ run in Captain America is nothing short of miraculous. More recently, I’d also go with Matt Fraction’s take on Hawkeye — when he was working in tandem with artist David Aja — and I love Darwyn Cooke’s reappraisal of the Parker novels, especially The Hunter.

I’ve changed, I know. As a child I would’ve cited Hergé’s Tintin and the ‘Hook Jaw’ story in 1970s British weekly Action.

Who is your all-time favorite comic book character? How did he/she/it achieve this status?

Picking the greatest comic hero isn’t as easy as it sounds, especially when you’ve grown up with four-color and monochrome feats of derring-do. Worthies like the Batman, Judge Dredd, the Phantom, Wolverine, Captain Haddock and Beast all had their moment in the sunroom of my nostalgia.

Captain America figured more strongly in this personal decision — especially how he was portrayed in the 1960s by (mostly) Jack Kirby and then, briefly, by Jim Steranko, sprouting out words by these artists in collaboration with Stan Lee.

The Captain America they reinvented in the swinging ‘60s swayed me with his personality, not so much his wardrobe. A man displaced, out of his time, looking to fit in — a humble fellow, once weak but now blessed with strength (not too much), who wants to do the right thing but is coming to grips with guilt related to the death of his partner. The world has changed and he doesn’t understand it — reflecting the crisis of confidence in the U.S. at the time. Even though Cap may be old-fashioned, he’s a symbol of hope — for everybody — and maintains that despite all the evil lobbed his way.

At the opposite end of the spectrum, Superman never quite rated.

In my novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, central character the Brick also rules out the Kryptonian, probably because I penned his lines: “If Superman falls off of a skyscraper nobody cares, since the bastard’s invulnerable. But if Daredevil takes the same plunge, equal chance he survives or is dead-meat. Human condition, an’ all that.”

Mentioning the Brick also brings me full circle to the Greatest (comic book) Hero I eventually chose.

The Thing, by Dan Watts

The Thing, by Dan Watts

You see, the Brick was heavily influenced by another Kirby/Lee concoction from 55 years ago: The Thing, a.k.a. Benjamin J. Grimm, a former American college football star, test pilot, and founding member of the Fantastic Four in 1961.

This is a superhero who never chose to be one, a pug-ugly slab of rock that lacked the debonair looks of Tony Stark or Bruce Wayne. As my dad would declare (in Aussie spelling), he’s as ugly as a bucketful of arseholes, and is bitter about his transformation — one caused by his best mate Reed Richards’ over-zealous rocket ship mission and the cosmic rays that infiltrated their craft.

This man knows he’s been altered into an orange gargoyle and over the course of the next decade Grimm struggles with inner demons — but that’s just the icing on the melodramatic Danish. Even more important are his physical metamorphosis, under Jack Kirby’s increasingly assured hand, over the next 50 issues (from frog-like blobbiness into one of Marvel’s best-known, coolest icons) and the sense of humor that he displays during fisticuffs — no better so than in a remarkable bout with the Hulk in Fantastic Four #25 (April 1964). We have blue-eyed Benjamin’s best ever one-liners and mesmerizing scrappery that destroys several city blocks, along with a speedboat, a bus, and a bridge.

I never get tired of this one.

 

Andrez; photo by wife Yoko

Andrez; photo by wife Yoko

Undercutting the mirth is the melancholia — the Thing’s search for his lost humanity, self-doubts, and worries about his brute strength harming others. Hallmarks here? For starters Fantastic Four #51 (June 1966), for me one of the best ever issues of the superpowered quartet, subtitled ‘This Man… This Monster!’ A Jack Kirby cover, with the King’s art inside inked by Joe Sinnott, wrapped perfectly around Stan Lee’s (and most likely also Kirby’s) words. And what a yarn of angst and redemption it is.

If Shakespeare did comic books, this is the stuff he would’ve created — with phrases like “Oh, it is excellent to have a giant’s strength, but it is tyrannous to use it like a giant!” in some huge word bubble, rejigged with a tough, Delancey Street twang.

Actually, natch that.

The Thing would simply declare, “It’s clobberin’ time!”

Why is the readership of comics important?

Because it’s fun? Also s’posed to be good for the ol’ brain.

Who’s your favorite non-comic book artist, and why?

A shared award between Terry Gilliam, Marcel Duchamp, and Alice and Martin Provensen — because I love their work, and they changed the way in which I look at art.

Who’s your favorite three comic book writers, and why? Which titles of theirs are the best, so far as you’re concerned?

Easy, if we go with recent cats, and can I opt for four?

I mean, I love past masters like Eisner and Tarpé Mills, and earlier work by Frank Miller and Alan Moore. But over the past decade I’d go with Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Kelly Sue DeConnick, and Kurt Busiek.

Fraction’s done crazily cool stuff with Hawkeye, Casanova, ODY-C, and Sex Criminals. There were some issues of Hawkeye and the recent ‘Acedia’ instalment of Casanova that have blown me away.

He and Brubaker killed it with The Immortal Iron Fist, and I’m a huge Brubaker fan in general. He’s probably my fave comic book writer — think Velvet, The Fade Out, Criminal, the first series of Incognito, and his runs on Captain America and Daredevil. I think The Marvels Project is one of the most underrated things out there. Wow.

DeConnick has rocked it with Pretty Deadly and Bitch Planet, and I’m such an admirer of Busiek’s work with Astro City and The Autumnlands.

Magpie, art by Frantz Kantor

Magpie, art by Frantz Kantor

What are your creative plans for the future — what can we expect from you?

I have a novelization of my comic book Bullet Gal coming out in around September, via Roundfire Fiction in the U.K. I’m also currently working on three serialized comics: Magpie, with artist Frantz Kantor, Crash Soirée with Graeme Jackson, and Onna Bugeisha — where I’m sharing art duties with Gareth Colliton.

Through Project-Nerd Publishing we’re about to publish #2 of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat, and #1 of Trista & Holt should be happening down the line. The novelized version of Trista & Holt — named Black Sails, Disco Inferno — was in fact just published via Open Books.

I have a one-off short with artist Chris Wahl in the next Alterna Comics IF anthology, another (possible) piece for Dirty Rotten Comics in the U.K., and I just finished a mad sci-fi jaunt with Stu Campbell, a.k.a. artist Sutu for Comicoz in Australia.

Who’s your favorite non-comic book writer, and why? Which book of his/hers is the best, so far as you’re concerned?

Again, too difficult to narrow down to a solo effort. I’m a major-league fan of Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Keigo Higashino, Ross Macdonald, Michael Chabon, Patrick deWitt, Neil Gaiman, Gabriel García Márquez, Philip K. Dick, Angela Carter, Joseph Heller, Nicholas Christopher, Isabel Allende, Ray Bradbury, James M. Cain, Richard Matheson, Umberto Eco, Ryū Murakami. Sometimes for one single book. Often (think Hammett, Chandler and Macdonald) for many.

oioioi_page_01The future of comic books — what’s really going to happen in this industry?

I’m with Graeme Jackson on this: check out Sutu‘s work with Augmented Reality — there’s a reason the guy was nominated for an Eisner and cleaned up at Australia’s Ledger Awards. Mind-boggling stuff.

What’s the freshest, greatest comic book title this year?

I actually just got it in the mail this week — Bipp & Trax, which is written and illustrated by fellow Aussie Dan Watts. Think 30 x 11 cm of madcap bliss. The dimensions are cool, the characters beautiful, there’s a great sense of humor throughout. And I adore Dan’s art. Simple as that.