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The Official Bryan Talbot fanpage / Articles

Alberto Conte interview


Question 1
Let me start easy, asking you to mark some quick biographic notes and the more significant steps of your brilliant career, with more attention for the work from 1998 till the present time.

BT: While I was growing up, I'd make comics for my own amusement but my first published work was in British Underground and Independent comics, mainly in BRAINSTORM COMIX, starting in 1975. In 1978 I began writing and drawing THE ADVENTURES OF LUTHER ARKWRIGHT for NEAR MYTHS.
By 1980 I was doing a lot of mainstream magazine illustration and a couple of serialised single page strips and the following year I finished the first volume of ARKWRIGHT.
Then I worked for the British SF weekly comic 2000AD for about 5 years, drawing NEMESIS THE WARLOCK and sometimes JUDGE DREDD before returning to ARKWRIGHT to do the second two volumes.

I worked for DC comics for a few years as an artist, notably on SANDMAN, THE NAZZ and HELLBLAZER. I also wrote and drew MASK, a 2 part BATMAN story for LEGENDS OF THE DARK KNIGHT.

THE TALE OF ONE BAD RAT was my next graphic novel, followed by the sequel to Arkwright, HEART OF EMPIRE, which was published in 1998. Since then, I've drawn a 4 part DEAD BOY DETECTIVES miniseries and an issue of FABLES for DC, done several book and cover illustrations and a fully painted 12 page strip for 2000AD but have mainly been researching, writing and drawing my next graphic novel, ALICE IN SUNDERLAND.

I also spent about 4 months working on the HEART OF EMPIRE CD-Rom.

Question 2
Concerning the creative process, It’d be interesting to know your modus operandi. You project before a classic storyboard, or you proceed page after page, following the inspiration of the moment? Maybe you start from the characters? Some people get inspiration by music: is that your case?

BT: I get inspiration from anything! When you're involved heavily in a project, you relate everything you see or hear or touch to it!

I think a lot about my graphic novels before starting them - usually for a few years. By the time I come to work on the plot I have a basic shape in mind but I work on the structure for a very long time. It has to be rock solid before I even begin to work on the script. By this time, I'll also have a large collection of notes and scribbles, which I'll include or discard, depending on how it goes. After the structure is built, scene by scene, then I storyboard the whole book with thumbnail sketches and write the first draft of the script in pencil, alongside the sketches, at the same time. Comics are words and pictures working together - they have to develop together. Next is to type the script out, polishing it so it becomes the second draft. As I'm working on the artwork, the script will be altered several times until I think it is right.

Usually I then pencil the whole book (120 pages with BAD RAT, 300 with HEART OF EMPIRE). This means that it's easy to alter or correct things over the entire book - I can return to earlier pages to add or change things before I ink it all. In between the pencils and the inks, I'll do a full text placement guide for the letterer. Lastly I do the colours - either painting it myself or doing full colour guides if I'm working with a colourist. I also work this way when I draw comics written by other people.
With ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, I'm still working on the drawing board but composing it all on computer. I've structured it and written the script (which is going through countless additions and changes) but am completing the artwork page by page. Much of it is my artwork collaged with other material – photographs I’ve worked on digitally, old prints, maps etc. I’m also doing the colour and the lettering.

Question 3
Going deep into technical details: It seems that colour and black/white techniques have no secrets for you: which one do you like the most and how many pages, pencilled and inked, can you produce every month?

BT: I enjoy reading and working in both colour and black and white. My first 5 years was spent doing completely black and white strips. Although most of my work since then has been in colour, with the occasional B/W short strip, my current project, ALICE IN SUNDERLAND, is a mixture of B/W, colour and monochrome.

The number of pages I produce per month varies quite a lot, depending on if it’s in a cartoon or a realistic style, depending whether it’s colour or B/W or depending on how it’s inked – there’s a huge difference in time consumption, for example, between multilayed crosshatching or a simple line. So the answer is anywhere in between 30 and 8!

Question 4
Sometime in the past you’ve changed your style to serve the atmospheres of a story or better define the characters: are you looking to a particular direction at this moment?
BT: Absolutely. ALICE IN SUNDERLAND is unlike anything else I’ve done, so the whole style of the book is different. It’s not one story but dozens – in fact the book is about storytelling, myth and history - so the look has to reflect this. Although all the artwork is visually consistent – it’s still recognisably mine - the style or technique changes for each section. And, as I’ve mentioned, this involves changes between black and white, mono or duochrome, and colour artwork, line drawing, watercolour painting, digitally coloured artwork and collage. And the layouts vary from conventional 9 or 6 panel grids and full page illustrations to multiple image pages.

Question 5
In your stories the oneiric theme is recurrent, sometime as an element of revelation, sometime as a dimension further than the so-called reality (Luther Arkwright and your story for the Bat confirm this analysis): which peculiar importance has this theme for you and can you explain that?
BT: No, not really but, like you said, it’s often been there in my work, from the underground comics onwards. My first published comics were psychedelic adventure stories (already an established genre then) of which the plot was basically ALICE IN WONDERLAND: the hero, Chester P. Hackenbush, would go on a hallucinogenic trip and return to reality at the end. I’m now doing a graphic novel about Alice so I’ve come full circle now! There’s only one 2 page dream sequence in BAD RAT, though the book is about the artistic imagination and, as such, has flights of fancy.

Question 6
The future is another of your recurrent themes: through far echoes from 1984, your vision seems to prepare us to worst. War, dictatorship, hunger: nothing seems to change better…
BT: No, and the way the world is going at the moment. It looks as if it’ll be far worse. One of the functions of Science Fiction is to sound a warning, with the hope that these dark futures can be averted. But it is a little like a feeble voice crying again the inevitable injustices of life. You can point out the stupidity and horror of industrial pollution and war but it does seem to stop it happening.

Question 7
Can you tell us about your favourite artists, penciller or writer, and some new talent that you think will have a brilliant future, and you’d like to work with?
BT: I love the work of many comic creators. Just a few: Leo Baxendale, Hunt Emerson, Robert Crumb, Moebius, Schuiten, Hugo Pratt, Milo Manara, Vittorio Giordino, Jack Kirby, Herge, Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Art Spiegelman, Posy Simmons, Jeff Smith, Alfred E. Bestall, Brian Bolland, Glen Fabry, Al Davison, Joe Sacco…oh, lots!

I recently met Ricardo Liniers at the comics festival in Amadora. He’s an Argentinian artist who does a daily colour newspaper strip over there – very surreal and very funny. He’s brilliant but nobody outside of Argentina has heard of him. I’ve just put him in touch with Fantagraphics books, so I’m hoping that they are going to publish his work in English.

I prefer writing and drawing my own material, rather than collaborations but it would always be good to work with Alan Moore again.

And I have a great concept and plot for an erotic graphic novel that would be ideal for Milo Manara. If you know him, let him know!

Question 8
What’s your opinion about the current state of the American and world comics market, looking to the recent political and economical changes over the last twelve months?
BT: I don’t tend to read many comic news fanzines, so I’ve no idea what state it’s in right now. I know that, generally in Britain and the U.S., sales of monthly comicbooks have been declining over the last few years but sales of graphic novels have been growing, which I think is a good thing. Most bookshops and libraries now have a graphic novel section. I think that’s a good sign for the future. I can’t see that the recent political situation has had an impact on the world of comics – though perhaps you can tell me how?

Question 9
You’ve been several time in France and in Italy : what do you like of this two country, and which kind of visual inspirations do you get from these countries and cultures, so different one to another?

BT: I love visiting both countries and like very much the people, the food and the architecture and how they differ from each other and from Britain The first scene of HEART OF EMPIRE is set in Rome, which was a sequence inspired by my first visit there. Other statues and pieces of architecture I photographed in Italy and France were drawn as parts of the fantasy London in the story. In “Victory Square” (the equivalent of Trafalgar Square) I placed the steps from the side of the Vittorio Emmanuelle building and a fountain from the centre of Bologna. In the Imperial Palace, there’s works of art from the Louvre. These are very obvious examples of visual inspiration but there must also be an influence on my drawing style from reading Italian and French comics, which I find harder to pinpoint as it’s hard to look at your own drawings objectively. I do tend to use a thick, clear outline quite a bit, influenced by Liberatore and Vittorio Giardino.

Question 10
Many people say that comics would die, killed by technology progress and videogames : what’s your opinion about that?

BT: Videogames are different from comics. Someone who loves reading Hugo Pratt books, for example, wouldn’t regard playing a computer game as an alternative to them but something very different. They’re not exchangeable. Where videogames can steal an audience though – where they can be viewed as a more attractive alternative – is when compared to superhero comics. Why read about superheroes when you can be one in virtual reality?

Question 11
Concerning again technology, which type of approach you have to computer graphic in your works?

BT: With Alice, I’m drawing the usual way, on the drawing board, but then scanning it in and composing, lettering and colouring each page on computer.
Do you appreciate the way it changed the production of comics?
BT: It’s certainly improved the colouring of American and British comics. The old method of colouring looked terrible! It’s also good to do the lettering, in my own font taken from my hand lettering. I don’t think that it makes anything faster though – I find that I spend more time on a page, as with a computer there’s a strong temptation to carry on changing and playing around with the art way past the point you would do if you were just dealing with ink on paper.

Question 12
Mr. Eisner has left. Can I ask you a little thought about the man and his work?

BT: I thought he was brilliant, a great innovator and a great storyteller. I’ve met him several times, in different countries, and always found him to be warm, down to earth and intelligent. I only saw his work for the first time when the Warren editions of the SPIRIT strip were published in the 1970s, so he wasn’t as strong an influence on me as, say Jack Kirby, who I was reading from an early age. Will’s constant experimentation with the medium did have a big influence on me though and I hope that I’ll continue evolving as an artist as he did.

Question 13
When do you think you’ll be back in Italy? Any chance to see some of your latest work published here?
BT: I don’t know! Ask my Italian publisher, Comma 22!


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