Signifikat

Interview April 2009
Abt_Nihil at 2:32AM, April 29, 2009
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The following interview is an edited version - edits signified by “(…)” - of what's to be found in signifikat Book 1 (to be released in May 2009).

Shouting out at the centre of the crowd:
Victoria Rehfeld Smith and Joachim Lipski discuss signifikat.
(April 11th 2009)

VRS: So, I have a bit of a dilemma, because I know you didn't want to repeat too much from other interviews. But, I'm afraid I have to ask the ubiquitous questions like: Please give a short description of what Signifikat is.

JL: Ever since I started signifikat as a webcomic in 2007, the story has been following a road trip of two characters who meet in a bar somewhere at the end of the world. One is Sunhra, a robot girl. The other one never reveals his name, but he's a twenty-something male. They both have issues with their former home, or the place they are coming from, and they try to escape it for different reasons. And they both cling to one another, again for different reasons. We follow their adventures, which are mainly driven forward by Sunhra being chased by the authorities of the city she escaped from. But the bulk of the story centers around the issues between these two.

VRS: Now that the major formality is out of the way, let's get to the good stuff. You seem to use the medium of comics to investigate or experiment with your own philosophical dilemmas (or perhaps that is a strong word, but many of the questions posed in Signifikat seem personal). How does the medium of comic book lend itself to such discussions?

JL: Well, to me it is a very immediate medium. Of course this has to do with my personal dispositions. For others, books will be a more immediate medium, or a blog, or a journal, or the like. But comics allow me a good mix of spontaneity and planning, with signifikat being my most spontaneous comic.

VRS: As someone else who deals in comics, I understand completely.

JL: While all of my comics involve philosophical dilemmas to some degree, signifikat is special in the way that these are less disguised than in my other comics. It is less plot-driven, so to speak.

VRS: That sort of answers my next question. Because I have been wondering how personal Signifikat is to you.

JL: In short: Very. (…) what I do is: I shift some aspects of my actual life by a few degrees, and they become fantasy and science fiction. I hope that is not too metaphoric an answer.

VRS: I think a lot of storytellers do the same. Actually, this transitions well to a question I have about your robots, because I have made an observation about your use of technology and robots, other than the fact that Giant Robots are cool.

JL: There's more to it than that? (laughs)

VRS: This may be from my bad habit of finding symbolism everywhere, but I'll say it anway: a robot is not always just a robot! Each of your characters had varying degrees of relationship with technology. So, Sunhra, who is much more confident in herself as compared to unnamed male, is heavily integrated with machinery, it is a seamless part of her; then we have unnamed male who has control over machinery, but has an extreme failure of control over his human relationships. Nora has completely forsaken that nasty technological stuff, and appears to be the most well adjusted of all of these strange people. You pimp robots out, and they appear more pathetic and more human than their Madame. In part I realize this is your using robots and future sci-fi stuffs as the metaphor. (…) But, I also want to ask, what your opinion is on technology and humanity? How does this all work in your world view as well as the Signifikat world view?

JL: Technology is deeply intertwined with the notion of progress. You might say the complexity or efficiency of technology is the measure of progress. But all of that is also intertwined with rationalization, and rationalization is often taken to be a danger to, well, being human. Just as human beings need to fit into a tight corset at work, because ever since industrialization work is all about rationalization, they must work as if they were machines. As if they were robots. Like a cog in a clockwork. So human beings, in effect, are on the way to becoming robots. But that is not a new view. This is what Charlie Chaplin made a great film about, after all. And today, once again we stress the more neurotic - the less robotic and rational - side of human beings. And as you suggested, signifikat brings together both this neurotic side and the robotic one.

VRS: But don't you think we still value rationality?

JL: I think we do. But I don't think human beings are viewed as potential machines any longer. The extreme rationalization which happened in the 20th century, and its monstrous genocidal nature, tought us that. What was the Third Reich other than an extreme bureaucracy, an extremely rationalized machine which tried to annihilate a whole people? The realization that rationalization can be used as an extremely inhuman force is what lingers on in our collective minds, I think. Of course, this has not halted progress. But these days, rationalization doesn't have humans as objects as much as it did at the beginning of the 20th century.

VRS: So, would you say, in the realm of Signifikat, that rationality won out?

JL: No, just the opposite - signifikat is populated by strange hybrids. They are partly extremely rational (as signified by technology) and partly extremely neurotic and fallible. As you mentioned, some machines are more human than the human characters themselves, and vice versa. So rationality didn't win - it mingled with human nature to form hybrids. Neither human nature nor rationality can be reduced to one another, they will always exist side by side. But of course there is also a merely stylistic consideration in using robots going on in signifikat. As you said, the robots Mrs Wong uses are more reminiscent of humans. And I think we've seen robots being used as, uh, sex-machines, so to speak. Masamune Shirow comes to mind. But what's popular as a genre stereotype are actual mechanical sex dolls.

VRS: Right, they don't talk back.

JL: Only a recent comic called Sky Doll has taken that concept and made the doll truly human. I wasn't aware of that comic when I created the robot hooker. Although I'm sure there were some in Futurama. And probably elsewhere in cyberpunk stories.

VRS: Floozy bots.

JL: Right! So my robot is a bit more pathetic than the dolls we're used to. And that was really my main point. That's mostly a stylistic consideration, making this robot extremely pathetic. But then, it was also a plot point as well - to play off the sadistic doctor.

(…)

VRS: This is one of those discussions that could last longer though, but I think i want to transition from Robots to Anime. Specifically, I want to begin by discussing the prologue. My first impression was that it was a parody of anime. That juxtaposition of raunchy humor, I mean, I can't help but laugh at a girl fighting a tentacle monster… and then those deep questions about life and existence… did you intend this sort of mood? Or did it just happen because of your anime influences?

JL: I'm happy to finally be able to say that it was intentional. Many things in my comics have been happening unintentionally, but this wasn't one of them. I really wanted that old-school anime space opera feeling.

VRS: I appreciate a good parody. And yes, it is quite an epic opening.

JL: I think the parody effect would mostly come from my use of hentai stereotypes, eh?

VRS: Yes.

JL: Good. That was intended too. I knew that signifikat was going to be about sex, so I wanted to prime readers by using this sort of imagery in the prologue - to some comedic effect at first. But at a deeper level, using sexual imagery underscores the fact that I wanted the prologue to read like a myth of creation. A genesis.

(…)

VRS: So, is style to fit the genre of the comic for you, or is it mostly plot driven?

JL: I'd say plot comes first, genre consideration second, and style third. Of course there are exceptions. I don't care about what genre A.D 1997 is at all. But I'm sure Bombshell is a superhero comic. (laughs)

VRS: Drawing comics myself, that's very interesting to me.

JL: You think? I always found genre considerations quite useless when I was younger, so A.D being the oldest of my current comics, it wouldn't involve genre considerations.

VRS: That makes sense. I don't always consider genre so much as the atmosphere I want to convey.

JL: What about plot considerations?

VRS: In that I want to make sure I can draw what I want in the plot, my style may change to suit it, and atmosphere sort of covers plot, in my opinion.

JL: I see. For me, it's more a question of topic. Like, I want to say something about politics - I create Bombshell. I want to say something about sex - I create signifikat. I want to say something about how big business makes the world what it is - I create A.D 1997.

VRS: That's such a strange approach to me! I'm entirely story driven, messages just sort of appear out of nowhere. My subconscious creates these stories to deal with a topic, so I hardly notice the topic until well after the fact.

JL: Well, of course I realize this isn't THE universal approach. There are many reasons for telling stories, and sometimes you just want to dabble in a certain genre. That's fine too. A lot of my comics have that side to them as well. Bombshell is, as I said, clearly a superhero comic. A.D is, at its core, also meant to be coming-of-age and adventure. And signifikat is also fantasy and sci-fi and such.

(…)

VRS: Let’s move on to the next part of the “sexuality in Signifikat” question. The plot part of things. Sexuality seems to have a lot to do with the characters' identity in the story. How does sexuality and identity relate in your philosophy or in the Signifikat philosophy?

JL: You mean you don't already have all that ready for me just like you had that part about technology? (laughs) Just kidding. I just really liked that technology part. But to answer your question: I believe human life to be driven by psychological urges, quite simply. Again, like the Chaplin reference I mentioned earlier, that's an old theory. Some psychologists believe that human needs are structured: some are basic, some aren't, but all of these need to be satisfied to some extent. So I do not believe that sex has some sort of exclusive right as a human need. But it's pretty high up - at some point it's one of the more basic needs. Say, being adequately nurtured and socially embedded are more important needs, most of the time.

VRS: Most of the time. (laughs)

JL: You got something to share? (laughs) But in signifikat I'm dealing specifically with characters who are adequately nurtured - or don't need to be nurtured at all - and whose being socially embedded is rather questionable. So naturally, sex and the need for being socially embedded mingle. Having an identity might be construed as a need too, despite its being more complex in essence. But the connection here might be this: These needs aren't satisfied. Neither the need for a wholesome identity, nor the need for being socially embedded, nor the need for sex. And some needs provide compensation for others. Or rather the fulfillment of some needs - or the pursuit of these. Still, with this sort of answer I make it sound like sex is one among several needs I'm dealing with. This is clearly wrong. Sex is what signifikat is about, I think. But sex is complex too, and it involves social issues and issues of identity. Of course I'm making these characters identifiable by having them portray a certain sexual stance. But that doesn't mean their identity is based on their sexuality in a psychological sense. Rather, it's like an essay where you put several sexual aspects against one another, right? And you do this by illustrating them with specific characters. Or should I say: I do this. (laughs)

VRS: Right. How about we delve a little deeper into identifying: Do you think your readers can identify with your characters? And the situation they are in?

JL: Well, can you?

VRS: I'm embarrassed to say, I totally identify with the nameless guy! If he were female, that is.

JL: And you should be embarrassed! (laughs) What makes you hate your own gender?

VRS: (laughs) Like I said, if it was reversed to a hetero-female. But I also sympathize with his problem, even if I may be offended by how he would deal with me. (…) Did you want him to be that way? Completely unlikeable?

JL: No. I’d be too afraid readers might lose touch of him. Sometimes when I feel I’m making him too unlikeable, I insert little scenes of introspection, which I hope will keep readers hanging on.

VRS: Then you expected him to be unlikeable?

JL: In spite of what I just said, making him as unlikeable as possible was the fun part, actually.

VRS: (laughs) Yeah, I can see that. Making such a character would be a fun exercise.

JL: There are so many times in real life when you force yourself NOT to hold a certain opinion, because it isn't politically correct. Especially with gender issues. So the fun would be doing the exact opposite: stressing all of these non-PC opinions and having them embodied. And in real life I would think: I know better than that. But in fiction - hell, who cares? People might think - like you do now - that this is actually what the author thinks.

VRS: Well, a secret part of the author.

JL: But no, it's just what the author forces himself not to. (laughs)

VRS: (laughs) That's not too far from actually thinking…. just in reverse.

JL: (…) I just hope it doesn't strike a chord with men who hate women. (laughs) And I hope my female characters are strong enough not to prompt the inference that the author hates women, or some such.

VRS: As a female reader, I think you have a good balance, despite the fact that it is from an obvious male perspective.

JL: Good. Nevertheless, your perspective seems to be quite unique too. Maybe what I'm depicting isn't so much about what men think about women, but what one gender thinks about another. It may work in reverse, as you demonstrated. Because the main point the protagonist makes about women is that they neglect him. And that is a pretty universal occurence. It's just displaced hate, really. Meaning, it isn't hatred at all.

VRS: Right. He's just all T_T inside.

JL: Exactly! (laughs)

VRS: I guess that is how I relate!

JL: Aww. We both must look pretty emo right now.

VRS: Ugh, yes. Don't point it out.

JL: Oh, no better way to deal with embarrassment than by talking about it. (laughs)

VRS: Good thing this will be brutally edited. That's all I'm saying.

JL: This last paragraph will be the main center of attention, make no mistake.

VRS: (laughs) Well, I do have a few minor questions. So, I call these the “easy” questions, but they may not be. Who is your favorite character, thus far?

JL: Nora.

VRS: Really? I'm surprised… initially.

(…)

JL: Well, the main character is not really likeable, as we now know. So rule him out. Sunhra is his projection, really.

VRS: Yes, she does just seem an extension of his personality.

JL: Well, and she sort of likes being this projection, whether she would admit it or not.

VRS: (laughs) She would have to, to stick around him for so long.

JL: Yeah, but remember, she wanted to leave the first chance she got. Or rather - when he said he'd dump her. And she wasn't very open to him when he sat down at her table at the very beginning. Some people stick to others no matter what they do to them. This is just my way of saying Sunhra is not such a person.

VRS: Well, who likes rejection? I'd say even prior to she still lasted longer than most anyone would with him.

JL: You think? They had a little conversation, and he did sort of rescue her from “Frankie”.

VRS: Well, maybe she was just using him as a way to escape, and it was merely coincidental, but she had no reason to join him/have him join her. I feel like most women's natural reaction would be to ditch him the moment he rudely sat himself down at the table. It's not like he was exceptionally dashing when he approached her. He was quite weird, really!

JL: Let me add - initially, I think Sunhra isn't a weak character at all. She burns a hole in Frankie's chest; we don't know why he deserved it at this point, but she also advised the others to get out - she cared about them, and most likely her self-imposed exile has to do with not wanting to hurt others. Still, this is some way of running from yourself too, so she's certainly not as “strong” as Nora. Nora only ran from the world because she felt like it. Because she's her own boss.

VRS: Sunhra would be only relatively weak to Nora. The fact that she is able to hold her own against the nameless guy proves her strength, in my opinion.

JL: Right. Still, sometimes I ask myself if the real strength wouldn't be just leaving him wallowing in his self-pity. But coming back to their initial conversation: It is weird in some way. I think it's the key to understanding their relationship. She's cold at first. But she's also strangely giddy.

VRS: All women like the flattery of being noticed, even from complete freaks.

JL: She isn't as, well, savvy as Nora. She's still vulnerable. She's still curious about what that guy sitting down at her table wants. Nora would size him up and know immediately whether she'd want him or not.

VRS: (laughs) Yes, I could see that situation – an alternative beginning.

JL: Right. (laughs) The little girl, Princess and her dad, they are quirky, sure. But they aren't “favorite characters” material to me. The sadistic doctor, well, she's the second mean character after the protagonist. But she isn't T__T inside. She's probably evil. (laughs)

VRS: Yes, I bet the doctor is evil through the core. (laughs) (…) So, how long, or maybe how much longer, is the Signifikat story?

JL: Another three chapters, a total of six, I think. Some dialogues tend to run away with me, so I can't quite say. But certainly less than ten. We'll find out just what Princess is up to and how it relates to Sunhra. And that, of course, will be the end of the protagonist's road as well. The big picture! About to be unveiled! There may be a “signifikat 2” though. With different characters.

VRS: Well, I look forward to them. One more question… will the protagonist really never have a name? (laughs) Not that I could imagine one for him, but still…

(…)

JL: I'll give you a hint… his name's been mentioned somewhere already. In a different context though, so you'll never find out.

VRS: Ah – how evil. So you do have a name. You lied!

JL: Well, “the nameless guy” was just short for “the at-this-point nameless guy”. The name will be revealed early in chapter 4. Look forward to it! It ties into a central theme of the story, actually.

VRS: I expect no less from you. Well, I figured his being nameless was for a good reason.

JL: Thank you. High expectations, I see. Nothing better than a smart reader with high expectations.

VRS: Well, I think you have alot of those, based upon the comments you get.

JL: That is true, and I'm really glad. Might take this time to thank everyone of them!

VRS: Good call. So, I guess this is the end, then. It was very enlightening.

JL: That’s it?

VRS: Yes, I thinks so! Other than I hope this was fun for you!

JL: (laughs) Yes, it was. Thank you so much!




Victoria Rehfeld Smith
is a reader of signifikat, a creator of her own comics and a counterculture spokesperson.


Joachim Lipski is the creator of signifikat and A.D 1997 (both have been featured on drunkduck.com), as well as the superhero comic Bombshell and several minor comic projects. He also occasionally writes and coordinates the community project Heroes Unite, to which he frequently contributes artwork.
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:24AM
JustNoPoint at 7:15AM, Oct. 21, 2009
(online)
posts: 1,321
joined: 3-16-2007
Very nice read! A Signifikat 2? Interesting. I wonder how the formula will change for that one.

As for genre issues, I relate to Abt. I never considered it. I didn't even know my book was a sci fi book until everyone told me it was.

I like the way you approach your comics. Knowing what you want the message to be off hand. I couldn't ever dedicate a whole series to a message. But I do that with chapters too.

Personally I think you could make Ed a LOT more unlikeable XD Nora seems the least interesting because she is so sure of herself and understands what she wants. The other 2 are like lost puppies and it's fun seeing them each trying to one up each other in their attempts to justify their own ideas. It feels more like they are trying to convince themselves and not each other. Ed more so. Sunhra seems to kinda see through this a tad and seems to find it legitimately cute. I am sure she hasn't met a man like him and she seems to have “met” a lot of men.

haha, come to think of it there is no way that Ed can “defeat” Sunhra. Sex is just something she does and doesn't seem to ~need~ it. Unlike Ed who has this idea that he ~needs~ to not have sex. The stakes in “battle” are much higher for him than her. The only thing she loses is probably her interest in him if she succeeded.

Anyway, nice interview the both of you! You should see if they'll post this interview in the interviews board. ^^
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:24AM
Abt_Nihil at 1:05PM, Oct. 23, 2009
(offline)
posts: 1,209
joined: 8-7-2007
JustNoPoint
Very nice read! A Signifikat 2? Interesting. I wonder how the formula will change for that one.
So do I ^__^ I do have some plans, but if signifkat 2 is gonna be anything like its predecessor, making plans won't have much to do with the result.

JustNoPoint
As for genre issues, I relate to Abt. I never considered it. I didn't even know my book was a sci fi book until everyone told me it was.
I'm only saying that while I was working on A.D 1997, and didn't have to think about making any other comics, it was my catch-all-comic. I just poured everything into it. Now that I've got several comics running at the same time, genre considerations do come into play. I started signifikat mostly because I couldn't put signifikat's essence (or rather: the essence of what one day became signifikat) into A.D without distorting A.D too much.

JustNoPoint
I like the way you approach your comics. Knowing what you want the message to be off hand. I couldn't ever dedicate a whole series to a message. But I do that with chapters too.
Thanks. It's not like the message doesn't change while working on the comic. After all, I'm not all-knowing. Making comics is as much a process of gaining knowledge as it's communicating previously acquired knowledge (or what I used to think was knowledge).

JustNoPoint
Personally I think you could make Ed a LOT more unlikeable XD
XD

JustNoPoint
Nora seems the least interesting because she is so sure of herself and understands what she wants.
In her defense I'll have to add that Nora isn't characterized that thoroughly. When I introduced her she was mainly meant as someone Ed couldn't handle. Another type of woman.

JustNoPoint
The other 2 are like lost puppies and it's fun seeing them each trying to one up each other in their attempts to justify their own ideas. It feels more like they are trying to convince themselves and not each other. Ed more so. Sunhra seems to kinda see through this a tad and seems to find it legitimately cute. I am sure she hasn't met a man like him and she seems to have “met” a lot of men.
This seems to be mostly interpretation on your point, but that's fine: Sunhra is in fact (also) some kind of blank slate. As I said in the interview, she's a kind of mirror for Ed - not in the way that she's like him, but in the way that through her he sees himself more clearly. I'd guess that your thinking that she's acquainted with some men is based on her throwing herself at Ed in the western town. At this point I'm not commenting on whether or not your conclusion is true…

JustNoPoint
haha, come to think of it there is no way that Ed can “defeat” Sunhra. Sex is just something she does and doesn't seem to ~need~ it.
Exploring that will be left to the climax… “Climax” as in “episode 6”.

JustNoPoint
Unlike Ed who has this idea that he ~needs~ to not have sex. The stakes in “battle” are much higher for him than her. The only thing she loses is probably her interest in him if she succeeded.
Hm. Again, kinda “climax material”, but I wouldn't be too sure that she's only interested in sex. And I should point out that OF COURSE ED WANTS TO HAVE SEX. He just can't. He wants some kind of sex that doesn't exist. It's tough to get across metaphorically, I hope I can get that cleared up in episode 6.

JustNoPoint
Anyway, nice interview the both of you! You should see if they'll post this interview in the interviews board. ^^
Thanks! It was on the dd news already… and I don't know about criteria for posting it in the interviews board. I guess I could ask…
last edited on July 18, 2011 10:24AM

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