The following interview was conducted by Maciej “Fitz” Ficner (writer/artist of “A Bit Cheesy”) on June 15th 2008.
The full version of this interview can be read in A.D 1997 Vol.1, on sale July 2008.
FITZ: The microphones are on, the tape is rolling. My first question is: how would you describe AD 1997 in just a few words?
JL: The toughest question up front? Well, A.D 1997 is a coming-of-age drama with sci-fi elements, playing up social issues I find interesting. On the surface, it's about a high.school student named Naomi Bowman who gets involved in a corporate murder mystery.
FITZ: *Don King voice* “A young girl… A big city… An ominous corporation… Gigantic robots… It's 1997. Will there be a 2000?”… *clears throat* Exactly: Why 1997? Is it your favorite year? Any particular reason?
JL: I started writing A.D in the year 2000 actually, and 1997 had left a lasting impression on me. By now I've forgotten most of the reasons why… but the one reason I'll never forget is I was brushed off by a girl for the first time. And to make sure I'd never forget I chose this year for the title. But of course there's a deeper and more rational reason… I wanted A.D to play in the close past. But I really could have picked any year.
FITZ: The story looks pretty epic at this point already - with the 6th episode in progress as we speak. But you're just warming up, aren't you?
JL: Yes. If it's up to me I'll have at least three times as many episodes, and I haven't played many of my cards yet.
FITZ: Have you got all them scripted already?
JL: No. I don't script ahead too far. I wouldn't write the actual script more than an episode in advance, at least at this point. I hope to change that in the future though. I've got all the major turning points mapped out, as well as the character developments, plus the general “themes” of the individual episodes. That is, I have a sort of episode guide complete with titles, combined with a rough map of where the story is headed, and I'm working from that.
FITZ: I find it intriguing how you didn't “start from the beginning”. You drew episodes 3 to 5 before drawing episodes 1 and 2…
JL: As I said, I have the overall storyline mapped out, and I've had that road map since the very beginning, all the way back to 2000 or 2001. But when it came to starting to draw the comic itself, I felt I still missed too much of the big picture to be able to start scripting the first two episodes, which I always considered the pilot to the series. These first two episodes are naturally supposed to establish most of what I'd build on in the first third of the series. But at that point I didn't really know what I would have to establish, so I chose to just start smack-dab in the middle of this first third… which would be the story arc which ended up comprising episodes 3 to 5. I was able to write these because I knew the characters themselves pretty well, I was simply lacking the exact account of events I wanted to put them through. So I just tried it out… I wrote some of these events, and then went back and figured what I would need to establish as a backdrop. And this backdrop was then included in the first two episodes.
FITZ: An epic project indeed, then. Makes “Faust” look like a homework assignment! Speaking of which, there's a lot of “poetic” philosophy in AD 1997. Considerations of human nature and perception of reality, quotes from Nietzsche, even. What thinkers and ideas inspired you the most?
JL: I guess I've always been drawn to ideas about the mind's nature… the complex thing we sometimes call “awareness”, or “consciousness”, or even “spirit”. To explore facets of mental phenonema, as they were known to me back in 2000, when I had just graduated from school, was my explicit goal even back then. But subsequently it was further influenced by lectures and seminars at university, many of them revolving around mental phenomena. So what I'm doing is, I combine several scientific viewpoints of the mind, mostly philosophy and psychology. Nietzsche quotes and the like are mostly happy accidents which I stumble across in everyday life. But… as for thinkers, I can't really say. I take many into consideration, but there's not one I'd pick out specifically. Wittgenstein was important for my personal development - for my making up my mind about the “mind”. But his influence hasn't so far been felt in A.D much, I'd say. Open influences would rather go back to great directors or artists whose work I enjoyed.
FITZ: Speaking of influences, who are your favorite artists? There are some obvious inspirations with manga - including the big-eyed, red-haired heroine and giant mecha robots. Who or what, would you say, shaped your art the most? Could you name some favorite cartoonists, comics or animated movies?
JL: I could name more than would be reasonable in this space… I'll just sketch out some major influences. First off, when I was a kid I was heavily influenced by Belgian cartoonists like Herge, Peyo and the like… mostly by AndrÃÂ© Franquin probably. Secondly, to this very day Carl Barks remains one of the greatest comic artists I've ever known - as a writer, as an artist, and as a sequential storyteller. It's not just about style in either of these criteria… there's something like a humanistic sensibility to his work. Maybe I'm overinterpreting here, but both his depiction of everyday life in Duckburg, as well as the way many of his stories stretched across the whole globe, they both influenced me heavily. To this day I love both the slice-of-life aspects in storytelling as well as the adventurous, explorative, to-boldly-go aspects. Thirdly, I read quite a lot of superhero comics. I wouldn't say I'm a big fan of superheroes - as a genre -, but I do read a lot for some reason. The reasons behind this are probably abundant - from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles to pseudo-superhero-shows I watched as a kid, but the most important reason is the work of genius that was the '92 Batman Animated series. For me it remains another stellar work to this day. Its head designer Bruce Timm may be one my most important artistic influences. And finally, I did get around to watching a lot of anime in my late teens, and I still do. Again, I'm not a big fan of anime in general - but that only means that compared to the overall output of the anime industry, or even just the major blockbuster productions, I watch comparatively little. But the works of Studio Gainax and Studio Ghibli, among others, have been a great influence.
FITZ: What's your preferred mode of work - and what are your tools of choice?
JL: I'm quite conservative about it all, I guess. I used to work with ink until 2001, but it proved to be quite messy and cumbersome. So in 2001, when I completed one comic and thought about starting the next, I kind of changed to my “guerilla mode” of drawing comics… which is half the size I used to work at, using easy-to-handle pens. This way I can draw a bit even if I only have five minutes at my disposal, which would be impossible using ink, where you have to set up the whole workplace first. So in the end I work on DIN A4-size paper. I sketch the page out with a pencil, then ink on top of it with a Staedtler 0.3 pen. I've been adding gray tones using Photoshop since 2006, when I started episode 1.
FITZ: Do you draw everything “from the head” or do you prefer to have reference photos at hand. Do you base the look of buildings - and your trademark detailed panoramas - on real-life places?
JL: I draw almost everything “from the head”. There was one instance - the airport in episode 1 - where I had actually planned to go to Munich airport and make sketches so everything would be appropriate; but in the end it never happened, and the airport scene got shorter and shorter, and in the end I drew everything “from the head”. So all these panoramas you're probably referring to were done without any reference at all. I think the only exception in the whole comic up till now is the end of episode 2, where Naomi crashlands in a building… this building was modelled after the university I'm attending. I shot photos for these two or three pages. (pauses) Oh, wait – Jack's home is modelled after my own. The part of it that I drew in episode 3 is the one I see from my drawing table - man, I am so lazy! (laughs)
FITZ: (…) you've been working on AD for quite some time now. How do you feel about the series after all the years? Is it a labor of love, done for yourself first and foremost or, say, a “holy mission” to tell the story to the world? Or something else?
JL: Since I've been working on the first three episodes - um, 3 to 5 that is - without any readers to speak of, safe for two very close friends, I can say that those were mostly done for myself. I went public - if you wanna call establishing a webcomic going public - with episode 1, and it's been generating nothing but positive results: Not only did I gain readers and received great feedback at times, but it was the motivation I needed to “go steady”, if we want to stay with the relationship metaphor - I updated regularly, which I hadn't done before, and I became considerably faster as an artist and a writer by doing so. But still, I would say first and foremost it's a labor of love, a commitment to the ideas I scribbled down in 2000. I see now that I could have done many things in a better way, and any comic I would (or actually do) start now would probably be handled way more professionally than A.D. So why continue A.D 1997 - if not as a labor of love?
FITZ: I wouldn't be surprised if you had a few more aces up your sleeve. Care to spill the beans?
JL: There may be some things up my sleeve all right… it's for you to find out if they're aces though. So far, my plan is just to keep signifikat and Bombshell moving, and maybe to concentrate on either one more after completing A.D episode six. But it's not likely to happen, since I'd rather just continue updating A.D, and transition into episode 7 as neatly as possible. I just feel there are some things which are neglected while working on A.D… I don't know if it's a whole new mindset on my part, but there's no room in A.D for the kind of dialogues which basically make up signifikat - it's a comic devoted to exploring an edgy male-female relationship in a surreal sci-fi environment… much more anything-goes than A.D's environment. So that's “guerilla-style” writing, if you wanna call it that… anything's possible which I feel might get the point across. With A.D, there are some restrictions which are naturally to evolve after working on it for so long. Characters want to go their own ways, basically… I don't have much of a say in their development, if you know what I mean. Also, there's one genre I've never tampered with, and that's the superhero genre. As I said, I've never been a big fan of the genre, but I think certain elements can be used to getting a point across which would be impossible for me to do otherwise. So Bombshell represents that effort… it's basically a toned-down superhero-reality, informed by actual politics; it's supposed to be much closer to the real world than anything else I've done, despite some of the superhero/vigilante clichees. Oh, and Bombshell's got all that cheesecake pin-up type stuff I could also never do anywhere else! I just love Frank Cho's work, so that's where I can pay tribute.
FITZ: I expect no less. I'd say I expect more - but there are no jokers in poker. Thank you for all the exhausting answers to my exhausting questions.
JL: Thanks for having me and doing the interview, I had a great time being all egocentric for an hour or two!
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