Thursday, November 2, 2017

Exclusive interview to Swedish artist Max Andersson about Bosnian FlatDog and Tito on Ice - Part 2

Second part of the interview that Swedish artist Max Andersson was kind enough to provide to this blogue about his work with Swedish artist Lars Erik Sjunesson.
Many thanks Max 

1) I remember reading "Bosnian Flat Dog" several years ago by you and Lars Erik Sjunesson.
It triggered some memories of "Underground" movie by Emir Kusturica that I've had and it was a movie that I've watched some years before reading your book.
Yogoslavia was a weird country In the 90's and The Balkans also.
How did the name "Bosnian Flat Dog" appeared in your minds and later turned into an animation movie named Tito on Ice?

Emir Kusturica - Underground

Bosnian Flat Dog - Book cover

Max Andersson:
The title came from a common joke in Bosnia after the war ("the only indigenous breed of dog in this country is the Bosnian Flat Dog"). They're known for their black sense of humor. But even before that, I had a dream about flat dogs crawling around in Ex-Yugoslavia, exactly like we explain it in the book.
The film TITO ON ICE is not an adaption of BOSNIAN FLAT DOG, but a documentation of events that occurred while we were traveling through the region with the life-size Tito “mummy” after the book was finished. Helena (my wife and the other director of the film) initiated the project by documenting the tour with a MiniDV camera. That raw material became the basis of the film, which I would then use to create a feature-length narrative, editing and expanding it with the super-8mm animation sequences.

Tito on Ice 

2) When I was reading the book, I didn't quite knew who were Lars or Max's drawings and who had the idea for this graphic novel.
Can you tell us a bit about the creation process of it?

Max Andersson:
By accident, we found ourselves as tourists wandering around ex-Yugoslavia in the middle of the bombing campaign/invasion of Serbia in 1999. Initially, I wanted to make a quick sort of comics diary or travelogue type of story and hopefully sell it for publication in some magazine. It was a popular theme at the time so I figured the chances would be quite good. But then it struck me that it would be even faster and more interesting if we were two artists doing it together. At least that's how I remember it, but I might be wrong. It' such a long time ago. Once we got started, it turned out that it was a much slower process than we had imagined. And we discovered that nobody was interested in the Balkans anymore. But we had already invested so much time and energy that we couldn't stop. We just kept going. The story grew bigger all the time. Gradually we became obsessed with the technical part of it, trying to invent methods to make the graphic mix more and more complex and impossible to trace. In the end we would each draw just a few arbitrary lines here and there, then trade pages with each other and continue with another few scratches on the other person's page, then trade again and so on, back and forth, until the drawings seemed complete. It took us four years to finish the book.

3) The narrative of the book is based on war and how countries and traditional values  and cultures can be mixed in a funny way, but you both formed a rapsodhy of it with a mere trip journey to the Balkans with lots of surrealism in it.
Were you influenced by some particular chapter of world History while creating this book without a political basys?

Max Andersson:
There was no shortage of material in everyday events at the time. When we started working we were basically just processing the horrors of the breakup of Yugoslavia and the NATO attack on Serbia, which was bad enough. But by the time we finished, we had also been exposed to 9/11, the Afghanistan and Iraq invasions, Guantanamo, Abu Ghraib, CIA black sites and NATO expansion all over eastern Europe, regime change interventions from Haiti to Ukraine - it was like an non-stop freak show going on. I remember literally watching live TV coverage of the war in Iraq while inking pages of Bosnian Flat Dog at Lars' place in the summer of 2003. Of course all of this contributed to the direction the story would take in various ways.
But mixing war and comedy is not exactly new, for instance Grimmelshausen did this with "Simplicissimus" in the 17th century. It's a partly autobiographical picaresque novel about the Thirty Years' War in Europe, where Sweden incidentally played a substantial (and not very flattering) part. It is also full of fantastic and clearly made-up episodes, interwoven with the depictions of stark realism. When I read that book it reminded me quite a lot of the violent events of the last few decades around the Middle East, North Africa and Eastern Europe. The struggle for power and economic interests between various regional and international players with the help of mercenaries, under the largely invented pretext of a sectarian conflict, seemed familiar. Also the use of media propaganda to manipulate the opinion of the general public originated in the Thirty Years' War. But I read it after Bosnian Flat Dog was completed so it was not an influence on our story. It just shows that history repeats itself.


4) The book was translated into several languages and I remember reading it at "Death and Candy" issues published by Fantagraphics and I loved how the narrative was always weird and funny. I also remember that Max Andersson's "The Excavation" had a chapter here.
Max, did "Bosnian Flat Dog" opened its way for "The Excavation" that's also published by Fantagraphics?

The Excavation - Page 

Max Andersson:
 When Fantagraphics launched my own comic "Death and Candy" in 1999, I planned to use that as a vehicle to run longer stories as serials with one chapter in each issue before publishing them as graphic novels, starting with "The Excavation". Meanwhile, Lars and I was looking for a way to publish "Bosnian Flat Dog" in small installments in some bigger periodical magazine or paper, but everyone turned it down. So from issue #2, I included that in "Death and Candy" as well. By the time D&C was discontinued, BFD was the only story I had managed to complete. I proposed a book version to Kim, and he was not unwilling but he thought it needed something extra to make it more attractive, and different from the publication in D&C. It was his idea to split the pages in half and make it a bigger "landscape"-format book with twice as many pages, which I think was brilliant because the panels were so crowded with detail that it really suffered from the original "european" album format. It was a lot of extra work because quite a few panels had to be expanded and partially redrawn, but I think it was worth the effort. About "The Excavation", the first four chapters were published in Death and Candy, and I always intended it to be my next graphic novel once it was finished. But because I made a six-year break from comics to produce the film "Tito on Ice", it also took a pretty long time to finish that book, and unfortunately Kim didn't live to see it in the end.

Death & Candy - 2

Max Andersson working on Tito on Ice 

5) Max and Lars, do you both think that "Bosnian Flat Dog" reached its worldwide audience by being published in several languages in a funny way?

I think it reached an audience because it's so different from everything else and because there is clearly a huge, unrecognized demand for works which go beyond the limits dictated by mainstream media and culture.

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