Wednesday, January 10, 2018

Exclusive interview with American artist Jason Lutes

American comic book artist Jason Lutes, that's one of my favourite artists ever with his astonishing comic book saga "Berlin" was kind enough to answer to some questions in an interview. 
 It's a bit odd, managing to do an interview to someone that you admire as an artist or storyteller, so I continue to try to organize some interviews with simple questions answered by the best artists in the world in what I call "coffeeshop interviews" at this blogue, because I truly believe that if I was at a coffeeshop with an international artist, my questions regarding their works and inspiration would be the same as they're online.
Many thanks for your kind and honest words Jason

 Feel free to check exclusive interviews that I've organized in this same blogue as a concept with the same name of it in the last 3 years in Portuguese, Spanish or English to awesome international artists such as:

 Mr Ed from Argentina
 Quique Alcatena from Argentina
 Patricia Breccia from Argentina
 Cristina Breccia from Argentina
 Crepax heirs from Italy (online interview in February 2014 and later interview/talk live at a comic book festival organized in Beja comic book festival in June of the same year with the support of invicta Indie Arts as a concept to an audience) 
 Fabio Civitelli from Italy (Interview and at a live talk at a comic book festival organized in 2012 named Mab organized by myself and a small team based on invicta Indie Arts as a concept in Porto to an audience that can be watched and listened at this blogue and YouTube) 
 Alex Korolkovas from Brazil
 Barbara Nogueira from Brazil
 Danijel Zezelj from Croatia
 David Lloyd from the UK
 Fidel Martiñez Nadal from Spain
 Ruben Pellejero from Spain
 Santiago Sequeiros from Spain
 Greg Ruth from U.S.A
 Peter Bagge from U.S.A
 Brian Biggs from U.S.A
 Joe Pruett from U.S.A
 George Pratt from U.S.A
 Terry Moore from U.S.A
 Melinda Gebbie from U.S.A (Interview/talk live at a comic book festival organized in 2012 named Mab organized by myself and a small team based on Invicta Indie Arts as a concept in Porto to an audience that can be watched and listened at this blogue and YouTube
 Gary Reed from U.S.A
 Dominique Goblet from Belgium 
 Terhi Ekebom from Finland
 Olivier Deprez from France 
 Anke Feuchtenberger from Germany 
 Max Andersson from Sweden 
 Lars Erik Sjunesson from Sweden

Stay tuned for more interviews with excellent artists coming soon at this same blogue.    

Manuel Espírito Santo

Jason Lutes signing Berlin comic books along Tom Hart in Porto in 1994  

1) I remember you being in Porto in 1994 and that you were announcing Berlin that was a comic book story in magazines that was going to be released in 25 numbers. I don't remember the year that you told that it was going to be finished and I've never cared about it, because it's an excellent comic book series. 

 As an american citizen, it was difficult for you to caught a world History moment so inspiring as the beginning of  World War I?

Berlin in 1914

Jason Lutes: I originally thought I would be done by the time I turned 40, so I'm only 10 years past my original self-imposed deadline. Having two children and the need to support a family pushed Berlin to the side for many years. 
Trying to understand a different time and place was definitely a challenge. I think I grasped most of the broader movements and political complexities, but I'm sure a German reader could point out many areas where my attempt to capture their culture lacks nuance and true understanding. I imagine they might feel like I do when reading or watching a European interpretation of the American West -- engaged and entertained, but noticing all the little ways things don't feel quite right.

2) You're a teacher, an artist and a storyteller. 
How can you organize your time in order to be all this at the same time?

Jason Lutes:"Father" is the other big job that needs to go in there, and I work on role-playing game books in my spare time as well. My wife and I share domestic and childcare duties, which takes up a lot of time (and brings a lot of joy). Each week I have 1 day of class prep, 1 day of teaching, and 3 "studio" days, each of which gives me 6 hours to work on comics before I have to pick up my kids from school. Weekends are family time unless I am cramming to meet a deadline. After the kids are asleep, I take the hours between 10pm and 1am to work on other projects like the role-playing stuff.

3) In Berlin, you mention Weimar and all the artistic movement that was being formed there also. Were you inspired in Bauhaus art school while creating this particular comic book series?

Bauhaus - Weimar poster

Jason Lutes: I went to art school here in the US, so I had some understanding of the Bauhaus and Expressionism, but it was only through extensive research for Berlin that I came to really appreciate those movements (along with New Objectivity and all the stuff that was happening in German cinema at the time). Bauhaus design definitely inspired me, but it was things like the drawings of Georg Grosz, the photographs of August Sander and Heinrich Zille, and the writing of Alfred Döblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz) that really helped me imagine that part of the world during the 1920s and 30s.

Georg Grosz - Drawing

August Sander - 'Blacksmiths' 1926 

Heinrich Zille - Children and Children's Playgrounds

Alfred Döblin (Berlin Alexanderplatz)

4) Sometimes readers talk about the influence that Hergé had in your work, but the main focus of Berlin is really different than Tintin that is an adventurer and your narrative that is one filled with real people. 
 How do you react when people tell you that you were influenced by an European maestro like Hergé?

Tintin at "le petit vingtieme" magazine 

Jason LutesThere's no question that Hergé was an enormous influence on me. I learned much of what I know about the mechanics and engineering of comics from studying his work closely. So when people note that influence, I just nod my head in agreement. Yes, my story is more about inner lives and the relationships between people, but I still abide by many of principles of visual storytelling I discovered through Herge's body of work. Other big influences include Chester Brown (who showed me what could be done with silent panels and the slowing down of action) and Ben Katchor (who showed me that comics could be poetry).

Chester Brown - Ed, the happy clown at yummy fur

Ben Katchor - julius knipl - page

5) In Jar of fools, your narrative is a bit more "American" and I see in it a bit of an influence with Jim Jarmusch's movies. 
 Do you think that Jim's movies also influenced this particular narrative?

American director Jim Jarmusch at a footage of one of his movies

Jason LutesI'm sure there's a Jarmuschian influence in Berlin somewhere, but I was certainly not conscious of it. 
When I wrote Jar of Fools I had absorbed a lot of American independent film from the 80s and early 90s and in some ways thought of the same kind of thing, but on paper. That book was very much a self-education or apprenticeship in the medium for me; when I started Berlin I was thinking purely of how to use "comics qua comics" to tell the story I wanted to tell. I employ plenty of "cinematic" effects, but more because movies have informed my personal visual language over the course of a lifetime than because of any conscious choice to ape any particular technique.  

Jason Lutes - Jar of fools   

6) Berlin deals a lot with politics and how the world would become in that History's period. 
How do you see the world now in political terms?

Jason Lutes: I've never had any illusions about human nature, but the recent global rise in nationalism and fascism is disheartening, to say the least. Some countries have made incredible social, political, and environmental progress over the past century, but the backlash against that progress is powerful and destructive. There is evidence of astonishing love and compassion everywhere, but the forces of darkness -- it's ridiculous to talk about them in such a cliched terms, but more and more those terms just seem like straightforward and true -- are intensifying. My own country spinning in chaos at the hands of dimwitted buffoon and an army of power-hungry sycophants being a perfect example.

7) The use of words at Berlin gives it a clear movement in a static art form as comics. 
How do you see comics today?

Jason Lutes: Comics in America are exploding! When I wrote Jar of Fools, the landscape was relatively barren, but now comics are everywhere and mainstream book publishers are falling over themselves to sign good cartoonists. Every book store and library has a graphic novel section, and webcomics are flourishing online. One of the great side benefits of my job teaching at the Center for Cartoon Studies is meeting a dozen or so young, ambitious, talented cartoonists who broaden my perception of what's out there and what's possible. The future of the world looks dim, but the future of comics is brighter than it ever has been.

8) Do you research World History books while creating Berlin
What's your creative process in the narrative and artworks in Berlin?

Jason Lutes: I did about two years of research before drawing the first page of the story. This was 1994-1996, before the Internet was really a thing, so all of my research was based on whatever I could find in print. I absorbed as much as I could, trying to immerse myself in Berlin of the late 1920s, waited for ideas to percolate up out of my unconscious. Generally speaking, I start with a physical structure or limitation (e.g., a 24-page chapter, or a 2-page scene), within which I want to explore a theme or idea or relationship between characters. My lifelong love of role-playing games plays a big part, in that I have trained myself to imagine what different characters might feel in different situations, so when I put two characters in a scene together I assume each role in turn and just let them talk to each other until the scene has a shape. This "writing" period involved making little visual diagrams where I work out where people are situated, but it's all very intuitive and improvised. For Berlin, once I had an entire 24-page chapter worked out at this level, I moved on to drawing it, which is more of a technical challenge and the "hard labor" part of comics for me.

9) I see that Berlin continues to be published in a comic book format. 
Do you think that it's possible still being able to distribute a masterpiece like Berlin in a comic book format nowadays with all the online demand for a book format like Amazon and other online distributors?

Jason Lutes Berlin in comic book format

Jason Lutes: I think it's one of the last of it's kind. Drawn & Quarterly (my publisher) is following through on its original commitment to produce the book in comic book chapters, despite the changing marketplace. Now that the last chapter is done and scheduled to come out later this year, I'm moving on to a series of self-contained 96-page graphic novels.

10) Can you tell us a bit about your favourite artists in books and movies?

Jason Lutes: As mentioned above, Hergé, Chester Brown and Ben Katchor were enormous influences on my comics storytelling. Lynda Barry and Chris Ware are the two greatest American cartoonists working today, in my opinion. I love the writings of Ursula K. Le Guin, Jack Vance, Tolkien, William Faulkner, and Cormac McCarthy. Thomas Pynchon was an early influence. My current favorite filmmakers are Steven Soderbergh, Joel and Ethan Coen, Noah Baumbach, Miranda July (an extraordinary artist across many media) Denis Villenueve, Spike Jonze, and Charlie Kaufman. And they only just had their debuts in 2017, but Jordan Peele's Get Out and Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird are among the best films I've ever seen. 

Lynda Barry - Page

Chris Ware - acme novelty library comic book

Ursula K. Le Guin - The word for world is forest

Jack Vance - book of dreams 

Tolkien - The hobbit

William Faulkner - The sound and the fury

Cormac Mccarthy quote

Thomas Pynchon - Entropy

 Steven Soderbergh - Bubble movie poster

Joel and Ethan Coen - the man who wasn't there - movie poster

Noah Baumbach - Kicking and screaming movie poster

Miranda July - Message

Denis Villenueve - polytechnique movie poster

Spike Jonze - where the wild things are movie poster

Charlie Kaufman - eternal sunshine of the spotless mind movie script

Jordan Peele's Get Out - movie poster

Greta Gerwig's Lady Bird - movie poster

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