Saturday, April 24, 2010

Chick Pea Parade

Chick Peas, also known as "Garbanzo Beans," are a versatile legume that can be baked straight, eaten cold, smashed into hummus, fried into falafels, or patted into patties. I had the good fortune to sample my first Chick Pea burger last Thursday, and it was good.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Nicolas Mahler: An Interview

Hidden in an obscure corner of the Top Shelf Productions catalog rests a group of books by a cartoonist as inspiring as he is funny. Well known in Europe and perhaps Canada, Nicolas Mahler has yet to make a convention appearance in the United States. This citizen of Vienna, Austria is a master of simplicity and character design. His three major books, available in English through Top Shelf, are masterworks of humor and economy of line.
"Van Helsing's Night Off (Top Shelf 2004)" is a pantomime journey through the more humorous side of the lives of Universal Studios' movie monsters such as Dracula, the Wolf-man, the Mummy, and Frankenstein. It is a European cartoonist's interpretation of what is left out of the films: anecdotes from the characters' private lives.
"Lone Racer (Top Shelf 2006)" is the bittersweet story of a washed-up race-car driver, striving to regain his competitive status.
"Spam (Reprodukt 2009, distributed by Top Shelf)" features lines from Mahler's email account, arranged in brilliant sequence to tell a story. Each page features a depiction of a new character and a line of spam email that furthers the narrative.

If you haven't picked up one of these books, now is the time. Mahler was kind enough to respond to the following email interview concerning his working method, comic book conventions, and the international comics scene.

How do you go about creating a character?
Nicolas Mahler: I usually start with a visual idea, a setting or a character I would like to work with. Then I play around with possible situations the character could fit into. From then on, the character gets his own life. In general, I would say the stronger the character, the easier the story develops. Once I have a good character and environment, the story is easy.

How often to you sketch in a sketchpad?
Nicolas Mahler: I carry my sketchbooks around everywhere, but I seldom really draw in them. Usually, I write down ideas, sentences, names, jokes. I have a huge archive of ideas, but visually my sketchbooks are very disappointing: there are just very simple, basic drawings in them.

Are your sketches similar to the final product in your graphic novels, or do they differ somehow?
Nicolas Mahler: The drawings are similar, yes. It's the texts that differ a lot. I write a lot to finally end up using only one or two lines. For me, it is just as important what is NOT going to be used in the finished work as what I actually use. The main work is reducing things to a minimum that works.

Do you work through the traditional steps of thumbnails, penciling, and inking, or do you produce your pages spontaneously?Nicolas Mahler: I have the sketchbook as inspiration, and then work on the actual page. I use pencils and then pen and ink. For shorter things, the penciling is pretty basic, but for big pages in format A3 the composition and penciling takes awhile . . .

What kind of plan do you have before you begin a comic?
Nicolas Mahler: It is different from project to project. For some stories I have only a rough idea where it will go, and just draw from page to page ("Lone Racer" was done like this). With others, I have already worked out a lot in the sketchbook. Especially with the mute stories ("Van Helsings' Night Off"), you have to be very precise in the timing and use of space on the page, so it is very planned out before I begin penciling.

Do you write a script for your comics?
Nicolas Mahler: In a way, yes. The sketchbook is my script.

Do you attend Comic Book Conventions in Europe?
Nicolas Mahler: I am in Angouleme, France, every year. It is the biggest in Europe. Since I publish a lot in France, it is good to see what is happening there.

Which European Conventions are the best?
Nicolas Mahler
: The best by far is FUMETTO in Luzern, Switzerland. It is not a convention, but a festival with many exhibitions in the whole city. I try to go there every year. It is very inspiring and relaxing, and not so much about selling books like other conventions. Highly Recommended!
Your comics have a style that some Americans would find peculiar. How normal is this style in comparison with your European colleagues?
Nicolas Mahler
: I do not think my style is peculiar, but some people disagree, even in Europe. I think my style is a pretty "classic" cartoon style that is maybe not used so much in comics.

Which cartoonists are your biggest influences?
Nicolas Mahler
: I do not really have "main influences." I use work from all ages as inspiration, and the names that come to mind differ from day to day. Today, I would say: George Herriman, Benoit Jaques, KAZ, Fabio Viscoglioso, Tom Gauld . . .

Your books "Van Helsing's Night Off" and "Lone Racer" seem to use famous characters like Univeral Studios Movie Monsters and Speed Racer. What other mass-media figures inform your work?
Nicolas Mahler
: Of course I am inspired a lot by movies, more than by comic books. I watch more movies than reading comics by far.

Can you picture yourself visiting any U.S. Comic Book Conventions in the future?
Nicolas Mahler
: Depends on the invitation, of course. Are there any really good ones?

Please describe your experience working with L'Association, Reprodukt, Top Shelf, and other publishers.
Nicolas Mahler
: I owe Jean-Christophe Menu, head of L'Association, a lot. He published a lot of my books in the last ten years, and doesn't care if a project is obviously not aimed at a big audience. Also, we have (almost) the same taste in designing books. It is fun to work with him on a book, because he does not care about selling the book, but designing it the best way possible, even if it is bad for the sales.
I have a good collaboration with all my publishers, luckily! Reprodukt, Edition Moderne, Top Shelf, and La Pasteque are all run by friendly enthusiasts, not businessmen. This makes work very enjoyable. I cannot stand when the distributor tells a publisher which books to choose and how the cover should look.

How much do you know about the American Indie comics scene?
Nicolas Mahler
: I know a little, I guess. I am reading "MOME" at the moment, which gives me a rough idea about what is happening.

If you could work with any artist or author, who would it be?
Nicolas Mahler
: Working with George Herriman would have been interesting.

If you could draw a superhero book for Marvel or DC, which character would you choose?
Nicolas Mahler
: Plastic Man comes to mind, because I think he is more fun to draw than the usual superhero. You do not have to care too much about drawing muscles correctly.

Do you have an upcoming project that you would like to recommend to your American fans?
Nicolas Mahler: A book with superhero abstractions has been published by my Canadian publisher, La Pasteque, earlier this year. If you are a superhero-nerd and like strange books, this could be for you. It is billed as "the first art-book for comic-nerds."

Learn more about Nicolas Mahler at his website:
and at:

Post-FLUKE Update

Here is a sketch I did this morning, feeling groggy yet satisfied.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

FLUKE is Today!

poster by David Mack

Come on over to Athens, Georgia for FLUKE, the best mini-comics convention of its kind!
Today only!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010