Webcomic Weekly: Interviewing Mike Medaglia about the Last Days Of Nobodies
Because I simply don’t read enough webcomics and am terrible at keeping up with those I mean to and am awful at telling you about the better ones I see, Webcomic Weekly essential serves two functions; a kick up the backside for me to keep up and a way to show you the best webcomics out there, some new, some old, some long sagas, others short things.
We looked at Medaglia’s first, and remarkably impressive comic Seasons back in December and the Medaglia edited Wu Wei: A Spiritual Comics Anthology in October last year. Medaglia also draws a weekly blog called Meditations Illustrated where he adapts inspirational quotes into full page illustrations.
(From Seasons, published by Avery Hill)
(From Wu Wei, the Medaglia written and illustrated Zen)
(From Meditations Illustrated)
Last Days Of Nobodies is a new web-comic, that launched on 28th May and is scheduled to update every other Wednesday after that.
Anyone who’s already seen or read any of Medaglia’s work will be unsurprised to find Last Days Of Nobodies more of a reflective, poetic piece, the three parts of the story looking at three separate artists in the days leading up to their death. Each part should be, according to Medaglia, roughly 30 pages long.
Medaglia’s style lends itself so well to the drifting words, looking at Van Gogh, speculating on his suicide and the madness that drove him, the words integral to the art, winding and wending their way through the art, down each page. What results, just from the eight pages below is something rather affecting and emotional. He’s drawing in a scratchy (ish) line, looser than that seen before and digitally coloured in such a gentle fashion that I only believed it was digital when Medaglia told me it was.
According to Medaglia:
This comic aims to understand why these artists did what they did, with such vigor and force, even if no one was looking. It celebrates art for arts sake. That is why it is being presented as a web-comic: it is an experiment in comics form at the intersection of art, poetry, and pencil.
It’s quite lovely, very quickly affecting…. Medaglia has kindly allowed us to show you the first 8 pages here, but first, a brief chat about the project, thanks very much to Mike for taking the time to answer these questions…
Richard Bruton: Hello Mike, thanks for agreeing to answer a few questions…
Mike Medaglia: My pleasure – thanks for your interest in the project.
Richard: First up, Last Days Of Nobodies… I could tell the readers what you’ve already told me, but figure you will do it so much better… so, what’s it all about….?
Mike: So, these stories are, perhaps unfortunately, not cheery ones. Told in three parts, they look at the days leading up to the deaths of three artists who were little known in their time. The stories will take a more poetic form rather than a straight narrative and will be as much an exploration of what I can do visually with comics.
The first part centres around Vincent van Gogh. Obviously, now one of the most famous painters but he had very little success during his lifetime. He tragically took his own life in his late thirties.
Part two will be about Emily Dickinson, a poet from the end of the 19th century. She was a recluse and only published a hand full of poems anonymously while alive. Her dying wish was for her sister to burn all her poetry.
The final story is about Franz Kafka whose day job gave him very little time to focus on his writing, yet he worked every chance he had. On his deathbed in an asylum he was still editing a manuscript. He too asked for his unpublished work to be burnt after his death.
Richard: Aside from the obvious reason of inclusion through brilliance and a shared sense of something desperate, what attracted you in particular to those three (there’s surely no shortage of artists suffering terrible torment and hardship through history?)
Mike: I know. Even as I have been developing it I keep thinking of or reading about artists with similar experiences and I realise that this could be an endless story, telling endless tales of torment and desperation. But I suppose that these three artists have always meant a lot to me and have been sources of inspiration. Between them I have learned about colour, poetry, and narrative. Their work has weight to me and is about human experience and our connection to the natural world. I think that is was drew me to them for this project. They all seemed to have a wide view of the world and used their art to answer the questions that arouse from that viewpoint.
Also, they have all given me some kind of comfort at some point. As an artist I seem to be constantly asking myself why am I doing this? Why do I suffer over it, constantly? But when I read about the lives of these three struggling artists I think that I should just keep going.
Richard: Your style, both artistic and writing, or at least as far as I’ve seen it thus far tends to lend itself to the reflective, the poetic, and that does continue here. Is this merely a case of me not seeing enough of your work yet, or would you say this is something of a developed style?
Mike: Its just me, really. My work, like me lean towards the poetic (just give me a couple drinks if you don’t believe me!). From a relatively young age I was reading about religion and philosophy and poetry and feeling more at home with it then with other pass times. Then when I started making comics it just seeped in. So it is a developed style that sort of came naturally.
When I write, if I try to tell a narrative it feels like doing maths, I just can’t make stuff match up. But if I let myself go and I just write without thinking too much about it, I can go on for ages. That was how I wrote the script of this first part about van Gogh – I had been thinking of the idea, doing some research, and then one day I said the first line “If I am being brutally honest…” and knew I should write something down. I took my tablet out to the park and just started writing what came to me. Within 20 minutes I had the whole script and was a little weepy because it’s just so sad what happened to him. I have made a few edits but basically its all from that first draft.
Richard: Related to that previous question, both content and style of what I’ve seen thus far leads me to imagine you as a very spiritual person. Am I completely off the mark here, or is it possible that the spirituality informs the work?
Mike: This may sound cheesy – and I am hesitant to even say it – but the spirituality is the work. When I first started making comics I kept the two worlds apart. But as soon as I brought them together everything made sense. I realised that drawing lines in a sequence to tell a story was a more natural act then anything I could possibly do. It was my form of meditation and like the artists I love, it was my way of asking questions I couldn’t phrase and answering questions I didn’t know I had. God, I must sound like a total freak. Truthfully, I don’t feel like that spiritual of a person – I try – but we all probably feel we could be better at things.
There is a line from one of van Gogh’s last letters that really captures why the inner self can be expressed through art. He says about his work: “I believe that these canvases will tell you what I can’t say in words.” That has really stuck with me.
Richard: Artistically your line here is looser and lighter than previous work – can you talk us through both process and reasoning for that?
Mike: The reasoning basically comes down to ability. I am feeling more confident and working in pencil with freer motions seems to be resulting in half decent work. The process is similar in a lot of ways. With my last book I would draw in blue pencil and then ink over that, with this piece I use only normal pencil and then scan that in. From there the process is the same. I colour and change the lines digitally using Photoshop. I have been enjoying the looseness of the pencil and leaving in all the lines. I like the fact that the drawing process is evident and present in some way.
Richard: Given the length of each part, do you think you’ll be printing the resulting work as a three part comic, or possibly as a collection?
Mike: In the end I want to print it as one book, all three parts together. After my last book ‘Seasons‘, which is five very short stories, I wanted to do some longer stories that fit somewhere between 4 page stories and a full 200 page comic. Also, it will be nice to have a substantial book. Publishers seem to be looking for longer books, with a spine, that they can put a bar code on and sell in ‘proper’ book shops. However, I am not stuck on printing it. I don’t want to be thinking too commercially, I just experiment with this, so if it doesn’t suit being printed I will just leave it on the web for all to enjoy.
Richard: Now, the answer may well be a simple… “because I wanted to”, but why webcomics?
Mike: I guess there are a few reasons for going with a webcomic. The first is that I always felt it was something I would do, like a coming of age thing for a comic artist or making sure that I use my art form in as many ways as possible. Also, I think that I wanted to have more comics work out there. I have been producing a weekly illustration for my project Meditations Illustrated which allows me to experiment with illustration but it wasn’t satisfying the comics artist part of me. So this will be a chance to create a longer piece but not have to disappear from the comics scene for a year while making it. Also, and perhaps most importantly I like the freedom and immediancy of webcomics. Anyone is free to read it and I don’t have to please a publisher or editor or think about marketability, which has become a big part of some larger projects that I have been developing.
Richard: To end, a thing we like to do… What are you reading at the moment? Who’s someone you reckon we should look out for, and finally finally… what three webcomics right now are absolutely essential, must follow things?
Mike: Man, this is probably the hardest question so far as there is so much good stuff out there.
I am right in the middle of ‘This One Summer‘ written by Mariko Tamaki and drawn by Jillian Tamaki. It is spectacular. The story is well paced and really brings back what summer felt like as a kid – and the artwork is immaculate.
In terms of who to look out for, a lot of people already know Andy Poyiadgi’s work, if not read Teapot Therapy and you will be hooked, but he has a book due out later this year from NoBrow and from the little he’s revealed it looks like it is going to be spectacular.
I don’t read nearly as many webcomics as I would like to, but there are a few that I really enjoy and recommend. Nicola Streeten has been doing a comic all year about turning 50 – it’s poignant and funny, which is exactly what you would expect if you’d ever read anything by Nicola before. John Riordan has started a new webcomic called Culture Comic over the past few weeks – it is great so far and is only getting better. I’ll definitely keep up with that. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Elliot Baggott’s Hundred Metre Garden. Elliot is a real talent and a genuine comics artist. It will be out as a book later this year from Great Beast, so if you are a tactile reader you can pick up a hard copy then.
Richard: Thanks very much for those answers Mike. Now for a preview…