Thursday , November 23 2017

Comic Book Diary: Andrez Bergen Part 1

The prolific and unstoppable ANDREZ BERGEN has agreed to write a series of articles about his trials and tribulations over the last year or so. Andrez had come to Melbourne from Tokyo, where he lives with his wife and daughter, for a visit with family and friends and to have meetings with artists and his Comicoz publisher, Nat Karmichael. His visit would turn into a life changing nightmare. How do you push on developing a new comics anthology featuring your cast of characters, while dealing with a golden staph infection of the heart, a stroke, brain surgery and ongoing seizures, all while your wife and child are a continent away? Typically, his suggested title for these articles was “UNTACTICAL NEURAL IMP: The Comic Book Diary of Andrez Bergen”. So, although he’s been through and is still going through some impossibly challenging times, the indefatigable Bergen still has his writer’s wit. Here’s part one of an ongoing series…

On Friday, 25 August 2017, I had a personal event that rocked my ill world.

Jesus wept… that was the Ben Hur/sledgehammer seizure from hell, like something pinched from The Exorcist… likely caused by stress, as suspected. Thank God rostered staff member S was here at our Temporary Living Space to handle the whole thing with aplomb, as this time I was conscious through most of it, nearly shook off my head, and a forewarning tingle ran up the spine.

I can’t get that last seizure out of my brain – and since I was conscious through much of it I keep getting flashbacks about what actually transpired. This morning, for instance I recalled all my muscles locking up and the overwhelming need to climb out of my own rebelling skin… I tried, believe me. Thank crap for S who stopped me. I need to talk to her to find out what it looked like from an outsider’s eyes.

So how’d I get to this point?

A funny thing happened on the way back to Melbourne from Tokyo last year to visit my parents.

This funny thing was an enormous medical hiccup in my plans to visit the folks and friends and shift from author and former musician to comic book writer and possibly artist (a hankering I’d had since a kid).

I’ve been in and out of hospital ever since.

Hospital #1 was Frankston, straight after I collapsed at Mum’s place. By this point we could no long blame my dive in health on a hangover or migraine related to that. Nope, I had a golden staph infection of the heart – a medical mystery that remains unexplained. Some doctors suspected recreational drug use, in particular an intravenous one, but given I’m terrified of needles, sharing ’em was never on the cards. I do wonder if my wife, Yoko, still suspects this, as she doesn’t understand or abide recreational drug use, and likely in her mind they all involve syringes.

This funny thing I was telling you about gets downright hilarious.

I got transferred to hospital #2, The Alfred, where they operated on my heart for endocarditis as I may or might not have had a cardiac arrest. On this, things are blurry. But I remember the moment the surgeon approached me to broach the subject and gave me two options for a replacement valve: pigskin or mechanical, and in that moment I recall Bill Paxton whispering in my ear…

You’re dog-meat, pal! Game Over Man, GAME OVER!”  And then I railed about the possibilities of waking up as a Terminator before merrily passing out.

That decision then fell to Yoko, who made the right call in the circumstances and I’m grateful. “Choose the right one for the moment,” I think she said.

But this joke was not yet finished with me. Nope. I got to spend a a couple of unconscious weeks in ICU where I dreamt that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had sent his top assassin to knock me off with a syringe full of black gunk (the staph, of course). I was desperately close to having chess matches with Death or some dead-ringer, and awoke to be told that the staph had “seeded the brain and caused a stroke, resulting in necessary brain surgery”. Boom-boom.

While lying in ICU, a little whacked-out on morphine or whatever painkillers are on offer these days, I had a few regrets revolve around my mind. Foremost among these being that I’d never see my daughter, Cocoa, grow up and become the incredible woman I know she’ll be. Second, that I was letting her down by jumping ship way too soon in life. Third, that I was letting down my wife, Yoko. Fourth, that the last movie I watched was the dreadful Batman v Superman, and finally, that I’d never see the next episode of Magpie, her origin story, in print (finalized by artist Frantz Kantor) Plus…? That the Magpie solo mag anthology idea I’d floated with Frantz and Nat Karmichael at Comicoz, which was already well underway, would never be finished.

I’ve been in love with Frantz’s work on Maggie since day one, as has Cocoa.

I remember there was this day that Nat contacted me out of the blue, just after Matt Kyme and I had pretty much called it a day with IF? Commix. I was still doing solo comics Bullet Gal and Trista & Holt, but otherwise listless, looking for a like-minded artist to bond with again, as writing will always be my primary love. When Nat mentioned the idea of doing a superhero serial comic for OiOiOi!!, and then added the name of Frantz Kantor, it pretty much blew my then-whole brain. After Tales to Admonish and Bullet Gal, this was something I was totally keen on doing.

I’d always had a soft-spot for the genre and round then had fallen in love with Matt Fraction and David Aja’s take on Hawkeye. I also vaguely knew Frantz’s work, mostly because of a comic book cover for Inkpot I’d hung onto for years, and I knew some of Frantz’s work in MAD Magazine. When I looked him up online for more recent material, and in subsequent discussions, it became apparent he was now obsessed with 3D animation and graphics, which is where my script for the first Magpie story came from – a character calling himself 3D Man, who is actually colour-blind. In subsequent episodes, it became apparent how good a fit we really were, as we’d grown up with a lot of the same influences (comics, TV shows, artists) and he was just as into my bent of doing the odd wink or homage, such as to M. C. Escher or the anime movie Ghost in the Shell. We also both have daughters, which I think flexes our interest in creating and nurturing a strong female hero. Initially, Magpie was partially Black Widow, slightly Black Canary, and a lot Buffy or Tank Girl. Now she’s just plain Maggie… and tougher than possibly the lot.

We also panned out in episode two, I think, to develop a team of heroes for this new world of Heropa, called The Fenders (more on them later). One of her allies there is a second-fiddle hero called The Blow-In. I decided to take him solo as well, working initially late in 2016 (I think) with artist Michal Dutkiewicz, who created some elaborate character designs. You’re never going to gel with everyone, however, and I should’ve guessed I’d exhausted my luck doing so with Frantz. Further, due to conflicting schedules and visions, we decided to suspend the project – whereupon I commenced work on the same character with new artist, Graeme Jackson.

We decided to start afresh, by splitting him into two separate characters: The Blow-In and Crash Soirée. This additionally offered me more fun as writer, as I could play off the costume similarities between them and the underlying class differences. Graeme also encouraged me to abide by existing themes and timelines from the novel Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?, in which I first fleshed-out this world, as well as creating a legacy Bullet Gal character. We also plotted out a ring-in for Marvel’s S.H.I.E.L.D., called Aegis, that we’ll be working into several comic offshoots and which appeared in the Bullet Gal novel.

Due to being exceptionally busy, Graeme was forced to bow out, so I’ve subsequently asked artist Ken Best to work on both characters, as it adds an element of sameness and I do dig Ken’s sense of noir lighting and atmosphere. We’d worked together previously on the final issue of Tales to Admonish. Graeme’s not out of the picture, more catching up on things and we’ll see where we go from there.

I did have a character called Southern Cross in the Heropa novel, and given the number of these in other Australian comics, we’ve altered ours to Crux Australis. I couldn’t kill him off completely – he’s the first super hero I really created, back in high school, and the one I sent Stan Lee round then and garnered nice feedback from The Man.

Throughout the ongoing saga, Frantz and I have continued with our Magpie, who’s actually done pretty well in terms of a fan base and critical response – so much so that Nat, Frantz and myself decided to compile her adventures and see if we couldn’t get these licensed abroad. Plus, I’ve been enabled to delve into a whole lot of companion stories, which I’ll talk about in future instalments. This is enough for the first chapter, methinks – origin stories, high drama, spin-offs, blah, blah, blah…

Look out for the return of… in future weeks. 😉

Andrez

Credits from the top:
Feature image: Pencil layouts from Frantz Kantor for an upcoming Magpie adventure.
Photo of Andrez Bergen by Cocoa Bergen.
Cover to OIOIO! #8 (Comicoz) featuring Magpie, art by Frantz Kantor.
Finished page from episode two of Magpie from OiOiOi #8 (Comicoz), art by Frantz Kantor.
New artwork from Ken Best for The Blow-In.

About GC

GC

Gary Chaloner is the creator of Flash Damingo and The Jackaroo, The Undertaker Morton Stone & Red Kelso. He’s also worked on Will Eisner’s John Law, Robert E. Howard’s Breckinridge Elkins, Astro City, Doc Wilde and Unmasked. He’s the co-convenor of The Ledger Awards and the host/publisher of the AustralianComicsJournal.com.

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