Anthony N. Castle chats with Andrew Bergen about his adaption of Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat.
For most books seeking online support, Kickstarter can either start them up or kick them down. It pulls little-known books from middling obscurity or alternatively sees ambitious projects fall short. While creator reputations and realistic goals are key to fundraising success, it’s always a relief when a book aims high and sees the finish line sooner rather than later.
Indeed, the campaign to adapt a comic from the noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat has quickly hit its stride for Andrew Bergen, the Japan-based Australian creator. Given its success thus far, I chatted with Andrew about the book, as well as how Phillip K. Dick, William Burroughs and the Dada movement might factor into this ambitious project…
ANC: Halfway through the campaign and you’ve hit the first goal already. Delighted? Suspicious? Surprised?
AB: Oh God yes. I went into this project with a 95% belief it probably wouldn’t hit funding. Three weeks after we started it went over that threshold and people have been simply amazing. The depth of support, and demonstrating that support — with a smidgeon of belief, I guess — is being translated into action either via monetary pledges or passing on word of the graphic novel project. Complete strangers have bid the most. I think I’m still a little bit punch-drunk. These people all rock.
Meanwhile you’re building the book right now, turning your own novel into a comic. What have been the challenges of adapting a graphic novel from your own prose?
I think the major problem here was I bit off more than I can feasibly chew — I believed I could adapt a 212-page novel into a 136-page graphic book. Idiocy. A week after I started, I scrapped that idea and focused on the first 80-odd pages of the novel. I’m very, very glad I did that. Now I’ve been able to explore the story by side-stepping into the lives of the other characters in the book, especially Laurel and Wolram. This is a revelation, really. Being gifted the opportunity to go back and re-examine a former stomping ground, from various perspectives? Wow.
Noir initially reflected the melodramatic underbelly of America’s post-war urban existence. As an Australian author writing in Japan in the 21st century, what does noir represent for you?
So far as I’m concerned, noir is dateless — particularly the literary form by Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, and especially in their dialogues between characters. No matter how many times I read those books I’m enamoured with the chatter and quirky characters. Noir can also be seedy and melancholic, which offers up the world when it comes to creativity — it’s always easier to be morose than merry.
If noir is dateless, how do you see the genre functioning for modern audiences?
Modern audiences are smarter and broader-minded than some critics think — I mean TV-wise alone a lot of us have been brought up on Joss Whedon, David Lynch, David Chase, Ronald D. Moore; comic books have developed to new levels thanks to writers like Ed Brubaker, Alan Moore and Matt Fraction. Brubaker wears noir on his shirt-sleeve, while Whedon drops in references every now and then. Bogart is part of Western iconography. Noir is all about unusual settings, oddball characters and cutting commentary. There doesn’t need to be a warm and fuzzy finale. People like that.
The art in some of your noir comics, Black/White for example, utilises this familiar iconography with photographic references. Do you see yourself exploring a cinematic genre through another medium?
This is actually something I’ve been nutting over throughout the entire process of building the Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat graphic novel. It was an area of reflection even before I started. I decided to begin in the same manner that I’ve been making music for years as Little Nobody: namely, embrace the digital side of things but rough that up, tussle it, and thereby uncover some pixelated or distorted grunge/beauty beneath.
I do cherish the grubby digital sound/image, but the thing was — once I made the decision to strike out in the digital domain — I was forced to scale back any inclination to draw, manually snip, sketch and paint. While I have done moments of all three in here despite the rule, the challenge has been to take static, completely unrelated existing images, mostly photos and some obscure advertising (always fine plunder) and force these together to tell a sequential story.
As with the music, I’ve thereby been able to pursue the Dadaist idea of “found” objects/images, and the collage — along with William Burroughs’, Brion Gysin’s and Cabaret Voltaire’s suggestions of anarchic cut-ups — to channel comic book art. Think minimalist, slap-happy painting, pencils and inks (one hand tied behind my back) along with said cut-ups and collages, all digitally executed and deconstructed. A major part of the construction of Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat was the intention to pay humble homage to all these things.
Finally, if people support Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat at this stage, what can they expect in the final product?
Over all? It will be 136 pages, 75% colour. Something that I hope is different. I’m not looking at redefining the graphic novel, but I think there are rules that need to be broken, and others bent, just so we get breathing room in the creativity stakes. This is, over all, a hardboiled yarn intersecting with a near-future Melbourne dystopia, the chaos and tragedy underpinned by a subversive sense of humour in both characters and dialogue.
But aside from noir and sci-fi, I’ve also been mad about comic and picture books since I first started turning pages. I grew up at the altar of Jack Kirby, along with artists Jim Steranko, Will Eisner, Joe Kubert, John Buscema, Steve Ditko, Tarpé Mills, Dr. Seuss and Barry (Windsor) Smith. More recently I’ve been swayed by Frank Miller, David Aja, Matt Kyme, Ben Templesmith and Steve Epting. These people are brilliant. If I channel just one percent of the skill, talent and imagination of any one of these individuals, in order to tell the story, you’d be enriched. Fingers crossed that I do happen to pull that off.
The Tobacco Stained Mountain Goat Kickstarter campaign continues, unlocking larger page counts and more colour content.
Support the campaign here: http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/754267967/tobacco-stained-mountain-goat-the-graphic-novel
The original novel can also be found on Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Tobacco-Stained-Mountain-Goat-Andrez-Bergen/dp/0984559701