An Interview with Andrez Bergen: Bullet Gal
Josh recently had the chance to chat with Andrez Bergen about the Kickstarter for his graphic novel “Bullet Gal”, which collects all 12 issues of the series of the same name. You can check out the Kickstarter here, which should be a must for any fans or pulpy, noir stories.
We The Nerdy: So tell me a little about your book.
Andrez Bergen: When people ask me to say a little I tend to waffle on, and the “little” becomes a lot, so I’ll try to rein in that tendency here. Trouble is that ‘Bullet Gal’ doesn’t lend itself easily to simplicity. On one level this is my love letter (or newspaper-wrapped parcel, actually) to all the film noir I consumed as a kid and the hardboiled literature I’ve sucked on since. But on another level it references comic books, in particular Marvel stuff, from the 1960s by Kirby, Steranko, Ditko and cats like that. Will Eisner also gets a shoo-in, as do more recent artists like Steve Epting, David Aja, Michael Lark, Frank Miller, Matt Kyme and David Lloyd. And in the basement? A wink at all the cut-up and ‘found’ object artists I dig, right through from Marcel Duchamp to Terry Gilliam. I guess if we’re going to use a building as an analogy here, ‘Bullet Gal’ is a chrome-plated art deco tower that’s been renovated in recent history, with a slice of mischief and a spiffing yarn thrown in for good measure.
Oh crap. I rambled, didn’t I?
WTN: What sort of stories drew you towards a pulpy, noir style and how do you mesh the crime element with the superhero stuff?
AB: As I mentioned I grew up on classic film noir, things like ‘The Maltese Falcon’, ‘The Third Man’ and ‘The Big Sleep’. I’ve actually watched each of those movies around 50 times apiece. No kidding. My mother loved 1960s Hammer Film Productions and American International horror from the ’60s, so those glimpse went hand-in-hand with the noir. I’m constantly reading Chandler and Hammett and Go Osaka, and I also loved my pulp early, especially Robert E. Howard. As I got older and worked as a movie journalist I was blessed to explore the film noir of Akira Kurosawa, Jules Dassin and François Truffaut.
But comic books have been there all along. Over the past ten years I think Ed Brubaker has absolutely rocked that medium, first with ‘Captain America’, ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Criminal’, and then via ‘Velvet’, ‘Fatale’ and ‘The Fade Out’. This is amazing material. Matt Fraction’s also swayed me, particularly with David Aja on ‘Hawkeye’ and with Brubaker on ‘Immortal Iron Fist’. Frank Miller in the ’80s with ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Batman’, and then in the ’90s with ‘Sin City’, changed the way in which I perceived sequential tales.
Thing is, most of this is noir or crime or a little dark, with a pulpy undercurrent no doubt shaping most of these people. But I also grew up with a batch of 1960s Marvel comics that my older half-brother had squirreled away, things like ‘Avengers’ and ‘Fantastic Four’ and Barry Allen as The Flash. I cherished all that stuff too. My favourite character as a kid was Captain America — surprising, I guess, since I’m Australian. But he resonated with me. That’s why I loved how Brubaker handled the character. I created my own first superhero in high school called Southern Cross… Australia’s version of Cap.
Anyway, cutting straight back to the chase of your question, two years ago I started writing a novel called ‘Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?’ which was published last year. It’s a story that combines my love of golden and silver age comic books — superhero stuff — with a detective mystery influenced no doubt by Philip Marlowe. I think the two genres bleed into one another incredibly well, so this year I embarked on the 12-issue run of ‘Bullet Gal’, a prequel of sorts to that novel — but more heavily entrenched in crime and noir.
WTN: You’ve already got quite a few novels under your belt, how has writing a comic differed?
AB: Yeah, it’s fascinating to me how different the two experiences are, yet how much they crossover. With a novel I usually spend about a year doing notes, research, vignettes, more research, editing, sub-editing, shuffling chapters, scrapping others, editing again, additional research, and so on. It’s very labour-intensive at times, and eats up just that — time. Comics do too, depending on which part I’m carousing — writing or art. The writing comes relatively easy, because that’s something I’ve been honing since I was four or five years of age, and I have a good backlog of short stories and ideas that can be easily adapted to comics.
Thing is I still need to do research as I’m a reference freak and love paying homage to old comics, comic book personnel, actors, and films.
The art I’m very finicky about, and far more self-critical since I have less experience doing this particular kind of thing. But that makes me fine-tune visuals rather than leave them half-baked… even though some are deliberated intended to look that way. This often leads to story ideas and/or twists. Doing art and writing together has been a revelation as I create the combination on the fly, with no plan or script, and each issue has told itself. I still don’t know how half the ideas in ‘Bullet Gal’ eventuated.
WTN: You have a lot of experience in order mediums such as music, how has that helped you when it comes to creating something as unique as this?
AB: Another thing that was beneficial for sure, especially mentality and ways in which you look at the task before you. I was making what some people would call experimental electronic music and others noise — involving a lot of sampling and digital cut-ups: discovering ‘found’ sounds to subvert these and create new riffs. So you’re constantly reinventing and filtering the outside world for things you can pilfer and manipulate into new materiel. That background was perfect when it came to the artwork ideas I wanted to explore in ‘Bullet Gal’.
WTN: The art is very different from many other comics on the market, what sort of references or inspirations helped you craft this unique style?
AB: Thanks. That means a lot, and it was one of the intentions from the get-go: to do ‘straight’ art less and force myself into a corner where I have to stretch the imagination and the visual tools I use. I’m not saying it’s an innovative technique — the Dadaists were doing a similar thing a hundred years ago, and I read up at university on what Brion Gysin and William Burroughs had to say about cut-ups — but it’s terrain ripe to explore in the current digital age. There are some brilliant artists out there doing comics that I adore. I just wanted to pursue a different angle. And a lot of that is homage-based. I’m referencing here a lot of classic movies, novels, comic books, ideas and personalities.
WTN: How has word of mouth and the strong critical reception helped you spread the book?
AB: Amazingly, to be honest. For something that started out such a self-centred exercise in creativity — no one saw a single finished page of ‘Bullet Gal’, outside my family, until I’d finished the first four issues — the reception by comic book journos and fans, and others who don’t even read comics, has pretty much blown me away. I’m really happy that people dig this stuff. I thought it could be taken the wrong way — I’m sure some people hate it. But I haven’t heard from them yet.
So, anyway, this growth as we progressively published in Australia from July meant I started talking to Galo Gutierrez at Project-Nerd, and he loved the series — he’s one of the few people who’s read all twelve issues, as we’re publishing via IF? Commix every month till June next year. Galo got the digital versions early. And then he referred me on to Adam Jack, who runs Under Belly Comics in Canada — after which Adam became another member of that pseudo-elite club of ‘Bullet Gal’ consumption. Adam pitched the idea of combining all twelve into a trade paperback that he’d release through Under Belly. So, yeah, the affliction does spread. Sorry.
WTN: Where are you planning to go from here, are you hoping to further shake up the comics scene or do you want to turn your attention to other mediums?
AB: God, I never have any far-flung plans, just things I’m doing now or contemplating over the next few months. Sadly I’ll never be a Marcel Duchamp with a shocking cistern on display. That’d be neat. But I do have a few more comic ideas, including a serialization of ‘Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?’ that takes place four years after ‘Bullet Gal’. I’d be sharing art duties there with Matt Kyme, who co-runs IF? Commix. I’m also currently writing the beginnings of novel number five, titled ‘The Mercury Drinkers’. But I’m really into doing the comics right now. I might come up with another idea overnight. That tends to be the way it happens — neither rhyme nor reason.
WTN: Any final things you want to add?
AB: Yeah, a few quick things — first up? Thanks to your own fine self and the more open-minded and supportive comic media out there who are prepared to look beyond the coattails of the major companies and offer a leg-up to indies. Secondly, hats off to all the people who’ve read ‘Bullet Gal’ and let me know thoughts and feedback — which actually did help shape the final six issues in the run. Stand-outs on that front would be Galo and Shawn Vogt, who runs a blog called Weird and Wonderful Reads, but a lot of other bods were amazing as well. Third? Huge thanks to Matt, my partner at IF?, who’s an absolute inspiration and coerced me into this crazy comic book biz last year. Friends and family deserve their own salutes. Finally, cheers to the people who don’t know me and still pledged to support the Kickstarter campaign. All you people rock. Seriously. Without that support I’d still be sharpening pencils.
That’s all for now, if you’ve enjoyed this interview or have been intrigued by the premise of “Bullet Gal” then make sure to check out the book’s Kickstarter Page. You can also learn more about “Bullet Gal” on Facebook and Google+, follow Andrez on Twitter and check out more about IF? Commix.