This interview was conducted by Fantagraphics' Eric Buckler. Thanks to Eric and Lorenzo! (Ed. note: Hi Lorenzo! We miss you in North America! xo janice)
Lorenzo Mattotti is a talented necromancer; his hands give life to some of the most charged and heart-pounding characters in cartooning and illustration today. Having a cabaret of phantoms at his disposal, Mattotti has assembled comics that are a dangerous and dark exploration of human emotion. His latest cartooning project was a collaboration with Claudio Piersanti called Stigmata, which follows a man who bleeds from his palms as he trudges down a dark path that mutates wildly from the straight and narrow.
Mattotti has now collaborated on the book The Raven with Lou Reed, a project where he re-interpreted the works of Edgar Allen Poe and Lou Reed into creatures and situations in painting and illustration. Mattotti creates images from these stories that help to unlock any hidden power the pieces may have, as well as perfectly stating the obvious elements.
This interview was conducted at 3:00 am between Seattle, WA and Paris, France.
Eric Buckler: How did the Raven project come together?
Lorenzo Mattotti: I was contacted by Lou Reed's agency to ask me if I was interested in a collaboration. I didn't understand very well initially what he wanted. He wanted to make an illustrated book involving The Raven. At the beginning, I understood that he wanted to make a graphic novel, but when I read the text, I understood this was impossible. [laughter] So, he informed me that he would like me to make a book inspired by the show he made with Robert Wilson. But really, I still didn't understand it that much, so we decided to meet each other. I went to New York and we met, and I wanted to know how free I could be to make the book. Did he want classic illustration or could I be free to make my own interpretation? Lou wanted me to make my own interpretation, hearing the music. The style could be different according to the atmosphere and the music, in a very free way. I showed him one of my sketchbooks. Normally, it is very free, my personal work. So, I started to do many sketches in black and white, and I sent them to him by mail. He wanted to see everything. He told me what he preferred, and what he didn't really like, and we decided what to make in color. There were different techniques: there was pencil, brush, crayon, and ink.
Buckler: Do you have any personal connection with Edgar Allen Poe's work? Is it important to you?
Mattotti: I like his work very much. When I was young, it was strange, because I started to read Edgar Allen Poe done by a very good comics artist, Dino Battaglia. He made a version of a little novel by Edgar Allen Poe in a wonderful way with very evocative drawings. So, then I started to read the stories. I think Edgar Allen Poe is really inside my imaginary world because he has influenced so many other writers and so many other artists. I think he is now part of our collective imagination, really inside my idea of terror. The mystery, you know, the darker, the obsession of the head, of the brain. When I knew that he (Reed) wanted to make a book about Edgar Allen Poe, for me it was really natural. I did Jekyll and Hyde, and for me to go inside the obsession, you know to take the dark side of ourselves, for me, it is pretty much my work. And the idea that I could work with Edgar Allen Poe and Lou Reed pushed me to go really in a very straight way to not be afraid to make very strong images. I was justified. So it was really natural and it was really a pleasure to have the possibility to make these kind of images. It's a part of my work.
Buckler: What about the music of Lou Reed? What kind of a connection do you have to his music?
Mattotti: I knew the music of Lou Reed at the beginning of the '70s. I wasn't really impressed by his way of singing, to use the voice like an actor. Sometimes it was strange the way he changed his voice, sometimes he spoke, sometimes he sang. It was the way he interpreted the words, the expression of his voice. I remember there was a very good record, No Prisoners, I think, a live performance where there was really an atmosphere of the cabaret. I remember that I was thinking of a way to draw in this kind of voice. I was always interested by the music in the way that I draw. Really, I remember that I was thinking what kind of sign could be the voice of Lou Reed: very dry, and black & white with strange variations. I think that it is kind of my thinking with the voice of Robert Wyatt.
Buckler: Who was that?
Mattotti: Robert Wyatt, Soft Machine — you know, an English group from the '70s?
Buckler: Oh, OK, Soft Machine.
Mattotti: Yes, the drummer of Soft Machine. Also, he has a strange way of singing. So for me it was very good to know that Lou Reed wanted to work with me.
Lorenzo Mattotti, signing books at TCAF 2011
Buckler: You illustrate in different styles throughout the book. Can you talk about how you decided on these different styles?
Mattotti: I found it more and more interesting to make books where I can put inside different ways I interpret images. The idea that the book would be not so monolithic; only one style, only one direction, really intrigued me. I normally use different ways to draw so I can make the same object represent different emotions. I wanted the freedom to interpret it in the same book, to put different emotion in different ways. Always the idea develops not in a closed way, but the book is like a laboratory, a development of different ways to interpret the text. I have always been interested in this. I can interpret one page one way, but I say, “Oh, maybe it is possible in another way, look at this.” I want to give to the reader the possibility to open their imagination, give them inspiration to think about a different way. Always the images must be strong, not a sketch.
Buckler: Right, they must be complete pieces.
A page from The Raven
Buckler: The book is full of creatures. Can you talk about where some of these come from, how you craft those creatures?
Mattotti: Creatures are always our insides. Its part of a long work that I have always done in my sketchbooks. I think in 30 years, I'll continue to make drawings like that in my sketchbook. They are always drawings about my insides, so they are metaphor, they are symbols, symbols of our natural inside. So, I don't think they are different creatures from us, they are not animals, they are us. They are our brains, they are our ideas. The drawing gives us the possibility to change the form to make signs that interpret the reality. They are the concretization of our imagination. So, maybe sometimes they explain much better than a realistic image would. So, the creature from inside you. You may think that they are creatures of another world but they are creatures of our world; the spider, the monster, the stranger, the character. The distortion is the distortion of our brain.
Buckler: So, you lent the creature inside of yourself to this work to help translate it?
Mattotti: To what?
Buckler: You said that the creatures were a concretization of the creature inside of you?
Mattotti: They are a concretization of ideas, of sensations, of emotions. I don't have an animal in my brain, I have emotion, contradiction, tension, pieces of sensation and emotion. And when I draw, my creatures are the concretization of emotions. I do not know before I draw what will happen on the paper, they go out in a very natural way. They are the symbol of sensations that I have inside.
Buckler: Can you take us through creating one of your images? What your process is?
Mattotti: There is always a different creative process. It depends very much on the work. In this case, I read the text of Lou Reed [Edgar Allen Poe], and sometimes I was impressed by some images. But it was more natural when I put on the music. So, I put on the music and I read some of the text, then I started to draw. The music gave me much more of the images, the atmosphere and tone of my images. Much of my work is influenced by music, so for many other images I let myself go on the melody and the atmosphere of the music. In my history, the music gave me some ideas and perspective for some of the work. It is not always like this, sometimes I must make an illustration and I try to make the composition in a very logical way, much more like a project, I have to make sketches and little by little I change. I do that when I have to make posters, or covers for magazines. When I make a comic it is between that. In a way it is a project, a very rational project, logic project, in another way you must make it possible for the drawing to develop the sense. So it is between the two.
Buckler: Could you talk further about how music relates to your art?
Mattotti: I could give you an example?
Mattotti: Fire is completely influenced by the music of Peter Gabriel and Brian Eno. I remember the first images of Fire were done hearing the music of Peter Gabriel. Always, my books have a sort of soundtrack that I use to concentrate with. The book Carnival, for me it was about the possibility to try to relate the place between music and images.
Buckler: Do you listen to music while you make art?
Mattotti: Yeah, yeah, all the time.
Buckler: You originally went to school to be an architect, correct?
Mattotti: Yeah, but I never wanted to be an architect. I really went into architecture because I couldn't go to fine art school. So, I decided to go into architecture school. There were good subjects. In a strange way I learned many things that I couldn't learn in a fine art school.
Buckler: Did you learn things in architecture school that you have been able to use in your career as a cartoonist and an artist?
Mattotti: I think architecture gave me the notion of space, the structure of the images. The idea of the project. Also, it gave me other influences in how to approach a subject. Not only in an artistic way, but about the historic way, also the logical side of the subject. In a way, it is more scientific. I learned how to be more scientific in the way I work.
A page from Stigmata
Buckler: Can you talk about the difference between creating these kind of illustrations for The Raven and creating comics?
Mattotti: It is a big difference. This kind of book is a sort of a mosaic. I started with some images from one side and another side and little by little the world of this book started to exist. In the comics, I am obliged to start the development of the characters. The structure of the pages are completely different. You must think about the tolerance of the style. If you change the style, it must be justified around the subject of the story. Maybe it is more complicated to make the comics, for me it is more complicated. There must be a tension inside that is done with the images and the text. Here in a book like The Raven, or other books, I am more free, less obligations. In a way I can go on the extreme side, the free way. The relation of the text and the pages is completely different. It is a sort of complimentary thing, you must open the structure of the text that you read, you put a way to interpret it. I don't think it is easier. I think it is more simple than comics. Comics are more complicated I think.
Buckler: Do you believe that this project can be interpreted any further, into another form?
Mattotti: Maybe, yes. It could be interesting. Lou Reed, once in an interview, said that this text could be a ballet. He is always interested to reinterpret this text in a different way with different artists. Maybe it could be a dance, or an animation. I don't know. I remember one idea that could be beautiful: if there is a reading with the music and a projection of the images. Could be interesting to make something with animation or something strange in the theater. I don't know in the future what Mr. Lou Reed will do, he has so many projects — me, too. It's like a mine, it's a big concentration of images. It's a pity the book is not published with the CD inside. It could be a beautiful addition if people could hear the music and look at the images and read the text.
Buckler: I am sure you get asked this a lot, but I wanted to concentrate on your art. Who are some graphic artists who have influenced you?
Mattotti: There are so many, but I always say that for me one of the big masters is Alberto Breccia, the Argentine master. He opened so many doors, he opened the possibilities in comics, possibilities for the expressionists to be abstract. The explosion of sensation. There are so many other masters. I think about [Dino] Battaglia in Italy. There are many painters; Francis Bacon, Caravaggio. I love Alfred Kubin and Odilon Redon. For me this book is really in the tradition of the symbolic illustrator, like Alfred Kubin or Odilon Redon.
Buckler: Who are some cartoonists who have influenced you?
Mattotti: When I was younger I read all kinds of cartoonists, I was always influenced by the story of the cartoon. In Europe we have different tradition in comics: such good creators like Hugo Pratt, but I also like American comics like Walt Kelly and Dick Tracy [Chester Gould], [George] Herriman. I really fell in love with [Lyonel] Feininger, I use many ideas of Feininger. I grew up with comics history. Jose Muñoz, I am good friends with Jose Muñoz, so he influenced me. The relation with life and work. Also, Art Spiegelman influenced me. Robert Crumb, who opened the door for independent comics. There are so many. I grew up with comics. It was the '60s and '70s. For me comics was like film or literature.
Buckler: Are there any other projects you have in the works that you wanted to talk about?
Mattotti: Now I am working in animation, experimental for television. I will be working in one of my first books Huckleberry Finn Adventures by Mark Twain. We are putting color to it right now with computers, it will be put out in France. I will maybe put out new pages or a new version of Chimera. I want to continue some of my old comics projects, black and white. I had stopped for a while.
Buckler: Is there anything we didn't cover, anything you would like to add?
Mattotti: This book, The Raven, is really a collaboration with Lou Reed, because he wanted to give me ideas, to control and be part of the project. He really wanted to work on this project. The melody of the images was done together.
Photo Credit: Benoît Grimalt