An Interview with Fearscape’s Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti & Vladimir Popov
Gentle reader, perhaps you’ve heard of a little comic called Fearscape?
What’s that? “Of course,” you say, scoffing at the notion that anyone who’s anyone would’ve missed one of Vault Comics’ fine releases in 2018!
We, like you, have been poring over every issue with a fine-toothed comb. Digging into every conceit, every turn of phrase, every homage, every fib and fiction and flub and flutter that emanates from the man, the myth, the … well, let’s just call him by his name, shall we? Henry Henry, our hapless and hazardous narrator.
Ryan O’Sullivan, Andrea Mutti and Vladimir Popov were kind enough to lend us some of their time this month to chat about the series thus far in advance of issue #4 which drops during the week we celebrate everything to do with love (and despair). Fitting, no?
First off, thanks everyone for your time! Ryan, you’ve mentioned elsewhere that Fearscape’s digs at certain comic conceits are reader bait – whatever their intended effect, does working conceptually present any challenges?
Ryan: Not especially, because the high concept elements of Fearscape are just extensions of the protagonist’s character. What initially could appear as experimental formalism, or reactionary deconstruction, the attentive reader soon realizes is just a means for a metafictional story to express the character of its lead, Henry Henry. Forget my reasons for telling the story the way I am. Focus instead on Henry Henry’s reasons for narrating the story the way he is.
Ignore the man behind the curtain. He spells funny.
Fearscape is impressive because it toys with the medium’s underpinnings while carrying so much emotional weight. It’s an effective and uncomfortable read on multiple levels. How easy is it for you to drop into Henry Henry’s voice?
Ryan: The sheer density of his thought and observation, ever-present in the narration, makes him slower to write than other characters. With that said, he’s not especially difficult to write. Like all my characters, I have his movements plotted out months before I sit down to physically write the scripts. I can’t imagine “letting the character feel their way through a scene.” What a terrible idea. Henry Henry is far too manipulative to be allowed such freedom.
With Henry Henry’s actions in issue #3 I’m curious to see if he doubles down on narrative control or if we’ve pivoted, as there are other forces that tug at the edges. How much stock should we put in any one entity’s perspective in this piece?
Ryan: Interesting question. Could Henry Henry’s unreliable narration itself be a red herring, to distract the reader from the deception of a different character in the story?
I advise my readers trust no-one but themselves in answering the above. (Certainly don’t believe a damned word I’m saying.)
Will we see more of Arthur in the next issues, or is the nature of that relationship another piece of bait?
Ryan: Arthur plays an important role. I assure you I’m not using Gogolian antics with him, at least.
Andrea, what’s it like working in a meta narrative? Do you approach panel layouts or composition any differently?
Andrea: The script is very clear and clean. I realize a fresh pencil, and most of the effects are in the inked version. With the watercolors I try to add a “dreamlike” touch. It’s my first time with this new approach but I have to say that it really fits with the vibe of the whole story.
How do you balance the banality of the present with the fantastical Fearscape? There’s bleed, obviously, but is it fun to work across both in one book?
Andrea: Oh yes, it’s very fun and a great chance to dig into different graphic solutions. In the Fearscape I am totally free, and every “effect has a kind of … sense, If you understand what I mean. The real world is very realistic, but still retains this dreamlike sense, I guess.
The Muse’s beauty is exceptional. What was your inspiration for her pure form?
Andrea: Ok, ok. I have to be honest – it’s my wife. Not for the whole likeness but for the soul. But please, not a word about that to her. Or she’ll want any rights back!
Vladimir, tell me a bit about how you chose the palette for this comic. Was your process any different than how you usually work?
Vladimir: I chose a palette for this comic in the same manner as for every other project I am working or worked on in the past: organically and in several steps. Step one is I read the script and then contemplate on it a day or two, to try to collect all my feelings and thoughts about it. Step two is to talk to the writer and artist (in this case Ryan and Andrea), express my thoughts on the approach and art direction to them through email or Skype/Facetime, and see what they think the approach should be. After that, I color the first two to three pages to see how I actually feel the artwork while working on it. Step three s the first revision circle, where we discuss and analyze the approach on the first few pages one more time and after we lock everything, I dive in with full pace on the book. To summarize, a bit slower start but a faster ending.
And usually, after I finish the first issue I get the real picture and feel about how the book should look in colors and go back and tweak here and there to adhere to the desired image. After that, everyone looks at the book and sends their feedback and opinions back to me. I read through their thoughts and apply what I think will make the book better, and we are all set!
Henry Henry seems to gather muted colors around him, while the rest of the landscape holds the light. Was this intentional?
Vladimir: Kind of. I thought about it a bit and it made sense to me to showcase Henry’s actions through colors in this subtle way. Since Henry is lacking originality and ideas in his writing, he gets muted colors, while the world of Fearscape and Arthur’s world has more vivid colors because of their originality. Henry lacks a sparkle inside him, so no sparkling around him.
Same goes for the Muse and Fearscape color choices. It made sense to me to make the Muse pure gold since she is the divine beauty and inspiration for any artist, and to make the Fearscape into a mysterious purple fading place. At the same time, both the Muse and the Fearscape work perfectly with these color choices due to their color dynamics and color theory, because yellow and purple are complementary colors. So, a little bit of inspiration and a little bit of color design were thrown in the mix while molding Fearscape‘s colors.
Despite some of its recognizable archetypes, the Fearscape is an intangible landscape that you both render in tender detail – how do you work together to maintain this unreality without sacrificing clarity?
Vladimir: Through good artwork, I would say. You can draw and paint anything with clarity, no matter the reality if you know what you are doing. Andrea certainly knows what he is doing, and I like to believe that I do too, although sometimes the path to clarity can often be blurred!
And also through good teamwork and team-building. Andrea and I have worked together for half a decade now and I know what he likes and dislikes in coloring, sometimes better than he does! [laughs]
Ryan, without venturing into spoilers, how important is it that we feel sympathy for our flawed narrator?
Ryan: Sympathy I leave up to the reading tastes of each individual reader. I’m much more interested in my readers empathizing with Henry Henry. You may not agree with his selfish actions, but you must understand them.
I’ve always enjoyed inverted heroes (emerging villains?) like MacBeth and Walter White. Even as we see their mask fall, and the monster underneath emerge, their actions are always personal and understandable. I think this is why I gravitate towards these sorts of characters; they feel more human, and less cartoonish, than a lot of the villains we typically see in comics.
Are there any other stories you’d like to tell in this universe, or is this a contained piece?
Ryan: The setting allows for more stories, and the sales/response has been good enough to warrant it. But, we shall have to see. I have thoughts for a second book percolating, as well as something else that focuses on Francesco Petrarch.
Although the Petrarch idea will probably become its own thing, separate from the Fearscape. (As much as any of my works can be.)
What’ve each of you got on the docket for 2019? Anything, comics or otherwise, you’re excited about working on or would like to share?
Ryan: Nothing I can share, unfortunately. Although expect some news from Vault Comics soon.
Andrea: Some cool new ideas with Ryan, some cool sci-fi stuff and more. No spoilers yet!
Vladimir: A novel, so I can put every little detail I want in it, and spin the story the way I like it!
And finally, if you had one shot to tell your life story, what medium would you choose?
Ryan: I’ve found there are two types of writer: those who have experienced dark tragedy or trauma, and write to escape from it, almost as a sort of escapist therapy; and those devoid of any life trauma who create simply for the act of making art. Aggressively white and middle class, I belong entirely to this second class of undeveloped-backstory-possessing writer.
Utterly devoid of conflict, I doubt my life story would be worthy of any medium other than, perhaps, many decades in the future, some sort of literary biography that would allow my especially dedicated readers to piece together how my life influences(ed?) my work.
Andrea: Damn, in comics of course!
Vladimir: A bit more of Fearscape and few unannounced projects for some European publishers, as far as comics are going. My main plan for 2019 is to shift my focus onto my own projects and do some other stuff outside comics, like novels (like my self-published novella series StarJack under a pen name) and video games. I have been coloring comics for full eight years now, and I want to experiment with storytelling and other mediums outside comics now.
Fearscape #4 hits shelves in February, and I, for one, cannot wait to see what this clever cadre has in store for us. O’Sullivan, Mutti, Popov and Bennett are hitting all the right notes in this surreal epic.