Andrez Bergen is an expat Australian author, journalist, DJ, comic book artist, and ad hoc saké connoisseur who’s been entrenched in Tokyo, Japan, for the past 13 years. He makes music as Little Nobody and previously ran groundbreaking Melbourne record label IF? for over a decade, before setting up IF? Commix in 2013 in collusion with Matt Kyme. The duo do a comic book together titled Tales to Admonish. Bergen has also written for newspapers such as The Age and the Yomiuri Shinbun, as well as magazines like Mixmag, Anime Insider, Australian Style, Remix, Impact, 3D Worldand Geek Magazine.
He’s published four novels: The noir/sci-fi novel Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat (2011), surreal slipstream/fantasy One Hundred Years of Vicissitude (2012), comic book, noir and pulp homage Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? (2013), and the gothic-noir mystery Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth (2014). Bergen is current working on novel #4 (The Mercury Drinkers). In 2014 he unveiled his first graphic novel, a 144-page adaptation of Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat that Bergen both wrote and illustrated, along with the brand new monthly comic book series Bullet Gal. He’s further published short stories and sequantial yarns through Crime Factory, Shotgun Honey, Snubnose Press, Solarcide, Weird Noir, Big Pulp, 8th Wonder Press and All Due Respect, and worked on translating and adapting the scripts for feature films by Mamoru Oshii (Ghost in the Shell), KazuchikaKise and NaoyoshiShiotani, for Production I.G.
Laramore Black recently got to have a chat with him for us here at DarkMedia:
LARAMORE BLACK: If your answer to this question was all the world could ever hear, what would you say?
ANDREZ BERGEN: Bollocks.
LB: Shit answer (heh). You’ve been coming out with nearly a book a year for some time now, how do you keep at it with such tenacity? Was there a point you saw it as your greatest calling?
AB: I used to guffaw when some authors said in interviews that writing’s a disease. But it is — kind of. For me it’s a passion that overwhelms a lot of other things in your life, so the moment you’re on a roll you tend to squeeze in keyboard diatribes between mouthfuls, or scribble notes on scrap pieces of paper in the middle of busy streets. You don’t really listen to other people because you’re nutting out plot angles inside your noggin. You get kind of self-centred and rude and I’m sure it annoys the crap out of other people. Greatest calling? Dunno. Definitely you can’t control the beastie.
LB: Well, they say artistic people who read or write a lot develop some more controlled types of aspects of Schizophrenia. I would say it’s a lot like a disease, but not necessarily in a bad way. Like you get stuck in a way of thinking more creatively and it drives the art people make. With a lot of people it seems their concepts just get bigger or simpler depending on how long they have held this perspective while in the process of creating something. Do you find yourself looking around at things for a way to interpret it in your work all the time?
AB: Key words: All the time. Yep. I try to diffuse this sometimes – to just take in the world as is instead of ways in which to cannibalize it – but I blame music making. Doing that I was always on the bug of listening to sounds I could sample and splice. And then there’re the unconscious elements we sample, from books we’ve read and TV we’ve seen. Accidental homage, anyone?
LB: How do you go about fleshing out a new word baby? Do you follow a formula you’ve set for yourself in genre, always have a mapped out idea, or is it a blank sheet and unlimited direction?
AB: First up, genre doesn’t matter a hoot — at least in terms of binding yourself to some kind of dusty pigeon-hole. Yep, people need these constructs to know what to expect from a book or film, but I think categorizing should be last thing in mind when creating stuff. Bleed the genres. Secondly, I don’t have a road-map… which is kind of sad. It leaves me up shit creek without a paddle 99% of the time when I first start a book, so I have no idea what to do or where to go, let alone how to proceed. So a batter myself relentlessly, a bit of psychological fencing, trying to work out plot-points and direction. I’m there right now with the new novel ‘The Mercury Drinkers’. Ouch.
LB: What’s been your favorite book to put together and why?
AB: Good question — I’d probably run here with ‘Bullet Gal’, which wasn’t actually a book per se but a monthly comic book. I rammed together 12 issues (300+ pages) inside four months, it was so much fun. I guess this had to do with the fact that I was illustrating as well as writing, but the whole story had no plan. It was completely developed on-the-fly, page by page, which was liberating. Of course, it helped that I’d “set the scene” and had some plot points established in the novel ‘Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?’.
LB: Are you still doing anything in the way of electronic music?
AB: Yep, but less so now. I’m supposed to be polishing off a new Little Nobody album for this Japanese label, but basically I’m swinging together some of my older, unreleased tunes that I still dig. I don’t have the time or motivation to work so much with music right now — I was a wee bit burned out last year. Give it time. It’ll come back to me.
LB: Do you have anything you’d claim to be major influences on your music?
AB: Definitely Cabaret Voltaire, in particular their late ‘70s and early ‘80s work. I love ‘Voice of America’ to death, and in fact wore out the vinyl. Otherwise anything experimental, usually electronic, out there, with a sense of humour attached.
LB: How’s living in Japan and what would you recommend/ warn others about the place? How does it compare to your time growing up in Australia?
AB: Let me be straight – I adore this place, especially living in Tokyo. Must do, after being here 13 years. It’s modern, distorted, senses-shattering… but beneath that veneer are some oddball curiosities and one very long sense of history that we don’t have – so tangibly at least – in Australia. There are some elements that ring narrow-minded and insular, but on the whole I find the culture warm and embracing. I miss Melbourne, however. It’s my hometown and is the setting of a lot of my work. That city rocks all by itself.
LB: What’s your recently (or all time) favorite information you’ve consumed? Got any comics, movies, or books you simply can’t get enough of recently?
AB: I’m going through a huge Ed Brubaker kick, reading up all the comics he wrote for Marvel in particular like ‘Daredevil’ and ‘Winter Soldier’. His series of ‘Captain America’ and ‘The Marvels Project’ are ones I’ve read several times over, and he’s definitely my favourite comic book writer. ‘Fatale’ rocked, and I love what he’s doing with ‘Velvet’ and ‘The Fade Out’. I’m a big fan of his collaborative artists Steve Epting and Sean Phillips. Last year Matt Fraction and David Aja’s ‘Hawkeye’ was a revelation, but it’s sadly kind of run out of steam. Otherwise I’m going to refer you straight back to my favourite writer — Raymond Chandler. I’m always picking up his books again.
LB: I read the TOBACCO-SMOKING MOUNTAIN GOAT graphic novel adaptation you recently put together and I thought it was something a bit different than any comic I’d seen. I’d explain it as a Palahniukian styled novel put through the lens of a camera held by William S. Burroughs applying the Gysin cut-up method that somehow adds up to a darker vibe and existential journey to rival the work of Alan Moore in a whole new way. Give me a walk-through your process: How long does it take for you to create something in this style? Do you collect the photos over the years and how does it all add up into the final product we see now?
AB: Wow — “a Palahniukian styled novel put through the lens of a camera held by William S. Burroughs applying the Gysin cut-up method that somehow adds up to a darker vibe and existential journey to rival the work of Alan Moore”? Sorry, I just had to repeat that since it’s such a mind-blowingly rocking description and I wish I had one percent of the talent and ingenuity of the people you’re referring to! I’m chuffed you feel it was at least something different. I mean I’ve grown up with comic books, both British and American, as well as obscure Australian titles and things like ‘Tintin’. Japanese manga also. So creating something outside this existing framework is a relief. But I also read ‘The Third Mind’ by BrionGysin and William Burroughs — was put onto it by legendary Australian electronic muso Ollie Olsen when I interviewed him at uni — and of course Chuck Palahniuk has blown me away. Alan Moore? Loved what he did with ‘V for Vendetta’ and ‘Watchmen’, but I’ve lost interest in his more recent work; even so, the guy is a genius. So, back to your point… the cut-ups. I think they’ve been with me since high school, when I first read up about Dada and saw Marcel Duchamp’s toilet, followed by his collages. Then I fell into the 1970s music of Cabaret Voltaure — which was also about appropriation and cut-ups — and read ‘The Third Mind’. So I’m constantly seeing and collecting images and iconography, thinking about ways to subvert them. To manipulate and change them to create something new. I used to do this with scissors and glue, but now digital technology makes it far easier. I collect photos I take, plus those of mates, and I see advertizing imagery that’s thrust into our faces as fair plunder for stealing. Finally, there’s the homage-factor. I love slipping in things out of respect for books and movies and comics I dig.
LB: I’d say anyone with enough talent and perspective would say the same humbling thing about another person on their level. Of course, such a statement is always a little vague because everyone has different things from each of these names mentioned they might like more than others. People harp on new Palahniuk and prefer the old, others the opposite. V For Vendetta and Watchmen were definitely my favorite Moore things as well, but as an artist he can’t be expected to repeat work with the same similarities and even if he did there’d just be the same talk in a little different way. After time people have personal ties to various work in remembrance of the time of their lives it was consumed. I think Dada is something that made room for all this work mentioned in its time, so that’s awesome to hear from you. I can imagine filtering your creativity through so many forms give it more possibility and must be exciting to piece together every step of the way. Do you plan to be sticking to comic books for a while? Any idea to break into even further types of media?
AB: Nicely put! Totally agree on so many levels. It’s like with Frank Miller. What he did early on with Daredevil and Bartman, and later still with Sin City, blew my brain. But I can’t say I’ve connected with much of his more recent work. Dada? I worship those cats. What they did, in the context of the times, was brilliant. It still holds up today. You’re also dead-on about filtering the creativity through different forms of media giving it the chance to breathe and grow. Doing comics has made a difference in how I look at “straight” writing, and having done music coerced me into redefining how I look at linking up words. I’m loving doing the comic books right now, and you can blame my partner at IF? Commix, Matt Kyme, as he pushed me onto this course last year. Devil. Otherwise I’d really like to step back into film. It’s where I started at uni, and aside from video clips I haven’t really pursued this medium option further.
LB: You did another comic recently called Bullet Gal. What’s it about and does it carry a similar style as TSMG graphic novel adaptation or is it a more traditional artistic style?
AB: Actually, I went straight into ‘Bullet Gal’ after I wound up ‘TSMG’ because I felt I was on a roll, and I learned a lot through the process of doing that 144-page book. It’s more traditional hardboiled/noir in that the action takes place in city that’s apparently set in the 1940s, and most of it is in monochrome with shadows aplenty. But our protagonist is a teenage girl, she has anger management issues, she’s hardly a professional, and she’s a budding superhero as much as she is a gunsel. ‘TSMG’ was more a graphic novel in terms that it relies on the text and tale being related by Floyd, but ‘Bullet Gal’ is a continuous, fluid saga in which dialogue is king.
LB: Under Belly comics is doing a Kickstarter to make a sort of omnibus book of issues #1-12, how’s it been going and where can everyone find it?
AB: We’re actually publishing #6 in December, via IF? Commix in Australia (iffybizness.weebly.com), so when the trade paperback comes out in around April, we’ll be up to #9 or #10. I like the fact it’s coming out earlier than the original run will finish. But also this means we can crack the North American market. The ‘Bullet Gal’ comic, at least in physical form, has only really been available in Australia. But we’ve been getting some incredible feedback — I think people were open to this kind of left field interpretation of the mild-mannered comic book.
LB: I can’t wait to check it out. Anything else you’d like to put out into the world here?
AB: Um… support the indies? Look out for people pushing the underbelly of whatever medium, instead of looking only at the mainstream options? These are the real inventors. And they often do it for love rather than bucks.
LB: Thanks for dropping in and sharing with us a little of your time.
AB: Nah, thank you, as always. This kind of support is more valuable than a treasure chest of ill-gotten ducats.