Interview Mahendra Singh
Illustration in Adam Roberts, 20 Trillion Leagues under the Sea.
How would you describe your drawing style? I draw mostly for books and a little bit for comix, always with pen and ink in an old-fashioned style called crosshatching. It is very time-consuming to do — so many lines! — which gives me a zen "high" when I work. I put in lots of details so the pictures tell multiple stories, not just parrot the text. My style is not too fashionable (visually or conceptually), which is probably a blessing in disguise. Style should come from your own psychology, not an ad agency or marketing department. Or even worse, whatever pop-culture rubbish brainwashed you as a child. Also, the style in which one compresses ideas into a drawing, this is very important, as much as the visual look.
Illustration in the book Luminous Chaos by JC Valtat Who are your main influences as an illustrator? Since I was a child, the engravings and woodcuts of Albrecht Dürer have fascinated me, I learned crosshatching by studying them. The trick to drawing in black and white is to pay as much attention to the paper as to the ink, to focus on technique and let expression follow naturally, not the other way around. Every drawing is a performance and the reader should be properly entertained. Gustave Doré taught me the importance of lighting and staging, he is so theatrical … Moebius, of course … Edward Gorey, William Hogarth. The American illustrators of the late 60s and 70s were quite good, especially in the conceptual area, artists like Milton Glaser, Brad Holland, Seymour Chwast. They compressed wit and humor and culture into metamorphic images that communicated on multiple levels. A good illustrator should be well-read also, this is mandatory. If you read (or look at) too much second-rate art, you will produce second-rate art. Read wide and deep, Western, Oriental, modern, classical, verse and prose, anything that forces you to look through another's eyes until everything seems alien, and then you'll know you've arrived.
Never neglect the classics, only a fool neglects the past. The human condition is eternal, everything of quality is a legitimate resource.
Illustration in: Gilbert Alter Gilbert, Poets ranked by Beard Weight.
How did you go about illustrating Lewis Carroll's The hunting of the Snark? This graphic novel is mostly a surrealist expansion of Lewis Carroll, with many detours into everything from Medieval Scholasticism to Martin Heidegger (kind of the same thing, really). The book is a memory palace of our collective culture. Thinking up an image for each stanza was the hard part, making them flow with the unreal narrative while also expanding the reader's head into the real world. It took about 2
years to draw, with lots of interruptions.
It was difficult to sell to publishers … protosurrealist interpretations of Lewis Carroll are not as profitable as Hollywood raping Lewis Carroll … the publisher, Melville House, understood the book and also the importance of presenting cultural difficulties to readers, of not making things so easy for them. Readers are not idiots, they like challenges more than publishers think — or fear! I think I may have pitched it as a Where's Waldo? for surrealists, with the punchline being that there is no Waldo, only death.
I have a blog explaining each picture in my Snark, http://justtheplaceforasnark.blogspot.ca/ … the poem is a sort of code whose meaning is simply to be a code, which is a perfect metaphor for how human beings often think reality is a code addressed to them. The white noise of culture is our reaction to this enigma. I call this approach protosurrealism because Lewis Carroll was surrealist and also anti-surrealist before the fact. Pile on the paradoxes until the reader becomes dizzy, that's what I call genuine naturalism!
You are the creator of American Candide. Are you a satirist? A lot of my work is satirical or at least humorous, so yes, I think I am a satirist. I wrote (and also illustrated) the novelAmerican Candide because Voltaire gets mostly lip service from the American educated classes. I wanted to give them a serious shock by showing them the real Voltaire, not a Disney adaptation of Voltaire. Or a Broadway Voltaire, almost as loathsome. I copied Voltaire's plot as much as possible, it fit perfectly into modern America, the wars in the Middle East, secret torture chambers, Wall Street thugs, the calculated racism, globalism, etc. I also made my Candide travel around the world, so that people understand that American problems are really human problems. This book was the hardest book to publish that I've done in 31 years. American publishers were very uncomfortable with it. It wasn't the politics, it was the suspicion that they were one of the book's targets, since in many ways, the lazy thinking of the American intellectual classes is a major cause of American unhappiness. I started the book when Bush was President, I was infuriated by the Liberation of Iraq (which is a euphemism worthy of Goebbels) and was determined to say exactly what I thought. But not as an intellectual tirade, that's an utter bore, no, I wanted to make readers laugh. Nothing angers the ruling elite more than being laughed at and mocked as moral cretins. It touches a nerve because they know it is true, at least the clever ones do.
The fact that most American publishers (and authors) shy away from political satire speaks volumes about the current state of America. This is the final joke of the Cold War, that the West won and doesn't care about what it won at such cost: the freedom to speak truth to power. The publisher who finally accepted American Candide was Bill Campbell at Rosarium, he specializes in fiction and comix by and for minorities. The book made him laugh and that is the point: when you're perpetually on the outside, you develop a very accurate bullshit sensor. American Candide is catnip for those who are fed up of reading political bullshit. There's a review of the book at Biblioklept, here: https://biblioklept.org/2016/05/16/in-american-candide-mahendra-singh-reboots-voltaires-classic-satire/ … and excerpts/ordering info here: http://justtheplaceforasnark.blogspot.ca/p/blog-page.html What contemporary artist(s) should be more famous? That is a tough question! So many artists that I am jealous of! Matt Madden, his expansion of comix into the realms of formal constraints is a revolutionary idea, he is pointing the way for so many of us … http://mattmadden.com/ … Oleg Lipchenko has done superb work with Lewis Carroll (and even Sigmund Freud) … http://lipchenko.com/ … another Carrollian, Tatiana Ianovskaia, whose work is charming without being saccharine, which is very tricky to pull off successfully …http://www.saatchiart.com/tianovskaia … Anuj Shrestha is a young artist doing comix in the USA, he is still growing but his work interests me, genuine surrealist tendencies … http://www.anujink.com/ … also, and last but not least, another weird-but-good, surrealist comix artist, Hans Rickheit, I think of him as an American Gothic Surrealist …http://chromefetus.blogspot.ca/ … I better stop here, there's too many more!
Everybody deserves their 15 minutes, all must have prizes!
Also of interest: Interview-with-Sabrina-Jones