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G wie Gorilla: Can you tell us a little about your approach to producing the artwork for Kickback, seeing that you did both the pencil work and the colours?
David Lloyd: It was drawn to the French size, because they were the first publishers for the book. I’ll tell you technically how I did it. The artwork was done in black and white, just to the size of an A4 scanner bed. There’s a minimalist style attached to it. I took a black and white printout of the artwork, and then coloured it with colour pencils, and I’d rescan that. Then it went through some manipulation in Photoshop, using certain filters to change or keep the colour texture of the pencils. As you can see in Kickback, there is a special kind of textural quality to it, which suits the detective/noir tone of the story.
G wie Gorilla: I thought the images had a very special kind of removed, nostalgic quality to them.
David Lloyd: Well, if you compare Kickback to American crime comics, there’s a big move towards photorealism there, and I’m not interested in that. I’m interested in impressionism. Also, I’m a big fan of certain crime movies, and I wanted to do something like that, something with that flavour.
G wie Gorilla: On your website, you mention films like John Boorman’s Point Blank as an inspiration.
David Lloyd: Yes, I really wanted to do something like that. In some of those movies, the writing was just as much as you needed for whatever you were saying, whereas in a lot of the movies and comic books from America now everybody’s talking, everybody’s chatting all the time. It’s really annoying, because it’s not instructive, it’s not moving the story forward, it’s not telling us anything about the characters, it’s just writers getting in love with themselves.
G wie Gorilla: Point Blank is a film about place, about a certain British/European way of looking at the US. Do you think you brought a particularly European or British way of looking at an American genre to the work?
David Lloyd: Kickback’s US is a mythical place, a generic US. I’m interested in it as a backdrop. I’m telling a story about a corrupt policeman in a corrupt force, what led him to be corrupt in the first place and how and why he gets out of it. I mean, my concept of corruption is that to be corrupt, you need to feel like a criminal. You need to feel guilty. For people who are happy about themselves, it’s very difficult to become corrupt. I wanted to tell this story with a familiar backdrop, a common backdrop. I called the town Franklin City in the state of New Plymouth, but it could be New York, it could be Chicago, it could be anywhere. But the reason I didn’t want to use an actual city is that I would be trapped by authenticity then. I would have to be sure about the place, which is unnecessary, because the story I’m telling is a general story against a familiar backdrop, like a theatre backdrop. In a theatre, you can paint a skyscraper on your backdrop, and then you can have a realistic story in front of it. And nobody’s going to worry about the backdrop. They’re all just interested in the people. And that’s what I wanted to do with Kickback. I also didn’t want the frustration of having to use lots of reference material, because before I did Kickback, I had done War Stories with Garth Ennis, which had to be very accurate and drove me mad. I’m proud of what these stories turned out like, but it was real murder to do them. Sitting there at the drawing board, you’re looking at a big reference book on one side, and a photograph from the Imperial War Museum on the other, and you’ve got to get everything right. If you’re telling a realistic story about a real war, you just have to do it accurately. That is my job, and it was part of the brief to do that. I was happy to do it, but afterwards I realised I hadn’t had much fun doing it.
G wie Gorilla: In recent years, there has been a re-emergence of noir comics, most of them driven by writers like Brian Bendis, Ed Brubaker or Greg Rucka. Kickback seems to be somewhat different from these American books in that it has more in common with the classical noir, with noir as “dark melodrama”. Why did you choose this approach?
David Lloyd: I find it’s the best to actually tell a story. A lot of the thrillers and crime dramas done these days are very complex, whereas I wanted to do something that’s simple. I wanted to create a structure, a plot that would only serve as a means to tell a story about Joe. It’s all about him. I wanted that classic situation, I didn’t want too many complications. The basic situation is not original, there are lots of clichés and clichéd characters.
G wie Gorilla: But there’s a beauty to clichés when they are used well.
David Lloyd: Absolutely, that’s exactly right. They’re symbols, they’re ciphers. It’s like in V for Vendetta. The character of Finch, he’s a classic. He’s like Donald Pleasence. You use them to tell a story.
G wie Gorilla: Kickback’s structure also very much reminded us of classical Hollywood cinema, in that Joe’s personal conflict is intrinsically tied to the societal conflict. Both are marked by cynicism, negotiability and corruption.
David Lloyd: That’s true, that’s exactly right. It’s a very important theme to the work. All the political movements, they only work if the individual goes along with it. (holds up his glass of red wine) The individual always wants more wine. Corruption is all about getting more than you’re actually due. If there’s an election, and there are two candidates: one of them, and you know it, is better for society as a whole, but he’s not offering you any more than you’ve got already. But the other candidate is going to put ten dollars more in your pocket. We’ve all got bills to pay, family, mortgages. It’s so easy for us to say, this guy is going to give us ten dollars more, I’ll vote for him. You make that move, and you become corrupt. We do that all the time, but we never think of ourselves as villains. We just go along with what everybody else does. [Kickback’s] Joe is the same, but there’s a certain point in the graphic novel where he takes charge.
G wie Gorilla: Do you find that using genre fiction as a means of tackling themes like capitalism run amok, where everything is negotiable, is still an artistically vital idea?
David Lloyd: Very much so, I mean, that is the heart of corruption. There’s not enough stories like that in the medium, and that’s one of the reasons why comics are not respected enough, either here or in America. Specifically in America and in the UK. Raymond Chandler, for example, was always interested in telling stories about corruption, and Marlowe was his white knight, the one honorable man. That was more of a faerie tale concept, whereas Dashiell Hammett was more rooted in reality. I wish that more comics stories would do it, that the writers and artists would be more interested in ideas than in the characters. The basic problem with the American industry is that it’s completely concerned with characters. You know, they sell Spider-Man and Batman and Superman. Even when the protagonist is not a superhero, like Sandman, they’re still selling the character. The character has to have a certain look, a certain image, to grab as many people as possible to buy the comic book. He can’t be compromised. Whereas I’m interested in characters as a means to telling a story, a means of saying something about people. In most of the western countries, the comics medium is used to selling licensed characters, simple characters. I’m more interested in characters like Steve McQueen’s in Bullitt. He was not just a straight hero. In the end, you see that he’s really questioning his life. And they didn’t make another movie after it. He didn’t do what Clint Eastwood did with the Dirty Harry movies, destroying the original concept with the sequels.
G wie Gorilla: In Kickback, you achieve a density of images, of signs, visual metaphors that is very rare in the medium, especially in American comics.
David Lloyd: You know, we’re surrounded by images all the time. Kickback’s central metaphor is in Joe’s head. But he doesn’t want to remember. It’s the image of the car, being trapped in that car, sinking to the bottom of the river. And that emerges in his fear of being in the airship when he’s a kid.
G wie Gorilla: The way you structure the story based on Joe’s repressed memories very much reminded me of Hitchcock’s Marnie.
David Lloyd: Absolutely. The thing is, I’m more into movies. What I’m trying to do is to tell a story that is very much like a movie, using the same techniques as in the cinema. I didn’t want to make the central metaphor totally clear. But I do get frustrated when I read reviews, there was one review in particular where the author says that he couldn’t understand the metaphor. There’s the big warehouse, and I provide a clue with the axial walkway, and then it’s not much of a stretch to go from there to the airship, and then to the whale, and finally the submerged car.
G wie Gorilla: I think that to a certain extent, we’ve lost a certain visual culture, a facility with images, with reading and deciphering images.
David Lloyd: I think it’s even worse in comics, because people nowadays want to be told everything. They actually want to be led like sheep through a story. They don’t want you to guide them, they just want you to tell them. And if you do that, what is the point? A lot of people believe that the death of cinema came with the introduction of sound, because the perfection of what you could do with just an image died because of sound. The best movies use sound as much as it needs to be used, and visuals as much as necessary, in a sort of a perfect dance. And in comics that’s the same. But the trouble with most comics, at least in America and the UK, is that it’s too much a business of writers. Writers sit down to tell a story, and basically they write it out in dialogue and captions. So the artist merely becomes an illustrator. He is not actually part of the core of it, the storytelling. Whereas if you’re a writer-artist, you can’t separate one thing from the other. You can’t take the visuals away and still understand the story, and neither can you take the script away and understand it. But in most comics, you can take the art away, and you can still get what’s going on. But that’s not the purest comic storytelling.
G wie Gorilla: I take it that in American mainstream comics, the writer more often than not doesn’t even know who will draw the book. Which is why their scripts are mostly not fitted to the artist.
David Lloyd: Whatever the circumstances are that lead to that, the end result is not the best work, because it’s an industrial product. Most of American comics is an industrial business.
G wie Gorilla: Assembly line production is not necessarily a bad thing, though, if you consider the achievements of classical Hollywood cinema.
David Lloyd: The thing about classical Hollywood is that the producers then knew about cinema. And they knew what made a good movie. I don’t think there are a lot of people in comics who know what they are doing. I mean, there’s no real solid training in comics. You’ve got really bad storytellers working alongside good storytellers. It’s a very immature industry, it’s never developed any real rules that anybody sticks to. There were a bunch of really experienced professionals, people like Archie Goodwin or Will Eisner, veterans who knew exactly what they were doing, but very few others living up to that standard.
G wie Gorilla: Getting back to Kickback – in most noir, the narrative perspective is highly subjective. Noir is oftentimes about the unreliability of everything and everybody, including the protagonist. In Kickback, however, you have opted for a much more “objective” third person narration. Why did you decide for this?
David Lloyd: It’s mostly because I was not interested in following a stylistic format, a stylistic pattern of any kind. The most important thing was to tell a story about Joe. He is central to everything, and the people around him are satellites, basically. Even when the story is not with Joe, the scene ends up telling a part of his story. Everything is supplementary to him. I wanted it to be real, and I wanted to tell a real story. What you were describing just now, it’s a stylistic device, and I’m not interested in style per se. A form of storytelling like noir is useful to me as a tool. I did one of Dark Horse’s Aliens books, but the science fiction was only a way of telling a story Frank, the piece’s central character, not about the aliens. I do love noir, but it’s just a form.
G wie Gorilla: And finally – Kickback has a somewhat positive ending. That is highly uncommon in noir fiction, which had a great part in establishing a new pattern of “bad endings” contradicting the American dream. Is it important for you that the story have a moral core to it, that order is restored in the end?
David Lloyd: Oh God, yeah. I’m actually very cynical. I really think people are very corrupt. We are innately corrupt. But I wanted the Hollywood ending. I wanted uplift, because to me there is a cure, and it lies in recognising where our guilt comes from and, in the best of all possible worlds, to have it lifted from our shoulders. And of course, that’s what happens to Joe, because he finds out that he had no reason to feel guilty. And so he’s released himself from the need to be corrupt. And now it’s a better world, at least for him. I wanted that release, that freedom. I think that cynicism is a growing issue in society right now. I mean, throughout the western world, all those ideals, like socialism versus capitalism, it’s all gone. We live in a global capitalist society. And we just have to settle for compromised ideals all the time. That’s why we become cynical. I wanted to free the reader from that, and that’s why I went for that kind of ending. I think we need that. We need to believe that there is some way out, whether it’s true or not.
G wie Gorilla: Thank you very much for taking the time.
Text Copyright Jochen Ecke 2006
Bilder Copyright David Lloyd