From The Raven by Lorenzo Mattotti, courtesy of Galerie Martel.
Italian cartoonist and multidisciplinary artist Lorenzo Mattotti has enjoyed a long and successful career, winning several awards for his graphic novels and has illustrated covers for Vanity Fair and The New Yorker. And fortunately for local fans, he will be attending this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF) as a featured guest.
Mattotti’s graphic novels are eclectic in style and cover a wide spectrum of subject matter: along with a series of original stories, he has transformed several literary classics—like Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and Dante’s Inferno—into graphic novels and illustrated books.
During his first visit to Toronto, he will be promoting the American launch of his latest book, The Raven, a collaborative effort with rocker Lou Reed, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem by the same name. The book will be published in June 2011 by Fantagraphics Books.
Mattotti spoke to us by telephone from his Paris studio about his art and his upcoming trip.
Lorenzo Mattotti. Photo by Benoît Grimait.
Torontoist: What brings you to this year’s TCAF?
Lorenzo Mattotti: For me it represents an opportunity, on the one hand, to present my work. I am very curious to present my graphic novels to an American public. Moreover, I’m excited to meet Canadian artists. In short: interest and curiosity.
How do European and North American comic art differ?
There’s absolutely a difference. Just like there’s a difference between America and Europe. It’s more complicated to explain how they differ. It’s clear that in America a lot of attention is paid to comic books about superheroes or that appeal to popular tastes. In Europe, especially in France and Italy, there are more researched or experimental comics. I think this is in part because there are several small publishing houses. It’s a different comic culture.
For your latest book you worked with the rocker Lou Reed. How did this collaboration come about?
He sought me out. The project started as a concert he put on with [American stage director] Robert Wilson, based on Edgar Allan Poe’s poem. Lou Reed took the text, reworked it, and added his world. Afterwards, he wanted to publish an illustrated book with the text from the show. He was looking around for an illustrator and he came across my Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, which he really enjoyed. I really have [Art] Spiegelman to thank. He suggested my name to Reed.
Is it a challenge to translate from music to images?
I’m not sure. It can be a challenge to capture the music, but the process has always fascinated me. I think with music, I feel a strong link to it so it comes naturally to me to illustrate the emotions music evokes.
Can you describe briefly the creative process for this book?
I remember when I met with Reed, I wasn’t quite sure what he wanted from me. It was unclear if I was to act as an illustrator or if I would have full control over the artwork. He told me to feel free and to work with the text as it spoke to the music. In the end I think it’s a shared effort. Edgar Allan Poe was interpreted by Lou Reed. I interpreted Lou Reed as to reinterpret Edgar Allan Poe. All three visions are captured in this book.
How did you interpret the character of the raven?
It was clear to me that the raven is a worrying figure, a disconcerting presence that can cause a feeling of anxiety. There’s something mysterious and dark about him. However, my drawings may also suggest a sort of solitude. There’s also a sort of lonely melancholy surrounding this character, like a vampire. He is almost cursed. However, readers are free to interpret him as they choose.
From the graphic novel Stigmata by Lorenzo Mattotti. Image courtesy of Fantagraphics Books.
Solitude seems to be a reoccurring theme in your graphic novels. Why does this theme resonate with you?
I’m not sure. Each of us has a theme with which we associate more than others. For me, it comes naturally to portray solitary characters. In the end we are all alone and at a certain point we have to confront this idea. Solitude can also be an inability to communicate with others. It’s probably something I as an artist feel more than most, even if I try to fight these feelings. On a positive note, in a moment of concentration solitude can help us see our own inner depth.
But often you work collaboratively on your graphic novels?
[Laughs] it’s an intentional effort to escape loneliness.
So you enjoy the collaborative process?
I really enjoy creating with others because I enjoy working symbiotically. Usually when I work with someone we will invent the story together.
Your books vary in style. How do you decide what form to use?
Sometimes it’s completely natural process. For me, Stigmata was always a story in black and white—it couldn’t be told using colour—while Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde was clearly a story to be told using expressionist colours. Every story has its form. Sometimes, I will have an idea, but I will struggle to find its form.
How did you illustrate The Raven?
Very naturally I chose to use ink with lots of black, but also colour. It seemed fitting to use several techniques. There are drawings that are extremely light, almost poetic, followed by dark inky drawings. There are also several colour tableaus that are opaque and somewhat strange. It’s a mix because the book is very complex and talks about several charged situations.
I read that you studied to be an architect. Is that true?
Yes, I studied architecture, but I always drew. I wanted to draw, and architecture, if you will, enriched me with certain skills—but I never intended to become an architect.
So why did you study architecture?
[Laughs] Because the art school didn’t accept me, I chose a subject that had the most courses that interested me. I learned to draw independently by copying and watching. I never studied art.
Lorenzo Mattotti will be the guest of honour at a talk hosted by the Istituto Italiano di Cultura on May 9, starting at 6:30 p.m., at 496 Huron Street; admission is free.
This interview was translated from Italian by Courtney Clinton.