Mike Cavallaro Brings His Eisner Nominated 'Parade (with fireworks)' To MTV Geek

If you missed Mike Cavallaro's Eisner nominated 'Parade (with fireworks)' when it was first published on the ACT-I-VATEwebsite, or the second time, when it was released through Image's Shadowline imprint... Well, don't make that mistake a third time, as the excellent portrait of an Italian family torn between Fascism and Socialism is not to be missed. Even though we've previously established you missed it twice.

To find out more about the book, including what it's like to return after putting the story down for a few years, we chatted with writer/artist Cavallaro, and found out that some stories - like this one - just need to be made into comics:

MTV Geek: How close is Parade to the actual history of your family? Did you feel like you could fictionalize it at all? And if so, was it easy or hard to get away from the story that had been passed down over the decades?

Mike Cavallaro: The broad strokes of the story are accurate in terms of how it was passed down to me. But if you want to dramatize a tale as I've done here, especially if it has first-person narration by someone you've never met and who left no written records behind, you're going to have to project yourself into the events and get creative with it. I gave myself that freedom in order to bring the story to life. I wanted Parade to be an accurate retelling, but fiction sometimes allows you to achieve a greater overall truth than a list of facts. As I got into details and dialogue, I definitely had to put myself there and let my imagination do the rest.

Geek: What was it, in particular, about this story that grabbed you and said, “This has to be a comic?”

MC: Comics are just what I do, and have been for over 20 years. I guess if I was a film maker, this would have been a film. If you're a storyteller in any kind of medium, and something like this lands in your lap, you're going to tell it in your way. For me, it was comics.

As for the story itself, I was equally struck by both the personal and universal implications. First off, my parents grew up on farms in Italy, but as a teenager I was playing in punk rock bands and going on tour with my friends. The gap there seemed tremendous. I didn't seem to have much in common with the people I grew up around, and I didn't think my family understood me either. I went to their schools, their churches, etc., but I think I learned more about life, politics and beliefs from The Clash. I grew up feeling like an alien.

Obviously, I've grown since then, but this story hit me like a ton of bricks for many reasons, not the least of which was that I saw myself and my politics and beliefs reflected in the actions of my ancestors. That meant I wasn't an alien and that there wasn't such a tremendous gap between myself and my heritage. The two were rectifiable. The things I believed to be true and important were as much part of me as my DNA, and those things made me more, not less, like my relatives. It was a huge thing for me to discover, and it speaks to the important role stories play in our lives.

The challenge was to find the things that make a personal story more universal so that it's relevant to the reader. The idea that the personal is political is something I've always adhered to. The way you treat the person next to you is politics. When we look back on people in history we see Fascists, Socialists, Communists, but what does that mean in regards to daily life? What does it all really come down to? You can make history as complex as the events that lead to something like World War II, or as comparatively simple as the tensions simmering between neighbors and family members. The scale is different, but the results are the same. Parade allowed me to take a story about my family, and tell it as a story about our family, without really having to make any fundamental changes.

So the story was important to me as an individual. As a storyteller, I wanted to make other people feel that way too.

Geek: What has your family’s reaction been to the book?

MC: I think they're proud of it. I'm not sure they get or agree with some of the additions or changes I felt were necessary, but it's hard to explain page count and story structure to someone who doesn't regularly deal with those things. Overall, though, researching the book actually caused parts of my family that hadn't communicated in years to get back in touch with each other. That's been great, because a lot of photos have materialized that are fascinating to see.

Geek: Have you met any of the characters in the book? If so, how did their reality match up to your expectation?

MC: No, I wish. My grandfather, Paolo, the main character in the story, died before I was born. There weren't really any photos of him when I was growing up, but as I've said, a few came to light after I had drawn Parade. As far as all that goes, I had to consciously subvert some of my comics-making instincts. I have a tendency to want the hero to look like a hero. In this case, he had to be just a regular guy. I did everything the opposite of what I'd normally do.

Geek:Talk a little about your artistic process. The cartoony way you approach characters almost seems at odd with the realistic – and sometimes violent – setting of the book, but it works…

MC:Although it's factual, Parade always felt like a kind of fable to me, and I wanted the rustic vibe of the art to reflect that while drawing inspiration from Euro cartoonists like Dupuy & Berberian, Christophe Blain and Lewis Trondheim. It's a kind of visual handwriting that cuts to the essentials. I didn't want to get caught up researching what a house looked like in Maropati in 1923. I just wanted to put down on paper what I saw in my mind the first time I heard the story. It's an impressionistic approach.

Geek: Structurally, you start very wide, hone in to a specific, short period of time, and then at the end go wide again. Why approach the story this way?

MC: I think there you can see my efforts to make something personal resonate on a more universal or accessible level. You have to show how this specific thing sits into a larger tapestry or no one will care.

Geek: The book started life with ACT-I-VATE, can you talk about how you hooked up with them?

MC:I met cartoonist Tim Hamilton at a MoCCA Convention here in New York just before he and a number of other cartoonists, including Dean Haspiel, Dan Goldman, Nick Bertozzi, Michel Fiffe, Leland Purvis, Nikki Cook, and Josh Neufeld, founded ACT-I-VATE. I was already reading along with the comics on the site when Tim had to take a break from serializing Pet Sitter to work on some freelance. He invited me to fill in for him for two months. I had already started working on Parade and thought this would be a good home for it. I thought I could tell the whole thing in about 16 pages. It ended up closer to 60. As my two months were nearing an end, the other AIV'ers decided to just let me keep going, and that's what happened.

Geek: It seems like this community has really pushed forward the careers of all involved, can you talk about what it did for you? And what lessons you learned, in general, from participating in ACT-I-VATE?

MC: Speaking about me specifically, I had already been freelancing in comics for many years as a colorist. In animation I did a lot of storyboard work and background color. But what I really wanted to do was draw comics, and I had been unable to make that transition. Somehow, agreeing to fill in for Tim Hamilton at ACT-I-VATE led to a clear series of events that made drawing comics full-time a reality.

Overall, ACT-I-VATE really has achieved a lot. In the first place, it's provided a home for some phenomenal work that might have otherwise never seen the light of day. There have been awards and nominations. Something like eleven or twelve stories that debuted on AIV went on to be picked up by publishers and released in print, something I believe no other webcomics site can say, including ones that were themselves owned, operated and funded by major publishers. We did all this and more on our own, without any financial backing whatsoever.

Too many ACT-I-VATE'rs to list started there and parlayed the exposure into careers in comics. Kristen Simon and Jim Valentino of Shadowline / Image Comics saw pages of Parade on the Comicspace website and offered to publish it, but I'm not sure I would have got it underway when I did or stuck to the weekly schedule if not for AIV. The Shadowline publication led to a Will Eisner Comics Industry Award-nomination for "Best Limited Series." Mark Siegel at First Second Books also saw Parade at AIV, and that opened up a discussion that led to me illustrating Jane Yolen's Foiled graphic novel. I'm currently working on the sequel, Curses! Foiled Again, and this winter I'll start work on another book for First Second written by Adam Rapp.

My second ACT-I-VATE comic, Loviathan, led directly to working with writer J.M. DeMatteis on The Life and Times of Savior 28, published through IDW.

Finally, it led to meeting Bradley Hatfield, one of the minds behind MTV Geek, and becoming the AIV / MTV GEEK liaison. That means I've had the pleasure of helping select some stories from the ACT-I-VATE back-catalog to showcase here at MTV GEEK for a potentially wider audience of readers who might otherwise never have heard of the comic, the creator or ACT-I-VATE.

The biggest lesson here is the power of a collective. Dealing with a group of talented, driven, and highly opinionated individuals is a challenge, but if you can find a balance the results speak for themselves.

Geek:You’ve been through a number of iterations of the book… What brings you back now? And is there any temptation to keep tweaking?

MC: Parade is the story I feel closest too, which is probably at least part of the reason. My interest in coming back to Parade now is just plainly the opportunity to put it in front of people who've never seen it before. I'm not sure that I'd want to get in there and rework the actually story again, but I would like to tell more of these family tales at some point.

Geek:I read an interview where you said that you create stories in whatever medium they need to be told. And all told, you’ve only done a few comic book stories… Is that because you just haven’t had ideas that would be right for the medium?

MC: No, it's more because creating comics is so time consuming that it's hard to do without funding. So we create proposals for projects and that takes time, and then we shop them around to publishers who can pay us something to keep us housed and fed while we create the book and that takes time, and then frequently you can't find anyone interested in publishing it anyway, so you start all over. I draw every day, seven days a week, usually freelance work, and usually a few jobs at a time. I feel very fortunate to be busy, but it means that I have more story ideas than I can get to. I nurse them along little by little when I have time. It's slow going.

Geek:You’ve said that this was part of a planned series of stories, any movement on that?

MC:There's a little movement, but the next one is kind of complex and gigantic. I'm letting myself fictionalize more than I did with Parade. The working title is Seven Years Without The Sun. The main character is Felice Belcastro, my mom's grandfather, who worked in the Ohio coal mines at around the turn of the century. He sent his money home to his wife and kids in Italy with directions for the house they were supposed to build with it. This was a time of great change, as coal was being replaced by oil and the second industrial revolution was nearing full swing. Felice is not down with the modern world, and his house in Italy is meant as a fortress against change. But things do not go as planned.

That older generation of Italians seemed to have the most colorful combination of Christianity and what I'll call Pagan or really older Etruscan beliefs and I want to weave that into the story as well, again playing with the theme of the new replacing the old. There's a lot to the story. It's really complicated. I have to do other work to make a living in the meantime, so it's taking forever.

Geek: Any final words on Parade (with fireworks)? Something you hope people pick up on reading it on MTV Geek,that they may not have caught the first time around?

MC: I'm not sure. I think people who got what I was trying to do really got it. I don't think they missed anything. I just want more people to read it, and what I like about MTV Geek is that it's a gateway to a large audience with diverse if intersecting interests.

You can read the first part of 'Parade (with fireworks)' here:

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