Interview: Camilla d'Errico Brings a Manga Faust To Comics

Tanpopo – a so far three issue comic series by writer/artist Camilla d’Errico – is easily one of the most unique projects we’ve ever come across. Mixing text and plot from Goethe’s Faust, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, and a centuries old supernatural story from China, with images straight out of Manga and Anime, as well as splashes of color, jumbled text and light, Tanpopo is as much a work of art as it is pop-literature.

But it is telling a story, albeit a very ambitious one: over ten issues d’Errico will take naïve young Tanpopo, team her up with The Devil, and reveal the entire gamut of human emotions. You know, simple stuff. To find out more, we chatted with d’Errico about all of this, where she draws her inspiration from, and what’s coming up with the next seven issues (which you'll be able to read here at MTV Geek!):

MTV Geek: Camilla, let’s talk about Tanpopo… For those who didn’t pick up your self published volume, what’s the general idea?

Camilla d'Errico: Tanpopo is a Faustian story. It’s a story about emotional discovery, and about our perceptions – usually misperceptions – of what is good and evil.

Geek: Who is Tanpopo?

CD: Tanpopo is a mysterious girl who feels no emotion. She is attached to a machine of knowledge. Superhumanly intelligent. Inhumanely emotionless. And one day she laments her state, her life and longs for emotion…

Geek: And who is Kuro?

CD: Enter Kuro. He is Faust’s devil. He hears Tanpopo’s lamentations and, disguised as Poodle, he goes to Tanpopo and releases her from her machine, promising that with his help, she will feel emotion.

Geek: Just to jump ahead a bit, I wanted to talk about the use of poetry in the book. First, why use different poems and stories as the text? Why not create something new… Or at least significantly augment the texts?

Why was it important to use them almost verbatim?

CD: I love literature and I have since high school. Literature is an art form in itself and no one even reads it anymore, which is a shame. So I wanted to bring literature back to people through my art. It’s important that the text is as close to original as possible (I had to take some liberties with the text so that it makes sense when in dialogue) so that the reader gets the full impact of those beautiful words. The use of many different poems and prose pieces is because there are so many, so why limit ourselves to only one author or one form?

Geek: And I also thought it was interesting that you went from German poetry, to English, to – at least for Western audiences – a relatively unknown Chinese story… Can you talk about the progression there?

CD: Is it ok to say that there is no logical reason? It started with Faust because I had watched Faust at the Vancouver opera and was so taken with it, that I just had to create something with it. Then, when I began to develop the series, I wanted to use literature and poetry I love, and Rime of the Ancient Mariner and Strange Stories from a Chinese Studio are some of my literary favorites. I’d love to incorporate literature from other cultures as well, though books 4-5 are all English based: Shakespeare, Poe and Mark Twain. We’ll see what strikes my fancy in books 7-10.

Geek: Just to follow up on that, even in the art, there’s mash ups of different cultures… You have clear manga influences, but there’s also a bit of mainstream comic book structure there, too.

CD: For sure! I’m a big fan of manga and anime, that’s no surprise. And I spent a lot of time developing my own style, which is exactly that – a mash-up of manga and comics. It’s a mix of who I am and what I love.

Geek: I was also fascinated by your deft direction of the eye… There’s some pages that are just text flowing, some that have the panels going in the “wrong” direction, but it was always clear. What was your process going into this, structurally? And how difficult was it for YOU to make sure the flow was consistent?

CD: Flow is one of the most important aspects of a comic, having to make sure the audience can follow the path you set out for them, it takes a lot of time and a huge amount of thought behind it. With Tanpopo being such a divergence from the usual comic paneling I was working with a completely different flow. It was more poetic, more free-flowing, and essentially I wanted the words to float on the page, I wanted to give the reader a sense of airiness and freedom.

I had to go over the pages a few times before I was sure it was readable. I had difficulty with typography in college so this was a real challenge for me, but in the end I found a kind of Zen when structuring the words, and it was liberating to break the standard typographic mold.

Geek: To get back to the plot a bit, Kuro is called the Devil, but his “evil” so to speak, is only slowly revealed. What, for you, is your view on evil, or the devil in this story?

CD: I think that "evil" can be as black and white as Kuro himself, or a limitless shade of grey. There is a very subjective idea of what evil is or can be and that's exactly what I want to explore with the "Devil" in the story. Is he a manifestation of the Christian Devil.... No. He is a "Faustian" Devil, a being brought forth to lead the hero to their ultimate goal.

I am fascinated by the use of the "Devil" character in the various classic literature of the world. He is used by so many different authors and in such different ways. The short story "The Mysterious Stranger" by Mark Twain offers a completely fresh perspective on evil and logic. Inspired by that work and Faust I wanted to explore my own idea of what "is" evil and what "is not". Is the Devil evil, or are we? What is innocence? I don't know whether we are all pure or not, but its my experience that we've all done a little "evil" in our lives. So from my Devil's perspective, he isn't evil, but merely facilitating our choices and the consequences of those choices are our own responsibility. I'm not a religious person, so for me this isn't about religion, but rather an exploration of an "icon".

Geek: How about technology? There’s some pretty blatant use when it comes to the character Tanpopo in the first issue, but that’s it… What’s your take on tech in Tanpopo, to use a little alliteration?

CD: Next time you’re walking outside, sitting on a bus, or having a coffee look around and notice how many people around you are talking on the phone, checking emails, or surfing the net. It’s a scary number compared to what our society was like just a few years ago. Don't get me wrong, I love technology, I think it’s extremely useful, but I'm also aware that it is separating us from each other.

I watched a father and son have dinner and they spent most of their meal glued to their cells. Technology can be a barrier as much as it can connect us. In this story technology has imprisoned Tanpopo, isolated her and stolen her connection to the world. There are still 7 more issues to go and I'm planning on exploring this more in the story.

Geek: What about costumes? They – and masks – seem to be a recurring visual theme in the book. Why was that important?

CD: Masks hide our faces from the world, they keep us expressionless and in a story where the main character has no emotions, this theme is iconic. As much as we don't know what Tanpopo is feeling, we don't know what Kuro is feeling either. I want the audience to connect with the idea that the person behind the mask is a real person, not the false face that the world sees first. There are many levels to the characters and its important that we can understand to see beyond what is right in front of us.

Geek: In a greater sense, for you, what is this book about? Everything? The human experience in particular?

CD: What could be greater that the human experience? Exploring what a person is, who they are, what they are capable of. Ultimately this story is about what they are willing to sacrifice and the resolve of a dream. I am endlessly fascinated by people; I love exploring the ideas of good and evil, and the myths of our own soul.

This story isn't about "the Devil" or about the evil things he does; it’s about Tanpopo's choices and who she will become. Its about emotions and understanding where they come from and why. It’s about life. If I can offer an introspective emotional story, then that is what the series Tanpopo is about.

Geek: You independently released the first three issues… What was that experience like for you?

CD: It was a good experience because when I first released Tanpopo, it was a 20-page story. So I never expected this to be anything, just a little passion project. But with the help of my sister AdaPia we’ve developed it into a series and self-publishing has been good because we really only sell our own retail to fans, online, etc. We didn’t try to go too big, or distribute to retail because Tanpopo is such a niche product. And it’s worked well because by word-of-mouth it’s built a nice cult following. We recently put the first two books online through Amazon since we are almost out of all the original series printings. So soon you’ll only be able to get individual issues through

Geek: A little birdie tells me that you may be releasing these issues, and a few more digitally… What has it been like adapting the story for the new format?

CD: Yes, we have some pretty cool things coming up for Tanpopo! All will be revealed at NYCC in October. This new format will really propel me to get the rest of the series out the door and I’m excited for the physical ‘product’ that is coming. Let me drop a big hint: it’ll be a collected edition.

Geek: Oh, good hint. And lastly, this is just the first three issues of a ten issue series… Where are we going with Tanpopo and Kuro? What’s next for the book?

CD: Tanpopo and Kuro stil have a lot of emotions to explore! So far she’s only brushed up with remorse, and been hit full-on by sadness. The range of human emotion is huge, so I’m carefully structure the books so that Tanpopo experiences the major emotions albeit in their own complex way. And Kuro, well, he will become even more devilish!

I’m taking Tanpopo through phases of emotion and books 4-6 will deal with anger and fear but I won’t give away much more than that. Their journey will put them through a lot before moving into books 7-9 and the grand finale, book 10.

...and for a little more with d’Errico, check out this video chat we did with her at Emerald City Comicon:

ECCC 2011: Camilla d'Errico Talks 'Tanpopo'

Read the first part of Tanpopo right here!

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