Author Archives: Nevada McPherson

Book Review: Black Sails, Disco Inferno

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Black Sails, Disco Inferno (Open Books), Andrez Bergen’s novelization of his fifteen part noir comic series Trista & Holt, is a roman noir of the first order: a brisk, tour de force in hard-boiled prose that sacrifices none of the cinematic grandeur of the original with its vivid description and terse dialogue.

Black Sails, Disco Inferno (like its predecessor Trista & Holt) takes place in an unnamed metropolis of the 1970’s where two dueling mob bosses, Isidore “Anguish” Holt and Marcella “Queenie” Cornwall are constantly at war. Drivers, lieutenants and yes, even blood kin get caught in the crossfire as does beautiful, tough-as-nails Trista Rivalen, Marcella’s niece, and Issy Holt, handsome playboy scion of the Holt empire. Complicating matters is the love that develops between Trista and Issy, a romance that begins at the funeral of Holt wheelman Lou Holden (who it turns out has a longer history with Anguish Holt than we realize at this point) and ends somewhere one would never expect, and in a completely different part of the world.

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Trista’s and Issy’s relationship develops with some twists and revelations not seen in the comic version that gives their romance a bit more depth. We get to know these characters from the inside as they discover things about each other that strengthen each one’s appreciation and admiration for the other. Warning signs occur sooner here regarding Issy’s best-friend-with-benefits Brangien, whose jealousy and resentment of Trista is worse than she dare let Issy realize. Brangien’s carefree party-girl lifestyle masks the feelings she has for Issy and her terrifying willingness to do anything to win him for herself, something Issy doesn’t realize until late in the game when the stakes are sky high.

An integral parallel relationship brought into sharper focus with further detail and background this time out is the story-within-a-story of Trista and Governal, her mentor, father figure and sometimes crush—one that she grows into and never quite grows out of. In the comic Trista’s childhood chapters are written by Renee Asher Pickup and Bergen uses that part of the story in the novel as well with Governal instructing Trista in all the intricacies that life as Marcella’s confidante will entail, lovingly and firmly and with a disquieting sense of guilt behind it all. Paradoxically Governal is Trista’s steadiest influence as he schools her for life in a violent industry and is the only person left who really seems to care about Trista until Issy comes along.

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When she’s away from Governal one night young Trista witnesses a violent act that rattles her to the core and that causes her to face what happened to her real father years ago. This cruel realization represents a turning point for Trista wherein she leaves childhood behind following a lesson in revenge instigated by Governal. A new adult Trista returns, prepared to face whatever it is her future holds in this dark urban world and within the vast confines of Tintagel, a gothic apartment building that Marcella Cornwall has claimed as her palace. Trista’s eighteenth birthday party there and her debut as Marcella’s protégé is a spectacle, a “coming out”  that showcases Trista’s mastery of nerves and her new role in life,  one to which she’s now resigned, her training complete.

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There’s violence aplenty in this gangster/ romance but with the exception of the harrowing scene witnessed by Trista and the revelations about her father’s murder, it’s usually delivered with a Chandlerian note of dark humor. As much as I adore the innovative, retro-inspired eye-candy of the comic version, I was most pleasantly surprised by the vivid richness of the novelization.

If you’re already familiar with the comic version, be aware that the ending of this version is quite different. Is it a “better” ending? I was satisfied with the original bittersweet version because given the events leading up to it, I didn’t really see how else it could end, or at least I didn’t want to think about a more fatalistic/ finality for these characters. Having said that, I think this is an excellent ending. Yes, on the one hand it does have a dimension of tragedy a shade darker than the original, but also an added dimension of hope: true to character, story and genre, and to a greater measure the forces of darkness get what they deserve.

If you’re a fan of noir, anywhere from The Big Sleep to Breaking Bad, you really should check out Black Sails, Disco Inferno. Whether you’ve ever experienced the comic upon which it’s based or not, you’re in for a treat. Pour yourself a drink, turn down the lights, put on some disco and dive in.

Writing/ Story: Andrez Bergen with Renee Asher Pickup Cover Art: Frantz Kantor
Overall Rating: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Andrez Bergen provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

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Andrez Bergen Talks Bullet Gal and More

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Australian ex-pat writer and comic artist Andrez Bergen has lived in Japan for the last fifteen years where he continues to create new and innovative work in several genres, from noir to sci-fi. Andrez recently adapted his noir comic series Trista & Holt into the novel Black Sails, Disco Inferno, and the novelization of his comic series Bullet Gal will be released in November from Roundfire Books. Bullet Gal the comic blends both noir and sci-fi together with neo and retro imagery that borrows from pop-culture both high and low to produce a work with visual richness and narrative surprises, so we had to ask Andrez some questions about how Mitzi (aka Bullet Gal) might translate to print, and what this dynamic character might look like as she navigates this particular literary interpretation of Heropa.

Graphic Policy: Trista & Holt was recently released as the novel Black Sails, Disco Inferno, and now the novelization of your comic/graphic novel Bullet Gal will be released in the fall. What made you decide to turn Bullet Gal into a novel?

Andrez Bergen: Honestly? I’m not quite sure what prompted the decision. I suppose there was a certain synchronicity – I’d missed the character of Mitzi, we were sketching out a Bullet Gal ‘legacy’ character (Junie Mills) for upcoming comic Crash Soirée, and I still felt like there was more to the original story than I was able to express in a comic book with a limited run and a reliance on visuals. And the story slots so well between two of my previous novels, Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth and Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? So Bullet Gal might be a standalone piece, but it’s also a missing link.

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GP: Like many of the characters in your comics, Bullet Gal’s visual representation changes throughout the course of the story in the comic versions.  How does that work in the prose version? Do you have the same representation of her in your mind’s eye as you’re writing the description throughout?

AB: Yeah, that was a neat edge to be able to deploy on a visual level in the comic, intimating the fluctuating nature of Heropa and what the place truly represents, but I realized early on I’d have to ditch the notion for this novel. Also, there were my own literary precedents to abide by – at the end of Depth Charging Ice Planet Goth Mina/Mitzi is a brunette, while in Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa? she’s a blonde who up till recently was a redhead. So for the duration of Bullet Gal, hair colour needed to take a back seat. In my mind, I tended to picture a cross between Louise Brooks and Jean Seberg, with a touch of Michelle Pfeiffer and second-season Buffy Summers.

GP: What’s the most difficult aspect of adapting your comics into novels?

AB: The verbal descriptors – having an image convey meaning is easier, I find sometimes, than describing that feeling in words. You have to paint out the picture in text, and that can become a little tedious since I much prefer bouncing out of dialogue. Also, there are some elements of comic book story-telling that simply don’t translate well to a novel – but over all, I think Bullet Gal is far more faithful to the comic run than Black Sails, Disco Inferno was to Trista & Holt.

GP: Do you consider yourself a comic artist or a prose writer first?

AB: Easy. Writer. I do the art, more or less, to pad out the words or better define a particular tangent in a story. Sometimes, however, the words bounce out of an image – and that’s a liberating, inspiring process. So I think doing both activities is a fun way to create.

GP: Black Sails, Disco Inferno is a neo-noir in every sense, but Bullet Gal blends both sci-fi and more classic noir elements. Do you find it at all difficult to switch gears into writing sci-fi or does that just come naturally as you take us into Mitzi’s (Bullet Gal’s) world?

AB: Um – good question. I’m not sure. I’ve always written sci-fi, ever since primary school, but to be honest the love of the genre faded as I discovered others – particularly noir. I think over the past few years I’ve scrapped the idea of abiding by a particular genre or style. I just pick up a pen or pencil and start with a vignette, a character, a situation… and see where that takes me. The labels get blurred along the way. But also I like to spotlight particular niches I’m into or I really dig. Black Sails, Disco Inferno was in many ways homage to the ’70s gangster flick and disco music as much as it was a retelling of a medieval love story. Bullet Gal‘s focus was comics and noir, especially dialogue, with the science fiction elements hanging over from Who is Killing the Great Capes of Heropa?

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GP: What noir writers inspire you most, and which science fiction authors inspire you in the creation of your own work?

AB: Noir, first and foremost? Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Ed Brubaker and Ross Macdonald. They’re the top four for me. I also really enjoy the hardboiled, crime-filtered work of James M. Cain, Mickey Spillane, Kenzo Kitakata, Léo Malet, Jim Thompson, Megan Abbott and some James Ellroy. Science fiction wise I think I’ve always been a fan of Philip K. Dick, Ray Bradbury and Richard Matheson, and I loved Arthur C. Clarke as a kid. I realize he’s better known as an artist, but Jack Kirby’s adaptation of 2001: A Space Odyssey as a comic book in the ’70s was a huge influence, along with Alan Moore doing Miracleman and V for Vendetta.

GP: After completing these two big projects in a relatively short amount of time, what’s next on the horizon for you? Will you be adapting another one of your works, creating a new comic or writing a new novel—or something altogether different?

AB: I’m actually working with a few different Australian artists to build a solo comic book anthology for my character Magpie – which I created with Frantz Kantor – along with associated characters like Crash Soirée and The Fenders, all of whom inhabit the city of Heropa together. The first issue is shaping up at around 44 pages and will be published at the end of this year. Otherwise, next novel wise, I’m trying not to rush. I’m tossing up whether to do a standalone sci-fi thing, or a detective story set in 1950s Japan.

GP: What tips or advice do you have for folks who might be thinking about adapting their work from another format into a novel?

AB: Just do it? The good thing about converting a comic book especially is that the sequential pages act as a kind of storyboarding for the writing process. They’re a great crutch to lean on!

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GP: Do you consider Bullet Gal to be a superhero, or just one tough woman?

AB: Depends on your definition of superhero. Someone could be invulnerable, like Superman, and offer up very little in the inspiration stakes. Someone more vulnerable, like a Daredevil, can make the reader aspire to better things. Mitzi, for me, is the latter. She’s a durable individual who goes through absolute hell – and comes out the other side stronger for it. And she never loss her heart in the process. That’s her superpower. Her humanity.

GP: Would you ever consider adapting Bullet Gal into a screenplay? Why or why not?

AB: You know, I’ve seriously thought about adapting at least one of my novels and pitching it about – but a screenplay in many respects is another art form, and I’d hate to do it half-arsed. Still, I never say never, just like James Bond. We’ll see.

Review: Trista + Holt #15

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Trista & Holt #15 (Iffy Commix) is the final installment of Andrez Bergen’s epic neo-noir saga based on the legend of Tristan & Iseult. It’s a double issue that brings to a rather quiet conclusion the story of Issy Holt, son of crime boss Isidore “Anguish” Holt, and Trista Rivalen, niece of notorious rival crime boss, Marcella Cornwall. Trista and Issy fell in love at first sight early on at the funeral of Holt wheel man Lou Holden and that fateful first meeting foreshadows all that is to come, including the ending, but not in the way one might expect.

As mentioned in previous reviews, Bergen’s characters are often portrayed by images of famous actors and pop culture figures, from Paul Newman (Issy) to Amanda Seyfried (Trista), and Angela Lansbury (Marcella) to Gary Oldman (Anguish), among others. It makes for a rich and fascinating visual narrative and increases the cinematic impact of this noir comic. This time out Jenson Ackles (of the CW network’s long-running series Supernatural) begins as Issy, with various lovely ingénues as Trista. When we last left off Trista was at the Black Sails Asylum and Issy was determined to save her from the clutches of Marcella, Anguish, and Issy’s former best friend Brangien, whose envy of Trista now borders on deadly. Will he save Trista? Yes — and no. If that comes off as a frustrating paradox it might help to realize this entire series contains paradoxical elements throughout: high tragedy and wicked comedy; the blending of noir and gothic motifs with outrageous disco outfits and other design excesses of the 1970’s, gritty harsh reality and dreamy magical realism, noir narrative and medieval legend. All of these components mesh perfectly to create a comic experience like no other.

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With all that has gone before in this story: shootouts, murders, betrayals and hauntings, the finale seems extremely quiet and subdued; there is, however, a compelling reason for that given the theme of this last episode. Things had come to such a pass in Trista & Holt #14 that I had no idea how the story would end but since this series adheres tightly to true noir narrative, a happy ending was all but out of the question. Once all cards have been dealt and all hands played the ending rings true, but that doesn’t make it any easier to take.

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Trista, our fabulous heroine, is an incredibly tough young woman; still, since the death of her friend and mentor Governal and the sudden marriage of Issy to another woman (the last person one would possibly expect), she’s surrounded by duplicitous and treacherous individuals who’ll stop at nothing to further their own aims. Add the dimension of passionate romance to this hard-bitten yarn and you’re left with the bitterest of love stories with barely enough room to hope it might sweeten with age. If togetherness means anything and if you really believe in true love for better or for worse, you’ll find some shred of hope in the way things turn out. If you don’t, add an extra maraschino cherry to that Manhattan before you settle down to read this final chapter. It might make it go down just a little easier.

Story: Andrez Bergen Art: Andrez Bergen

Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Iffy Commix provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: Trista + Holt #14

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Trista & Holt #14 by Andrez Bergen (Iffy Commix) is the penultimate issue in this sleek, gritty ‘70’s neo-noir, dark as a night club basement and glittery as a disco ball. As always, this issue features eye-candy artwork, muscle cars and narrative twists and turns aplenty. Things have come a long way since the first spark of romance between Trista Rivalen, tough and beautiful niece of badass mob matron Marcella Cornwall, and Issy Holt, handsome scion of the rival Holt crime family.

They met at the funeral of Lou Holden, driver for Issy’s dad, “Anguish” Holt. Since then, Trista and Issy have braved every God-awful strange, twisted event a beautiful young couple can endure and they’re still in love—however in #14 things take a particularly drastic turn for the worst.

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While indulging in another long afternoon of mindless TV viewing with his clever and perceptive cat, Andred, Issy (portrayed here by a young Marlon Brando) sees a breaking news story about the fate of his brilliant, hardtack mother, Alaina. When he goes to inform his father (portrayed here by none other than President Gerald Ford), Issy learns that Trista could be headed for a fate worse than death and it may be entirely too late to save her.

Not only might Issy be too late to save the woman he really loves, the woman to whom he’s married is volatile, dangerous and wields tremendous power over both him and Trista. Bergen is unflinching in his weaving of narrative and imagery that takes us somewhere we don’t want to be, and as this epic series winds down, we can only hope for the best.

“Hope” is the operative word here. True noir doesn’t usually end happily and this is true noir to the bone, so buckle your seatbelts, mates, this promises to be a bumpy night of the soul. The final and most serious threat facing our heroine Trista comes from somewhere I never expected and from someone I’d already thought whacked — in the sense of the gangster vernacular — so trust no one and beware everyone, including close relatives and friends with benefits.

Story: Andrez Bergen Art: Andrez Bergen
Story: 10 Artwork: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Iffy Commix provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: Trista + Holt #12

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Trista & Holt #12 represents a turning point in Andrez Bergen’s neo-noir saga from Iffy Commix, with surprises aplenty and a major “romantic” twist that made me wonder, Wait, did I read that right? Did that really happen? Happen it did, and the unexpected wedding in #12 has to have major consequences for the remaining installments.

Trista & Holt #12 finds Trista investigating what exactly happened to her friend/ mentor/ father figure Governal and seemingly talking at cross purposes with Marcella Cornwall as Marcella comes up with a bizarre way to stem the violence between her camp and the Holt’s. Trista and Issy are still in love as well as lust but their relationship must remain secret for the time being or there’ll be hell to pay.

Some characters that have been in the background in recent issues such as Alaina Holt, Issy’s tough-as-nails mother, and the notorious Norwegian with the nine millimeter pistol again come to the fore leaving us to wonder exactly how much Alaina knows about Trista’s and Issy’s relationship and what she’ll do with that knowledge.

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Again, Bergen’s visuals are most intriguing and the representations of Trista and Issy are delicious eye candy. There’s a glimpse of an aged, unusually emotional Marcella represented by Angela Lansbury in earlier panels and then by what appears to be an outgoing, joyful heiress in others, which just emphasizes the emotional vertigo of these characters in seemingly impossible situations. How does Trista keep her composure through the present dizzying turn of events? Must be a combination of Governal’s training and her own nerves of steel.

 

Issy’s longtime pal, Brangien, makes an appearance in this issue, but it looks like this may be her last. One never knows however, because characters have a way of returning from the other side to offer commentary and insights on things that are happening, even after they’ve seemingly left the stage (think Lou Holden and Moore Holt from previous issues).

As we near the end of the fabulous ride that is Trista & Holt, Bergen continues to weave a tale of love and revenge, darkness and death—and there’s wicked humor, too! What more could a fan of all things noir ask for?

Story: Andrez Bergen Art: Andrez Bergen

Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Iffy Commix provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Trista + Holt #11

TRISTA+HOLT_11_cover_Jan 2016_IF CommixTrista & Holt #11, the latest installment of Andrez Bergen’s epic neo-noir story based on the legend of Tristan and Iseult, blazes forward with Issy Holt helping Trista break out of the hospital. What mysteries await Trista as she arrives at Marcella Cornwall’s estate remain to be seen, but it appears some things have happened during her time in critical care that will rock her world, possibly even breaking her determined state of calm coolness and detachment.

Trista’s and Issy’s romance continues to blossom in #11, in the unlikeliest of circumstances, under the worst of conditions. Shootouts and car chases, pop culture icons and gloriously outlandish ‘70’s outfits all make up the backdrop for young love in a time of intergenerational gang wars (the vintage “Billy the Kid” car/ tableau that Trista encounters upon leaving the hospital takes the time warp-factor to a whole new level). It would seem that the glow of young love might brighten this noir universe just a shade, but past violence sparks still more violence, and endings outnumber new beginnings.

Not since the final send-off for Holt wheel man Lou Holden have we seen such a fabulous spectacle rife with fascinating figures like those attending the funeral of Issy’s notoriously cruel uncle, Moore Holt. Offed earlier by Trista in her first official hit, Moore recently joined the ranks of roaming ghosts. This funeral follows in the tradition of Lou’s: crying and wailing by family members, poker-faced glitterati from Daniel Craig to David Bowie representing eccentric mourners sure to have their own fascinating backstories. If only there were world enough and time. Use your imagination; you’ll have plenty of inspiration.

Page-015 sampleWhat’s happening concurrently as Trista and Issy arrive at Marcella’s estate, Tintagel, seems to indicate an ending as well, but in a whole different style and from a very different point of view (a cinematic high angle).  Whose point of view is it? Too soon to say, but there are (disturbing) clues as to why this could be the end of an era for Trista.

Bergen is adept at weaving a most compelling yarn and his clever and artful juxtaposition of words and delicious, provocative images makes for a visual feast. Time spent in the world of Trista & Holt is like time spent in the cool dimness of an exclusive disco club, a shadowy noir realm populated by beautiful people glimpsed in the flash of strobe lights, neon, and yes, the occasional flash of gunfire.

Story: Andrez Bergen Art: Andrez Bergen
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

Iffy Comix provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Trista + Holt #8

TRISTA + HOLT_issue 8_COVER ART_IFAndrez Bergen’s neo-noir series Trista & Holt continues with issue 8, which contains still more twists and turns than the last. This time the focus is on Issy Holt’s father, Isidore “Anguish” Holt, and the story of his rise as an underworld boss. Discovering Anguish’s background, where he comes from, and where his loyalties lie, throws light on a corner of this universe that until now has been shrouded in shadow.

True to Bergen’s method of using photos of famous actors and celebrities past and present to represent his characters, Anguish Holt here is portrayed by a very sober-looking, no-nonsense Gary Oldman, perfect for the tenor and tone of this issue as his true feelings toward his late brother-in-law Moore, are revealed, along with Anguish’s difficult and winding path to his current identity.

Sample_4While an important character in the overall story of Trista & Holt, in previous issues Anguish has taken a back seat to his terrifyingly proactive wife, Alaina, who misses no opportunity to belittle Anguish for his emotional outbursts, especially following that of the death of loyal Holt wheel man, Lou Holden. Far from being simply an automaton carrying out orders for Anguish, Alaina and company, Lou was a close friend and confidante; he and Anguish knew each other from way back, and issue 8 explains their early connections and Lou’s influence on Anguish’s ascent to the upper echelons of the organized crime food chain. Lou’s funeral is also where Issy Holt and Trista Rivalen first meet, by the way—another fateful Hitchcockian crisscross in this saga.

Sample_5Issue 8 adds to the sweep of Trista & Holt as a complete, well-rounded, fully realized epic: a world of its own with roots in ancient romance (based on the legend of Tristan & Iseult) and the great gangster narratives that have endured through the years (Little Caesar, The Godfather). Anguish Holt’s backstory is as tragic as it is fascinating, adding another dimension to an already rich cast of characters. Anguish, formerly in the background, comes fully into focus now, and though he’s definitely no saint, he’s earned the right to push back against Alaina’s blithe insults. And he does, in ways she doesn’t even yet realize. The fall-out from all this is bound to be explosive—perhaps literally.

Sample_6One has to wonder just how much Issy Holt really knows about his father’s past and what he would think about Anguish’s painful journey to gangland crime boss, a position that allows Issy to live the lifestyle of minor royalty, but which also makes him a target of sorts for anyone who would want to get back at his father—which could someday include his mother. As seen in earlier issues, family ties do not make one exempt from acts of violence and vengeance, in fact they only reinforce the unpleasant responsibility of carrying them out.

Issue 8 shows that there’s much more going on with Anguish than we ever realized before. He’s earned his name and then some, and Alaina should definitely NOT underestimate him!

Story/Artwork: Andrez Bergen
Story: 10 Artwork: 10 Overall: 10 Recommend: Buy

The artist/creator provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review.

Review: Trista + Holt: Volume 1

THVol11CvrSince I jumped on board reading Andrez Bergen’s noir series Trista & Holt around Issue #3, I was thrilled for the opportunity to circle back to the beginning with Trista & Holt: Volume 1, which contains Issues #1-5.

From Issue #1 we get a sense of Trista’s hard-boiled personality (gorgeous Trista is; pushover, she ain’t). In the first issues, one becomes oriented to the urban jungle of mob violence Trista so deftly navigates and how she’s risen to the top of Marcella Cornwall’s crime organization as quickly as she has. Yes, she’s Marcella’s niece, but blood only runs so deep and Marcella is not the sentimental type at all. It’s here that we also meet Issy Holt for the first time, scion of a rival powerhouse crime family, as handsome as Trista is beautiful but privileged in ways that Trista could never imagine.

TH-4 sample 2If you’re a fan of hard-boiled neo-noir this is your cup of tea, or rather, shot of whiskey, and even if you’re new to that shadowy world where cruel fate rules and violence or the threat thereof lurks around every corner, consider this your education. Bergen is a fantastic story-teller and the characters that populate and images that illustrate the darkened alleys, mob-owned discos and grand mansions of Trista & Holt: Volume 1 run the gamut from classic femme fatales, fall guys, flunkies and gunsels to sublimely eccentric disco-era versions of same. Since this series is based on the legend of Tristan and Isolde, there are visual references to the ancient origins of that story as well, making this another example of the elasticity and supreme adaptability of noir.

TH-4 sample 3Each issue blends seamlessly into the next and as the violence escalates so does star-crossed romance. World-weary as both Trista and Issy are and have every right to be, there’s a spark the first time they meet at a grand funeral for a longtime member of the Holt crime organization. If Trista and Issy are ever reminded for a moment that they’re young, beautiful, and both have their whole lives ahead of them, the dark world of which each is a part is ever ready to yank them back into blood-soaked, shattered reality. Having been groomed their whole lives to do their respective families’ bidding, there’s a wildness about Trista and Issy that’s just waiting to break loose. Exactly how that will happen remains to be seen, but Issue #5 hints at what’s to come as their worlds start to collide.

TH-4 sample 5Trista & Holt Volume 1 is a great read and a cutting edge work of postmodern art. Inspired by an age-old romance, with classic noir motifs and the gritty glamour of 1970’s neo-noir, Bergen’s series incorporates imagery drawn from the worlds of cinema, literature, advertising, all aspects of pop culture, and yes, comics. The striking visuals and haunting narrative combine most effectively to create a noir experience that will stick with you for a long time.

Story: Andrez Bergen Art: Andrez Bergen
Story: 10 Art: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

The publisher/ creator provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

Review: Trista + Holt #7

TRISTA + HOLT 7_COVERTrista & Holt #7, a double issue in Andrez Bergen’s noir crime saga based on the legend of Tristan & Iseult, features inspired artwork by Bergen and this time out Renee Asher Pickup writes the origin story of Trista, taking us back to Trista’s childhood and teenage years where we learn why she serves Marcella Cornwall, and the history of Trista’s complicated relationship with friend/ mentor/ father figure, Governal.

The previous six issues have showcased Bergen’s mastery of neo-noir, set in the 1970’s, in an unnamed urban landscape blending disco-era glitz with gangland gutter grittiness. References to ‘70’s television, film, fashion and pop culture come fast and furious along with hallucinogenic interludes and dream-like imagery. This issue incorporates many of those elements as well, and like in earlier issues, #7 features the noir convention of first-person narration and witty dialogue. Here, however, the narrative shifts more readily from noir to gothic and back again, and the artwork follows suit. We meet Trista’s mother, Blanche, and step-father, DuBois (real “pieces of work”), see the foreboding house where Trista grew up and learn why she’s more than ready to go away with Governal, represented mostly by handsome images of Patrick McGoohan circa The Prisoner.
Page-015The blending of narrative and visuals that take Trista from the age of dolls and crayons to guns and cigarettes is handled quite cinematically. Images of childhood alongside the threat of violence, seamless passage of time, and thematic loss of innocence brings to mind Night of the Hunter, the “breakfast table” scene(s) from Citizen Kane, and Pretty Baby, respectively, only instead of Brooke Shields’s pre-teen character in that last film being initiated into the world’s oldest profession, Trista learns the intricacies of firearms and cards as she’s initiated into the family crime business. The appealing, ever-shifting images of Trista and the playful spontaneity of her dialogue undercut the seriousness of her situation but she’s so desperate to escape her step-father’s reach she’ll do just about anything to acquire any degree of independence, no matter how compromised it ultimately might be.

Page-017Trista’s first meeting with mob matriarch Marcella Cornwall couldn’t be tenser. Again, Marcella is portrayed by images of Angela Lansbury, this time seemingly larger than life. We get a sense of the impressive enormity of her mansion, a gothic palace with a massive chandelier as a centerpiece, and staffed by a security force clad in outlandish disco outfits, with the exception of Geoffrey, played by a terribly proper Michael Caine wielding a double-barreled shotgun at the front gate. Marcella of Issue #7 is like a less delusional, more proactive Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard, had Norma ever abandoned the idea of a Hollywood comeback and focused instead on building an organized crime empire (imagine Joe Gillis, Max, and the ”waxworks” as lackeys and gunsels).

Page-024Trista’s way too young to be so jaded, and that’s the point. She still has the heart of a young girl but her cynicism is her armor in this new realm. Dark as Marcella’s world is it’s preferable to the one Trista is escaping and this may be the only thing that enables Governal to carry out her training with such care and precision, essentially escorting a child into a violent criminal underworld with a reassuring smile and a twinge of conscience at the same time.

Trista & Holt #7 takes a step back in time while making a leap forward in character development regarding Trista, Governal and even Marcella, who’s a tad more nuanced here, prior to the bloody chaos she’s set in motion in earlier issues. Bergen’s collaboration with Renee Asher Pickup in this double issue makes for a most refreshing and unusual summer reading experience: a Warholian fantasy where Philip Marlowe holds court at a table in the back of Studio 54, black & white home movies of a very young Edie Sedgewick flickering in the background. Then again, reading Trista & Holt in general (and this issue in particular) is like buying “candy” from a kind, handsome stranger at a nightclub. You won’t know what it’ll do to your mind ‘til you try it.

Artwork: Andrez Bergen Story: Renee Asher Pickup
Art: 10 Story: 10 Overall: 10 Recommendation: Buy

The artist/creator provided Graphic Policy with a FREE copy for review

We Talk Tales of Admonishment and Astonishment with Andrez Bergen

BC12SmAndrez Bergen, creator of Bullet Gal and Trista & Holt, is a writer/ artist with influences ranging from classic noir to classic comics. Graphic Policy catches up with Andrez to talk about the fine art of sampling popular music and popular culture, his favorite characters, fictional and real, the upcoming release of the new Tales to Admonish collection and the latest issue of Trista & Holt.

Graphic Policy: In the “modi operandi” at the end of Bullet Gal you write that noir is the “best genre construct there is.” What about it makes it the best?

Andrez Bergen: For me, noir is so open-ended. It might have a darker undercurrent and the finale may not be something that comes up roses, but the best noir has an interweaving sense of humour — dry or sarcastic or tongue in cheek. Cynicism reigns, a downbeat flip to heady optimism. Crime and suspense have their own parts to play within noir, as do the occasional detective mystery, but equally important — if not more so — are the oddball characters and cracking dialogue. Raymond Chandler was the master there. His dialogue slays me 70 years after it was written. Noir’s also great for infusing other genres too, like sci-fi and dystopia and occasionally horror.

Page_15GP: You’re originally from Australia and now that you’ve been living in Tokyo for fourteen years, how has being immersed in Japanese culture, particularly regarding art and anime, influenced your work?

AB: I was already into Katsuhiro Otomo, Akira Kurosawa and Mamoru Oshii before I moved to Japan, but since I arrived I’ve been able to interview and work with Oshii and Ryuichi Sakamoto (Y.M.O.) and discover and meet the late, great Satoshi Kon. I’ve done some odd jobs for Production I.G (‘Ghost in the Shell’) — and been able to hone in to some of the noir/suspense and darker elements at play here, from I.G’s innovative anime series ‘Ghost Hound’ and Shuichi Yoshida’s novel ‘Villain’, right through to older school manga by Kazuo Umezu and the Seishi Yokomizo gothic mystery ‘The Inugami Clan’… which is translated into English, by the way, really badly.
Embracing the whole culture, from the music, movies and art through to the food, history and architecture has been part of my experience living here — and residing in Japan also means you have to live not just with cherry blossoms but continual earthquakes. The big one three years ago helped shape my second novel ‘One Hundred Years of Vicissitude’ (2012), which is my homage to the country. In a roundabout fashion. I think Japanese elements filter through into all of my work. Lee is obsessed with the country in ‘Bullet Gal’, and Laurel’s grandmother is Japanese in ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’.

GP: Your comics feature many strong, action-oriented female characters such as Mitzi and her nemesis Brigitte of Bullet Gal, then there’s Trista and rivals Alaina Holt and Marcella Cornwall of Trista & Holt. Are any of these characters inspired by female noir characters you’ve come across in books or film, or are they totally original?

AB: I grew up with a strong mother. She wasn’t always fair, but when the going got tough at difficult times in my childhood she really knuckled down and pulled us through. My parents also loved watching old black-and-whites, from dubbed Godzilla flicks to hardboiled classics starring Humphrey Bogart and Robert Mitchum… alongside women who matched up to them despite the general gender imbalance at the time — people like Mary Astor and Lauren Bacall, Jean Harlow crossing wits with Clark Gable, and Katherine Hepburn being more than a match for Spencer Tracy. Thirty-five years ago, along came Ripley, the kick-arse only survivor in ‘Alien’, and more recently romps like ‘Xena’, ‘Battlestar Galactica’, ‘Firefly’ and ‘Buffy’ where the women were the truly strong characters. Over the past few years Ed Brubaker has fleshed-out female protagonists like Velvet and Josephine in ‘Fatale’. So I guess all these things have probably influenced me. In noir the powerful-woman trope isn’t exactly new — I just give it freer reign.

And while Mitzi (Bullet Gal) was original based around the look of the Fawcett comic character Bulletgirl from the 1940s, I think she has more in common with Will Eisner’s P’Gell or Sand Saref from ‘The Spirit’. Alaina Holt-wise, I think I was swayed to some extent by the characterization of the manipulative Lady Kaede from Akira Kurosawa’s ‘Ran’, and Marcella Cornwall has to have a bit of Martha from Edward Albee’s ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ decanted away inside her. I think Trista is the most unique because I initially modeled her on the legendary figure of Tristan/Tristram — reimagined in the 1970s. In a crime family. As a woman.

TH-4 sample 6GP: Who are some of your favorite writers?

AB: Top of the crop? Raymond Chandler and Dashiell Hammett, who I read on regular rotation. Otherwise Ryū Murakami, Isabel Allende, Angela Carter, Patrick deWitt, James M. Cain, Philip K. Dick, Richard Matheson, Gabriel García Márquez. For particular books? Joseph Heller (for ‘Catch-22’), Nicholas Christopher (‘Veronica’), Eugene O’Neill (‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’) — and Edith Wharton’s ‘The Age of Innocence’. That’s the fractured romantic in me. Comics-wise I’m heavily into Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction, a lot of stuff coming from Kelly Sue DeConnick, Jonathan Hickman, Brian K. Vaughan, Eric Stephenson, classic Will Eisner, and older material from Alan Moore and Frank Miller. Manga-related? Otomo, Oshii, Kon, Umezu, Masamune Shirow, Hayao Miyazaki and Mitsuru Adachi.

GP: Who are some of your favorite characters, either fictional or real?

AB: Imaginary first, since they hold precedence: Philip Marlowe (‘The Big Sleep’), The Continental Op (‘Red Harvest’), Sam Spade, Brigid O’Shaughnessy & Joel Cairo (‘The Maltese Falcon’), Robert Neville (‘I Am Legend’/’The Omega Man’), Rick Deckard (‘Blade Runner’/’Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep’), Velvet Templeton (the ‘Velvet’ comic from Image), Jonathan E. (‘Roller Ball’), Nick & Nora Charles (‘The Thin Man’), Harry Lime (‘The Third Man’), Clint Barton (‘Hawkeye’, in Matt Fraction’s run), Flora Poste (‘Cold Comfort Farm’), Captain America (in Stan Lee’s and Ed Brubaker’s runs), Ripley (‘Alien’), Sam Lowry (‘Brazil’), Buffy Summers (‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’), both versions of Starbuck (‘Battlestar Galactica’), Carl Kolchak (‘Kolchak: The Night Stalker’), Norma Desmond (‘Sunset Boulevard’), Professor Fate (‘The Great Race’), The Thing (in Jack Kirby & Stan Lee’s monumental 1960s run on ‘Fantastic Four’), Major Matoko Kusanagi (‘Ghost in the Shell’), Max (‘Where the Wild Things Are’), Corporal Agarn (‘F Troop’), Hugo Z. Hackenbush (‘A Day at the Races’), the masterless rōnin (‘Yojimbo’), Guy Fleegman (‘Galaxy Quest’), Tony Baretta, Starsky & Hutch, Zorro, Robin Hood, King Arthur, and Tristan & Iseult. There’re dozens of others I could slide in here!

Real life ‘characters’ I hold respect for? Creators like Akira Kurosawa, Lauren Bacall, Marcel Duchamp, Satoshi Kon, Cabaret Voltaire, Billy Wilder, John Huston, Man Ray, Toshiro Mifune, the Marx Brothers, Humphrey Bogart, Joss Whedon, Terry Gilliam, Ray Harryhausen, Vincent Price, Jack Kirby, Jim Steranko, Christopher Nolan, and Raymond Chandler — chronic alcoholism and all — for creating Philip Marlowe. We could also throw in a hotchpotch of other people: Martin Luther King, Jr., Napoleon, Gough Whitlam, Emmeline Pankhurst, Ned Kelly, Elizabeth I, Nelson Mandela, Gandhi, Alexander the Great, Monty Python, and Hannibal.

GP: Your graphic novels and comics contain strong visuals and you do very innovative work in a visual medium, yet you’ve also published many short stories and prose novels. How would you compare the two methods of story telling, prose and comics? For example, do you enjoy writing description or do you like letting the pictures speak for themselves? Or does it just depend on the story and how it needs to be told?

AB: Great question, and in a nutshell? While I love write dialogue between characters, esp. a rapid-fire repartee or some meaningful soliloquy, I’ve always suffered a wee bit writing the descriptions of space, setting, character expressions and nuance. They’re vital, but they don’t roll as easily for me. And to be honest, sometimes in other people’s books I feel that the descriptions are padding out the novel and I get tired and start skipping, looking for dialogue. Sometimes. Doing comics and graphic novels has liberated me here, since I focus purely on writing narration and dialogue between characters — when I’m doing the art. If someone else is doing the art, I have to explain the descriptions of the setting/backgrounds/character “look”, although sometimes I resort to pictures nabbed off the Internet to give the artist a feel of what I’m on about. You can’t do that in novels. But novels are still more challenging because of this; sometimes I feel like I’m on autopilot doing comic scripts, so I have to kick myself.

GP: One aspect of your art and story-telling that I find intriguing and quite unusual is that the characters are well-established in the narrative of the stories, but in some of your comics and graphic novels you use different images to represent them, including famous actors and actresses, photos from ads, and other artists’ interpretations. Are various images representing one character different facets of that character’s persona, evolving aspects of their personalities or just a fun way to portray them visually?

AB: You hit the nail on the head in terms of both. Fun, for sure — I really dig seeing the different ways in which diverse artists “see” the same character, and this comes I think from my music background, when me and mates were constantly remixing one another’s tracks. But I also think this alternate viewpoint adds depth to the character, as these are three-dimensional beings that, like us, are seen differently by other people — be it because of mood, interaction, or relationship. Characters are always developing through this process, so that we finally begin to see the sum of all his/her parts.

TTHVol1Crophe cut-ups/collages in the comics do hark back to my admiration and nostalgia for Dada, surrealism and Monty Python, but recently adapting famous people into the mix has enabled me to (a) pay homage to the old movies and actors I grew up with that helped shape my own mindset, (b) match-up their particular “image” with that of the characters they’re roped into playing, and (c) inserts another element of fun: can you place the celebrity faces?

GP: What can you tell us about the imminent release of Tales to Admonish? And what of the title—is it the characters who are being admonished or are these cautionary tales for us wayward readers? Or is it a playful nod toward 1950s comic titles such as Tales to Astonish?

AB: Definitely the latter — when Matt Kyme and I released #1 in 2013, with him as artist and me as writer, thereby starting IF? Commix — we tipped our hat to a mutual love of Jack Kirby in particular and classic Marvel comics in general from the early ’60s like, you guessed it, ‘Tales to Astonish’. I just altered it a tad to reflect the “dire-warning” cautionary yarns (often with playful tongue in cheek) that I’d grown up watching on TV such as ‘Twilight Zone’, ‘Outer Limits’, ‘Kolchak’, ‘Doctor Who’, and ‘The Evil Touch’. Our stories here are far from serious, verging more upon flippant, but there are messages I guess that greed isn’t so good for your health — but snappy dialogue helps.
Matt and I decided to put together the first three issues, along with six new stories I wrote by other artists, as a trade paperback we’re releasing in Australia in August. It’ll be launched alongside ‘Trista & Holt’ Vol. 1 at Eisner Award winning store All Star Comics while I’m briefly back in Melbourne on the 29th. The added stories are by a swag of talented new artists like Gareth Colliton, Asela De Silva, Adam Rose and Ken Best. They really capture the vibe of each tale, from noir to light horror.

GP: You DJ under the name Little Nobody. Did you sample selections from popular music in your performances the way you sample popular culture images in your graphic novels?

AB: You got it — I love cheeky sampling, and was a loud-mouthed exponent of the art as a music journalist back in Australia before I moved to Japan. But sampling is its own form of “art”. If you’re going to be cheeky and appropriate stuff from other sources, then have a sense of humour and make sure you change it enough so that it becomes a part of what you’re trying to create, rather than stealing a riff and riding on someone else’s sterling efforts. It should be a cog, not the foundation of what you are trying to do. That said, I nicked stuff from bods like Madonna, Black Sabbath, James Brown, Giorgio Moroder, Desi Arnaz, Rachmaninoff and Japanese kabuki musicians — but good luck picking it! On the side I’ve also not so legally remixed ‘Aquarela do Brasil’, George Sanders, and Jack Palance. Shhh.

GP: You’re a very prolific storyteller and artist, constantly producing new work. Can you tell us a bit about your process? Does the art happen alongside the writing, or is the writing ever inspired by the images and artwork that you create, recycle, or re-create?

AB: This proliferation has only really been happening over the past four years — I guess since I published my first novel ‘Tobacco-Stained Mountain Goat’ (2011). At that moment I realized doing these things was possible after all, instead of half-heartedly working on manuscripts that ended up collecting dust under my bed. But for several years before that I’d been working as a freelance journalist, meaning tight deadlines, the need to be flexible at all hours of day (or night), writing quickly, and self-editing on the fly. Add to that fine-tuning the process of research to be as speedy as possible, without letting errors slip through, and it’s a great accidental training regimen for aspiring writers.

All the different projects I’m currently doing — regular process, comic scripts, art and music — have to be squeezed in between work and family responsibilities, so I tend to wake up around 4:00 a.m. most mornings, giving me a three-hour stretch to potter on stuff. Also Saturday mornings are pretty much focused on this. I do what a feel like at the time, if possible, but if a deadline’s pressing then I attune to that project. I think visuals influence all my work, even novels. Everything I’ve seen in this world — traveling, incidents, movies, pictures, photos, even advertising — crosses over into my headspace while I write, much of it subconsciously I’m sure. When doing comics, especially as writer/artist, I do the two things together concurrently, so that each page writes and visualizes itself… often surprising me along the way, because the story might detour. I love this process because it’s completely liberated and the end of each issue is often something I never imagined when I began.

TH7CroppedGP: In the upcoming Trista & Holt #7, you collaborate with American writer Renee Asher Pickup, who scripted the story of Trista’s childhood and young adulthood while you supplied the artwork for that double issue. Was it at all helpful to have a female writer’s perspective on Trista’s youth?

AB: Actually, I never thought about it along those lines — huh. I just knew that I respected Renee’s writing, mentality and imagination, and when I decided to start this series based on Tristan & Isolde, she was one of the biggest vocal supporters of the concept. We chatted a bit about it, and then when I asked her to do the “origin” issue, she said yes — luckily. I knew I wanted the voice of Trista’s childhood to be a little different than the contemporary one I was writing, but still linked. Renee captured that and paid beautiful heed to the original legend at the same time. And you know what? She’s American, and therefore likely has more insight into the gun culture Trista is raised with than I do, having grown up in Australia. I just thought of that now. Maybe it’s of import. Maybe not.

GP: What advice do you have for new artists and creators of comics who may be just starting out? Was there anything you had to learn the hard way that you’d like to share? Any words of encouragement, caution or admonishment?

AB: You know the old expression about grabbing the bull by the horns? I’m going to cite that dusty nugget instead of resorting to Nike’s corporate “Just Do It” mantra — which apparently anyway was inspired by an infamous murderer’s last words. Where was I? Encouraging people? …Yeah, I suppose the important things to remember are that if you truly believe in what you’re doing, whatever the medium, and would like to share that with others, then you should try. Give it a shot. If it fails, well at least you gave it that whirl. If it succeeds, all the better. But don’t do it for the riches. There are none unless you’re the lucky 0.2% that may or may not be real people. Passion rules over purse, I swear. Finally, don’t expect others to shoulder the burden of getting your work out there. Do it yourself or work with kindred spirits as a democratic collective. It’s more fun, you need the camaraderie, and less of a slog.

GP: Have you ever experienced what could be called a paranormal, supernatural, metaphysical or spiritual event, or any other such psychic phenomena?

AB: Um… there’s an interesting question. I’m just trying to think. There was this one time, when I was about 11, riding my bike back from school. I was shooting down this hill in Caulfield, in Melbourne, the middle of suburbia, same as I did every day. Going toward a crossroads where I had right of way, and there was never any traffic. But for some reason I felt something telling me to slow down almost to a stop, before I reached the intersection — and then a truck shot through. It would’ve flattened me.

GP: One final thing–I know you’re a big fan of Patrick McGoohan of Secret Agent Man and The Prisoner in particular. What do you think is up with those big bubbles in The Prisoner?

AB: Ha Ha Ha… You’re spot-on, I’m a huge fan of McGoohan, but I haven’t seen ‘The Prisoner’ in years! My last McGoohan romp was a re-screening of ‘Ice Station Zebra’. Lemme think back to ‘The Prisoner’ — the balls/bubbles there kind of remind me of the omnipresent black spheres in this more recent Japanese manga called ‘Gantz’. But the ones in ‘The Prisoner’ were far more active. I just wonder if the scriptwriter’s or special effects supervisor’s kid had a bubblegum fixation…?

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