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.
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?
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!
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.