Epic Interview! WEIRD COMIX Mastermind Fabio Vermelho

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Brazilian comic creator Fabio Vermhelo makes werid art that pushes boundaries.

You will find WEIRD COMIX creator Fabio Vermelho armed with a pen and a pad deep in the Amazonian forest in Brazil…

Despite the series being quite young (3rd edition coming soon!) Fabio himself seems like an old soul. Certainly not someone in their early twenties. His Crumb style artwork is immediately eye catching, and its content is a big mishmash of things that swirl around his wild mind. From comic strips of himself talking about anxiety to alien biker chicks masturbating to the sight of their boyfriends blowing each other you can expect the unexpected. I spoke with Fabio about his series as he works on his next vision of beauty in comic form.

SHOCK: You are so young! When did you start illustrating?

VERMELHO: That’s an interesting question, ‘cause in other interviews people have asked me when I started drawing, and I always say I started drawing when I was a kid, but I did that as regularly as a normal kid would do: copy images of comics, of children magazines and etc. When I was in school I’ve drawn a bunch of lame comics in manga style, but nothing important.

That’s a difference thing when I started illustrating. I guess I realized it could be a nice idea doing it in 2010, when I enrolled in college. The college itself didn’t have much to do with illustration, it was a Product Design course, but I slowly got into Graphic Design. My first sketchbooks date from 2011 – that was when I started drawing daily, in a serious way, trying to get something bigger from my artwork, trying to develop a style of my own. The first two years were mostly spent drawing on my sketchbook and posting my artwork on Facebook, DeviantArt, etc. I’ve worked on some commissioned pieces, but not many. This illustration business has really taken off in the late 2013, early 2014, when I worked on lots of commissioned artworks monthly, not just for clients here in my city but also internationally. I earned some money out of my art and the idea of making of it my profession suddenly seemed possible. Of course I cannot make enough profit of comics and illustrations to make a living yet – I still work on a daily job – but I think it’s not impossible to dream of it if I don’t stop working on my artwork and divulging it.

SHOCK: What does your family think of your work?

VERMELHO: I don’t really know. You see, when I lived in my parents’ house, I was that kind of person who spends the major part of the day locked in the bedroom, drawing, reading, using the computer. I don’t have the habit of showing my sketchbook left and right, so I guess they had never seen my drawings, really. Not until the day I had a solo art exhibition in my city, in a small art gallery called Oficina Espaço Assim. It was in 2014, if I’m not mistaken. I was still drawing Wet Nightmare, the main comic to be released in the following year in my Weird Comix #1. Back to the art exhibition, there were lots of drawings of mine hanging on the walls, all the pages of my first comic, Ennui Dreams, were in the wall too. All the sketchbooks I’ve filled were there in a table so people could leaf through them (except the one I was drawing Wet Nightmare). To put it shortly, all my pornographic and weird pieces were there to see: people wearing latex clothes, men wearing strap-on dildos in the mouth, tied up women, even anthropomorphic animals having sex. My parents went to the art show, my aunt too… I’m not sure my grandma did… but they said nothing. Not even a comment. I still don’t know if they were too shocked to say anything, too disappointed or just thinking “why my son does this kind of thing? This is so weird… well, I guess that’s this artist thing. But I’d really prefer if he were a lawyer”. And that’s true. They’ve already said he’d like it more if a became a lawyer or something like that and I should draw just as a hobby… well, you cannot please everyone, right?

SHOCK: I see a lot of Robert Crumb in your style. What other influences do you have?

VERMELHO: Yeah, Crumb was my early influence when I started drawing. He still is my major influence, actually, but I have incorporated other more along these years. Guido Crepax, for example: he has the most beautiful line art ever, in my opinion. Some comics he made, like Dracula, The Story of O, Emmanuelle, they’re simply wonderful! Brilliant masterpieces… I don’t even need to mention Valentina, of course.
Other artists I like are Jaime Hernandez, Moebius, Matthias Schultheiss, Frank Miller, Dori Seda… I also take a lot from the erotic illustrations and comics of Eric Stanton, Tom of Finland, Gene Bilbrew, John Willie. Specially the two firsts I mentioned.

I cannot forget Will Eisner, for sure. When I was drawing What’s Inside a Girl?, a comic I made in my last year of college as my final project, I read all Eisner’s Graphic Storytelling and Visual Narrative, and it was a huge help. Since then I’m always trying to think of ways of making my comics more interesting, dynamic and coherent.

I usually pay more attention to artists who work with Black & White, instead of those who use lots of color work, like Manara. I really suck at coloring, so I think I learn much more studying the style of B&W artists. I’ve tried using colors, of course, but it’s such a pain in the ass for me. I can’t do watercolors properly, or using colored markers, I can’t even think of colors that match without hurting the viewer’s eyes in the final result. It’s a mess. But I have some artists that make colored artwork that influenced me somehow, like Enki Bilal or Liberatore.

Stepping out of the comics field for a while, I greatly admire the works of Gustave Doré and Albrecht Dürer, they’re out of this world. I met Doré’s work while reading Dante’s Divine Comedy and after that I tried to discover every single thing Doré have done, like the Bible, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Paradise Lost, Don Quixote, the fables of La Fontaine and so on.

I also take a lot from music, ‘cause I really love listening to, searchin’ and learnin’ about it. Specifically 50s rock ‘n’ roll and rockabilly, blues and country. Those tunes fill my mind with images and stories, turning my head into a strange pot with boiling water mixing all of that material with horror and sci-fi stories. The Cramps inspire me a lot as well – it couldn’t be different, as the couple Lux & Ivy and I have a similar taste in music. I learned hundreds of new songs thanks to them.

 

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SHOCK: You do everything by hand which is rare today since there are so many computer illustration programs being used. What made you stick with tradition?

VERMELHO: I stick with tradition ‘cause I really like the feeling of my pen touching the paper, its texture, its smell. The final result is much better looking, in my opinion. Even the lettering and the balloons in my comics are handmade – on the contrary it’d look too artificial. But I’d be lying if I said I stick 100% with tradition, ‘cause I use Photoshop in various situations – I’m a 21st century boy, after all. I think it’s hard to get rid of it… I don’t know.

For example, the Weird Comix logo. I drew it once on the first cover and now I saved a file in my computer to paste it in every following cover. This way I’d always have the same hand drawn piece and I would just change its color. Talking about colors again… as I have already mentioned, I have problems coloring drawings traditionally and Photoshop is really useful in this situation, ‘cause I avoid ruining the piece trying watercolors (already happened) or pastels or colored markers. All Weird Comix covers are colored digitally by me.
But you’re right, I try to avoid the computer as much as I can, using it just when it’s necessary. One of the most distressing and boring moments of my life is when I have to take a sketchbook of mine and scan all the pages… would you believe if I told you there are drawings in some sketchbooks that have been scanned?

SHOCK: You live in Brazil; is there a large scene for comics and zines there?

VERMELHO: I live in Brazil, indeed, but I live in the north part of the country, almost in the middle on the Amazon. Nothing really happens here.

There are people who draw fanzines and work with illustration here in my city, but I can’t say I relate to them. Specially ‘cause we don’t have much in common. I mean, of course I cannot work just with people who like the same shit as me, we must learn with the difference and other people’s tastes, yada yada yada, but the truth is: I like working alone. I like to have control of everything I’m doing, I like to know how everything’s gonna turn out in the end. I prefer not dealing with other people if there’s something I can do all by myself.

But it doesn’t impede me to collaborate with other artists around the globe. The first comic I published, Ennui Dreams, back in 2012 (not sure, haha), was a partnership between me and a guy named Christian Attridge. He wrote the plot and I drew the 16 pages of the comic. I also contributed to Monsters Holding Bitches zine twice and made the cover of the third issue, Christmas edition, in 2015. I’m always down to contribute to any zine, really.

But coming back to the main point, I couldn’t answer if there’s a large scene for comics and zines here ‘cause I don’t consider myself part of it. I guess the only experience I had was when Itiban, a comic shop of Curitiba, a state in the south of Brazil, bought a few copies of Weird Comix 2…

My zine is written entirely in English, it is charged in dollars, my main public is foreign – Australian, British, Canadian, American…of course there are Brazilians who buy my stuff, but I didn’t want to restrict my comics just to my own country, you know? I wanna spread the filthiness worldwide, that’s why I use internet!

 

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SHOCK: Who are your favorite Brazilian artists?

VERMELHO: My favourite Brazilian artists are Carlos Zéfiro and Lourenço Mutarelli. The first one, Zéfiro, was kind of a secret life of a public employee called Alcides Aguiar Caminha. He had this pseudonym since he drew the so called “catechisms”, little pornographic comics that were sold illegally in some newsstands or barbershops, during the 1950s until the 80s.

The second one, Mutarelli, is a comic book artist, writer and actor who drew a bunch of impressive masterpieces, like Transubstanciação, O Dobro de Cinco, O Rei do Ponto, A Soma de Tudo and Quando Meu Pai se Encontrou com o ET Fazia um Dia Quente. This last one is somewhat related to William Burroughs, a writer that both Mutarelli and I admire. One day, in 2014, thanks to a mutual friend of ours, Marcelino Freire, I could send Mutarelli an original illustration of mine, a portrait of Burroughs that was in my moleskin. He said he was really glad with this gift and he would frame it and hang on his wall. It was a great experience for me.

SHOCK: You have drawn yourself in the latest issue (Number 2) do you usually take anything from the people around you to create stories or characters?

VERMELHO: Hmm, not really. If I was more like a Harvey Pekar kind of writer, someone that can pick interesting stories from the everyday life… but my comics are usually some crazy fantasy involving aliens, monsters, murders and obscene sex. These plots ferment in my head from the mix of ingredients like horror films, science fiction books, the music I listen to, my own weird fantasies… I know it may sound cliché, but I’m way more interested in imaginary stories than the real world…

Well, but there’s a case… I’m not sure if it counts. In the first issue of Weird Comix there’s a short comic called Resuscitate the Haze, in which two mad scientists manage to bring back to life Hasil Adkins, the 1950s rock ‘n’ roll musician. Those two scientists happen to be my wife and I…

SHOCK: How long does one issue take from start to print?

VERMELHO: It usually takes 5 months, but it’s not always that straight. The first issue was released in April 2015, the second on September 2015. Now it’s January 2016 and the third issue is already done, the pre-order is running. This pre-order period usually takes 3 weeks or so, thereby I prefer to put on this cover February 2016, to make this periodicity. Moreover, it’ll be on the reader’s hands just in March, probably. My stuff often takes one month to cross the distance from Brazil to the other countries.

It also depends on how many people asked for commissioned artwork, ‘cause those pieces are really time-consuming sometimes. Not complaining, of course, that’s just a fact. There are higher chances this fourth issue will be done a bit late, ’cause I have already started 2016 with a few more commissioned pieces than usual. Let’s see. When things like this happen I prefer losing a few hours of sleep per day than postponing a deadline. I’m kinda obsessive. When the pre-order of one issue is running I’m already drawing the content for the following issue.

VERMELHO: You have an in depth history of Rock’n’Roll’s origins in the 50’s and where it went wrong and ended up turning into the Beatles and friends. A lot of that history is about black music being appropriated by white teens. You also have a short story about a black man hanging and dying at the hands of the mean hangman. What is it about these historic but often grim moments in black history that you wanted to bring to life on paper?

SHOCK: It must seem a bit grim, but that’s just the reality. Black people have been oppressed and exploited by white folks since always! And it hurts me seeing people in 2016 denying this fact. Rock ‘n’ roll being appropriated by artists like Elvis is just a shallow example compared to the whole problem. Elvis is called the king ‘cause he brought rock ‘n’ roll to a larger audience, what means the major part of the white teens. I’m not saying white boys and girls didn’t listen to black music before Elvis. A lot of them did. But rock ‘n’ roll became a national problem when he made it popular, despite his music being less dangerous than its original form, ‘cause a white guy was singing it (of course occurred all that fussing about Presley’s shaking hips, but can you imagine Chuck Berry shaking his pelvis to white boys and girls in 1956? He’d have been kicked outta the country).

People act like black folks don’t exist, it’s a distressing thing. When I’m doing researches about vintage clothes, for example, 80% of the results show me white people. Even when I write “black” on a google search.

By no means I’m saying I fully understand what black people have suffered or I represent them… far be it from me! I’m just a white guy. But I greatly admire their culture, specially the blues and early rock ‘n’ roll. I don’t want it to be forgotten by history.

P.S.: about all that Elvis rant: I’ve never said I don’t like his music. Or Buddy Holly’s, Bill Haley’s… I think they’re great. But evidently Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley are greater.

 

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SHOCK: “Drown At The Lake” is like a psycho sexual, extra-terrestrial fever dream. Where hell did you come up with that?

VERMELHO: I’m not sure how all that developed in my mind, but it first started as a story of two 1960s rocker girls who would catch their boyfriends red-handed sucking each others cocks, kind of a Tom of Finland-esque plot, you know? Somehow I added aliens in the story and the girls had now the mission to kill the human race. All of this before making the first panel. The final touch was the sex addicted alien thing. It must seem the craziest part, but it’s actually the most natural thing that could happen, like… well, the thing is an alien and has never felt the pleasures of sex. All of a sudden it got a human body to fulfill a one-year mission on Earth and one day, at random, it has sex for the first time. A brand new world of sensations shine in front its eyes! The alien has only one year to enjoy all this new source of pleasure it just discovered. It is an extraterrestrial being, it doesn’t have these stupid human prejudices, homophobic tendencies, shame or whatever, ‘cause it is no human. It’d live every sexual experience that’s possible: it’d hook up with boys and girls, it’d masturbate watching people having sex, it’d gangbang, it’d be spanked, it’d have sex with fifteen people at the same time in an orgy…who cares? That’s the problem with humans: they care too much. Both their lives and the others. They’re chained to norms that are so old they don’t even know the origins but keep perpetrating them through religion, television programs, stupid jokes and so on. Obviously I’m not saying “Hey, bang your grandma, experience it! bang your dog!” for fuck’s sake.

SHOCK: In “Nonsense Noir Story” a detective is trying to track down all the perverts who bought the “dirty zine”. Have you experienced any sort of backlash to Weird Comix?

VERMELHO: No, not yet. I guess I’m still living in the underground world of comics, so my artwork just brings weirdos to me, people of my own kind. Maybe if someday I get famous enough to catch the attention of regular folks I’m gonna get some negative responses, people calling me a “pervert”, a “creep” or something like that. I hope it won’t take too long till that day comes, it’d be really fun.

SHOCK: A Gary Larson (The Far Side) illustration estimated to sell at $2000 sold for $16000 at a recent art auction. Do you think people have now finally seen the value of illustration as an important art form?

VERMELHO: Yes, I do think. Not only illustration, but also comics. Artists like Will Eisner, Art Spiegelman, Joe Sacco and Crumb are some of the artists who paved the way for this current situation, in my opinion. I recently read that the original artwork for the cover of Mr. Natural #1 was sold for $101,575 at an art auction in 2007. That’s mind blowing! How could someone imagine that? It makes me really glad to see that… but I must admit an obscure part of me keeps thinking that weird art like mine or Crumb’s or Eric Stanton’s shouldn’t become cult. Like John Waters once said “I wanted to be the most despised person imaginable, like I was when I started.” Hahahah, just kidding.

SHOCK: What and when can we expect from #3?

VERMELHO: Well, the last semester of 2015 were rough times, for multiple factors. I wasn’t thinking of good things. I guess that’s the reason this issue 3 turned out a bit different from issue 2. Looking back now, it’s kinda darker. It shows less sex than the other two issues and more violence. I realized in all four stories of this issue (TV Set, Undertaker’s Blues, My Daddy is a Vampire and I Was a Teenage Gorilla-Boy) you can find murders, corpses, decapitations, blood and even a little cannibalism. As you can see, nothing more than expected, really. Hope you all have fun!