Andrez Bergen

Posted on April 15th, 2016

Andrez Bergen is an Australian musician, novelist and comics writer based in Japan. Andrez is a prolific creator, having released a host of successful albums and written work over the last 20 years. More recently, he launched IF? Commix, an independent comics publishing label. This week, Tom spoke with Andrez about the differences between writing novels and comics, his cultural influences, and the processes involved in collaborating with comic artists.

T: It’s probably the most go-to question, but what first got you into writing?

A: Definitely film – my parents were keen movie-buffs, so I’ve been enamoured with cinema since I can remember. Plus an early love of comic books and Dr. Seuss. I wrote my first novella, a crap sci-fi romp, when I was in Grade 2. I’ve just always loved putting pen to paper – or more recently banging away at a keyboard.

T: As a published author of novels, how do the differences between writing a book and writing for a comic compare?

bergen_int_pic1A: Doing a novel is an intensely solo (here read oft-times lonely) experience. I do love that, as you’re liberated as creator to go where you will – and it can be months before the property is ready for other eyes. Making comics, even as writer/artist, I can get feedback from mates as soon as the first issue is completed. But when I’m working as writer, with an artist, it’s a far more collaborative affair – especially, for example, the one I’m currently doing with fellow Aussie Graeme Jackson. It’s called Crash Soirée, and though Graeme will deny it, he’s my co-plotter there. We spend hours nutting out the world in which it all takes place. And I’m so into getting process-work and finished pages from the artists, and seeing how they redefine my internal vision. Getting socks knocked off is fun. Frantz Kantor, with Magpie, does this every time – just like Chris Wahl did with Loser, Nobody. The other big difference is scenario: in a comic, because it’s so visual, I can focus on plot and dialogue – the things I truly dig. With a novel, obviously, I have to spend more time explaining a setting or a room and I find that kind of dull.

T: You’re also an Australian expat currently living in Tokyo. How have these two cultures influenced your work?

A: God, where do I start? My hometown, Melbourne, is a recurring theme in all my work – most of my comics and novels touch upon the city, albeit from a skewed perspective. But I’ve lived in Tokyo for 15 years now, and there’s so much Japanese cultural influence that filters through, from anime and manga to music and history. Definitely my novel One Hundred Years of Vicissitude was shaped most by these things. It’s also the sense of fragility here, from short-lived cherry blossoms to the ever-present earthquakes, which underline much of what I do.

T: At the time of writing this, Issue 7 of DRC isn’t even out yet and reviewers have picked up on your piece. How did it come together?

A: This one fell into my lap, seriously, and I’ll be eternally grateful to Nat Karmichael, who runs Comicoz in Australia. Last year he was compiling a comic book anthology (titled Australia!) that was a fund-raiser for beyondblue, an Australian national initiative to raise awareness of anxiety and depression, and brought Chris Wahl and I together to work on a piece. I knew Chris’s art already – he’s a veritable legend back home – and his work on the story knocked me for six.

T: Speaking of collaborations, you’ve worked with a few – I’m sure a question many writers are wondering is where to find, or how to approach, an artist?

bergen_int_pic2A: Yeah, I’ve been exceptionally lucky. Just in the past three years I’ve worked with some incredible artists like Frantz Kantor, Chris Wahl, Drezz Rodriguez, Graeme Jackson and Matt Kyme. Some (Graeme and Matt) came about just via chatting on Facebook about stuff. We shared similar ideas and influences, and the projects simply hatched themselves. Nat Karmichael introduced me to work with Frantz and Chris – so that was a matter of right-place-right-time syndrome. With Drezz, I found his art on the Internet, emailed him to gush praise, and we got to talking… and hey, presto. I’m not sure there’s a magic formula, but I guess don’t be too pushy, know the artist’s work, appreciate that, and nurture a friendship before shoving your script down his/her throat?

T: You also co founded and run If? Commix, can you tell us a little about that?

A: Sure – on an ideological level, IF? Commix is an extension of IF? Records, which I set up with mates in Melbourne in 1995 to help fledgling and more creative local electronic musicians to get their stuff out there. When Matt Kyme and I established IF? Commix in 2013, we had those grand ideas in mind… but we also did it so we could self-publish our own comic Tales to Admonish, and stick a silly logo on there! Little did we suspect that we’d go on to publish six graphic novels and about 40 individual comics. Yikes.

T: You mentioned extending into comics from music, as a musician as well, how do you find the relationship between the two? These kinds of media boundaries certainly seem to break down in the D.I.Y. cultural circles…

A: The logistics are very similar, I think, in any approach to an indie media. You certainly find the same levels of grassroot support and more mainstream ‘walls’. For me, making music and art are remarkably similar too because I apply the same mentality: a cut-up collage aesthetic, very much influenced by Dada (and Terry Gilliam!) in terms of pushing the notion of what-is-art? Running my own publishing company gives me opportunity to bend rules and mess around with concepts. I tend to be more conservative when I work for other people!

T: What would your advice be to those that might attempt to set up something themselves?

A: As Nike would shove in your face, just do it. Look, there’s no harm in giving it a shot; you can only fail. But sitting round counting chickens, waiting for Marvel or DC to contact you? Forget about it. Besides, running your own ship allows you complete freedom of expression. That’s a bloody coup.

Thanks to Tom and Andrez for this week’s interview. Andrez’s personal website can be found at andrezbergen.wordpress.com, and he is also active on Twitter @andreziffy