TF: The book has a very cinematic flow. There is such a fluid movement to the panels and illustrations. Even ending with the flipbook sequence of the flying bird… when you close your eyes and retell the story, do you see it animated?
MH: ‘Magpie, Magpie’ is peculiarly a comic book experience. I was careful to customise the online and print presentation of the comic to showcase each medium’s unique characteristics. I used the book’s properties as a physical object to influence the comic’s rhythm and pacing, whether by exploiting a reader’s page turn, peripheral vision across spreads, or the cloudiness of the paper stock hinting of things to come. The concluding flipbook is another way of compelling the reader to experience the comic through the unique properties of the paperback – to move the hand from turning leafs to flipping through the stacked pages. I’m conscious about making comics that are an engaged act of life itself, rather than a passive discourse, commentary, description or argument on a part of life.
The flipbook appears as a looping animation in the online presentation, and the book compels readers who have been moving at the pace of a page turn to go back and flip through the sequence repeatedly once they’ve realised what’s unfolding in the final half of the book. It’s hinted at with the fore-edge equal parts black and white in an allusion to the magpie of the title. It felt almost inevitable that this gothic story – where the haunted are animated by spasming impulse and trapped in a purgatory of repeated memories and actions – would end with a tirelessly, looping animation.
TF: Through certain sequences, the reader really gets a sense of losing their mind and falling into insanity. It’s very effective and I’m curious where you drew your inspiration for that.
MH: This comic is obsessed abandonment and missing or being missing. There are the kidnappers on the run in a strange land, submitting to the violent storm bearing down on them, the daughter lost and alone in the desolate outback landscape, and a ghostly host waiting eternally for the return of his long departed lover. The comic is one specific emotional refrain that is hit and left ringing again and again.
The comic has at its centre a man who doesn’t realise he is dead, and consequently his earnest acts of chivalry become oppressive, unwanted expressions inflicted upon all those he mistakes as his lover and from living trapped a time that’s long gone. This hole in objective experience tangled with memory and emotion is something that I hope the viewer feels just as disorientated and confused about.
My last comic was about refugees and asylum seekers waiting in a detention centre for their fate to be decided, and with no sign of returning home – a torturous waiting and mystery. I’m occupied with this as the child of refugees. Mystery occupies my practice an artist staying attentive and open in courting my muse. It also is in the everyday struggle with emotional capacity and Keat’s negative capability, occupying uncertainty and life filled with chance and chaos without grasping for reason.
I’m certainly conscious of making work that can be experienced as sensually as pouring wine on your tongue or letting music vibrate in your ear. Something that suffers for reaching for sense and a simplistic rational line through the book, and benefits instead from letting the work wash over. Disorientating the reader, even if only from the counterintuitive line weights, is within the greater aspiration for work that’s an act of life itself rather than mere commentary from the sidelines.
TF: While the book is “only” black and white, your use of depth and tone in shading really drew me in. I’m wondering what your thought process was in deciding to commit to one color for this book, when of course you could have easily told this story with a broader color palette.
MH: Comic’s constraints demand an economy of words in balloons, sharing the same physical space as the characters in any framed moment. There’s a poetic reduction of detail, with a few marks becoming a smiling face. Working with black and white likewise allows for the Japanese idea of ‘Ma’, or the space consciously allowed for our experiences. We might recognise in this restraint that from all the richness flooding us at any given moment, only very minor details survive the trip through our conscious senses to reach our awareness, stay in our memories, and are constantly revised in our retelling.
TF: For general interest, what contemporary (and dead???) artists do you look to for inspiration? Anyone my readers should know about?
MH: My greatest influences are the artist friends I happen to keep close to me as guides and mentors and creative juggernauts, because they are such a presence in my life. They’re most in my life and whose inspiration lights a constant fire under me. I love listening to High Highs, Jolie Holland, Buck Meek and Adrianne Lenker, Appleonia, Margaret Glaspy, Black Ryder, Sui Zhen, Adam Brisbin, Shy Hunters, Invisible Familiars. I read Julie Koh, and I love anything by Marilynne Robinson. In comics it’s Paul Pope, Molly Crabapple, Farel Dalrymple, Eddie Campbell, Katie Parrish, Aidan Koch, Conor Willumsen, Sam Wallman, Pat Grant, Ben Hutchings, Jillian Tamaki, and I love Lorenzo Mattotti and Marjane Satrapi too. In illustration, it’s about James Victore, James Jirat Patradoon, webuyyourkids, Kate Banazi, Joana Avillez, Wesley Allsbrook.