Cue & Ehh? With John Tweedie (Babel Design)
My relationship with John is a friendly one, though shrouded in envy and jealousy at the creator's talent and scope. For the short few years that I've known him (twelve... has it really been that long?!) he has been prolific, intellectually inspiring, funny, supportive, brimming with ideas, religiously thought provoking and... missing. Like Lord Lucan he has been lost and found, only more than once, a repetitive prodigal son, hiding himself away only to appear months later with more beautiful sights to behold.
It has been said too many times that 'a picture tells a thousand words', though what that fails to say is that those words are usually incoherent, lack intelligence, stimulation and fail to arouse. Tweedie's pictures don't just 'tell a thousand words,’ they tell a thousand tales. Stories as old as the written word itself, stories that have yet to be written. Won't you come read with me...
Could you tell the readers a little about yourself, your training and your aims?
I'm a 38 year-old artist and hermit-in-training from Belfast. Combining this with my aversion to exhibiting gives me none of the attributes that an artist requires. I did my B.A. in Painting/ Fine Art and a Masters in Fine Art/ Illustration (Although the art college didn't notice). Since leaving art-school I have been doing a lot of work using 3D applications and Photoshop but recently have been doing more and more work involving painting and 'natural media".
My aims are to get an agent and to publish the books that I have been working on. For the sake of interest the books are:
- Metronome ( An illustrated history of civilization)
- Apocalypse ( A fully illustrated version of St. John's Revelation )
- Proverbs ( An illustrated series of proverbs/aphorisms )
- Virus (A book of weird ideas that won't go away)
- Sedative (A book of chair paintings/images)
- A Handmade Heart (A graphic novel that I am co-writing)
- I'm also thinking about a book of Dante''s Divine Comedy and a few other comic ideas.
Being an artist influenced by the work of contemporary comic artists such as McKean, Sienkiewicz, Williams and Muth who is treading back into the areas from whence the styles arose, do you find it hard to be accepted by the traditional art lover?
By traditional art lover I take you to mean the clients of current art galleries and the 'art scene'. These people are, in general, interested in art as a product; i.e. in limited editions, small print runs, etc. The notion that a run of 5,000 books are each an individual work of art is anathema to them. It is also an inward looking incestuous world that I am not really interested in getting involved with, unless through an agent. Current art trends also seem to lean heavily towards the confessional, the unedited display of each artists individual neuroses. Blame Prozac, I don't know?
I don't want anyone to see anything but the work I make. Then it's between the audience and the image. I would like to remain out of the picture as much as possible. In essence I think that any creative endeavor that comes with a text explaining how I should relate to it is falling short of the mark somewhere.
Could you name a recently favoured sequential art publication?
I just finished a D.C. collection of the 'Mystery in Space' comics a really classic Ed Wood style space-opera, pure bubble-gum for the eyes. I'm now reading Alex Robinson's 'Tricked' and it's pretty good. I just got a few 'Blab' back issues, which are always interesting. But the graphic novel of 'The Fountain' is, for me, the best looking thing out recently. Some praise has to go to Daniel Aronofsky for reversing the trend of Hollywood stealing the best ideas from the world of comics.
Outside of the Comic Artist field which artists have been major influences on your work?
Well, I studied painting so they would be the obvious people. Raphael, Piero della Francesca, Durer, Giotto, Brueghel, Holbein and more current artists like Ed Kienholz, Paula Rego, Rauschenberg, Richter, etc. The other people who interest me would all be writers, comic-artists and film makers.
You, like myself, were born and bred in Northern Ireland, I’ve taken the artist out of Northern Ireland. Do you think you can take the Northern Ireland out of the artist?
If you can't then that artist is in trouble. I have always thought that an artist should try to have a conversation with as many people as possible through their work. Not just the people in their street or city.
Northern Ireland is a pretty rotten state of affairs all round and any comments I have to make would certainly not help the situation. The people who have the most interesting things to say about any political situation are usually those outside who can take an unbiased look at all sides.
Your work has always contained religious undertones that have not only made me question the representations of belief and disbelief but also shown me the beauty in that conflict. What are your religious intentions when creating these pieces?
Someone, who was much smarter than I am, stated that any societies' God(s) reflect that societies own character. So many cultures have made an overarching narrative that explains their relationship with the universe that it seems to be an unavoidable aspect of humanity. And, of course, this means we can get a little bit inside the minds of the people who prescribed these stories. To understand a bit of the long gone Sumerians and what we have in common read Gilgamesh the king. Then watch Star Wars and guess what? I think the parallels outweigh the differences.
So, for me, what stands out is the similarity between humans and their relationships with the universe. From the Willendorf Venus to Christianity, from Manichaeism to Scientology, a continuous and overlapping set of stories exists. I'm interested in what each has to say about our relationship with God(s) with authority and with the rest of humanity. So, consequently, if we follow these ideas to their conclusion we can trace humanities relationship with the universe throughout the ages.
My interest in illustrating texts is in that it allows me to set up a relationship between the text and the illustration so that they are either in harmony or at odds with each other. This space between the words and images is where the real art happens I think. God I'm boring myself. Next.
Having heard about you developing a visual Holy Bible I was intrigued with the idea. Are you working on that project, is there an expected finishing date and what are your feelings on Simon Bisley’s ‘Illustrations from the Bible’?
Well I am illustrating The Apocalypse of St. John at the moment. The whole bible would take me forever so I am limiting myself to the sickest of all the Bible's books.
I had finished a version of 'The Apocalypse' about five years ago but a lot of the images needed elements that I could only provide using 3D renders. So I learnt Cinema 4D and some other 3D applications and now I am about two-thirds of the way through the new version. My computers speed is a major factor at the moment. Some renders take days. As for Simon Bisley's Bible stuff, I haven't seen it. I'll bet he did David and Goliath though.
Also, rumour has it that you are working with Malachy Coney, writer of Top Cow’s ‘The Darkness’ and Indie Release ‘Major Power & Spunky’. Can you divulge anything about these projects?
Well, I understand that Malachy may be doing a Cue & Ehh?, so I'll leave that to him. He is doing a lot of interesting stuff at the moment.
A few years ago we had an idea for a story that was a re-working of the Daedalus/Icarus myth. Malachy then wrote a one-off script, which he turned into a lovely short story. Since then, due to my inability to finish anything, I have been expanding the comic into an eight issue graphic novel that follows the Icarus character from 'birth' to death. When that is finished, Malachy will look over it again and, if it is ship-shape, submit it to a publisher. I don't want to draw it myself.
You seem to spend a lot of time researching for your work, sourcing and referencing hundreds of images and photographs for a single piece. You also seem to be extremely prolific, creating work after work. Outside of this what do you do with the few seconds left in the day?
Very boring stuff. I make edits on Wikipedia. Watch as many truly bad movies as I can. Play survival horror games, worship the Legend of Zelda series, but mostly I try to read and watch stuff that I can plough back into my work somehow.
When I work I often like to listen to Fudge Tunnel’s ‘Fudgecake’ or Depeche Mode’s ‘Songs of Faith and Devotion’. Do you have any favourite art creating music?
Philip Glass - Einstein on the Beach, Low Symphony. Frank Zappa - Civilization Phase III, Jazz from Hell. Anthony Payne - Times Arrow.
What’s the most recent thing that has disgusted or repulsed you?
That a film has been made of 'A Scanner Darkly' and the producers ignored a script by Charlie Kaufman, which was wonderful. I have read 'A Scanner Darkly' about twenty times and the trailers I have seen fill me with dread. If anyone wants to read how great the film might have been, it is available here.
Its either that or the 'Black Eyed Peas' song 'My Humps'. I want to kill every time I hear that shit. In fact my seventeen year old nephew and I are at work penning a cash-in of our own entitled 'Milk, Milk, Lemonade (Round the corner chocolate's made). What the hell is happening in music land?
Weird and Freaky Question:
You’re standing on a wall 20ft tall and are balancing your way across its 100ft length. On one side of the wall there awaits thousands of Aids infected homosexuals. They are crazed in a sexual frenzy... Pale, diseased and rotting, they yearn for your flesh. Similarly, on the other side lies thousands of robotic crack whores. They display serrated blades opening and closing inside their acid oiled vaginas. During your journey you lose your footing and although try to regain your balance; you know you will definitely fall. Which way do you aim your weight?
That's a tough one. Which group am I more prepared to reject; the zombie mos or the crack smoking fembots? Tough. They're all people too; sort off. Well I suppose I'd apologise to those lovely crackophiles and take a plunge for HIV central. Hey - you still have a weeny afterwards, right ? Right ?