COMFY CONFABS // Chris & Mark Renney

Hullo again, Dear Reader. Welcome to the third instalment of Comfy Confabs where I get to ask fellow creatives the hard questions regarding their art, plus how and why they make it. Tati will be joining me this time which means I’ll have a bit of help doing the asking!

As we all probably know by now, art takes many forms. It can be a rude looking phallus in a major metropolitan gallery, or it can be a lowly issue of ‘Super Scrumtabulous Man’ that’s been used to wrap a Sicilian sausage at the local butcher. Art can be refined, it can be gaudy and functional, and it sure as hell don’t need no sniffin’ down the nose at by the likes of me or you!

So, let’s introduce this instalment’s interviewees. Their names are Mark and Chris Renney, a couple that blogs from ye olde England with words and images that have definitely caught our attention. They have a number of sites, and they also contribute to Hijacked Amygdala which I’ve also been an occasional part of in the past.

Mark writes some amazing stuff about the everyman, the human condition; stuff that’s mundane, existential, sometimes strange and yet always deeply human.

Chris takes the kinds of black and white photos that make you sit up and take notice. You find yourself reaching for your own camera in the hopes that you might get half as good with a little bit of practice.

Okay, let’s get this show on the road… (Oh, and feel free to click on the images and quotes in order to see and read more!)

TATI: Let’s start with a nice, easy question. Do you have pets?

CHRIS: Unhappily, not at the moment and this is mainly because we both work full time. Growing up my father would not allow us to have pets whilst Mark’s childhood was full of dogs (many of whom ran off to the annoyance and despair of the other villagers, and had to be fetched home, rescued from the baying crowd). BUT some years ago a thin, starving cat who was a bit pregnant arrived in our garden. Initially we thought she belonged to someone and of course she did—us!

Peggy, later Peg, was named after Peggy Lee about whom Mark was reading and who was one of the ‘lads’ in the band and called Peg by them.

Peg turned out to be ungrateful, in charge, a biter, an attacker and adored by us. She quickly sussed that Mark is not a cat person and insisted on sitting next to him on the sofa. She was never a lap cat, she frightened friends and family and we miss her very much.

I am still pining, and I will grind Mark down so that we can have a cat and dog in the very near future.

MARK: Well, maybe a cat.

TONY: I remember Peg featuring in a couple of your early comics actually. And, in fact, you began a blog dedicated to said comics in December 2014. What prodded you to do this?

TATI: Tony, don’t make a mess! We know Chris and Mark had blogs before this one. Why not start from the very beginning?

TONY: Ok. Tell us about your first teacher, Mark.

TATI: Tony!

TONY: Jeez. Way to spoil the fun! Okay, okay! Guys, please disregard my previous questions. We’ve been following your blogs for quite some time now, and we’d like to know… have both of you always skewed towards the creative?

CHRIS: For as long as I am able to remember I have been drawn to the visual arts, and Art Class was something I really revelled in at school, but I was always more of an appreciator of the work of others such as the Abstract Expressionists, and I also loved film, especially the noir genre, which informed my love of black and white imagery. Photography is something I came to much later, and this was because of Mark.

MARK: Yeah, when I started The Brokedown Pamphlet I knew I wanted to use original images so bought a Nikon SLR, but whenever we returned home from our photo foraging I couldn’t help seeing that Christine’s shots were a lot better than mine, and so I handed the camera duties over to her, and that’s how our collaboration began.

CHRIS: Indeed, but also he used to take ages with taking a shot which drove me insaaaaane… and I just wanted to push him out of the way and wrestle the camera out of his hands.MARK: This is the difference between us—she has the ability to be spontaneous and brave because she can get up in people’s faces, and I just wouldn’t and couldn’t do that. I, on the other hand, obsess over details, but this is how I have formed my writing style. Actually, giving the camera to Christine enabled me to concentrate on my writing. I am a bit of a procrastinator, and didn’t start writing until my mid-twenties which ultimately led to my blog, and it was then, as I reached my forties, that I wanted to write about my relationship with Christine and also other slices of my life, and the comic strips have allowed me to do that. I knew I couldn’t draw but Christine felt that some of the strips needed my rather naive style.

CHRIS: I do like Mark’s strange images—funnily enough this is where he is more spontaneous than I am, and his drawing has a sense of freedom to me. I am really lazy, hence I go ages without posting but Mark’s obsession—whoops, I mean drive—keeps me on my often reluctant toes, but I am always glad that he pushes me to get out and do.

MARK: So, I suppose the short answer is yes, we have always been creatively skewed, but we each need the other for encouragement and passing ideas between us.

TONY: I’ve found that to be the case for us as well. Tati and I seem to be far more productive together than on our own.

TATI: Yuck! Guys! You’ve answered at least two or three of my questions already. Now I should put my thinking cup on. Oi! Cap! (Fucking English!)

TONY: She looks cute with a cup on her head.

TATI: Tony, stop tapping my cup! Mark, I told you before, and I’m going to repeat this again: Your writings (I don’t know if it’s a compliment or no) remind me of the best of Ray Bradbury. Do you have a favorite writer? Can you say that you are influenced by anyone?

MARK: Thanks, Tati—yes, I do remember you mentioning Ray Bradbury, and I have read a lot of Science Fiction and still do in fact, although I am now drawn more to the types of dystopian futures conjured by Philip K Dick and J G Ballard. I often stray into that speculative field or I try to evoke it without actually going there.

About ten years ago I did a Creative Writing course with the Open University, and I don’t remember which writer was quoted in the coursework but I do remember the quote that ‘genre is a great gift to any writer’, and I really embrace this idea and still agree with it, so I do take your comparison as a compliment. And then, of course, there is Kafka—but then which writer hasn’t, at some point, striven to be Kafka-esque. However, the one who has most inspired me is the American poet and short story writer, Raymond Carver. Sadly, he died at fifty, and so we don’t have the novels he would certainly have written, but his poetry and short stories are amazing; minimalist, edgy and real. He was the writer who made me realise that literature is not this big elitist thing belonging only in the hallowed halls but that writing also belongs to the everyman, the regular guy doing a regular job. My copy of A New Path To The Waterfall, his last collection of poems, would be my Desert Island book.

TONY: Have you considered releasing a collection of your writings in print, Mark? Perhaps something that also features Chris’s wonderful photography? I know Tati and I would buy it in a heartbeat.

MARK: Ah, thanks, T ‘n’ T. Before I started the blog some of my work was published in small press magazines, and it really is exciting to see your words on a printed page. It would be great for the work to appear alongside Chris’s photography, but I think it would be difficult to find a publisher who would consider this. Maybe we need to separate our work and submit individually, and I do try to encourage Chris to enter competitions but she will tell you herself she lacks confidence in her photography. This year I have started to send pieces to on-line journals and currently that is the path I will tread so, who knows where it will take me in the future.

TATI: Chris, how do you think… Does the art of photography lie in meticulous preparation, or is it a matter of luck to find yourself in the right place at the right time?

CHRIS: Ah, a very thought provoking question, Tati. Perhaps I should quote Henri Cartier-Bresson who spoke of ‘the decisive moment’ in photography—not off the cuff, but the image which comes through observing and waiting for that one shot. Meticulous preparation speaks to me of portraiture, or still life compositions created by the image taker who thus has total control of the final product—in a different medium I would draw your attention to Leni Riefenstahl’s ‘documentary’ Triumph of the Will in which the control she had over the production resulted in the most influential piece of propaganda for the Nazis, and remains a technically brilliant and important work despite its revolting message. I am much less organised, but will seek out particular environments to see what occurs, and I much prefer street photography because of the oddity of we humans, our actions and reactions.

The art of a good photograph to me is whether or not we find something within it which we recognise, even in an abstract form, and which interests or pleases us. Therefore the art remains in the eye of the beholder.

TATI: I see nothing wrong in the desire to be famous and recognized, but what is more important—to be popular (be an opportunist and an audience pleaser) or to preserve your unique creative voice, even if it means you may go unnoticed?

TONY: And do you believe that artists have a moral responsibility to hold up a mirror to society? Can art say something important, and should it?

MARK: Apart from being published in a few small magazines I didn’t show my work to anyone other than Christine for a long, long time. I have always been very private about my writing and I don’t talk about it with anyone else, but I reached a point where I thought I needed feedback and I did want to share it with others, and my Blog has enabled me to do this. The fact that there are people out there who do read my work means a great deal to me. I also felt I had got into a rut and I wanted to be more exploratory, and I suppose I have managed to do that with the comics that are often more autobiographical. Overall, though, I don’t think my writing and subject matter has changed much, and so I guess the answer is, “Yes, I do believe that a writer should maintain their own unique voice rather than strive to be more popular or even famous.”

CHRIS: I am much too lazy to think about fame as all I have to declare is my genius (thanks Oscar W!). Whilst ‘Art’ may not change the world it is an imperative as it records our skewed, wonderful, wicked humanity. A mirror reflects an interpretation of what is happening—documentary war photographers such Capa and McCullin were there to record the suffering and cruelty, and when I study their work I see not only what they are seeing but also the strange beauty of their images. The work doesn’t stop war, but it forces us to see—albeit from a safe distance—what it actually means. Woody Guthrie, moving around the USA and recording what he saw in his songs and using them to help bring the message of the hideous Depression, but also invoking a sense of unity amongst the forgotten. Picasso’s Guernica which is a powerful summation of the bombing of the town is also an amazing work of art. The messages are still coming through from all of these works, and such pieces are educational, and perhaps the strength and depth of them is better understood by a later generation. If we don’t record it then those who have no conscience will never be questioned or revealed as tyrants.

I know that if I were to take beautiful serene photographs of nature—the dog, not the dog shit—then more people would ‘like’ my work, but I am much more interested in the decay of the human and his environment in this world, in the 21st Century when poverty and war should have been a subject of history and not current. I also must mention the importance of the cartoonists—the satire of Gillray and Hogarth, for example, is still a forceful use of image today. You just need to see Hogarth’s Gin Alley which could be most streets on a Saturday night. Of course, Art should entertain us as well as educate us, but as a means of getting the message out there it is vital and invaluable. Sadly, though, I don’t believe it changes the minds of the conservatives, most of whom see Art as either a financial investment or to boast of their wealth.

MARK: And I agree which is why I am such a big fan of Science Fiction—it is a genre where the writer can explore and examine the moral dilemmas and complexities of society. In the past it was a way for writers to get the message out there and under the radar of censorship. Rod Serling was a master of this, as was Ray Bradbury and indeed our own George Orwell. Nowadays, writers such as Chine Mieville are still using the genre to push the boundaries.

CHRIS: Art is, and always will be, an essential tool for history, and lets our descendants see what our world was today and yesterday and today.

TATI: Chris, Mark, we’ve seen what topics will be always at the end of your ‘creative gun’. Are there any that leave you feeling rather indifferent? (Because I definitely have some stuff that makes me yawn.)

CHRIS: I think it is safe to say that we are not driven by so called reality TV and the like because what it does is pretend to be true when it is all a theatrical stunt, where as great documentary making, for example, O.J. – Made In America and Thin Blue Line analysed and were able to reveal a truth much larger than perhaps even the film makers realised.

MARK: Yeah, I agree with that—I hate the Murdoch press which purports to tell the truth, but which engenders fear and hatred in the ill-informed of any status. Our recent election in the U.K. was, for the first time in a long time, not influenced by The Sun newspaper and I find this really heartening.

CHRIS: I think we can safely say that the Royal Family is not a subject we would ever think about unless that heady comes when the Crown crashes to the floor. In truth there is not much we are indifferent to as even the Royals can make us jump and down—but not in patriotic fervour—but we are indifferent to rubbish films (take a bow 50 Shades of Grey et al) which lack honesty, rubbish fiction (Dan Brown should never take up another pen or computer in his lifetime)—see, not even indifferent about that!

MARK: Umm, getting a bit angry, so should wind this question up with the answer, “We are not indifferent to much as we either love it or it annoys the hell out of us…”

TONY: Is there anything else you’d like our readers to know about you? Other than your social security numbers of course. (Well, actually…)

MARK: Well, I am quite an introverted person and Christine is much more open to socialising, but we have found a wonderful balance between us, and this has formed the relationship we have.

CHRIS: We share the same interests, but Mark is obsessive but controlled, and I am a reactionary with little control over my words sometimes. I think we make one good whole person together—Mark really cares for his family and his writing, and lets others live their lives as they choose whereas I get over involved. He is my rock. And I am his ball and chain…

MARK: And I think we are very fortunate to have each other.

TONY: Thanks so much for taking the time to talk with us, guys. We really are big fans of your work. Long may it continue!

TATI: There’s your cup, Tony. It’s not my size.

 

Interview by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2017

GUEST POST // Okoto Enigma Interviews Tetiana Aleksina & Tony Single

OKOTO: What is your blog about?

TONY: Firstly, we want to thank you for interviewing us, Okoto. What a cool opportunity! To answer your question: Unbolt Me is a literary blog. In a literal sense. It’s a repository of poems, prose, and any other odds and ends that we might dream up.

TATI: Yes, we have also made art, audio clips, and even a video! But we will never deviate from our main axis. We will always be about the writings.

OKOTO: When and why did you decide to start a blog?

TATI: It was July 2014. Why? Because I had decided that six months of studying English was enough, and that I was ready to knock the spots off Shakespeare and Hemingway. I decided to think big and enter the international arena straightaway. That is how me and my ‘blameless’ writings found ourselves on WordPress.

TONY: I discovered Tati’s writings on Unbolt, and was immediately drawn in by the uniqueness of her imagination. It was completely idiosyncratic and out there. She and I struck up a friendship via email which eventually led to her inviting me to work with her on the blog together.

TATI: Tony’s first official post was A Sea Change Involving a Cow’. Unbolt became Unbolt Me after that point. But before this he was featured as a guest many times, and we wrote some cool collaborations.

OKOTO: Where do you see your blog 2 years from now?

TATI: It will be a noisy, busy place. A cheerful community of writers and readers who enjoy communication on our blog. And we aren’t going to turn it into an advertising platform to monetize our traffic, etc.

TONY: Yes, we write books and we want to sell them, like every writer does. But we never want to harass our readers with ads and links to buy.

TATI: Fun, freedom, communication. Those are the three pillars we lean on.

OKOTO: How far have you gone since you started blogging? And what do you hope to gain?

TONY: We’ve gone from being a blog with a dozen regular visitors to one that’s widely read and appreciated by many more from all walks of life.

TATI: Yes, Unbolt Me is a pretty popular blog, but I wouldn’t want to show off with our tinkling, statistical regalia here.

TONY: True. We’re very fortunate to have garnered any level of attention at all.

TATI: As for me… yes, I still can’t believe that my name is on the covers of real books. And this wouldn’t have happened without me starting this blog in the first place.

TONY: And we’re going to write many more. We want to make a living off our books. That’s the end game.

OKOTO: What/who inspires you to blog?

TONY: Tati. My wife. The fact that I’m poor.

TATI: Our amazing community and its warm feedback. We get many comments, many encouraging words. Our dear readers make us believe in what we do and that gives us the fuel to go ahead. Also, Tony, his wife and the fact that he’s poor. Okay, I joke. But Tony inspires me, of course. Especially his bizarre dreams.

OKOTO: What is the easiest thing about blogging? And what do you find most difficult?

TATI: The easiest thing is creating a new post. The most hard is pressing ‘Publish’.

TONY: And we get to work and agonise together. How cool is that? Honestly, we achieve so much more as a team than we ever could on our own.

OKOTO: Who has impacted you the most in blogging and why?

TATI: I read many cool blogs, and I do enjoy them and the people who stand behind them. I was honored to collaborate with many talented bloggers at the beginning of Unbolt Me’s life, and it’s been the most precious experience. But my answer will be… no one.

TONY: My answer would be… everyone. But, as I don’t like sharing the glory, I’ll amend that answer and say ‘no one’ too! Okay, but seriously, I fear that by listing some bloggers I’ll forget to list others. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel left out.

OKOTO: What do you think is the best strategy that worked well for you to get more traffic to your blog?

TONY: First and foremost it’s the writing. You’ve got to really work at the writing, to make it the best you think it can be every single time. Without that there’s no compelling reason for readers to keep coming back.

TATI: Yes, our strategy is the same for any activity: malls, pubs or blogs… it doesn’t matter. Be cool, be different. Be passionate about what you do.

TONY: Write it and they will come.

TATI: Amen.

OKOTO: What was/has been the most challenging moment in your blogging journey so far?

TONY: Declining collaborations hasn’t been easy. People get understandably offended when we do this. It’s not that we’re snobs or that no one is as good as we are. On the contrary, there are many writers whose abilities eclipse our own that we would gladly work with. However, we’re so focused on what we’re trying to achieve with our own projects that it doesn’t leave much time for anything else.

TATI: As for me, it was the moment when I realized that it was pretty hard to handle the growing attention that we were getting. I was happy… and a bit scared. That’s why I’m really grateful to Tony who takes care of the comments on Unbolt Me. I remember how I was struggling with this, feeling unable to catch every interaction, worried that readers might think I didn’t care or something.

TONY: Tati is my favourite person to work with, so any difficulties that arise are mitigated by the fact that we are in this together. That gives me a lot of strength and encouragement.

OKOTO: What is your advice to bloggers and everyone out there?

TATI: Follow your dreams. Go ahead and never stop.

TONY: Wear socks at all times. Except in summer. It’s too hot and sweaty in summer.

 

by OKOTO ENIGMA
© All rights reserved 2017

COMFY CONFABS // Tony Single

Hullo, Dear Reader. Guess what? I got talked into being the second interviewee for my brand new, ongoing feature, Comfy Confabs. The interviewer being the interviewed?! How on Cthulhu’s sweet, barren earth did that happen? Well, I’ll tell you how… It’s all the fault of one Candice Daquin, and if you don’t know who she is then you really need to edjumacate yourself at The Feathered Sleep. Okay, go. Go now! Go and have your eyes opened and your mind exploded. I’m serious! I’ll be here when you get back.

Right, got all that? Good. So, anyways, I approached Candice to be the focus of this second interview, but instead of a yes I got an offer to be interviewed by her instead. “You’ll be more interesting!” she said. “But I’m a career hack!” I protested. She was having none of it, so I folded rather more easily than a deck chair at a conflict resolution symposium…

All joking aside, I am rather pleased with the outcome. Not only have I shared dialogue with a writer of Candice’s calibre, but the resulting Q&A even makes it seem like I’m not a total and utter narcissistic halfwit—pretentious maybe, and a bit of a tool, but still…

CANDICE: Were you always an artist? Did you used to do something before that? If so, when did you decide to devote yourself more toward your art and networking your work for others to see?

TONY: I’ve been drawing since I could hold a crayon, so I feel like I’ve never not been an artist. I was even creating comic strips all the way through my school years, so by the time I was accepted into art college the idea of trying to be a professional cartoonist felt like the next logical step to me. However, my life since then has consisted of being equal parts job seeker, house husband, and struggling artist.

CANDICE: What do you recall as your original inspiration when you began to draw more for others to appreciate? What message if any did you want to convey the most?

TONY: I don’t really recall much to be honest. I do remember Charles Schulz’s Peanuts strip featuring quite prominently in my childhood. I adored its many characters (and still do), and very much aspired to do something in the same vein. As for messages, I don’t think I had any in mind at that age—only an idea that I wished to live out a creative life.

CANDICE: Do you consciously impart messages in your work or do you think they are interpreted by the viewer?

TONY: I believe it’s a bit of both. The older I get, the more I find what I want to say, and so I’ll layer this into whatever I create. However, no one likes to be preached at, so I’ll try to find an indirect way to impart that meaning, a way that gives the reader credit for having their own mind and take on things. Of course, whatever I put out there does often get interpreted in ways that I cannot possibly anticipate, but this is no bad thing. All it means is that people aren’t being passive, that they’re actively engaging with my work, and that makes me happy.

CANDICE: Does your hearing-loss factor in the choices you make artistically?

TONY: Such an interesting question. No one has ever asked me this before! If my hearing-loss is any factor at all then it would have to be in the way I try to write dialogue. I am constantly striving to make my characters sound as naturalistic as possible (not easy to do within the silence of the page). I want their stresses, intonations, and turns of phrase to mimic what I will often hear in everyday conversations.

CANDICE: When did you begin to combine your ability as a writer/poet with your art? Do you feel more confident in one genre than another?

TONY: As a cartoonist, I’ve always combined my writing with my art. I do find it difficult to draw a standalone image as it often feels like there’s no story present. I tend to be more comfortable working with a sequence of images; it’s a less static approach that’s conducive to driving narrative or some overall message. If there’s one thing I like more than writing or drawing alone, it’s putting those two things together to tell a story.

CANDICE: If you had endless options, what would you choose to do with your art? Would you like to be a comic-artist, a graphic-novelist? Or something else?

TONY: When I was young, my goal was to write and draw a famous comic strip, just like my hero Charles Schulz. That changed. What I’m doing now with Crumble Cult actually plays to my strengths as a cartoonist, and far more so than the newspaper format ever would have. It’s emotionally fulfilling in a way that a gag strip could never be for me. Still, as a creative, I can’t say that I’ve ‘arrived’. My next big challenge is to write and draw my first graphic novel, and I want to do this in Ukraine. I have no idea how I can make this happen, but I sure aim to.

CANDICE: If you weren’t you and you didn’t know you, and you saw your art what would you think of the person behind it?

TONY: God. Again with the interesting questions! I find this difficult to answer as I’m often wondering what people make of me anyway (could someone tell me?). I’m constantly striving to get personal with my comics, to bare my all, and yet I use them to hide myself at the same time. It’s weird, I know. I guess I just like to confound people’s expectations.

CANDICE: Whom are your biggest influences both historically and in more recent times and why?

TONY: There’s the aforementioned Mr. Schulz. His Peanuts strip has always appealed to my whimsical and melancholic natures, as have the works of Tove Jansson. I grew up reading her Moomintroll books, and they were fanciful but in an extraordinarily mundane, grounded way. Then there was the Osamu Tezuka comics that possessed a certain kineticism which I very much admired. And they had a rather pleasing pulp fiction sensibility too; for me, Adolf and Astroboy will always be his definitive works. Oh, and Rumiko Takahashi’s Maison Ikkoku was another influence. That story was romantic, down-to-earth, very very funny, and humane. I’m also seeing an abundance of that last quality in Love and Rockets by the Hernandez Bros. That’s a more recent influence I suppose, but no way in hell will I ever reach those giddy heights of masterful storytelling. Not with my own paltry efforts. Still, I love what I do, so I can try.

CANDICE: You mentioned wanting to do a graphic novel (so glad you said that, this interviewer always felt this was your destiny, jus sayin’!) but also ‘in Ukraine’ meaning you want to write / draw it in Ukraine or in Ukrainian? Can you elaborate on this and explain to the readers where this momentum began and why? (I think I know!)

TONY: I think you do too! I once asked my writing partner Tetiana Aleksina about her home country, and she challenged me to simply go there and pay her a visit. Her feeling was that it would be better for me to experience Ukraine firsthand rather than simply hear about it from afar. That’s when I had the idea to turn this potential trip into a story that I could tell in the graphic novel format, and so I’ve been obsessed with the idea ever since. Plus, it would just be a cool thing to hang out with someone that I love and admire very much! I plan to make it happen. Again, I don’t know how, but I will.

CANDICE: What influence has your writing collaborator Tetiana Aleksina had on your work and how do you feel she has influenced your direction?

TONY: I was floundering creatively before Tati came along, and that’s the truth. I don’t know where I’d be today if it weren’t for her timely intervention. The width and breadth of her imagination is the one thing that shone through when I first encountered her blog, and so I very quickly became a fan. And as I got to know Tati through our collaborations thereafter, I came to realise she was someone I very much wanted to work with on a permanent basis. With much trepidation, I asked her if I could, and luckily for me she said yes! And in all the time since, I’ve come to see just how meticulous Tati is with her endeavours. Everything counts for her; nothing gets wasted. Things are worth doing properly or not at all. Not many bloggers seem to have this perfectionist drive, and so I’ve really come to value her professional approach and attention to detail. I’m forced to lift my game—to strive for my absolute best—and this clearly is no bad thing. As a result, we now have many projects in the pipeline, and aim to make them all come to fruition.

CANDICE: If you could fast-forward ten years where would you like to be in terms of creative output and accomplishment?

TONY: I would like my wife and I to be living abroad, and for me to be working alongside Tati in person. That’s the dream. We want to bring out more books, to complete our first novel, and maybe even tackle a graphic novel together too. The sky’s the limit. We just have to be foolish enough to reach for it!

CANDICE: What subjects most influence your perspective as an artist and why?

TONY: Religion and mental health are two huge subjects in my life, so they tend to crop up in my work a lot. After suffocating in a Baptist church environment for nearly twenty years, I realised that I needed to get out and truly be myself for once. I’d also given up on the idea of a loving god by this point, and was feeling tremendous guilt about that—I felt like a heretic and a failure as a human being. There were also lingering questions from my youth regarding my sexuality and self-identity that were still not going away, that could not be adequately addressed the longer I stayed in such an emotionally and intellectually toxic subculture. I felt stained and stunted. I needed to escape. Add ongoing anxiety and depression to the mix, and you can see why I write and draw the things I do. I have to.

CANDICE: What role do you think you play as an artist in terms of being a ‘truth’ bearer to subjects most close to your heart and what subjects would you include? (Example; This interviewer holds mental-health and gender close to her heart and incorporates them into her work often.)

TONY: The more I follow my current path, the more I find what I want to explore in terms of themes. Of course, there’s the aforementioned religious and mental health issues, but I’m now branching out into other areas such as sexual identity and gender politics, and finding that there’s quite a bit of crossover. Actually, it’s shocking to note just how much church and society have framed my thinking in general, and in ways that are less than helpful, that quite frankly fly in the face of reality. Back in my church days I tried to cleave to some pretty dangerous ideas dressed up as piousness and a sacrificial love for mankind, but really… I was only robbing myself of the ability to empathise with others while at the same time deliberately taking leave of my senses. One particular issue seemed to crop up again and again amongst my peers: homosexuality. God and his ‘chosen ones’ were disturbingly obsessed with that, and sought to box it up as something which was ‘aberrant’ and ‘evil’. This kind of bigotry troubled me as I’d always believed that homosexuals were as normal as anyone, but I never had the guts to challenge the church’s prejudice head on. At the time, I was more invested in gaining total acceptance from my fellow Christians than in pursuing a form of ethical honesty. So, yes, I now incorporate such concerns and themes into my works as often as possible. It’s kind of my duty, and I have a lot to atone for.

CANDICE: Thank you for your time answering these questions. As long as I have had the fortune to know you as an artist, I have found you to be a continual inspiration, but I also know you personally to be very modest and unaware of the impact you have upon others. Do you think this came about from your life thus far? Have you felt working in this creative community and especially with your creative partner Tati, that you have begun to shed your modesty and become fully the creative person you wanted to be? Do you see this as a process of transformation? I say this because in the last year I see a shift in the courage of your work delving deeper into issues and subjects that matter to you with more willingness to ‘go there’ than say, before.

TONY: Oh, Candice, you’ve always been very kind to me. I wish I truly was modest. The reality is that I possess a massive ego, and it offends me. Seriously, I must have an overinflated sense of self if I’m trying to tear that down on a constant basis! If I was truly humble, I wouldn’t even be thinking about myself in the first place. As for the impact I have on others, I’m always worried that it will be a bad one, so I find I overcompensate and try not to have an impact at all. I know—messed up or what? I’ve always suspected that I’m not being totally honest with myself, which is why I write and draw. I just want to get closer to the truth of me—whatever that may be—so the creative process is very much an act of attempted transformation. It’s taken me a long time to ‘go there’, to work up the courage (or foolishness?) to tackle issues and subjects that I personally still find very painful. I also hope I don’t end up fashioning a narrative for my life that’s dishonest, or a narrative that paints me as some blameless, long-suffering saint, a narrative that fools even me. How do you stay true to something like that? I’ve no idea.

 

Interview by CANDICE DAQUIN
© All rights reserved 2017

BUT IS IT ART? // Chelonian Devil

 

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TATI: Tony, again, I’m starting our discussion with the same question. Why on earth do you persist in tagging almost everything as NSFW on your personal art blog? Is it because the tortoise wears no panties? Or it has a dirty tattoo on the left buttock?

TONY: Do tortoises even have buttocks? And how do they defecate for that matter? Does a tortoise shell have a back door?

TATI: Or are you just trying to lure readers with such a cheap trick as the NSFW tag?

TONY: Naw, I just wanna be sure that people can’t complain that I didn’t warn them. Maybe I worry about that too much.

TATI: Okay, I will be a nudnik here.

TONY: What the hell is a nudnik?

TATI: Not suitable/safe for work—or NSFW—is Internet slang or a shorthand tag used in email, videos, and on interactive discussion areas (such as forums, blogs, or community websites) to mark URLs or hyperlinks that contain nudity, intense sexuality, profanity or disturbing content, which the viewer may not wish to be seen accessing in a public or formal setting such as in a workplace or school.

TONY: That pretty much sums it up.

TATI: Does this picture fall into that explanation?

TONY: I think so. Some folks could deem it a bit inappopriate ‘cos of all the blood and hurty teeth. Not everyone likes blood and hurty teeth, y’know!

TATI: That’s a laugh, Tony! Children in kindergarten draw monsters hell wouldn’t have.

TONY: This is true. And then it’s drummed out of them. They’re told to stop drawing such nonsense—which is a shame really.

TATI: Well, I don’t know if it was a good thing that your nurse didn’t take your crayon away. You could grow up and became a decent person—there’s still time. An engineer or even a manager…

TONY: Pffft! That’s boring! I’d rather be a pig mucking around in mud! At least they’re having fun!

TATI: OK… don’t worry, I’m kidding. So, what did you have on your mind when you were drawing this? How did you come up with the idea of this picture?

TONY: I realised that I have never really drawn anything horror-related before, so I wanted to give it a try to see if it was something I could do. And my art style is quite cartoony, so this was always going to be a bit of a challenge. I don’t recall how I came up with the idea though. I knew I wanted it to not have eyes. I knew that much.

TATI: It’s strange. This picture makes me wonder how this reptile attacks. It has clean belly and feet, but spattered back and snout. Does it jump, hit a victim with its shell, and land on its feet again? And noms on the victim after this?

TONY: I think you’ve missed your calling, Tati. You should’ve been a forensic scientist all along! Such technical terms! ‘Nom’ for one…

TATI: I could be. But don’t try to dance around the question, Tony!  No eyes, no nostrils… How on earth does this beast find its victims? Regarding that tortoises are pretty slow animals… I suppose they can hunt only blind-deaf-mute cripples.

TONY: I guess it’s the terrapin version of a Sigourney Weaver alien. Oh, hang on, tortoises aren’t terrapins. I should get my own terms straight! Anyway, those aliens—did you see the films? Maybe this creature is like a xenomorph and it doesn’t need eyes?

TATI: Honestly? I have another association.

TONY: Well now, isn’t that just terrific…

TATI: Shall I prove the idea that this creature is unequipped enough to be considered a monster? It just suffers from some hormonal fluxes?

TONY: Oh, sure, prove away! (This oughta be good…)

TATI: Here is your proof.

TONY: Oh, good lord… A premenstrual nightmare tortoise. Kill me, please.

 

by TETIANA ALEKSINA & TONY SINGLE
© All rights reserved 2017