This weekend Brett Uren will be one of the many guests at this weekend London MCM Expo promoting his independently published Graphic Novel Kuzimu but before the weeks Comic Convention Geeks Unleashed got a chance to find out more about him and Kuzimu.
Geeks Unleashed: For those who don’t know you, please can you tell us who you are and where you’re from?
Brett: My name is Brett Uren and I’m a depressive optimist from The Vale of Aylesbury in Buckinghamshire. Think of the Shire from Lord of the Rings, only with lots more drunken violence and rampant inequality with a side order of long-term unemployment. The dichotomy serves equally as a huge creative resource and a massive disappointment at the waste of an eccentric but decent people.
Geeks Unleashed: You improved on your talent at Art College, can you tell us what lead you to study this professionally and what you learnt there and how it has helped you?
Brett: Well it’s kind of you to say so, but I think of my creating comics as a regressive step or coming full circle, depending on how it is viewed. By regressive I intend no negative connotation, I cite Picasso’s positive view of returning to a more child-like and therefore more creatively honest form of expression (but of course I draw no personal comparisons to him). It was more a gaining of clarity than improvement, per se. Wanting to pursue art at school and college met with great institutional resistance, and this combined with a few understanding but critical tutors focused me. If not for those things, Kuzimu would’ve emerged an unreadable mess, rather than just (sometimes misunderstood) controlled chaos. But it was never a choice to spend my life making art, it has always been a compunction.
Geeks Unleashed: Obviously you’re very passionate about being an illustrator, at what point in your life did you decide you want to create your comics?
Brett: It started as soon as I could pick up something to draw with. In my formative years I drew cartoon strips, largely derivative of Jon Davis and Bill Watterson. I was also hugely influenced by video games, as I grew up with the first generation of home consoles (I was a Sega kid). The prospect of inventing whole worlds, separate to ours was my first love and consumed most of my waking hours. When I first entered the workforce, I tried to go on the straight and narrow, but it was the most mentally unstable time of my life. The people around me were always saying thing such as ‘Oh… I used to draw… but then i started working and having a family’. I knew that I couldn’t give up creating worlds after that. Nothing can be more important in life than doing what comes naturally to you, rather than trying to fit like a round peg into a square hole, which was the most depressing thing I’ve done. I decided about six years back to start developing the idea of Kuzimu from a novella I wrote at 15 (and attempted to publish unsuccessfully), to start back up where I had left those world-creating aspirations behind.
Geeks Unleashed: Like most artist professions to be good at something you need to learn from others, what comics influence you?
Brett: Oh yes, I agree absolutely on the importance of influence, you can’t build a castle in the clouds. To this day I think back to Kirby’s Spiderman, Vision and Fantastic Four stories. Kyle Hotz illustrated a Carnage one-shot (Mind Bomb) that was a revelation to me on what could be done with psychological exploration in comics. I also think of how many great talents worked on 2000AD and feel sad that one of the very few monthly anthology-like titles in existence isn’t as strong as it once was. We owe that comic for so many iconic creators of the 80’s and 90’s and I still love it. From Dredd to ABC Warriors, through to Sinister Dexter and Durham Red. But I also rate many fine artists and game artists for the work they do. Being that video games are currently the world’s largest entertainment industry, I am shocked at how few of its hugely creative individuals (ever watched a sunset in Skyrim?) are well known, even in their own circles.
Geeks Unleashed: And what comics do you read right now?
Brett: BKV’s Saga is stunning and gripping without feeling the need to bookend itself with a clear-cut beginning an end, as is Mind MGMT. I am also enjoying many of the new Valiant titles but love Archer and Armstrong the most. The 90’s are back, but far better conceived and executed this time around. What a strange notion.
Brett: Wow, a question like that could leave the way open for a massive essay on my creation, which could easily make me sound more pretentious than I already do. So perhaps it is best to say something direct about the story.
In the amalgamated writing and art of Kuzimu the story follows Pt’eros, the soul of a man from a simpler time, an African Maasai warrior. The afterlife he inhabits is one where the electric pattern of the brain is transposed to the quantum realm, outside of normal time. In this realm all peoples, with all their beliefs and ideas from all ages exist in the same place. Imagination and thought are reality there, but with that also comes all our negative ideologies. No one vision of paradise, or hell wins out.
Hence you have a world full of diverse things like African spirits, South American dragons and dimension-jumping futuristic cyborgs (among others), all in conflict with the other. You could boil this down and say it is a representation of instinct versus intellect, or spiritualism versus science in a potentially limitless arena. But firstly its an illustration of Pt’eros’ lingering conflict with himself, and by extension the internal battle raging inside our entire race.
The execution of the story is far more ambiguous and open to interpretation, simply because even when life ends we have no absolute answers. To an extent, Kuzimu is your story as well as mine, as a writer I respect your view as to what it means to you. In fact I welcome it, I want us to talk about these things.
Geeks Unleashed: What kind of research did you have to do on this? Considering it touches on themes of the undead.
Brett: There was a lot of pouring over medical, historical and linguistic texts from East Africa through to South American/Mexico and even European tranches on the various choirs of demons and angels. I wanted to give some genuine impression of differing cultural and mental viewpoints from the various characters and races. The cultural symbolism of each main character had to be as diverse as their voices were. Also the bodily contortions of the monsters had to have their basis in real world anatomy and death ritual to feel authentically twisted.
I looked a lot into Quantum Physics and modern Cosmology because I wanted the intellectual basis for a theory of the afterlife to be more sound than say, a giant created from gamma radiation. No insult to Stan Lee and the Golden/Silver age guys, but the world is more complex now and cogent scientific ideas (such as the Higgs Boson) have a larger hold in popular culture than they did a few decades back. Not to say that I believe my ideas have any factual weight, perhaps only a narrative framework for moral and axiomatic exploration.
Also there are many psychological texts, like those written by Carl Jung, where mythology is explored as a common societal function between Western, Eastern and other cultures, as well as a useful window into our subconscious. After all, beliefs about the dead, gods and figures from myth are almost always entwined. There are also some interesting commonalities between current scientific views of the universe and those of ancient spiritual cultures that were too perfect to ignore. Such as the notion that the world as we know it is a projection or illusion (holographic theory vs most modern religions) and that time and space only appear to exist from our perspective (Quantum Physics vs again, most religions).
Geeks Unleashed: What was it like to write and illustrate this comic?
Brett: It was the single most intense creative endeavour of my life. So many of the little symbolic details and choices of interplay between written/visual aspects were planned and then evolved through the doing of it. So much so that on a few occasions I realized after the fact I had created visual or thematic references to scenes that came much later, without being aware I was consciously involved in their invention. It would seem that the underlying fabric of my mind was more active in the fabric of the book than I was, a complete revelation. One of the best times of my life.
Geeks Unleashed: What kind of working relationship do you have with Fae Harman who also helped you with this book?
Brett: Fae Harmon and I have known each other for half of our lives. We have been the best of friends since the late 90’s and played together in rock/metal bands. She knows me better than anyone, which is why she understands the project better than any other editor or collaborator could. Because of this, she has also been the voice of reason that rescued Kuzimu from being lost in it’s internal logic and completely unreadable to anyone else. She also convinced me that for my health and sanity I first get a publisher, and then increasingly delegate some other aspects of its creation and handling to her and others.
We are due our first human child together this year.
Brett: Well, after the first volume of Kuzimu was done I decided that creatively I wanted a break. So over the latter half of this year, while waiting for Kuzimu to be released in print, I have unleashed myself on some diverse short stories for anthologies. Each idea is completely different. Crowd-funding assassins on the deep web. Unemployed monsters and sorcerers bumming around in pubs, while scraping by on Job seekers benefits. My last one this year is a police procedural loosely based on the Black Dahlia murders, but set in a cutesy children’s story world of living toys. All these will surface next year.
But going forward, I have a colourist on standby and Fae is going to ink future issues of Kuzimu. A Greek fan won a contest I held to get their own creature design into Kuzimu #8 and I intend on keeping that promise.
In 2013, The Dead War begins.
Thanks Brett, you can find Brett at this weekend’s London MCM Expo this weekend. Sat 27th and Sun 28th Oct. Tables G12-G14 which he’ll be sharing his stall with Comic Shop and Independent Comic Book publisher – Dead Universe comics.
Also its available on iBooks, Kindle, Android and Nook.