Interview with Elytron Frass & Charles N.

MM) Vitiators is the first graphic novel to be released under the expat label. Elytron, your last book, Liber Exuvia, was another unorthodox offering in book form. What draws you to more visual, textured, tactile, interactive forms as opposed to a traditional novel or fiction or poetry? As a collaboration, when and how was the idea conceived and what roles did each co-creator take? How did it develop over time? 


EF: While tactility and interactivity can surely justify the physicality of a book existing against the grain in an age of pdfs and reading apps, I care less and less about justifications for any of my actions at this time. However, being done with Liber Exuvia, all of my ideas, my dreams, my intrusive thoughts, came in the form of crudely drawn cartoons. I couldn’t visualize anything outside of that medium so I knew I had to pursue it in some way whether that be through animation or a comic book. I stumbled upon Charles, who was calling himself 100k at the time. I admired the rawness of his drawings and the expressive emotional layers that they managed to draw out from me. I followed and retweeted him a bit while he otherwise remained ambivalent to my existence. Fortunately, we shared a cryptic mutual who, at that time, went by the name of Atticus. Atticus, being an invaluable networker and conduit, reached out to Charles on my behalf. We got straight to business and spoke about our ambitions for a graphic novel — something neither one of us had done before but nonetheless felt ready to test our limits against. Throughout its year-in-the-making-of, Vitiators went through so many rewrites and visual changes that it’s almost too alien from the more streamlined vision of it we’d discussed in the earliest days of conception. For instance, the story was supposed to narrowly focus on just one of Vitiators’ characters, Little Orphanmaker Annie, who, manipulated by a nefarious Mother Superior in charge of the orphanage she was enrolled, would murder children’s parents, which Annie was misled to believe were demons, just to add more juvies to the orphanage’s ranks. This Mother Superior, was in fact the true cosmic demon in disguise, and needed this continuous supply of children to psychically feed on. With such a simplistic idea, it would have probably gone a mere 25 pages before becoming a formulaic and predictable chore to write and draw. Instead we kept elements of that, devised a looser plot and more challenging frame story that would allow us to shoehorn in myriad subplots, mood pieces, and more seemingly disparate diversions — some of which we didn’t completely connect the dots to until post production with some additional panels and rewrites. So for that one full year we worked away at it, Vitiators was an ever deforming hellworld.
CN:  All I can remember is that the original idea was supposed to be set in the orphanage as the main setting. I still have some sketches involving that.


MM) Specifically, Vitiators deals in more than one niche subgenre of graphic novels, from manga to more esoteric ones. What cross-species of beast is this? Where do the different styles converge? What advantages does the graphic novel medium possess over prose?


EF: Vitiators, to me, is a sadomasochistic celebration of cruelty between the creation itself and its creators. As far as advantages of the medium go: I’m more drawn to the challenges personally. I think of myself as a visual writer, which I was able to express in the script’s scene descriptions (which you’ll never see) but I was forced out of my comfort zone to focus more on internal monologues, narration, dialogue, and topics such as cock vore which are conversationally described and not intended to be shown on the page.
CN: There was no plan on my end on what labels there were to conform to. I just wanted it to be grimy. 


MM) Speaking of manga, do you have an affinity for Eastern art of this sort? Could you expound on what it is that does it for you? We’ve published a Russian novel by an American midwesterner, but never a Japanese comic by an American pseudonymous author and artist. How would you answer charges of cultural appropriation? 


CN: I like art from all over. Manga is a big influence, along with Western noir, along with everything else. From the trees outside to the food I eat. The concept cultural appropriation is retarded. 

EF: I second Charles’ sentiments.
 The world outside of our world isn’t our concern, and any charges held against us are very much not of our world.


MM) There’s an absurd, satirical bent to its handling of fandom, fanboys, groupies, stalkers, starfuckers. Was this inspired by anything in real life? Are there counterparts to the story, or an allegorical dimension that addresses reality, pro-reality as the book is. Is there something pathologically driven about fandom, and, is there pathos for the fanboy?


EF: So, for context, the frame story within Vitiators is concerned with a different graphic novel called Depraver. Depraver is written by a Japanese expatriate named Sonkeigo-san. Sonkeigo-san is known for notoriously stalling to finish this ongoing masterwork. Even in his own words, he describes his fans as a deplorable bunch. And when he finally releases Depraver’s finale, his fans become livid with dissatisfaction due to its subversion and ambiguity. Taking cues from Sonkeigo-san’s Depraver, they exact their revenge on him upon multiple planes of existence. Now, think what you will of Game of Thrones, the television series, not the books (I don’t fuck in that style of prose). The moment that the credits rolled on that finale, and throughout the final season, every casual and fan alike took to the internet to whinge about each infinitesimal detail. I became instantly fascinated by this phenomena: the backlash against the content of a show rather than the execution of said show’s content, since they apparently came to assume some type of spiritual ownership over this show throughout its run. For nearly a decade, these pop cultural brainlets were all reading way too deep into some slab of mere entertainment then marching onward to their DMs and forums to write personal fanfic for its future seasons. I wanted to spite someone like that so much that I wound up empathizing with them in some transformative way. I too started looking at films and tv that I thought could’ve been improved upon with some personalized modifications. I even dabbled in fan editing and joined fan editing forums to better understand this perspective and behaviour. That’s basically how the Depraver fanclub and its vengeful fandom came about.


MM) The memorable characterizations present vivid evocations of sympathy, menace, delusion, hubris. Which characters do you each relate to most and in what ways, respectively? If this is emotional release, where do your emotions live?


EF: I refuse to approach characterization from a place of overarching moral judgement or social engineering. It’s typically a goal to craft a certain and disturbing sense of sincerity within my works, one that draws some form of empathy from even the most transgressive characters or perspectives — something that I hope leaves readers guessing on which side of any fence I might stand.  But to answer the question directly, I’d say it’s a toss up between the disgruntled ex-fan, Pontious Prell (for reasons mentioned in the previous question), and the mangaka of the manga within our comic, Sonkeigo-san. Sonkeigo-san is just as subservient to his creation as he is its puppetmaster. That absurd relationship of tensions might just be an allegory for my work ethic.
CN: The project came to me at a time where I was going through a lot of stuff mentally, learning about the world and myself. The artwork is a complete reflection of that turmoil. I don’t really relate to any one specific character. I do think Frogfaces creation was derived from a more insulting view of myself at the time, but I can’t say that I relate to him now. 


MM) Because I may never get to ask this again, who are some of your favorite artists in the graphic novel field?


CN: Kentaro Miura, Robert Crumb, Raymond Petition, Junji Ito, Trevor Brown, Q Hayashida, and various 90s artists I can’t recall the name of. A lot of the art I enjoy is not from graphic novels. I don’t read that much. 
EF: Suehiro Maruo, Al Colombia, and Lawrence “Raw Dawg” Hubbard of Real Deal Magazine. I’m glad to see Charles’ mention of Miura. Kentaro Miura was one of the main inspirations for Sonkeigo-san. Charles based his seldom seen facial features, for example, off Miura’s. On the day of May 6, 2021, now a very significant day, not only was I reworking Sonkeigo-san’s death scene, allowing Charles to complete the illustration of it that same day, but throughout that day we texted and phoned about how much raw emotion was going into this spiteful little scene and how fucked up it would be if we inadvertently, I don’t know, psyokinetically, assassinated the many real life creatives whom Sonkeigo-san was based on — thus putting a nail in the coffin so to speak on fan-opinion that this collection of authors and artists would drop dead before finishing their legacy works. We thought nothing of it until about two weeks later when Miura’s sudden death on May 6, 2021 was finally disclosed to media outlets. We were feeling lousy, of course, not guilty, of course, but also feeling a bit like: goddamn do we have an anecdote!


MM) I intuit one or both of you have a background in science, but, lest I be presumptuous, what kind of research did you conduct visually/aesthetically/literarily/philosophically/scientifically/technically? 


CN: There wasn’t much research done on my part. I just pulled from whatever I had stored in my mind at the given moment. I do remember looking at pictures of insects and a factory at some point. 
EF: I might have had something to do with those pictures of insects. Given my pseudonym, it’s safe to assume I’ve got an inordinate hardon for entomology. I’m fascinated by it in all regards, and I can let you in on one entomologically adjacent item I had stumbled on. Inadvertently I came across the concept of Musca depicta (or “painted fly” in Latin), which concerns itself with depictions of the fly as a “conspicuous element” in a variety of largely 15th-16th Century European paintings. Examining the paintings of Dürer to Bruegel, one theory suggests the addition of the fly was used in jest, to symbolize the worthiness of “minor objects of creation”, while other art historians would argue that the fly is a sacrilegious signifier of corruption and mortal sin. Taking all of these academically rigid ideas and puking them out in some alley of my mind led to the development of Sadiq and Sadiq, two slain Arab kids that later mutate into flies and thread in and out of the narrative with wild theories of their own, mainly on the ontological nature of their fully enfictioned world. And then they shit into another character’s mouth until it explodes. Thanks, academics.


MM) The Matryoshkan structure lends itself to nonlinearity and episodic, manifold points of view. Yet it feels like the most natural way to tell this story. Do visual narratives gravitate naturally to chronological disjunction and disjecta?


CN: I have trouble planning anything or even sticking to a plan. So I’m forced to just improvise with everything I do. Elytron had to work with that because he would write the script and I would just kinda do whatever and go off the rails. 
EF: That was absolutely one of the most frustrating yet invaluable qualities which Charles brought to the table. There were times when I’d argue with him until he’d re-illustrate entire scenes that failed to address key items in the script, but mostly I welcomed his whims as revisioning challenges and I think Vitiators is all the better for those innovations. Some non sequiturs were my idea and among my favorite bits to write, especially some which didn’t make the final cut. We removed an entire scene due to the pacing issues it was creating for the work as a whole. It involved a subculture obsessed with injecting lurid extract, a kind of serum which causes mutations, locally into their buttockes so that only their asses would transform into literal monsters. These ass monsters would then enter close quarters arenas and fight to the death like dogs for the pleasure of a betting audience. I was inspired by these brown BBW’s on Twitter whose accounts blew up overnight due their singular artistry: rendering the characters of classic 80s slashers on their asses with body paint and then fully animating them with so much as a twerk. I truly found it alluring. Charles thought it was lame.


MM) As a gore enthusiast, I’m wondering why you feel inclined to go to extreme violence and gore. I wonder if you could rhapsodize gore. In the book, it’s both comical and a funhouse mirror to the brutal psychology of the human race, now exposed by the narrative’s central cataclysmic event. Is masks off, or laying bare of something that was always there, a fair read of the Cryptorchisphere?


EF: Any read of it is a fair read because once we release something we’ve made we are no longer its sole interpreters. That can be painful, annoying, inspiring, etc. But I shouldn’t be doing any further hand holding beyond what’s on the pages. As for violence and gore, these are certain and insatiable pleasures. I savor all trauma that can be manifested through artforms. 
CN: I like gore because it has a look and feel to it that I think makes things more physically palpable. Often with people I’ve associated with, the only thing they refer to as “Real” is something involving violence or a lot of pain. “When shit gets real.” Even though this bothers me, I find it says a lot about human beings. Things are only pure and real when blood is shed. 


MM) The internet comes to mind as the propagation unfolds and the vernacular of the extremely culturally online (e.g. shitlord) features at least elusively, as mirrored in the cosmic fabric you’re portraying. 


CN: I don’t have much of a grasp on Real Life. I never have. It surprises me that anyone has any actual social life outside of the internet. So the society in Vitiators reflects my ignorant view of the world, as seen through a screen. 


MM) B-movies and kitsch, is it possible for fringe art to have mass appeal and is it even desirable?


CN: Fringe art wouldn’t be fringe art if it had mass appeal. Once the masses get their filthy hands on anything it turns into shit immediately. 


MM) What are the depths and limitations of transgressive art? What populace does ugly or extreme art serve?


EF: The law is the limit, but the depth is bottomless. There’s places down there that even I won’t traverse. Yet, I understand that every project calls for its own depth, and I’m not inclined to judge others who’ve waded in waters below me. With Vitiators the grotesques and extremes are here to primarily entertain because the Disney Adults that this would surely unnerve won’t ever read it.
CN: I don’t know why anyone likes art like this. I guess it tickles some part of the brain that’s been built through certain circumstances


MM) What of the mise en abyme? There’s a meta-literary dimension. Is this the way perception works, in tortured, Matryoshkan ways, God as miscreation inside us, as “waves of ostensible sadism”? Rage at a creator turned outward onto creation itself as the toxic fans. Are your concerns metaphysical? What are the ontological borders? 


CN: There was a moment when I almost called it quits because I thought God would punish me for putting this out. So yes metaphysical concerns were there all the way for me.
EF: Yeah, within that full year it took to produce Vitiators, we managed to drag each other down through the most exhaustive spirals of hell while somehow making our way out of it as friends. Aside from that interpersonal drama, I never got tired of asking myself “who’s reading, who’s being read, and who’s reading the reader?” And since the answers to each of those are too illusory by nature then any possibility of their transcendence is probably a crossing over from one of those delusions to the next. So, jokes on us, by us, all the way down.


MM) Future/present projects?


CN: I’m working on a thing. Whoever cares will see it in a few years.
EF: I take long breaks between my projects, but I’m currently working on a new graphic novel project with Expat alum, D’urban Moffer, who’s illustrating a script I recently wrote. The script, which has since gone through many drastic changes, began as a more straightforward dark fantasy tale but has since become a beast I’m better suited for: a laconic folk horror triptych, set in modern Russia, based on three lesser known true crime cases. These are some grim tabloid news clippings which I’ve held onto and obsessed over for so many years without a proper project to house them in. I’m ecstatic that we’ve found a way to bring these succulents to light.