By Cameron Hatheway
Michele Nitri is the founder and editor of Under Dark Weird Fantasy Grounds from Hollow Press. The six-monthly fanzine has gained popularity amongst comic readers with the debut of volumes one and two from this past year, and looks to continue going strong heading into 2015. Nitri was kind enough to agree to an email interview to discuss all things U.D.W.F.G. with me.
Michele Nitri: I began to think about the U.D.W.F.G. project after a mix of two main elements. First, reading a Clark Ashton Smith book, Zotique (the beginning of dark fantasy genre of Dying Earth). It was a collection of short tales, and I usually hate them because those kind of books don't give me a feeling of concreteness, but that wasn't the case. I was surprised by the general status of decadence permeating the whole book and understood that even a collection of tales could be attractive like the usual well-structured plot of the novels, the only difference is that they aren't all focused on a unique character, but the main character is the world in which they live. So the plan was to put several artists together to create their personal worlds in their personal ways, recalling the common feature to tell with a very similar dark weird fantasy soul.
Second, re-reading Mat Brinkman's comics. For me personally, Mat Brinkman's Multiforce is the bible of comics. I fucking hate egocentric artists, for 95% of them think of themselves as more important than the readers, but Brinkman is one of the rare cases where his first goal is to reach the reader and give them an "experience." Brinkman has the gift of telling with cartoons and he allows us to enter in his amazing dark worlds. Brinkman can let you imagine an infinite story/world with only one balloon and one drawing. He doesn't follow the usual patterns, and because of this he's truly underground. I think there are the underground posers, just like there are posers in every medium, that think they're cool only because they make comics in a chaotic/psychedelic way…only it's shit. To be underground you have to do something new, it's not about the chaotic style. All they have to say has already been said by our master William S. Burroughs.
This whole preamble is to explain my point of view: to be original is the secret. There's a few nice things about dark weird fantasy comics, but Brinkman's vision is the first truly underground dark fantasy comic. For this reason I think he's the precursor of the genre. In fact, he's the banner of the Hollow Crew. So I started to think how to label the genre, and what came out was a Dark, Weird, Fantasy style encased in the word "Underground." Thinking that there's so much great stuff to show-off about this insane genre, I chose to involve some of the best underground comic artists in the world, attempting to not involve fantasy authors for they would have copied Brinkman. Because too much studying cages the creativeness. Instead coming from another genre of comics they can give a different faceting at the genre, going ahead with ideas and not to be stationary in the always identical shit.
I want sketch in another element not inherent with the question: considering what Hollow Press means with dark weird fantasy, the most important aspect is the content of the tales. They must be close to reality, what's changed are only the aesthetics! I can prove it, because when I still hadn't seen the comics yet, I just did this pronouncement in preview interviews and after, when a reporter asked Brinkman the theme of his series he only replied, "Shit happens!"
MN: I kept in contact with Brinkman as a collector and after a few years, when I had the U.D.W.F.G. idea I contacted him and surprisingly in that moment Mat had several ideas floating in his mind for a while. I'm a longtime friend of Martin, and he completely loves William S. Burroughs' stuff as well. So when discussing the chance to involve him in the project, we thought that Burroughs' style has several elements in common with dark fantasy, so I said to myself, "Maybe he could work out well!" In fact, I think he is doing a great job with it. When I contacted Tawaraya I said to him what a publisher must never say to an artist. I told him that he had a cool style and potential, but he was much too close to Brinkman's style, only a little bit more psychedelic. Any ordinary author would have replied only a simple "Fuck you," but Tets is a special guy, a Japanese guy with honor and seriousness. He replied, "I'll show you what I can do very soon," and for the first time ever he started to work on a long series, with never seen material. It was incredible.
So, maybe with the right intelligent people, a critique could be really useful. Ratigher is an unknown out of Italy, with only one book published in France. But here, he is the most talented underground guy at the moment. I don't understand how English and U.S. publishers can have the eyes so tightly closed to the rest of the world. However, we live very close and we are great friends. He is my right arm in the project, helping me with all graphic choices and works hard before going to print with me to get the best results possible. I've known Massagli as a collector too. He's really unknown, because he makes his living doing another line of work (like me), and has no time to promote himself. But in my opinion he has a unique erotic/grotesque/horror style. Not involving him in the project was absurd.
CH: Will these current storylines conclude by volume 5, or are some set to finish sooner or later than others?
MN: I can only tell you that the minimum run is to finish a cycle of 5 volumes, but with a great public response and always great ideas we could go on in issue-to-issue format without any limit.
MN: The roster of artists will change only if one of them finishes their ideas. U.D.W.F.G. is an anthology based on the Hollow Crew. I don't think we'll ever replace one of them, but I'm working hard to enlarge the production, calling in an army of other artists as special guest stars in separate hardcover books of 32 pages. You'll get news about that very soon.
CH: What's the most challenging part of putting an anthology together?
MN: My actual job! I'm a detergent seller, and I'm freaking out to follow my dream with U.D.W.F.G. It isn't easy to work two jobs. Anyway, there are many difficulties: dealing with all the underground crazy artists and trying to convince them that deadline isn't an enemy. Take care of all the contacts, distribution, etc. Fucking shippings, trying to think about other cool stuff to do, create the right market to support the $10,000 of cost for managing, print and artists salaries, and advertisement! Genuine advertisement like this. I've been writing for 4 hours now. Fucking English, I'm Italian! Doing this with my cat jumping on my keyboard each minute. But I complain because it's cool. For me, it's a pleasure to deal with all the shit, making stuff with heart and passion is the best goal we can reach.
CH: Where do you hope to see U.D.W.F.G. 5 years from now?
MN: I hope it will become a cult zine, not for me, but mostly for the five of Hollow Crew who are doing an amazing work. We are trying to show people what they've been missing for years. The true dark weird fantasy is almost unknown and maybe it will be so for a while, or forever and ever, but the Hollow guys aren't commercial. We'll go ahead and do our best job, and maybe in short steps we'll climb the blinder's mountain. PREPARE TO LOSE YOR SOUL!
Special thanks to Michele Nitri for taking time out of his busy schedule to write me back in "fucking English." You can follow the Hollow Crew on Facebook or on their official website, and buy previous volumes and other merch at their online store.