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Interview: Sean T. Collins

Interview: Sean T. Collins

The second Mirror Mirror anthology by 2dcloud is coming out as part of their Spring 2017 Collection, and I am so very excited to see a physical copy of this book. This is a book that provokes, that pushes and pulls, that strips down to the bone and re-clothes in different flesh any notions you might have about horror, pornography, and abjection. It’s wonderful.

I had the chance to ask the co-editor of the anthology, Sean T. Collins, some questions, and I will let his answers speak for themselves.

First off: wow! I haven’t had a book challenge me this much in a long time, in the sense that it tapped into some deep desires that I most often prefer to keep in the back rather than the forefront of my mind. Is this an effect that you were hoping to have on your readers?

Since I take that all as very high praise indeed, I suppose the answer is yes, it’s exactly the effect we were hoping to have. Julia and I share a lot of things—in addition to co-editing Mirror Mirror II, we live together and have a family as well—and one of them is the belief that when done right, dark and difficult work can push the reader in the direction of empathy. And our conviction is that it's precisely by forcing the reader—and the artist, too—to confront parts of both the world and their own minds that they’d perhaps otherwise ignore or prefer to remain hidden that this kind of work makes real empathy possible. Instead of coming away reassured that you and the artist are in a sort of Good People Club where you agree that Behavior A is bad and Behavior B is good and aren't we all enlightened to think so... I dunno, you can coast on that kind of work, you know what I mean? It lets you off the hook—again, meaning both the creator and the audience here. So in that sense we hope that the comics and art in Mirror Mirror II keep you on that hook, and I'm glad to hear it seems to have turned out that way for you. 

How did you become co-editor of Mirror Mirror II? Have you worked with Raighne and 2dcloud before?

I hadn’t, no, and neither had Julia. But we know Raighne and the rest of the 2dcloud folks from moving in the same circles at small-press conventions and so forth, and we’ve always been impressed by the thought and care they put into curating their line. They’re willing to take risks and put out work few other publishers would touch, and they devised a whole business plan to make that possible, instead doing it the other way around and hunting for artists with sure-thing commercial appeal. Raighne just approached us at... jeez, I want to say it was the MoCCA festival in New York City in 2015, almost exactly two years ago, and first raised the idea of us helming the second installment of Mirror Mirror together. (Each volume has a different guest editor or editors.) It took a while to get moving because we had to wait for our time to come around in their publishing schedule, but we were excited to get to pour our vision for comics into a book like this—especially me, I think, since as a critic first, a writer of comics second, and a cartoonist not at all, this was an ideal way to show what my ideal comic book would look like.

How did you decide on an anthology where horror and pornography intersect in such an intimate way? Are these topics you’ve explored before?

It’s hard for me to make them not intersect, to be honest. My number one influence, and I’m proud to say one of the contributors to the book, is Clive Barker of Hellraiser fame. The whole schtick of Pinhead and the Cenobites in that film—“pain and pleasure, indivisible”—is just the tip of the iceberg with his work, which ever since his initial wave of short story collections Books of Blood has combined visceral body-horror with sexually frank material. Clive is a gay man who didn't publicly come out until deep into his career, so there was a personal and political purpose to the way he probed the meniscus between those two realms of human and artistic experience. It’s always stuck with me. 

Julia, too, has combined horror and pornography in her work since her first major work, Flesh and Bone. For her, there’s a commonality between the two in their fascination with abjection, moments in which we are totally at the mercy of our own fleshy bodies. We’ve made several comics together, including two Edgar Allan Poe–inspired books—In Pace Requiescat, based on “The Cask of Amontillado,” and The Hideous Dropping Off of the Veil, based on “The Fall of the House of Usher”—where we kind of drag out the sexual subtext of those works and make them text. It fits, you know?

I'm always quick to point out that we’re hardly the first people to make this connection. The film scholar Linda Williams' “Film Bodies: Gender, Genre, and Excess” famously made the case that melodramas, horror films, and pornographic movies are linked by their desire to provoke excessive physical responses in the viewers—you cry, you shudder, you cum, that kind of thing. And it's like, yeah, that makes sense to us.

What was your call for submissions like? Did you have the theme of the anthology chosen before looking for submissions, or did the submissions naturally lead to the theme(s)?

Julia and I had a few beers one night and jotted down the names of the artists we wanted to be in the book on a napkin. This served not just as a list of people to invite, but as a way for us to get a handle on what we wanted the book to be in the first place. It quickly became apparent that we were pre-selecting people because we felt their artistic interests overlapped with our own, so in the end very little guidance was required for them and very little consideration of the theme was required for us. It came pre-equipped, as it were.

The main brief in the invitations we sent out was that we were looking for work that touched on the themes of horror, pornography, the Gothic, and the abject. That's about all that we said, and again, it’s about all we needed to say to these folks.

What are you most proud of in terms of Mirror Mirror II?

 Are you satisfied with the diversity of styles, stories, and art in the anthology? Did you specifically set out to include such a wide variety?

I kind of have to answer all these questions together, since the range is what I'm most proud of! And I'm really talking about the range of the creators involved, not just the work we made. Our oldest contributor, Nicole Claveloux, is a 76-year-old erotic cartoonist and veteran of the underground comix movement from France. Our youngest, Laura Lannes, is a 24-year-old cartoonist and illustrator who just moved to Brooklyn from Brazil. We have all kinds of people of all ages in between and from all around the world in the book as well, a lot of whom have audiences I don’t think would overlap and whom I'm really excited to see discover these other artists when they open this book. 

I'm psyched to see alternative and underground comics fans take a look at the artwork of Clive Barker in a different context from the normal one in which it’s encountered. I'm excited to see what fans of young artists like Trungles and Céline Loup make of the iconic women alternative cartoonists of the ’90s we have in this thing—Carol Swain, Renee French, Dame Darcy—and vice versa. Their work is important to us and we wanted to do our part to keep it in a conversation that's too willing to either ignore them outright or pass them by as anomalies. It’s thrilling to have a fine artist like Chloe Piene, who’s displayed in galleries all over the world, do brand new work for our book, or get the art of music critic Meaghan Garvey in front of a comics readership, or simply to be blessed with previously unseen drawings by Al Columbia. 

Perhaps if you picked any two artists from the book at random, they might not seem to have a ton in common. But one thing I’ve learned from reading anthologies—Sammy Harkham's Kramers Ergot 8 was a big influence in this regard—is that good anthologies create their own context. So when you see them all together, it’ll make sense, and have an impact that's greater than the sum of its parts.

Where do you think Mirror Mirror II fits in with 2dcloud’s oeuvre?

It’s funny—we knew going in that our book would be very different from Mirror Mirror I, which was edited by Blaise Larmee and was a much less narrative-focused and more elliptical affair. But in the end they have more in common than I would have thought. 2dcloud has a reputation for comics-as-poetry—comics where you can really feel the rhythm of the mark-making, and where the meaning is a bit more open than the norm. There are a lot of wordless comics and illustrations in our book that fit that bill, but I think that the way it's structured, even the narrative pieces have that vibe. 2dcloud’s comics invite exploration and discussion—they’re the start of a conversation. I think, I hope, Mirror Mirror II is the start of a conversation as well.

Support the Kickstarter campaign here. Better get in there quick—only a few days to go!


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