Alejandro Jodorowsky is not a typical comics creator. He has been a puppeteer, a playwright, a theater director, a filmmaker and a tarot expert. He studied pantomime with Etienne Decroux and wrote several routines for Marcel Marceau’s mime troupe including two of its most well known works, “The Cage” and “The Mask Maker.” In 1962, Jodorowsky was one of the founders of the Panic Movement, a post-surrealistic collective with Fernando Arrabel and Roland Topor. His films, particularly “Fando y Lis,” “El Topo,” “The Holy Mountain” and “Santa Sangre” are some of the most acclaimed avant garde films of recent decades.
Jodorowsky collaborated with the artist Moebius on “The Incal,” a book often cited as one of the best comics of all time. His other comics include “The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart,” “Technopriests,” “Metabarons” and others. His work has been released sporadically in the United States. Heavy Metal published “Borgia,” illustrated by Milo Manara, but much of Jodorowsky’s work has been released through Humanoids.
Recently Humanoids has made an effort to bring Jodorowsky’s work in print in the United States. Last year the final volumes of “The Metabarons” were published along with new editions of “The Incal” and “Madwoman of the Sacred Heart” in addition to “Weapon of the Metabaron,” a comic partially illustrated by Travis Charest. Next month will see the release of “Alejandro Jodorowsky’s Screaming Planet,” a hardcover collection of short stories done with many artists including J.H. Williams III, Adi Granov, Jerome Opena, Ladronn and others.
Mr. Jodorowsky spoke with CBR News from Paris. He apologized for his occasionally poor English, but was a funny and charming man who, when the conversation turned to tarot, did a three card tarot reading over the phone to illustrate his point. His work is not for everyone, but for comics readers of Grant Morrison, Joe Casey and Warren Ellis, Jodorowsky’s work should be right at home.
CBR: You’re a very busy man and continue to work on many projects. Where does all this energy continue to come from even at your age?
Alejandro Jodorowsky: I think it’s because I am an artist and I am doing what I like. If you do what you don’t like, you are tired. When you do what you like, you have energy.
You once said that to be an artist means that you have to do what you want on some level.
Yes. To do what you want and to be what you are, not what others want you to be. You need to be what you are and doing what you like.
Do you think that on some level to be truly alive requires that?
Yes. But when you’re making industrial art, it’s different. The goal of art is to construct your soul. The goal of industry is to have money. It’s different. You are obliged to do what you don’t like and be what you are not and then you are not free. When you are a real artist, you are free. You don’t work for a special public. You work for yourself. To realize your soul.
Now you are working and have worked with many artists over the years. How do you collaborate with the different artists?
It’s different. In Europe comics are not the same industry than in the United States. In the United States one artist makes the drawings, another makes the inks, another makes the colors, another makes the [letters]. Here the artist is a complete person. There are only two — myself, the writer and the artist, who is drawing everything. Then every artist is different, more or less. It’s very important in comics to do this rapidly. If you’re not fast, it can take years to make the book and it’s a catastrophe. In Europe you need to make one book a year.
You need to find different ways to work with [artists]. You need to study his psychology, what he likes to do, and in what way. With every one of them, first I read to them the tarot. I sit with them. I go to restaurants with them. I know them. Then I find the way to make them to do whatever I want. [Laughs]
If the person is very quick like Moebius I don’t write it. I tell it to him and I act it out and while I’m speaking he’s doing his thing and then we work together. With others, I write everything and then I leave a script and every script is different.
How detailed a script do you write for artists?
[Artists] take eight or nine months to deliver a book, but for the script I have only a month. Thirty days. At this moment I am working with eight artists on eight books. Because I can do it, I do. What I do, I write the history and then I describe the characters, I describe the decor, what they are saying. In some ways, it’s like making a script for the movies.
Because you’ve worked in so many fields, you’re accustomed to thinking about visual space and movement in a way that I think many comics creators are not accustomed to thinking or are conscious of.
I’m very [visual] because I’ve made movies and paintings and drawings. To write for comics is not similar to writing for movies. In movies, the spectator is sitting and the movie is streaming in front of his eyes continually. In comics you have a drawing and the next drawing. In one drawing you have the arm which is ready to kill in the air. In the next, it’s in the face of the person already. The person who reads that, in his mind, needs to make the movement. You are telling the story of movement and time. Not only time — one moment, then jump to another moment, then jump to another moment. I don’t know if you understand what I’m saying. I can do it because I do. How do you ask a tree how he makes apples? The tree makes apples, but he doesn’t know how he does it. I have the talent to do that and I do it.
You said that you have a very short time to write the scripts–
No no. I don’t have a very short time. I have only time. I do it in thirty days because that’s the time I need to do it. I do [it] like this and it’s normal for me. A month. It’s very normal. Nobody’s in a hurry. I take one month. This is good for me.
Can you elaborate on the phrase “it’s good for you?”
I have this moment of tension and anguish before I start. For three days, I am paralyzed. I cannot do anything. I don’t know how to start. Then suddenly, I find the beginning and then the rest comes along like a train.
And then you’re able to work quickly.
Yes, and it’s a pleasure to do it.
I read that you used to, or maybe you still do, read tarot every week.
Yes. I am not a professional. I do it for free. Nobody pays. I invite anyone who wants come. I can read up to thirty people in the afternoon. I do it every Wednesday.
For me, it is to develop my art. Reading tarot is an art. Doing the art for others, I help the others a lot, but I help myself to become better and better in my art. That is why I do that. Develop my sense. My intuition. It’s like [building] muscles. To be strong, they need to be working all the time. Like this, I don’t get old in my mind. I continue to be young inside. Not in the exterior, but in the interior.
You once described tarot as a visual language, which is very true, but isn’t your career, your body of work, about the crafting of your own visual language in a sense?
Reading tarot is a visual language, yes, it’s true. It is not literally. You understand things through the unity of different drawings. Every drawing is like a letter or a syllable and one card makes the other make a sentence and speak in some way [visually].
When did you start studying?
When I was around twenty years old. For sixty years I have studied the tarot.
This is more a spiritual question than an artistic one, though I know they are related. Many traditions talk about the destruction of the ego, but you’ve written about how that’s not possible.
I think that is an illusion. You don’t destroy the ego; it’s necessary. Even the great ones have big egos. You need to tame it like an animal. You don’t kill the lion. You teach the lion to obey. Ego must obey your inner perfection. If the ego doesn’t obey the inner perfection, then it is ill. You are in anguish.
The artist needs ego to do work.
Every person, even Obama, needs the ego. [Laughs] Without an ego, he cannot be President. An actor cannot be an actor. A teacher cannot be a teacher. A person cannot be a person. But the ego needs to obey. That is the real thing. It needs to obey. In order to have a good relations with others. Also, in order to go into this life, you need to learn how to use others. When you are not able to work, you need to complete yourself with the help of others. You learn that you cannot do everything yourself.
Your book “The Madwoman of the Sacred Heart” was just released in a very nice edition here in the U.S.
Ah, I like that comic. Moebius is a fantastic artist. I work with him very well. I said to Moebius, the principle character is philosophical, but he is not me. And [Moebius] drew him something like me. This guy has no direction. I said, “I have five children and this is a guy who has all these problems.” But he is some part of me. [Laughs]
Moebius is one of the great comics artists.
He is one of them.
What do you enjoy most about working with him?
As a person, he’s a little egotistical, but as an artist, I admire him. He is a great pleasure to work with. I don’t care about the human side. I work artist to artist. What do I care about his ego? I think he’s a big drawing genius.
There are others. I work with Ladronn, who’s from Mexico, who’s just fantastic. I worked on “Metabarons” with Juan Gimenez. I worked with [Zoran] Janjetov. I worked with a lot of very incredible artists. I worked with [Milo] Manara on “Borgia.”
The third “Borgia” book was also recently released here.
This year we’ll finish [the series] with the fourth book, but I like to discover new artists and young artists also.
Comics for me are a way to live. Comics are my way to eat, to run my life and work. I need to make a book every three months to have a good life. And I do it. Every three months I have a new book, the best I can.
In making this kind of art, the only concession is a need to have a public. I have a public, and so I have the money to live. In the movies, I am not free. I am not obliged to make movies. I make a movie when I feel the deep desire to do it. This coming year I will make a picture after many years of not doing it, because I didn’t want to do it. I didn’t want to sell my soul to Hollywood. Hollywood destroys the artist. I don’t want that.
Is the film this year “The Dance of Reality,” which you’ve spoken of before?
Yes, it’s based on my book, “The Dance of Reality.” I am adapting it and we start to shoot this year in Chile in the town where I was born.
Do you wish you had the opportunity to make more films?
I cannot say. It’s difficult for a real artist to make movies, because movies are now a very industrial art. If you are out of the business, it is very difficult because it’s a very expensive art. But now with new technology anyone can make a picture if they have the talent.
Who are the filmmakers and artists whose work you enjoy?
Well, of the artists I enjoy, most are working with me: Manara, Moebius, Francois Boucq, Ladronn who is making the new “Incal.” In America, I like Will Eisner. Just fantastic. And “Prince Valiant,” Harold Foster, just fantastic. I have that comic in front of me now. All my life, I have loved it. In Japan, Otomo. His “Akira…” He is a good friend.
In closing, because you just mentioned Ladronn, how is the new “Incal” volume coming?
Fantastic. I think you will be happy. The drawing is incredible. It’s just perfect. I think it’s almost better than Moebius. Maybe. He’s really just so good. He knows this world and he’s just fantastic.