Conversing on Comics with Vasilis Lolos

When writers and artists aim to break into the industry, the big question they have to ask themselves is if they're ready for comics. But once cartoonist Vasilis Lolos broke into comics, he found out that sometimes comics wasn't ready for him.

Lolos had already created a substantial amount of comics in his native Greece before he made his American debut in 2005's Flight Vol. 2. But once he moved to New York, he quickly built up steam with a series of minicomics like Nebuli and Hats before garnering attention in 2006 as the artist of Image's Pirates of Coney Island. While that series experienced some delays and ultimately went on hiatus after its sixth issue, Lolos continued pushing his way into comics and partnered with a group of like-minded cartoonists for two award-winning anthologies, 5 and Pixu. That work drew the interest of Marvel and DC Comics, which hired him for one-off stories like a back-up in a Spider-Man title and an issue of Brian Wood's Northlanders. But after the latter's release in 2009, nothing.

Next week's Conan the Barbarian #8 marks the Lolos' first published comic in more than three years. With this glimmer of new work and talk on his website of more to come, I contacted Lolos to find out where he's been all this time. What I discovered was the story of his struggles with comics and life, which he's working through and working into his art.

Chris Arrant: Vasilis, let's start with an easy one -- what are you working on today?

Vasilis Lolos: Today, I am working on a homage to probably my favorite hero, Hellboy. I will post it online on my blog once I am done with it. If he is going away, it is only proper to give him a eulogy. I just finished the final cover for Last Call 2 and my two-issue run on Conan the Barbarian. Now it's back to business as usual with my Electronomicon book for Oni. But right now, I am setting up my final sketch for a tattoo I am tattooing on a guy tomorrow. These comics last forever.

This Q&A came to life when I lucked into some artwork on your website for Electronomicon. Not much is known about that, so can you fill us in?

Oh, man, Electronomicon, where do I start? I was in a really bad time in my life when I started working on the idea , I've re written it countless times and redrawn it at least four times, since I started it in 2008. It was a shit year for me and it just got better and nicer a couple of years ago. Generally, even if it doesn't show, I put a lot of myself and personal experiences in my story and art. Electronomicon is a way to exorcise a lot of issues that piled up in the last few years.

In 2008 my best friend and bandmate Dimitris died in a freak car accident the day I traveled back to the U.S. after spending a couple of months at his house. It was already a strange situation because I was under a lot of stress and my friend took me in and helped me out by just chilling, playing music (he was my designated drummer) and just doing stupid, fun shit. He lived in a place that would be the equivalent of a cornfield in America -- a lot of room and a lot of joyriding. A big part of the Last Call stuff came from that.

But anyway, he passed away in the beginning of 2008, then my mother and "only ally in life" was hospitalized. She was suffering from cancer for more than a decade. Soon after I flew back from the U.S. to Athens, Greece, she passed away also. So I was stuck there with no best friend to cry about my mom and no mom to cry about my best friend. At the time of all these, I was working on a story for the Nightmare Factory Vol. 2 by Fox Atomic. I was the ultimate zombie. I flew back to the U.S., where in the "emotionally numbest celebration ever," I got my Eisner Award at San Diego Comic-Con and pretty much left it in a box.

After that, a lot of pressure started piling in with Pixu, where you can see my character being isolated from everybody else freaking out in the basement and then setting everything on fire to end the book and the story. That's how I felt. My girlfriend at the time would see me as this depressed numb zombie and tell me things like "You're lazy," "Come on, I know your mother's death didn't get to you," and I started questioning what I am doing with my life. Art wasn't fun, I was in purgatory, and everyone I knew was like, "Where is Last Call 2? What happened to the Pirates of Coney Island book?"

At the same time I saw a face of the industry that I never suspected. It was a side where I was told things like, "I have a list of young, talented artists as long as my arm who would crawl through broken glass for the opportunity you -- blah-blah-blah." Not a fun place to be. I felt that everything told me to stop, and it sucked because I was having a great time in the comic book industry and I made some of my BEST friends there meeting with people at conventions, but this was a side I was seeing on the worst possible time.

After that, it followed a very upsetting fiasco-like trip to Brazil where I started forming this unnamed story which became Electronomicon I initiated back in New York into something bigger, something greater than the short 15-pager that it started as. The only beacon of light was the My Chemical Romance Killjoys/Danger Days project, where they flew me over to Los Angeles to chat and develop art designs and storyboards. It was the best. I got a new Fender Jaguar guitar, I stayed at the very chill Mikey Way and Alicia Way residence. I flew first class where I sat next to Leighton Meester and watched her face get all puzzled when she asked me what do I do and told her that I am a comic book artist. "You know, Spawn?" Good times.

Then it was back to New York and straight back to my fortress of solitude in Athens, Greece, to work on the Killjoys project. A few months after it was back to the same old negative shit, the My Chemical Romance project went on hiatus in late 2009 and my American girlfriend at the time told me over an email that she doesn't want me to go back to the U.S. I guess that gave me the initiative to end that awful relationship and move on to rebooting myself, my art and my career.

Why do I go through all this background info? Because Electronomicon, besides a very cool story, is a map of my feelings and psyche since I started it. My need for therapy and self-expression goes into it more than any other book or project so far. More even in than if I was making an autobio comic, because with this I can detach my self from it; because it is not a catalog of actual events but a soul journey.

This "soul journey"... what's the story?

What I wanted to do with the book is the audiovisual experience I always dreamed someone will offer me to read. I wanted to take the best of everything that I like and make it my own. On a story/atmosphere aspect, there is the gritty early-adventure game/cyberpunk element into it, a world where there is something for every vice, fetish and need, but there is too much of it and everything is very disposable. It's a world where robotic hookers are more like fluid disposals than stimulation, and visually pleasing exciters. Imagine R2D2-type buckets with a synthetic vagina, not cute Ghost in the Shell rose-smelling dolls. But don't get me wrong; this is a world where everything exists to please and consume, a lot of inspiration came from one of my favorite dystopian movies, RoboCop and the city of Detroit of that time.

On the art department, after a lot of fucking around in the 2006-2009 years, I found my artistic voice again. I drew inspiration from one of my favorite books, Justy, and reclaimed my "Mike Mignola-istic" driven minimalism. Elecronomicon is a very, very art-driven book. That's why I redrew more than 70-page parts from the top, because I want it to be the best that it can be for what it is. Basically, it started as an experimental-TV/Poltergeist short and it evolved to this cyberpunk epic that fits a universe that lurked in my head for years.

In a unique spin, you're doing a soundtrack for Electronomicon with your band La Suspiria.

La Suspiria plays a big part in the creation of the book and in the story itself. It is the music that I create, play and record. In its right, the band is a story by itself. Over the years I played in various bands with the same core, me and my friend Dimitris. The last band we formed together was just the two of us; he played his virtuoso drums and me on guitar/vocals. The story was cut short when he died in early 2008. I went back to music, relearning my guitar craft along with learning programming, synths and drums in addition to doing vocals and everything I needed to make this happen.

I always wanted to create an audiovisual world; ideally the presentation would involve a planetarium where you emerge yourself in animated visuals that tell a story. Maybe a laser show too. [laughs]

But until then, a book and a soundtrack or a YouTube video is fine, too. I like music to be walking closely with telling stories. It doesn't have to be about Dungeons & Dragons, but I really like the satanic themes. I mean, Satan after all is the ultimate rock 'n' roller, not in a stupid fairy-tale Christian way but the essence of saying, "No, I will not follow this, I make my own path and reject the one presented." I want to push myself in a direction where the music is a theatrical rock 'n' roll manifesto, in its core and mentality; it's a DIY project all the way, very black metal in that aspect. I am inspired from '90s black metal that I find it to be very "rock 'n' roll." You make due with what you have and you try to get the point across in any means necessary. Basic synth tunes is very black metal, too; telling a story with what you have is very rock 'n' roll.

You've been very open with us about the road you've traveled in this past few years since your initial break into comics in the early 2000s. After Northlanders #17 you seemed to drop off the map for most people, but I can tell you never stopped working -- even when going through the deaths of your mother and your best friend. Can you tell us about your comics you worked on during that break?

I just went numb and everyone around me was an artist with an opinion on my art, life and career. It may sound dramatic, but it's the truth. "Dropping off the map" wasn't a conscious choice, it wasn't something I did on purpose or even wished for. I mean, all the time I was "gone" I was working on projects that had/have no publisher. I have five volumes worth of illustrational material and more fully fleshed project pitches than I can count. But after 2009 I just couldn't get a comic gig. It was, and still is, weird.

I thought after an Eisner and a Harvey award I would be able to score a paying comic book gig in the industry, but that wasn't the case and it went on until I got an email from Dark Horse to do fill-in issues for Brian Wood's Conan series. Oni Press was my only outlet, but even Last Call was this thing that I couldn't touch because of the Pavlovian experiment thing I had going on in relation with the book. Hell, "All I ever wanted was a Pepsi!" Or even better, a monthly book.

I pitched a couple of things and even did samples for Marvel and DC. I did a story about Metropolis, like Iron Man, Flash, Superman, Spider-Man 2099 and a teen Ghost Rider. I even adopted their "house style" because I've been labeled as "indie." Hell, I'd love me some mainstream titles, I love that shit. It doesn't have to have the "Lolos" "indie" twist; no mohawks or speedlines, unless that's what they are looking for ... so bring it on.

That's another thing I found out if you are the "indie punk" kid you are always the "indie punk" kid, which I don't really oppose.

You mentioned that you have several finished books sitting and waiting to be published, including a sequel to Last Call. On your blog you said you turned that into Oni back in January 2012, so when do you expect that to come out ... or do you?

The book is done, toned and lettered ,since January. I don't know exactly what happened and it got so delayed after that, I wanted to put out a series of books right after Last Call 2 because I was told that I am making a "comeback." [laughs] So I guess taking the time to set them up contributed. That and the fact that I did all the pages in the wrong format; I did it in 300 DPI [dots per inch] instead of 1,200, so I had to go back and fix that. Like I said, I just finished the latest version of the cover and sent it off to the publisher. The book exists ... people have read it. [laughs]

Another book people remember you for is Pirates of Coney Island, which went on hiatus two issues shy of its eight-issue run. I know you've said that questions about this book have hounded you, but can you clear the air and tell us what's going on once and for all?

What happened to Pirates of Coney Island is very simple and very human, I was working on a book that was too many pages with too many panels, where even having help with the colors on some issues it meant nothing in terms of the time it took. And while it was fun, I was literally not making any money off the issues and my obligations to support my mother were getting bigger and bigger. So I had to turn to things that cover that need, like freelance work for DC, Marvel and Dark Horse back then.

After the initial storm passed I never got around picking it up again because the truth is the distance between me and writer Rick Spears was huge. Both sides were upset at each other and there was no love for the project. While making the book I never had any contact with anyone at Image; Rick was my only "human interaction" with Image and the Pirates project, so I never felt that I was a part of the book and being separated from it felt easier. I love that book, but the truth is my name is not even on the Image contract. One of Rick's company artists is finishing the book last time I checked. I did the covers for issues 7 and 8 back in 2010.

In our conversations, I can tell you're the type of person who works on several projects simultaneously. Why do you think that is, and what all are you balancing on your plate right now?

The bane of my existence, BOREDOM! I tend to do that because comics take so long to complete and publish that I get bored and I have so many ideas that I want to put on paper that the only logical thing to do is go-go-go. Right now I just finished Conan issues 8 and 9. I did my "Satan is Alive" Merciful Fate tribute story while on Conan, and now I am back on finishing up Electronomicon, planning Last Call 3 and pitching a couple of books. One of them the new take on my 2001 urban-gothic fairy tale story where you can find the out-of-date first 80 pages here.

I'm also putting together the first of my sketchbook series that I will initially self-publish, prepping up Hats 2-3-4 to be published online at MTV Geek. And that's just what is on my to-do folder on my desktop. I also plan to release an physical copy of the La Suspiria album that ties into Electronomicon that will be accompanied by an art book that compliments the nature of the songs.

Well, I guess I better let you get back to work then!

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