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The Dog House: Masi talks “Bluff”

by  in Comic News Comment
The Dog House: Masi talks “Bluff”
“Bluff” #1 “Bluff” FCBD Cover

While new to the American market, comic book publisher Narwain has been making inroads into the fan community, hiring some fan favorite writers and offering a diverse array of series. One of those series is “Bluff,” a book about the titular dog, whose adventures are chronicled in a three-issue mini-series that can be pre-ordered from your local comic shop, starting this month. CBR caught up with series writer Giovanni Masi, who was happy to talk about the series and explained what it’s all about.

“”Bluff” is a comic book about feelings. Alessandro Bandiera at Narwain initially developed the idea,” Masi explained to CBR News. “He then contacted Yoshiko Watanabe and me to bring it to life. The concept is very simple: What would happen if a New England family suddenly won millions in the lottery? How long would it take the family to fall to pieces because every member is busy chasing their own dreams? And how could the dog save them from themselves?”

“It’s obviously a humorous series, partly inspired by ‘Calvin & Hobbes’ and partly by Jeff Smith’s ‘Bone,’ but it also draws on influences from European and Japanese comics.”

While the series does focus on Bluff, he won’t be another cute character who does nothing but act…cute. Masi promises that Bluff will be a strong character in his own right and said there will be another important animal character. “Bluff has a tiny friend in a flea named Flea. Bluff and Flea are a hilarious duo with a mysterious past and contradictory outlooks on life. Bluff is an optimist, who always sees the glass half full and is willing to sacrifice himself for his friends, even though this often gets him into hot water.

“Flea is a parasite in every sense of the word. He’s a social climber, but he has a big heart. They never agree on anything, but they’re inseparable.

“The Porters round out the cast. They’re a quietly psycho family, the kind you might run into every day. Well, not every day, I hope, given the trouble they stir up.

“Bluff” #1, Page 3 “Bluff” #1, Page 8

“The Porter family is made up of: Robert, an office worker who’s obsessed with poker. His wife Teresa, a housewife who’s always in therapy. Their three kids: Derek, who’s always depressed, Cindy, looking for True Love, and little Tom, the real pet of the family.”

Unlike “Garfield” and other animal-centric series where animals can converse with humans, Bluff and Flea won’t be making small talk with the Porters. “Bluff will talk, especially to Flea, but the humans won’t understand what he’s saying,” says Masi. “We’ve put a sort of language barrier between the human and non-human characters to make the idea of separation even stronger.

“Bluff will be a bit like Snoopy, who ‘thinks’ but can’t speak. Bluff talks, but (some) humans don’t understand him. It could be really fun to use language to create humor. Maybe that’s why he’s different from other comic book animals: Bluff concentrates more on gestures than on words in his interaction with other characters.”

As one might expect from a book with a cute canine lead, Masi and Co. are hoping to appeal to the widest audience, making the book appropriate for children, but the scribe promises that there will still be more mature subtext that older readers will appreciate. “We’ve worked with the idea of it being as ‘international’ as possible, so it will reach the heart of readers all around the world,” said Masi. “We’ve also tried not to make it too closely linked to one place or one kind of language or storytelling style, so that it can be engaging even for people who don’t usually read comics. The guys at Narwain have been terrific about this, they believed in the project right from the start and are really making every effort to get it to as many readers as possible.

“There’s one thing I’ve always thought about the choice of themes, especially in projects aimed ‘at all ages.’ The best stories are the most honest ones, the ones that talk about important things and the challenges that all of us have to face in our lives as human beings. That’s why I think that ‘Bluff’ isn’t just about the affect of money on people, but about how our dreams– which we usually treasure but never have the opportunity or the desire to achieve– influence our lives.

“Winning so much money is like an overdose for the Porter family. Because of the wealth, all their dreams suddenly seem within their grasp. But are we really sure that the things we wish for are really what’s best for us? What’s really hiding behind those dreams?

“All of us, sooner or later, have to come to terms with the things we like least about ourselves, and often, in this process, we discover that our wishes and dreams are actually for things we don’t really need. Personally, something similar happened to me just as I was writing the first issue of ‘Bluff.’

“Bluff” #1, Page 9 “Bluff” #1, Page 11

“The process of growing and trying to become full human beings is something that has always fascinated me. ‘Bluff’ doesn’t have a moral. I’m not trying to say that one thing is better than another. I’m just saying that confronting our own desires, when they could be harmful, and understanding what could instead make us happy, is one of the best (and most difficult, and fun) things about being human.”

Masi’s partner in crime on “Bluff” is Yoshiko Watanabe, a Japanese artist whose unique sensibilities make her a great creative partner. “She’s very familiar with the Asian style of classic Manga, though she finds it a bit restrictive,” explained Masi. “Her style also derives from decades of experience in Italy, working in the European, Western style. The look of ‘Bluff’ thus draws on a whole series of experiences accumulated in years spent working all over the world.

“Yoshiko and I met each other when we were working on another comic series for the European market. The amazing thing was to discover how two people who were so different, both in their origin and in their work, could collaborate without any conflict at all.

“At the root of it is a deep respect for each other’s work. I have to admit that for me, the fact that a great artist like Yoshiko (who has made animation history around the world) decided to trust someone like yours truly is a great source of pride, and demonstrates some recklessness on his part! Joking aside, we like to tell the same kind of stories and we have a very similar sense of humor. Working together is always fun.”

Even with Narwain’s rising profile, they’re not the biggest of the independent publishers and they’re not the company that most fans imagine viewing their pitches. In the case of Masi, he had a much different project in mind when he approached Narwain, but soon discovered “Bluff.” “When we contacted Narwain, we had a much less challenging project in mind. It would have been a series of humorous strips about a cat. The fact is that we immediately hit it off with Alessandro Bandiera and Dario Gulli, and seeing that they’d had ‘Bluff’ in mind for some time, they asked us to do some sample work on it.

“I was immediately struck by Narwain because of the deep, immediate understanding of what they wanted and what we wanted. There’s never been any friction, and for two creative people like us, that’s the biggest gift there is. Having a good publisher who’s always there for you gives you a sense of security and serenity so you can do your best work. Moreover, their desire to reach beyond the usual comic book markets has been the extra edge that made us accept the job, and we’re really happy about that.”

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