October 4, 2017

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Interview with Deniz Camp (Maxwell's Demons by Deniz Camp, Vittorio Astone and Aditya Bidikar)

You might know Deniz Camp as one of the winners of the 2015 Millarworld competition, and his subsequent piece "Duke McQueen's Greatest Adventure" in the 2016 Millarworld Annual. You might know Deniz Camp as the only regular contributor to the highly lauded critical analysis magazine PanelxPanel

What you will soon know Deniz Camp for is his upcoming series Maxwell's Demons from Vault Comics, featuring gorgeous artwork from Vittorio Astone and letters from Aditya Bidikar. Putting a darker twist on the unassuming story of a young boy and his toys, Maxwell's Demons is a series that already elicits parallels to the likes of Sandman, Calvin and Hobbes and the works of Gene Wolfe.

Deniz Camp chatted to me about his aims for the future of the series, the crucial contributions of mythology to the world of comics and series artist Vittorio Astone even dropped in to discuss his views on the importance of semiotics.
Panel Patter: The story begins in medias res as the confrontation with The Big Bad pends on the horizon. What do readers need to know about what happened before the story begins?

Deniz Camp: Nothing! That’s why we started it when we did! Life doesn’t really start - it is always happening in a never-ending-now. We’ll fill you in as you go, but I want the readership to be in a constant state of anticipation, and to engage in a process of revaluation. What Max, and his world, appear to be at the beginning of issue #1 may look different after you’ve read issue #2, #3, #4, and #5. 

Having said that, Maxwell Maas is the greatest mind of his generation, one of those towering figures who is destined to mold and define the age in which he lives. As most children do, he builds whole new worlds in which to play and escape. Unlike most children, his worlds are real, accessed through his closet-turned-interdimensional portal. He adventures in weird worlds with his best (and only) friends: sentient stuffed animal (also built by his own hands).

Max’s glasses are, for a lack of a better word, impractical in their shape and size and The Big Bad is similarly frighteningly imposing. Where did the design of the world originate and what aspects of the storytelling designs went into it?

Deniz Camp: For my part, I’ll just say that the best and clearest advice I ever got about working in comics was that making your characters look distinct -- making them recognizable even from their silhouette -- is one of the most important things you can do. All the best characters have some identifying mark. Max’s glasses are, hopefully, some part of that. 

I’m going to pass that one on to Vittorio, my collaborator and master of design, for a better answer. 

Vittorio Astone: I think Max's rectangular glasses are what I love the most of him! They were Deniz's idea and, I must say, a very good one from a design perspective. 

The rectangle will become the symbol of Max's portals to other dimensions and Max's glasses share the same shape; they are, in a sense, portals to his mind. Unfortunately, the mind of a genius is rarely fully understandable by others, so I often like to draw them opaque, as if the portals to his mind were inaccessible.

In general, I feel that the worlds behind Max's portals should have more alien designs, that really defy logic and contrast with  Max's 'normal' homeworld.


There’s an importance placed on Max’s relationship with his father and the subsequent lack of innocence. How do you imagine that evolving over the course of the series?

Deniz Camp: Well, if I told you that would give away the story! What I can say is that it DOES evolve, sometimes dramatically. We worked hard to make that a complicated relationship, one that looks different depending on the relative position of the viewer. Max, a young boy, even a very brilliant young boy, sees his father in one dimension. As we all did, as children. But I, as the writer, have grown up, and so my understanding of Max’s father maybe quite different.

How do you imagine the shape of the narrative evolving over time? Is it an ongoing or a miniseries?

Deniz Camp: It’s both. It’s neither. It’s a series of stories that are add up to more than the sum of their parts. We’ll start with five issues but, if the response allows, I’d love to get to 30-35; I certainly have it tightly plotted out to 35. 

But if we stop at five - or if the world ends in nuclear war just after issue 4, or 3, or 2 or 1 - you’ll have gotten a complete story. Every issue is self contained; you, as a reader, are rewarded for reading more, not punished for reading less. Every issue clarifies a complex story, but like a hologram, every piece contains the whole. 

We’re all pretty excited about the structure, and how it plays out for the reader. There aren’t a lot of comics that do this.


There’s a juxtaposition between the detailed sci-fi inflected armour worn by our protagonist and the round, brightly coloured characters that make up his crew. What was the process and thought behind this?

Deniz Camp: A lot of that was playing with who we are when we’re by ourselves and who we are when we’re free to BE ourselves, if you get my meaning. I don’t think any is necessarily a more privileged, or truer, identity, but the contexts necessarily transform you. Max is brilliant 100% of the day. But how that manifests changes according to the environment, his own age, and the events that surround him.

When we open, he is a boy. And when he’s with his father, that is felt acutely. Surely we’ve all had that experience, even as an adult? Going back home and somehow feeling - even acting - more childish. You slip into these roles, you can’t help it.

Or maybe you can. You’ll have to read to see.

Vittorio Astone: Max is a genius, but he's also still a kid. I think that the core of Max's personality has to be this duality (and often conflict) between his gifted mind and his humanity. This is why I like to use hard contrasts in my designs, because conflict is primarily inside our protagonist's soul. 

Max himself has a very round shape for his head, but his glasses are two, almost flat, rectangles. When I want to underline this conflict even more, I help myself with colors. For example I use saturated colors for the different worlds he visits in his journeys, while the atmosphere becomes really heavy and desaturated during the scenes with his father.

What are your plans surrounding the ambiguity about Max’s state of mind on his adventures - do we find out if he’s in Wonderland?

Deniz Camp: I’d prefer to leave that to the reader. There’s a careful balance, as a writer, between saying enough and saying too much. Myth tends to say less than does, say, drama. Myth tends to clear space in the receiver’s mind, lay down some foundations, and let the receiver build a lot of the structure themselves. 

This isn’t myth, but comics take a lot of cues from mythology: creating characters that outlive the complicated series of events envisioned by their single creator, characters that exist and act without being consumed by that action. We’re trying to do a little bit of that here, to create drama that nevertheless towers as myth. I want readers to see in it the Big Questions and venture to answer them in their own way. 

Asking good questions is all we’re really doing.


The scope of the book doesn’t focus on the specifics of Max's adventures and instead of their impact. What was the decision behind this?

Deniz Camp: Plot is so heavily focused upon in comics, and in writing, and I guess I don’t see why. Plot is an instrument to talk about characters, and to talk about ideas. That’s ALL it is. 

An event - and that’s all plot is, a series of events strung together by causality, a causal chain spreading it’s tailfeathers and presenting its genitals - is just a second, just a single moment, but the impact it has on you, the wake that it leaves, can last years. The wake that it leaves in the world can last centuries. 

Chernobyl wasn’t much more than an instant, or a short series of mistakes. It won’t be habitable for 20,000 years. 

It’s all in the wake.  

The first time I saw someone curse, I knew that this wasn’t an all-ages book. Was this a conscious decision? What aspects of this story prevented you from being able to do that?

Deniz Camp: Because the first issue opens with a young Max, there may be the tendency to believe it’s all-ages. While we’re making this a mature readers book, this is not Preacher or Sex Criminals or even a hard boiled Brubaker/Phillips joint -- we’re discussing mature themes. That doesn’t mean violence, language or sex -- although all those things will be peppered about the series -- it means wrestling with death, and love, and grief and existential darkness. 

I always wanted to talk about those things. I always do want to talk about those things. 

I do think that there’s a way to do some of that in an all-ages sort of way, and I’ve got something like that coming up, but I didn’t want to be hobbled by tight restrictions. And, frankly, I think kids can handle a lot, so long as the good guys make it out okay in the end. I just can’t guarantee that they will, in Maxwell’s Demons.


If you had to pin this book down to a single genre and a mission statement, what would you choose?

I’d say it’s a Science Fiction, and that we’re saying that people are much bigger on the inside than they are on the outside and that not only do people change over time, but how the world sees them does, too.

Everyone has the story of the comic that got them hooked on the medium. What’s yours?

The first thing I loved about comics was, probably, Superman. I had pyjamas and cakes and coloring books and all of that, and I loved all of them.

The first comic I can remember buying was an old, black and white New Gods reprint by Jack Kirby. I’d get on my parents infinite king-sized bed and read there, lost in sci-fi Shakespearean drama. It was the sort of thing you couldn’t, and can’t, experience in any other medium, even today. The scale and literacy and imagination of it.  Even uncolored, I thought it was the most incredible thing I had ever read. 

I’ve not looked back.

Maxwell's Demons will be released on Dec 27th, 2017 through Vault Comics and, with its combination of melancholic optimism and fantastical artistic spreads, is destined to take the comics world by storm.