Interview: Cartoonist Chuck BB Discusses 'Black Metal Vol. 2'
It's rare that an artist, much less a cartoonist, can pay homage to extreme metal without the feeling that he or she is laughing at it behind his or her back. Fortunately, with Black Metal, artist Chuck BB and writer Rick Spears have created an awesome tribute to their favorite genre of music that cackles right in its fucking face. Full of quirky humor, riveting plot development, and great heaps of northern darkness, Black Metal tells the tale of Shawn and Sam Stronghand, two demonic brothers whose love of sonic darkness leads them to find a magical sword and overthrow the hierarchy of Hell itself. Revolver reached out to ink-slinger Chuck BB about the task of crafting a worthy cartoon sacrifice to the power of the beast.
REVOLVER How did you and Rick Spears came up with Black Metal?
CHUCK BB At the time I was way into black-metal music, I just couldn't get enough, so of course my drawings reflected it. I started doodling these two metalhead hooligans with corpse paint, but I had very little planned out aside from the fact that they had a sword. I met up with Rick years ago--I already knew his work--and when I showed him some of the character designs, he got pretty into the idea, and I sent him a bunch of Darkthrone and Emperor and he fleshed out the story like a real champion of the deep.
As the artist, how much input do you have on the story behind the comic book? Does Rick send you a story, or do you two collaborate?
It's a fairly collaborative process. Rick handles the writing, but we always discuss where it is going beforehand. And then I end up coming back with notes. Mostly my notes are something like, "Can we change this minotaur into a goat-a-taur?"
Your artistic style is very different from traditional black-metal art—not as much cross-hatching, more clean lines. What did you do to inject the music’s atmosphere into your artistic style?
Use a lot of black! Partly that's true, I think that there is a good amount of contrast in the books, that is sort of indicative of those great Darkthrone album covers. Of course the style I work in is very cartooned--and that is something pretty foreign to black metal, which has an image that is taken very seriously. But I think that the subject matter of the genre lends itself to cartooning. It's how I draw, and I love black metal--so it's what I do.
Tell us about Sam and Shawn Stronghand, their origin and design. Though they're twins, what differentiates them as characters--other than a hoodie?
Don't forget their corpse paint patterns are different. Shawn is the de facto leader of the two, because he wields the sword. Sam is the more visceral feral brother, who will get a little more violent and probably says fewer words. But their differences become much more apparent in Black Metal 2, where the twins truly find their individual voices and motivations.
Black Metal Vol. 1 sees Sam and Shawn defeating the ruling Baron of Hell. Where does Vol. 2 take us?
I think Gaahl of Gorgoroth said it best "...Satan." It is those aforementioned differences between the Brothers Stronghand that come into play story-wise. All the while delving deeper into hell and ascending to the blasphemous bureaucracy of Heaven. We see much more of Satan, and it is very likely that the twins will come face to face with the Bringer of Light.
The figure of Satan Himself only shows up at the very end of Black Metal Vol. 1—why wait so long? Many would think Satan to be the pivotal character in the story of this music…
Of course you can't have black metal without Satan, we knew that--but we wanted to build up to that. And I won't say too much, but Book 2 has plenty of the big guy. Black Metal 2 gives us a pretty solid look at Satan, his origins in heaven and in hell. So Don't worry--Satan is fully covered in the world of Black Metal 2, and he proves to be very pivotal.
A big part of Vol. 1 is Frost Axe, your fictional black-metal band. What went into their creation? In your mind, how do Frost Axe sound?
Initially, I think we had settled on the name Wintre Blade, but after a moment it became apparent that was way too fantasy/power metal. I always envisioned them as sort of an Immortal-like band. Big giant Norsemen, who dress like black-metal wrestlers. I think they sound just like Immortal as well, but with a Burzum-like production value. There is something bigger than life about a band like Immortal, and, on top of having this crazy image with all the posing and wireless guitar playing on mountain tops, they also put out some pretty great tunes. I was able to get Christophe Szpajdel to design Frost Axe's new logo which appears in Black Metal 2. You may know his logo work from a little band called Emperor and many others. It is totally awesome [Check out Szpajdel's work at frostaxe.com.]
Many would see writing a comic book about black metal as poking fun at the genre, but Black Metal is very serious and respectful. Is it a hard balance to keep—being funny, but not hating on the music?
I love every aspect of black metal, from the kvlt grimness of low-fi recording to the ridiculous corpse paint--I honestly think it is all so cool. But you have to be sort of blind, even within this genre, by now to not find some things relatively humorous about it. Still, it was very important for us to not poke fun directly at the genre, and this is where I think the style I chose to draw it in comes in handy. The art style is fun, and has some humor to it--but the subject matter is almost completely serious and intense as hell. I think the book comes off pretty reverential to the genre, and metal in general--with many references and capturing the overall attitude of a teenage black-metal kid.
Tell us about your own experiences getting into black metal.
Living in Los Angeles, it may seem pretty hard to identify with a music born out of frost and an overbearing Christian presence--but something about the music just drew me in. From the imagery, to the melodies...it just connected with me. There is something so genuine about black metal, especially the early stuff, it's hard not to admire because it came from such a real place.
You reference tons of bands in the comics, both visually and textually—who are your favorite black-metal bands? Who do you listen to while draw
Yes, we definitely wanted to pepper the book with lyrical reference and visual references. There are just so many great lyrics to quote, Rick and I would just keep emailing each other back and forth with different choice selections. Easily my favorite piece of black metal is Ulver's black-metal Trilogie. I even have all three of the albums on picture-vinyl in the box set, because I am a nerd. Of course, I regularly listen to Emperor, Burzum, and Darkthrone for inspirations, as far as newer bands I'm really enjoying Nachmystium, Agalloch, and Wolves in the Throne Room... I just recently started listening to the new Absu album, and if it is as good as their last, it may go into the Black Metal inspiration pile. The truth is I listen to way too many to even remember everything and some of the stuff absolutely blends together. Beyond that, I am not limited only to metal while I work, and I do imbibe quite a bit of podcasting and Howard Stern.
How have metal fans responded to Black Metal?
I was pretty worried how It would be received by metalheads, that that might think we were mocking the genre or taking the genre for our own purposes. But the goal was always to sort of write a love letter to metal music and attitude. Thankfully, it has been almost 100-percent positive. I have met a lot of metalheads who love the book. I even had one guy say that Shawn and Sam reminded of he and his brother when they were younger. I think we really connected with the metal mentality in the book, and its kind of the only thing like it in comics. Comics and metal have more of an overlap than it might seem, or at least that is what I've found.
How long do you and Rick intend the keep Black Metal going?
We have always planned on it being a three-volume series--so the next volume will be the last. I know what the end is, Rick has already finished the script...and it is extremely "Black Wizards."