Belzebubs has been described as "Calvin & Hobbes meets Call of Cthulhu," but according to the comic strip's creator JP Ahonen, it's "a trve kvlt documentary revolving around two main themes: the daily lives of your average occult family — Sløth, Lucyfer, Lilith and Leviathan — and the sluggish evolution of Sløth's black-metal band, featuring Obesyx and Hubbath." The first-ever Belzebubs book is set to be published by Top Shelf Productions on March 5th; it reveals how the band finds their new drummer, who also appears on Belzebubs' forthcoming Century Media album, Pantheon of the Nightside Gods, due April 26th. The 53-minute record was mixed and mastered by Dan Swanö and features the guest talents of Desibelius, ICS Vortex and Skvllcraft. We recently talked to Ahonen, who discussed the origins and influences behind the comic strip and album, as well as sharing some excerpts from the forthcoming book.
WHAT WAS THE MAIN INSPIRATION FOR BELZEBUBS?
JP AHONEN A burnout, actually.
I had fried my noodle back in 2014–2015 with work and other issues, and was wading in pretty dark waters. Everything I did felt forced and shit, and I'd basically lost all interest in my work. I needed to loosen up and find the joy in my craft again, so I thought to fight fire with fire and draw myself out of the depression.
I decided to participate in the Inktober challenge that was going on at the time, but instead of polishing my inking skills, I set out to just have fun and improvise whatever came to mind. Even the dumbest ideas, just forced myself to relax, let go and spit something out. For some reason the first drawing I did featured two black-metal dudes talking about a band logo shirt — possibly in the wake of my previous graphic novel, Sing No Evil — and since the characters were fun to draw, I made black metal a loose theme for the whole challenge.
The simple black & white style and characters felt like a welcome break compared to all the detailed projects I had going on. In addition, I really liked doing comics straight for web and getting feedback, so I gave the concept some more thought, shuffled things around a bit and launched Belzebubs as a webcomic via different social media accounts — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter — in the fall of 2016.
Since then, Belzebubs has evolved from a self-therapy project into a cross-media concept mixing comics with animation and music, so it's become quite a handful! [Laughs] Still it's felt like a perfect mix for me, as I'm finally able to combine all these elements together. It might not feel that therapeutic anymore as it's a ton of hard work, but I definitely feel at home, you know.
So, umm, yeah, to answer your question, I guess the main inspiration or motivation for the whole project came from my personal distress. I've always loved metal and been into nerdy and occult stuff, so it's actually quite surprising Belzebubs hadn't manifested earlier.
WHAT IS YOUR BACKGROUND, BOTH IN TERMS OF VISUAL ART AND MUSIC?
I studied graphic design in the University of Lapland back in the day, and have worked as a freelance illustrator for 18 years or so, and making comics professionally for 16 years. Both comics and music, especially metal, have played a big role in my life, and I think the latter has influenced my work and the way my brain ticks more than any art theories. I play some guitar and keyboards, but in all honesty I should stick to my drawing table.
WE NOTICED A MYRKUR SHIRT IN ONE OF THE STRIPS. WHAT ARE SOME OF YOUR OTHER FAVORITE BANDS AND ARTISTS, AND HOW HAVE THEY INFLUENCED BELZEBUBS?
[Laughs] Well spotted. Yeah, the shirts are mainly hinting at what the characters like to listen to, what their backgrounds are and etc., but I admit I slip in a lot of my own favorites here and there.
I must admit my own roots lie in the progressive stuff, and grew up with the likes of Tool, Opeth, Porcupine Tree, Pain of Salvation, Paradise Lost, Moonspell, etc, but have listened to a lot of Behemoth, Be'Lakor, Insomnium, Ihsahn, Rotting Christ, etc. lately.
I doubt any band has really influenced Belzebubs per se, but of course there are references to songs (Call of the Wintermoon), bands (Immortal, Abbath, Emperor, etc.) and other artist's works (Bill Watterson), but I try to do that moderately. They're all fun Easter eggs, but I think referencing back and forth in popular culture has become somewhat of a problem.
WHAT CAN WE CAN EXPECT FROM THE FORTHCOMING BELZEBUBS ALBUM?
Pantheon of the Nightside Gods is a different beast entirely. I'm obviously a little biased, but I can honestly say it's one hell of a record. It's aggressive, haunting, beautiful and boldy crabwalks to unexplored territories.
The album reveals another side to the Belzebubs mythos through music and lyrics, and, besides a few subtle winks, is serious fucking business. I've always loved to play around with contrast, so although the comics are fun and silly, the music is raw and skillfully crafted. You don't have to be a fan of the comic to appreciate the album or vice versa — they work on their own.