Australian artist Sutu was recently in New York City to attend Comic Con with Ghost Robot and The Gatecrashers. While here, he and writer Zach Mortensen sat down to discuss Sutu’s propensity for travel and working on the road.
Hey Sutu, so we worked on The Gatecrashers Book One together — you did all the awesome artwork, for which we got a lot of love and appreciation. That was a year ago. What have you been working on since we wrapped that one up?
It’s been a pretty busy year, with back-to-back and overlapping projects. I did an artist residency in Ilulissat, Greenland. I was staying in a beautiful old museum, and there was four story high iceberg floating by my window. There I began collaborating with a Greenlandic family on a dystopian, end-of-the-world story called The Ocean is Broken. That’s almost finished, and will be touring through the Nordic countries as a part of a Climate Change awareness festival later on in the year. After Greenland, I went to Montreal and launched a Kickstarter for Modern Polaxis, my augmented reality (AR) Comic. It’s about a paranoid time traveller who keeps all his secret notes hidden away in the layer of AR. The Kickstarter was successful and I had two months two pull it all together to launch it at Fantoche Film Festival in Switzerland. I got the project finished just in time; the Polaxis app was literally approved on the day the exhibition opened.
Around the same time, I finished off my Krysalis book, a silent comic (no words, just sequential art) – it’s a fantasy story about two warring tribes, one that has a disease and the other that has the cure to the disease. Then I went to the Pilbara Desert in Australia to do a mural project with the Roebourne Aboriginal community. I don’t usually do murals, but it was fun and ended up being about sixty metres long. Then I was in Tokyo for a month and working on some concepts for a new Nickelodeon cartoon – one of which got approved.
Then I won a three month artist residency in Vienna, so I moved there to create an html5 online interactive story about my grandpa who is a World War 2 survivor but is now suffering from dementia and is losing his memory. That project’s called These Memories Won’t Last and the story is set in the present but jumps back to the past as my grandpa tries to recall his memories. As the user scrolls through the story it all fades away. At the same time I was working on that I also began collaborating with one of the other residents, sci-fi writer Elena Lyubarskaya, on a sci-fi web project called Expnoius Museum – a human space exploration discovers a planet with some strange sculptures and deems it an alien art museum. The site is full of testimonies from various anthropologists, scientists and art critics discussing the art works and the aliens’ history, genetic makeup, and artistic interpretations. Now, I’m back in Australia and putting the finishing touches on a new sci-fi anthology called Razorlegs – which I’m hoping to have a sample copy to show off at NYCC.
Do you feel like any of those projects or experiences have affected your artistic approach or visual style on the whole?
For each project I set myself a personal challenge. For Polaxis, my programmer friend Lukasz and I developed our own AR framework to deliver the story. That was a huge technical challenge, and the resulting AR effect meant the overlaying of the AR on top of the physical printed book created quite an interesting aesthetic. I mean, the book in the real world is quite dull in comparison to the bright vivid image on the screen. So I played around with that relationship a lot and deliberately designed the overlays with transparencies so the printed paper below could still be seen. With Krysalis, as it’s purely sequential art, you really have to make each panel count in order to communicate the story. On the Greenland project, I was absorbing as much as possible. For example, the Greenlandic family I collaborated with really shaped that story and became the protagonists in it, and then in my spare time I’d go for a jog along the coastline to one of the most active glaciers in the world and the ocean was full of icebergs. That whole landscape was very alien to me, and later came to influence the sci-fi worlds in Razorlegs. And it was also twenty-four hours of sunlight at the time – which I absolutely loved because I could staying up drawing all night and I’m pretty sure it was having a weird effect on my brain but it felt good 🙂
Being in Austria during the Grandpa story allowed me to hire a car and drive to Hungary where my grandpa was born, and then also visit his hometown in Slovakia where he had to move during the war. I spoke to a lot of different people about the war and got a better sense of the circumstances that would lead to my grandpa eventually fleeing to Australia as a refugee.
How does traveling while you’re working on projects affect the work itself, for better or worse?
It always has a positive affect. I usually travel to the places with the projects in mind and I let myself become influenced by the people and the social, political, and environmental landscape. When I was in Greenland they were having protests against uranium mining, and I happened to be staying with a radio journalist, so I went around with her interviewing people. Their responses had a big effect on me, and an abandoned uranium mine ended up in the story.
For Gatecrashers issue #5 we decided to go for a slightly different visual style – can you talk about your approach to this issue, maybe from a color palette perspective?
I think the main difference with this issue is that it’s all set during the day and daylight exposes all the wounds of the city – so that means the colours are all bleached out and the pollution haze stains the walls. I think it’s cool to see sci-fi cities during the day, it makes them feel more believable. There’s a tendency in sci-fi to stick to night scenes with futuristic LEDs lighting everything up. But in the day you really start to see the impact of a city that’s suffering from mass urbanization and culture clashes.
Do you have any favorite frames in this issue? If so, what makes them stand out to you?
I like the Motorbike crash when the guy flies over the barrier. I’d never drawn a chase scene like that before and I was having a lot of fun with it. You’ll notice all the other panels on that page have speed lines but that one doesn’t. That’s because that scene is one of those moments where you need to slow time down, like the camera is showing you that moment in slow motion – well, that was my intention anyways. I also like the suitcase full of eyeballs; such a creepy concept. It made me wonder what else people could be carrying around in their suitcases.
I’m feeling a little manga/anime vibe in this issue, any influences from that world?
Ha yeah. I was hanging out in Manga cafes a fair bit when I was in Tokyo and I was kind of obsessing over how the Japanese draw speed lines. I think it’s an art form of its own. So this issue definitely includes more speed lines and my appetite for speed lines is far from satisfied. So I guess you can expect to see some more of that, seeing as it’s all about high speed Gatecrashers!
Aside from me begging you to draw issue #6, you’ve got a busy dance card, what’s up next for you?
I’ll be in New York for a month to join the Gatecrashers team at NYCC – which I’m super pumped about because I’ve never been before. I’ll also be presenting my first developments of my Nickelodeon project to those people. I can’t say too much about that at this stage. And finally I’ve got Nawlz (my cyberpunk dystopian comic series) to finish. I’ve been drawing frames here and there all year but I’ve finally put two months aside (November and December) to hopefully get the beast over the line. It’s going to be tough though; the script I wrote calls for so much detailed carnage. And I’m actually thinking to launch a Kickstarter for that project, where I have the season 2 finale coincide with the release of a big fat AR Nawlz bible – theoretically it’s doable because so much of Nawlz is already animated as a an AR layer in the existing story format.
Cool man, sign me up for the Nawlz Bible. I’ll be first in line.