There's another world living inside Vasilis Lolos' mind. One that runs off of electric lungs and electric nerves and neon signs that fire off strange and weird ideas that no one can capture, save him. His mind is like an island made of unused replicant parts and Otomo extras, jutting from the waters of impossibilities, its only inhabitants the offbeat characters he's created with his ink and words.
"Last Call 2" is the first of these beautifully morbid creations: an OGN about two boys on an interdimensional ghost train, soon to hit finer comic shops at the end of the month from Oni Press. Then there's the three-issue "Akaneiro: Demon Hunters" miniseries at Dark Horse Comics in May, where Lolos will be drawing an armor-clad Red Riding Hood set in what can only be described as an amalgamation of Japanese RPGs. And finally, "Electronomicon" is a bizarre, futuristic story where cyberpunk clashes with a love of retro junk also published by Oni and set for release later this year. Lolos spoke with Comic Book Resources about his offbeat projects, his inspirations and his reaction to the comic book industry.
CBR News: Vasilis, recently you posted an inspired take on Spider-Man 2099, yours being a man covered in mech-armor, and having arms for legs. Is this a direction you'd like to see some of the more mainstream characters take? Are there any specific characters or titles you'd like to work on?
Vasilis Lolos: I understand the iconic mythology around characters, but I also like it when people do their own take on a specific type of household character. I mean, take Frank Miller's "Dark Knight" -- I remember reading that when I was 10? 11? I was like, "What the fuck is this!?" It blew my mind that all that crazy story and art potential was inside the character. The only other Batman thing that really amazed me was when I saw Tim Burton's "Batman" at the theater.
As far as it goes on a personal level of what I would like to see -- Hell yeah, fuse "Metal Gear" with "Spider-Man 2099." Yes, it totally makes sense to me. Arms for legs, sure! I mean, if you are genetically changed into something like a spider that doesn't separate between arms and legs, you just have the one thing that helps you crawl around better. Or it could be a cyborg thing, where in the future he comes to that conclusion on his own, and he's like, "Oh yeah, hands for feet." But that's something you see on spinoff titles where you don't mess with the iconic element or continuity. I personally thought that making Peter Parker a clone was one of the most brilliant things in mainstream comics! I thought that this makes everything interactive, like all these years [and] all the stories, all the Spider-stuff, everything was the story of a copy. Brilliant. But then I saw what was really going on... not what I hoped for.
Like I said, I love the iconic mythology of these characters, but I'd love to see them go to some other places. Take Ghost Rider: what if a serial killer dies from his own iron maiden-like killing tool, and has to redeem himself by living inside his own device of torture as the Spirit of Vengeance? Demons inside a robotic torture machine, haunted by his actions, pushed to do good, while satisfying his own lust for blood and death. I could go on like this forever. You can shape anything into whatever you want, you can have Tony Stark create a "Neon Genesis Evangelion" robot and rule the world.
Is that the kind of work you want to do, or do you prefer doing your own thing?
I've learned to work an angle on any job I take, no matter what I like at the moment. I trained myself to find the one thing that appeals to me on any project and keep me interested. It's a mechanism I picked up, has a 93% success rate. I am interested in a variety of things, it's not like "I like to draw guys in raincoats" therefore "raincoats for everyone!" I keep my radar way open when it comes to art and stories, but since we are talking "basic comic book structure," let's focus on the art. If I have a preference, it would be projects where making the art does not feel like being part of a factory conveyor belt. That and fads, especially comic book fads; I like to consider myself as a very forward-thinking person with a huge artistic ego which does not allow me to "follow."
You have two books coming out from Oni Press soon, "Electronomicon" and "Last Call 2." Can you explain what they're about?
"Last Call" is kinda my version of "Stand By Me" set in a Miyazaki-type world. It's about two boys lost inside an interdimensional ghost train, trying to find their way home while escaping a murderer of ghosts. One of the two main characters gets thrown off the train in the beginning of the book because he doesn't have a ticket. He comes back in the end of it, [and] a lot of things have changed, time has passed differently while he was off the train, and he is ten years older than his friend. The second book goes deeper in the murder mystery and the relationship of the two friends. It is essentially a coming of age story.
"Electronomicon" is set in the future in the year 2133, on a post-global war earth [where] humans are forced to move under the earth; the final war made the atmosphere uninhabitable, there is no sun coming through, just freezing [weather] and toxicity. Humans have built black pyramid energy collectors. To make "good of a bad situation," they bomb the radioactive atmosphere, creating really intense massive toxic storms that the pyramids convert to energy to power their electric subterranean structures.
The cities are in classic '90s cyberpunk fashion, "sectors", and there is one global city under the flag of the United Allies. Our hero is a child of 2121, a celebrated year for human kind that acted like a fix for the planet that was coming out of the "Final War." He is all about collecting everything vintage from our time, and makes money making custom computers out of vintage electronics from our time. One day he finds a strange cassette tape program while on his usual retro-junk rounds and takes it home. That's where trouble starts. One thing is for sure, that whatever is coded in there makes the dead twist and turn inside their machine graves where humans stored them.
That's seriously unlike anything I've heard of. What was the inspiration for this story?
The inspiration comes from just over-thinking about death, the occult, and the internet. Also keeping busy with things I like such as "Blade Runner," Kubrick, Lovecraft, Sega Genesis/MegaDrive games. I don't really know; there is not one place that I drew inspiration from. It's just me and the stuff that occupies my mind. What does the future hold; is it going to be like the movies? Are people in the far future going to be like us just with different gadgets? I mean, people in the past were just like us, same vices, same problems, it's the "stuff" that changes, not the essence of what you do with it, how you get them or how you make them.
Music is the same; there are things that most people like, things that are for the young and restless, and things that are in the underground just before they become the mainstream in their turn. It is all the same.
I spend time thinking about how death will be in the future; will it be more exploited like in the Victorian times, and boom of séances and mysticism? Dial-a-dead? Holographic memories of loved ones gone? The more sci-fi notion of uploading a cemetery where you can visit anyone? In the "Electronomicon" world such things exist, you can literally visit Hades, it's like a huge game full of NPCs -- seems full, but it is desolate, sad and dead. Now if something boils and toils inside those machine coffins, it's another story.
My initial idea was of the earth as a black, unnatural, dead planet going through the motions of a headless chicken that runs around. The body does not know what happened to the head. It is pretty grim man, it is therapy.
Let's talk about something less black and muddy, the visuals. I feel like I took a lot from my early inspirations of old-school anime and the movies of Ridley Scott and Kubrick. There are a lot of sub-worlds in the book such as cartoon characters, commercials, products, and a huge library of subtle characters that are not in your face, but add to the world.
With "Electronomicon," it's a whole different game, its a personal epic that I've been planning and plotting for years to create a plausible, believable universe. It is not even a comic book in my head, it's an audiovisual art statement.
What do you mean by "audio/visual art statement?"
I mean that personally this book is a milestone for me, because I freed myself of a lot of self-imposed blocks. That goes for the writing part and the art part. The way I think about the book and the story is on a whole, that's why I use the phrase "audio-visual project" often. That's why I re-did huge chunks of it three-to-four times. It would be great to do a version where I can have all the original versions of the parts that were remade or just scraped. I am making a full soundtrack for it under the name "La Suspiria," which is my personal music project, and I am looking into making some animated parts to enhance the experience of the world that I am trying to build. Making comics is hard, but I think that there should be more to it than sequential panels of art. Maybe it's just me. And in the end, that's just how I feel about it, it's an art statement. Too cocky? Who cares?
I love it when things aren't rushed, and the project feels like an experience. Like when someone gives you a map to go along with whatever fantasy story you're reading, or a dictionary that defines alien terminology. You're not providing a map, you're providing moving parts.
Right now, I just want to be done with it. The world is already in my head and I've been adding to it for years. But the truth is that even if this took, what, four years roughly, the actual work is being done in a very short period of time. For instance, "Last Call," both books took me less than three months to create start to finish. It's the details that delay the process. If I do a 40-page chapter five times over and over because the art is not coming out right, or it's plain bullshit, or I decide that the character design needs to change -- or I need a break by doing a 30-page story that has nothing to do with the book I am working on. In other words, I don't want to further the experience, I just want to finish it. If any "furthering" is needed -- blam -- VOLUME 2. But on this specific "Electronomicon" project, I keep myself busy with writing music, making videos, and creating all sorts of art/storytelling devices.
It was recently announced that you'll be working with writer Justin Aclin on American McGee's "Akaneiro: Demon Hunters," a 3-issue miniseries from Dark Horse in May. How did you get involved in the project and what readers can expect?
I think it came from working with Dark Horse on "Conan." They liked the work I did and they are a blast to work with, so -- I am sure that my Japanese comic book vibe helped seal the deal too.
The readers can expect some really cool looking art; we as a team at DH, Justin Aclin the writer, and me, have creative freedom, and that makes some really good comics. On my side I grabbed "Breath of Fire," "Lufia" and all the other SNES [Super Nintendo Entertainment System] RPGs by the collar, and ran with it. I have always been a fan of that genre and practically grew up on it. It's cool to put the Red Riding Hood fable in an RPG Japanese Demon spirit slaying twist.
You mention SNES RPGs -- will Akaneiro have armor, HP, and Phoenix Down vials? What about the demons?
Yeah. [Laughs] All the elements are there: crystals, armor level-ups, potions, demons too. I am actually drawing a demon king sitting on a throne of bones inside a cave; he's plotting and talking to a shape-shifting fox demon. It's RPG, alright!
Who are some comic creators you're following? Is there anything out there you'd like to see more of? Less of?
I have not been following any comic book-related stuff since 2009. I have literally no idea what's going on, the only new comic art I see is from people that are my Facebook [friends], and that's three-to-four people. I turned my sights to fashion, contemporary art, design and people in comics that I already knew of, like '70s manga, Mike Mignola, Katsuya Terada, Jamie Hewllet and such. I started looking more at illustration masters, and '70s-'90s video game box design. Tumblr accounts. The internet. Right now, personally, I'd rather make comics and tell stories than read them.
I would like to see more stuff that appeals to my tastes, and I would like to see comics reclaim their high-ranking place in the popular art market. I would like to see what's the next evolutionary step for the medium.
As for what I want to see less... I want less bullshit.
What do you consider bullshit? Revamps or half-hearted productions?
None of the above. It's a personal thing and it has to do with the art as a form of expression through sequential storytelling, the way some things are promoted or not promoted enough, the future of comics in general. I don't know how to describe it because it's something different every time I set off at something. One man's garbage is the other man's treasure. Maybe I am upset that I don't see more stuff that caters to me, or maybe I would be more upset if I did.
"Bullshit" is when people go into this pissing contest of who uses up the most ink, he who puts the most lines or letters wins. I love a high detailed comic or a meaty read, but it's as if some people think that good comics measure in some sort of dot/per/detail/inch or how many words per page thing. Tell that to the "Sex Pistols," the manufactured boy band of the '70s that barely knew how to turn on the amps, yet they changed the world.
Do you think comics can change the world?
Yes, "Superman" and his heritage changed the world. Frank Miller's "300" did permanent damage to Greece. Did you know about that? It's a great comic book with great art, which I owned two copies of each issue -- one to read, one to keep. But "300" woke the insane Greek/white pride in the hearts of Greeks. I am talking about the movie, of course, because morons can barely read. I can surely say that "300" permanently changed our Greek modern society for the worse. There are so many Greek pride/"300"/Leonidas tattoos that if you get one there is a joke about it: At the beach it will be you and 300 Spartans.
"Last Call 2" is on sale January 30 from Oni Press, and you can read a preview right now on CBR. Oni will also release "Electronomicon" later this year. "Akaneiro: Demon Hunters" begins in May from Dark Horse, and you can see more of Lolos' work on his personal website