“His world is a hodgepodge, but he looks cool in every neighbourhood” we talk to Andrew Maxwell about The Bawdy Tales of Lazlo Cale
Set in an alternate version of Paris where an inter-dimensional bomb and split the gaps between worlds, Lazlo Cale is a former male escort turned art dealer who has to take on his nemesis and former lover Edgar Allan Poe – if that description (and our glowing review) isn’t enough to pique your interest then we’ve also caught up with writer Andrew Maxwell to find out more about this one of a kind world and his love of the world ‘bawdy’.
Let’s start at the beginning, what was the inspiration for creating The Bawdy Tales of Lazlo Cale? Where did the idea come from and how did the character and concept develop?
AM: The seed of the idea originally came to me when I was reading about stolen art and art thieves. Far less glamorous and exciting than anything you’ve seen in a movie unfortunately. Although one thing I did take away, was that art can be stolen for a simple reason. Not for private collections, or secret black market auctions. Simply because some criminals have been known to use priceless works of art as a way to launder/transport money. It’s far easier to disguise and transport a painting or parchment than it is a suitcase of hard currency or drugs. When I read that, a light bulb when off in my head. I don’t want to spoil the ending of course, but there’s more than meets the eye with the art wheeling and dealing in our little tale.
I’m also a big sucker for French crime films and was making my way through the Criterion Collection at the time. Godard’s Breathless, and Melville’s Le Cercle Rouge, and Le Samourai come to mind. At the same time, I was reading Paul Pope’s Heavy Liquid, and Robert M. Beachy’s Gay Berlin, focusing on the gay subculture of Berlin in the 20s before the Nazi takeover. For some reason, all of these pieces fit together perfectly in my brain, and came racing out onto my laptop in the form of Lazlo.
You’ve got a really interesting mix of futuristic sci-fi but also have Edgar Allan Poe as the main villain thanks to an inter dimensional bomb being detonated that brings lots of world together. What was it about Paris in that period that made you want to have it as the counter point to the futuristic scenes?
AM: Well part of it was definitely the movies I was absorbing at the time of the initial scripting. But it also made sense because Paris, and France in general, have such a long history with the arts. In a story where art is one of the main focal points it made perfect sense.
Plus, without being too cliché, Paris is just one of those special places. There’s a lot to romanticize about. There’s the beauty, the amazing food and culture, but there’s also the dark underbelly as well. That’s a pretty good metaphor for Lazlo.I’ve also been really interested in European comics in recent years, and wanted this story to have almost a bandes dessinées feel to it. I think Goran did an amazing job of giving the story that vibe.
His style for the book was heavily influenced by European artists like Yves Chaland, Olivier Schwartz, and a little bit of Morris and Uderzo (Uderzo happens to be his favourite comic artist as well). I also wanted the story to take place in a city that felt like this could actually take place (heh, minus inter-dimensional time portals and living prophylactics of course). Historically Paris, and France as a country, are more open minded and liberal when it comes to sexuality. Paris and Berlin both have long histories of that. (Weimar Berlin was a close second for me, but I wanted to explore Paris). Definitely compared to the United States anyway, so the city also felt like a great fit.
And will the interdimensional bomb allow you to be more imaginative with concepts for future stories?
AM: Oh yeah, definitely. We introduce the portals and set up the world in this first issue, but I didn’t want to overwhelm the reader. I have two more issues planned, and we definitely have a lot to play with. For example Lazlo “acquiring” his art pieces in various time periods or dimensions. Or exploring the city itself with this new status quo. What would bars, clubs, restaurants, and hotels be like? We skim the surface with these elements, but I really want to dive in during future issues. The possibilities are endless.
Lazlo has a very iconic style to him, was he inspired by anyone in particular – I can see a lot of Bowie in there for example, as well as a bit of New Romantics and French dandy in there too?
AM: Heh, yeah I can totally see all your suggestions in the design. But I can’t take any credit for that. My description for Lazlo was pretty vague, and focused more on attitude, and personality. That’s all Goran. He nailed that character design. I passed along your question, and he said “I was just going for a slick stylish look that couldn’t really be tied to a specific decade. I mean his world is a hodgepodge of fucking everything, but he looks cool in every neighborhood.”I don’t think I could say any better myself.
You don’t shy away from it being quite an ‘adult’ book in terms of content, was it important for you not to lose that edginess and to make it for a more mature audience?
AM: I remember listening to a podcast interview with Jason Aaron a while back, I think it was Word Balloon. But he mentioned one of his writing teachers telling him “Write like your parents are dead. Don’t censor yourself.” That really stuck with me. My two previous books, Rum Row and Aldous Spark, are very much in the age 12 and above category. I enjoy the hell out of writing those books, and I like that anybody can read them. But I never want to feel like I’m censoring or giving myself unnecessary restrictions. On the other hand, there’s nothing more annoying than being “edgy” for edgy’s sake. So hopefully it didn’t come across that way, because I did want to experiment a bit.
This book in general is a big departure from my previous books in just about every way: genre, tone, art style. I think it may surprise some people if they read my past books, but hopefully in a positive way. If not, than no big deal, because you can’t please everyone. As a writer I never want to feel stagnant, or that I’m rehashing the same things. Heh, hopefully there’s a natural progression here and some growth. But if not, at least we got some more amazing art from Goran. He’s the real star of this book anyway.
You seem to really revel in some of the sci-fi concepts – especially the G.H.O.S.T. – where did the idea for that come from? Was that from yourself or artist Goran?
AM: I really love those fantasy or sci-fi worlds where everything has an organic feel. Even the weapons or vehicles to an extent are living organisms. I remember seeing Independence Day as a kid, and the aliens are actually really tiny, and housed in this giant bio organic armour that the scientists have to cut open. That scene in particular has always been burned in my brain. Brandon Graham is a great more recent example of that as well in his creator owned stuff, and in Prophet.
The G.H.O.S.T., which is essentially a living symbiotic organism, is housed in a containment unit resembling a wrist watch. It feeds off and kills parasites in its host, making perfect sense for our story based on Lazlo’s past occupation. But it was also a great way to show the advanced technology of the world, and weave together some important story threads. Goran added the idea to make these G.H.O.S.T’s customisable to the host, which I thought was great. Lazlo’s model, almost looks like something you’d see in a GQ watch ad, which was perfect. I also thought he did an amazing job of making the creature look animated and alive when it exits the housing unit. Almost as if the G.H.O.S.T has its own personality.
How did you team up with Goran? Was it a collaborative creation or was the script pretty much there when he started work on it?
AM: I met Goran through Twitter initially. I started following him based on his art posts, which are fantastic. All his pieces have so much personality, and it was clear he had a great sense of humor. (He did a Judge Dredd/Judge Judy mash up recently. Perfect example of what I’m talking about). I thought he would be perfect, so I pitched him the project, and he was in. It turned out we had a ton of common interests, and he was such a breeze to work with, it only made it that much better. Although, I do remember one thing that caught me by surprise, was the art style he chose (and ended up in the book). He has so many different styles, I actually had another style in mind, until he came back with the character concepts. A complete 180 of what I pictured, but after seeing his take, I thought it was excellent. A match made in heaven. He took the script and really ramped it up to 11. There were certain panels where we were almost trying to top or outdo each other with more wild ideas. He also did a fantastic job of making the characters his own, adding things, molding them into his vision. Truly, I couldn’t be happier with how the final product turned out.
How does Lazlo Cale compare to your other work, such as Rum Row for example?
AM: Very different. Rum Row is a prohibition themed aerial crime adventure. Sort of Jules Verne meets the Untouchables. Dirigible speakeasies, bi-plane fights, and gangsters. Totally fun pulpy adventure, but Lazlo is banana town craziness compared to that or my other steampunk spy title, Aldous Spark. As I mentioned in one of the earlier answers, it is something I’m a little bit nervous about. Only because it’s so drastically different from both of my previous titles that are in the steampunk/dieselpunk vain. I love when other creators expand and try new things, so hopefully anyone who has read my work in the past feels the same way.
And finally, we don’t see the word Bawdy used a lot these days, what made you choose to called his tales ‘Bawdy’! And were there any other words in the running?!
AM: Ha, I couldn’t agree more. Bawdy needs to be used on a more regular basis. Bawdy was just the perfect word I felt for the tone and style of the book. It’s cheeky, playful, and definitely adult. But hopefully doesn’t feel gratuitous. I could totally picture an old timey bard playing a harp singing dirty songs about Lazlo and his adventures in tavern. Long titles and old fashioned words really appeal to me for some reason. The “Risqué Tales of Lazlo Cale” just doesn’t have the same ring to it, and “The Erotic Ventures of Lazlo Cale” just sounds like a bad romance novel. Lazlo was destined to be all things bawdy.