Thursday, January 26, 2012

Talking with Jesse Moynihan, creator of Forming

Forming is one of those webcomix that I'm not sure I'm not hallucinating. it seems to have emerged from my unconscious, or perhaps your unconscious, or yours. Or even you back there.

One thing for sure, the one actually channeling Forming for us is artist/musician Jesse Moynihan, who hosts Forming on his eponymous website. 

 Reading Forming for the first time gave me the same feeling that I got reading the Hernandez Bros' early work or Carla Speed McNeil's Finder; that weird, trippy, sensation of being pulled out of boring, horrible consensus reality and into a world far more interesting and enriching -- though considerably more unsettling-- than our own.

What's Forming actually about? Well, it's kind of like talking to a really smart but slightly skewed guy who's been up all night tripping balls, reading The Eternals and Devil Dinosaur and 2001: A Space Odyssey. Which sounds kind of facetious and reductive (not to mention redundant), but words really fail to convey the Forming experience. As it should be.

Suffice it to say, after reading Forming I got the very strong feeling that I was in the presence of a creator who has tapped into something impossibly deep and ancient. The more he tries to distance himself from this revelation with Gen-Y absurdist humor and cartoonish violence, the more powerful it all becomes. 

As if he can't run from the fact that he is telling a story that all of us know but few us can recall. A story that can only be told in metaphor because the facts always come up short.

So what you really need to do is go to Jesse's site and read Forming from the beginning here. Then you'll see what I mean. Don't blame if you fail to get anything done for the next several hours. Just don't read it at work, whatever you do. Now, let's hear from the artist himself.

SECRET SUN: Jesse, give us a short sketch of who you are, where you come from and what inspired you to undertake this epic comic strip.

JESSE MOYNIHAN: I'm Jesse Moynihan. I grew up outside of Philadelphia. Forming is a collage of everything I've mused about since my early twenties. At some point I had to pick up a pen and bring it to the page, or else I probably would've had no good reason to tell stories anymore.

Let's talk about Forming. I realize this question might drive you nuts, but give us a short synopsis of what Forming is about. Roughly.

Forming is about selfishness, selflessness, gods, aliens, destruction, creation and the dawn of individual consciousness. A lot of it deals with the different ways which we manifest/interpret our vital life force? It's hard for me to give a concise and real answer to this question because I'm really just grasping in the dark with Forming.

You have a large and diverse cast of characters drawn from mythology. What's the connection for you between the characters? 
Between myself and the characters? I have a strong connection to a lot of the characters. I pulled their names from mythology, but their traits are based either on different aspects of my personality spectrum, or on things I see in other people that I either find admirable or you know, repulsive.

There's a lot of androgyny at play in your characters. Do you believe in "gender as a construct" or does the ambiguity refer to mystical figures like Adam Kadmon and the Rebis? 
This is going to be hard to answer. I'll try though. I've been fascinated with gender for a long time; my own conditioned understanding of gender, growing up as a half Japanese male and the societal baggage that I either embraced or questioned. I romanticise masculinity in its sprawling incarnations, in particular the traditional Japanese archetypes. So that's sort of my natural mode on the day to day.

But I also get a kick out of trying to flip my perceptions, especially in my writing. I got into the idea of a combined man/woman super-being after watching a documentary on Philip Glass and learning that Akhenaten was a hermaphrodite. This helped me build a thematic interest in gender combos and the possibilities/implications of power that could result.

Once you become interested in that sort of thing, androgynous super beings start appearing in a lot of places. So I feel like I'm a part of some ancient storytelling tradition by including those themes. It just makes sense to me that the combination of man and woman would create super powerful fighters.

Alright well, I don't think I succeeded in answering the question, but that's a part of it at least. For me, writing is about finding contradictions in the characters and in my own daily assumptions. So part of that is addressing something like gender because I am aware of my comfort zone when it comes to the topic and I want to f**k myself up.

You draw on several different characters from different mythologies. Did you grow up reading mythology or was this a more recent interest for you? 
I was always pretty into muscle dudes fighting monsters or other muscle dudes, growing up. As I got older I latched on to the theme of transformation that runs through most myths... all myths? Yeah, that's what really interests me these days.


Are there any particular esoteric traditions you feel drawn to or any that you study?

I'm not drawn to any particular esoteric tradition. I guess I pick up pieces from here and there that resonate with me. I adopt a lot of those modes of thinking and then usually forget where they came from. I've always been a daydreamer, so hardening into one branch or discipline has never been that appealing to me. I think, anywhere you go, you're going to run into wise people and it's good to be receptive and loose with everything.

What are your influences as far as artists and writers go?

I think my early foundations were Dave Sim, Jim Woodring, Peter Bagge, Moebius, Robert Crumb, Frank Herbert, David Lynch, and Samurai/Kung Fu movies. Later in life, I've felt influenced by Amos Tutuola, Comte De Lautreamont, Sun Ra, C.S. Lewis, Yuichi Yokoyama, Manly P. Hall, Joseph Campbell, Alejandro Jodorowsky, Seijin Suzuki, Rene Laloux, Coast To Coast, and John Boorman's movies up until Emerald Forest. There's a lot more, but that's probably a good overall picture. I used to want to be a filmmaker. I went to film school.

Jack Kirby said that he simply projected what was in his head onto the paper and traced it. Is your process similar?

Yeah, I guess it's sort of like that. For me though, I project what's in my head and then try to remember the projection as I go along and reinterpret it. I like to edit as I go.

Giorgio Tsoukalos' hair. Opinions? 

I guess I wouldn't do that with my hair.

Did you sue Passion Pit for stealing your crystal starship idea, which is why they redid the video for "Little Secrets?"

I didn't see it. I've never heard Passion Pit. Are they any good?

Who are some of your favorite contemporary comic artists?

Yuichi Yokoyama, Dash Shaw, Sammy Harkham, Tim Hensley, Christophe Blain, Vincent Girard, Jonny Negron, and Michael Deforge are at the top of my list recently, but there's lots of other people I'm into.

UFOs: alien science nerds or interdimensional tricksters?

I think it's both.

What are your influences or interests outside of comics?

Outside of comics you know, I read a lot about different modes of thought. Right now I've been trying to get into some Rudolph Steiner, and I just bought Robert Lawlor's sacred geometry workbook. I write a fair amount of music in my spare time. I listen to a lot of Prog, Kraut, Psych, and a lesser amount of free Jazz and modern Classical. I've been trying to get a broader knowledge of early Electronic music. I just started brewing kombucha. I guess that's sort of a hobby.

What kind of response have you gotten from the comics community? Did you catch heat from your peers because Forming isn't your masturbation memoirs?

All the response I've gotten has been super positive. It definitely helps me feel good about what I'm doing with my life, even if it makes me zero money. But I have a day job for that anyway.