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Rafael Grampa On the International Appeal of ‘Mesmo Delivery’

When it comes to comics, Brazilian artist and graphic designer Rafael Grampá doesn’t settle for thinking locally – he creates globally. From his trucker thriller release through Dark Horse, “Mesmo Delivery” (actually the book’s second go around in America) to he and Daniel Pellizzari’s upcoming “Furry Water and the Sons of Insurrection,” the creator has gained the attention from fans and creators worldwide. We contacted Grampá for his take on cinematic storytelling and what it means to create new comic book worlds for an international audience.

ComicsAlliance: Can you tell us a little about the conception of “Mesmo Delivery?” What drew you toward the seedy world of brawling truckers?

Rafael Grampa: This is simple. I mixed some references of my childhood, like trucker tales and “The Twilight Zone” series episodes with my experience as art director of animation and motion graphics. When I was a kid – like 4 years old – my father used to be a trucker and my favorite movie was Sam Peckinpah’s “Convoy” and “The Twilight Zone” episodes had blown my mind. Ok, it’s not so simple because when some artist is creating his debut, [there] exists a lot of other things to care about. When I started to write “Mesmo Delivery,” I didn’t know if I really could tell a story and be understood, so I went deep in research to create something interesting not just for me, but for the readers too. The new Dark Horse re-print of “Mesmo Delivery” has 20 pages of extras and a behind-the-scenes look at the making of “Mesmo Delivery” where I explain some of my choices and concepts for the story. CA: You’ve mentioned artists like Moebius as influences in the past, but what creators (from any medium) do you think have most influenced the way you approach storytelling in your comics?

RG: I always say that Sergio Leone is my storytelling guru. My storytelling approach is very cinematic and I use to study movies scripts and movies script theories when I’m writing and because of that I’m sure that it is imprinted in my work. But also I try to listen my instincts to create some new stuff. I’m a learner but also I have the intention of being a creator to propose new ways to tell a story.

CA: In addition to comics, you’ve got a pretty extensive design background. What about that background do you feel gives you an advantage as a comic book creator?

RG: I try to make a page with a lot of different visual communication aspects and I hope my pages could be read by a lot of different layers, like the iconic way, the symbolic way, sometimes – or always – applying the Gestalt theory on my work, knowing that a panel is not just a panel and a page is not just a single page, because a comic book needs to be an intense addition of visual elements – like colors, characters, letters, etc – to be understood as a unique thing. Maybe the advantage is understanding that the art direction of a comic book is a really important thing, a solid language.

CA: Are there any areas within art that you haven’t worked in directly that you think might bolster your own opinion of your work?

RG: Yes, I love to play music and I would like to direct movies soon – already have some proposals – but I think my own opinion about my work will always be that the next work needs to be better than the last one, doesn’t matter what I’m doing. Sounds cliché but it’s totally true.

CA: “Mesmo Deilvery” is home to some very interesting characters. What’s your character creating process like? Do you design around an idea or create a design before fleshing out its characteristics with personality traits and other background details?

RG: My character creating process is very chaotic and strange, I don’t have any form to do it, I just go with the flow of the ideas that are pleasing me at the moment and try to mix with some interesting psychological peculiarities, more or less. Sometimes, when I’m doodling, some characters can appear for me, but it’s rare. The characters came to me through what the story I’m creating is asking me.

CA: As a Brazilian creator with his work printed internationally, you’re faced with some considerations American and some European creators might not deal with very often. Do you find that you approach your comics with a Brazilian audience in mind, or do you consider your comics from a global perspective? What do you consider to be the pros and cons of being a Brazilian comic book creator?

RG: I think it’s easier for a Latin American, or an European or Japanese [creator], for example, to publish in the USA because the American culture is very spread in all the other countries. Ninety percent of the movies, series, music and animation that my generation has seen in all media is American and because of that it’s easier for us to talk about your culture. I had never been in the USA before the release of “Mesmo Delivery” at SDCC 2008, and I made a comic book that speaks very well with Americans, even though [it] mixed some Brazilian and personal aspects in the story. Sergio Leone did it very well with his “Western Spaghetti” as Lars von Trier did with “Dogville.” Lars von Trier had never been in the USA when he filmed “Dogville,” as well. This is the advantage of not being American and at the same time publishing in the USA. I’m not sure if an American comic book creator could tell a story in Brazil without being here for research, you know? OK, we have the Internet, but it’s not the same thing.

I’m not saying that the American culture was the major influence of my generation, but some of your stuff was very important to define the pop culture, like comics. But nowadays I can see the American entertainment industry – talking about comics, movies and music – very plastered, searching for foreigners’ inspirations to launch the freshest things. One example in the comics industry is Vertigo’s “Daytripper,” by Fábio Moon and Gabriel Bá. This story takes place in Brazil, more specifically in Sao Paulo – where we all live – and is making a HUGE success in the American audience. It’s about Brazilians talking about Brazilian stuff in the American industry. It’s totally new and reflects how open the American entertainment industry is open to foreigners’ material. But at the same time, some Americans don’t know that Brazilians speaks Portuguese and not Spanish. The same thing happened with the manga-mania around the world some years ago and it opened some doors for a lot of different kinds of foreigners’ comic books.

But I’m sure that what I said about the American entertainment industry could be easily applied for all the other entertainment industry in the world. When I say foreigner material I’m not saying just in the USA. Manga or European comic books are also foreigner material here in Brazil, by the way. People in all the world are more open to read stories that don’t take place in their own country. The Internet is making people more interested in different stuff, making the access to other cultures easier. I’m not interested in telling stories just for the Brazilian or American audience. I wanna tell stories that could be read and understood in the whole world, and my new book “Furry Water and the Sons of the Insurrection” is a product of this dream of mine.

CA: You’ve spoken a little about “Furry Water and the Sons of Insurrection” with Daniel Pellizzari in some other recent interviews, but do you have any new info on the book’s progress? How close are you to completion?

RG: We have a lot of work to do to finish this series. It’s a huge thing. Since we started the project, it grew up and became more ambitious. Daniel Pellizzari – the co-creator and co-writer – and myself are
pushing ourselves to tell a very different saga. It’s not being treated as a monthly comic book and it’s not some kind of franchising, limited by rules about what we can do and what we can’t. It’s creator-owner stuff, and what we are doing here is trying to create a really different story, with different twists and conflicts. We are holding the buzz around the book because we don’t have a release date yet – and it was a great decision of Dark Horse Comics, because we can do our best without being smashed by release date pressure – but we’re working very well to release it this year. We’ll have news very soon.

CA: Lastly, given your experiences working in multimedia, which of your projects do you think would translate well into other areas of entertainment? Do you ever imagine your comics becoming movies, animated series, video games or other forms of entertainment?

RG: My business for now is making comic books. Some good ones, I hope. But, honestly, as a movie fan, I can easily see my stories becoming movies. And I know the potential of good characters. All the areas of entertainment wants good characters and good ideas. When I’m writing a script, I always think that I’m writing a movie script and the translation of it for the comics language is my favorite tool to tell stories.

I already sold the movie rights of “Mesmo Delivery.” Let’s see what will happen in the future!

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