Cutting Edge, from Titan Comics, is out this week! In case you haven’t already read my review on it, check that out here. Spoiler alert: it’s an amazing read that leaves you on the edge of your seat! After I finished this graphic novel on the edge of my seat, I had many questions for both of the phenomenal creators, writer Francesco Dimitri and artist Marco Alberti! A special thank you to both of them for taking the time to answer my questions! Check out my interviews with both of them below.
Interview with writer Francesco Dimitri
We meet lots of characters in this first issue that we have to get to know quickly- what inspired you to make this an ensemble-focused story?
Francesco Dimitri: Mario and I wanted to tell a story larger than life; and we couldn’t do that using only one perspective, one character. It helps that I do love people. I love chatting with people, observing people, being with people ‘- and I love being people.
There are an infinite number of characters with an infinite number of personalities you could’ve created for this story. How did you decide the personality traits of each character, particularly that each was wealthy/famous?
FD: I wanted our main characters to have traits I was interested in exploring: writing is always a form of exploration, I think. And I wanted them to have traits that could play interestingly with – and against – each other. As for wealth and fame, all these people think the world of themselves, and they have good reasons for that – but what happens when they face a true challenge? It’s the same for any of us, really. We may not be rich or famous, but there are times when life seems to be comparatively smooth, and then, BAM!, something happens, and we need to learn life all over again.
Each character in the ensemble is wealthy and/or famous, but also represents different motivations for similar/same decisions, such as the decision to be a part of these “Hunger Games” for humanity or not. How did you decide on each character’s motivation?
FD: I tried to understand their psychology, and let their motivations spring from that.
Characters like Jirakee seem to have a natural empathy, despite their success and fame. What was the message you wanted to get across for characters like her, who already felt empathy?
FD: I am not sure Mario and I wanted to get across a specific message: I don’t preach and I don’t like storytellers who want to preach to me, and the same goes for Mario. But there are things we both deem important, and empathy is among the main ones. Jirakee is someone who thinks other people do matter, and that listening is more important, sometimes, than talking. Cynicism is easy, hope and warmth, not so much.
Stella is one of my favorite characters in this story; she has multiple empowering moments throughout the story that are very pleasing to read, especially as a woman myself. How did you go about writing the women characters in this story, including but not limited to Stella?
FD: There is an article written by Sophia McDougall, I Hate Strong Female Characters, in which she says that she has enough of the stereotype of the ‘strong female character; that it is, once more, a way of denying agency to female characters. I try to write women as people who are women, in a society in which being a woman is still damn hard. Stella, even with her money and fame, needs to fight at every step, and does that in her own way. If you can see yourself in her, you’re paying me high praise. Thank you!
We see the characters Mark Underwood and Delroy have a humongous tension throughout the story, particularly by the end of chapter 2. Why did you emphasize this dynamic so much, compared to other dynamics within the entire ensemble?
FD: Because it was interesting. Mark is someone who tries to learn real compassion and warmth, especially thanks to Jirakee’s friendship – while Delroy is a lost cause. On the other hand, Delroy is a master at the day-to-day social skills that Mark lacks. Mark may be contemptuous of Delroy under some respects, but he is also jealous of Delroy under others. And Delroy knows that all too well.
What characters do you think might be overlooked that readers should pay special attention to?
FD: Jirakee. She is my favourite character, and Mario’s too.
Do you believe that, as one character said in the story, each member of the original ensemble represents the “Cutting Edge” of humanity?
FD: They surely seem to believe it.
In this, an organization disguised under the muse of a financial institution takes the helm at this test of humanity for our ensemble. Why did you choose a financial company to represent an organization that wants to determine the fate of humanity in a seemingly Hunger Games matter?
FD: Because financial companies are determining the fate of humanity in a Hunger Games matter. But the Dodecathlon is far more than a game; and the reasons behind it are not, hopefully, what readers may expect when the story begins.
What made you choose to use Greek mythology and aspects of it, such as Hercules and Sirens, as the starting template for this great quest to prove the worth of humanity?
FD: Mythology is an old passion of mine, and Greek mythology is a favourite. The Western civilisation was born, for better or worse, in the Mediterranean; and now that our world is changing fast, for better or worse, it is useful, I think, to look back at where a good chunk of it started.
“You know how to handle people. It must be a gift” “Yeah, a gift”
This was one of the lines that stood out the most to me. What did Mark Underwood mean by “yeah, a gift” here?
FD: An understanding of people is a double-edged sword: it allows you to handle them, but it can easily make you cynical, and manipulative. An inordinate amount of people working in advertisement end up alcoholics.
It seems like the tasks the ensemble went on tested their empathy; to see if they cared about others and their problems. For example, one man outside the ensemble is trying to find his “lost love” and each member of the ensemble has different reactions as to why they should or shouldn’t help him. Were things like empathy considered while you choose what tasks the ensemble would have to complete? What other things were considered?
FD: Empathy is key in all of my writing, and if you look at Mario’s more personal works, you will see it is key in his art as well. If a mission is only about defending an idea, rather than empowering actual people, I don’t think it’s a mission worth pursuing. We love, we die – what else is there?
There are very real stakes in this story. How did you decide how high the stakes were and what characters would suffer under the stakes?
FD: Good stories always have sky-high stakes, doesn’t matter whether they are declined as ‘saving the world’ or ‘saving a cat’. What characters do must matter. I mean, in David Copperfield there are high stakes at every page, almost every paragraph. When the stakes are high, the chips are down, and our soul shows through.
Among the social commentary on class, there is also commentary on mental illness, particularly with the character Delroy.. What inspired you to bring mental illness into this story?
FD: There is an immense amount of stigma around mental health – and one of the things stories do is make us think about stigmas differently.
Mythology was not the only prior element you embed into this story. Others included spy-action and even time travel- why did you want to combine all these different elements into one story?
FD: What can I say, I like spicy food.
What would you say was your main purpose for writing this story?
FD: The same as always: writing the best story I could at that moment in my life.
Themes of controlling the past vs the future come into play in the last chapter of this story. Which do you think holds the most power: controlling the past or controlling the future?
FD: The past is a map to the future, so we need to be very careful about who gets to draw the map.
Interview with artist Mario Alberti
When a background character is killed, we see it directly on panel, but when a main character is killed, we do not directly see their death on panel. What made you make these differentiations?
Mario Alberti: I don’t particularly like rules and it can also happen otherwise, story dictates which is best…or at least, that is the aim. Still, main events and characters is where the reader is most invested emotionally and is able to “fill in the gaps”. The more you let them do it, the more powerful it is, because nothing beats imagination!
How did you decide to separate the panels during moments of heavy dialogue and discussion between characters?
MA: The space between panels in comics is like pauses in music: it’s where you let what just passed sink in and how you give the scene its rhythm. So, you usually cut on important information in a dialogue or an emotion portrayed by one of the characters on the scene.
There are moments, such as the first bar scene and when Stella receives a nasty comment from a man at a character’s mansion, where you let the facial expressions of characters represent their response, rather than having them reply verbally. Why did you choose certain moments to have facial expressions tell the story instead of words?
MA: Again, because the more you let the reader participate to the storytelling, the better.
Also, I love trying to have my characters act and work to achieve that, it’s more rewarding as an artist.
It’s true that it is more demanding on the reader’s part as more often than not you don’t have everything served on silver plate but I believe it’s worth the risk.
The way you draw characters like Piero Garofalo, his crew, and other “villains” in this story is absolutely galling- they almost look like vampires. What was your intent in drawing them this way?
MA: Well…bad guys. And I wanted them to have some grading of supernatural even if that part of the story makes its way only later.
Nudity in comics is always fairly controversial. Why did you decide to embrace some aspects of nudity in this book, such as a woman’s breasts?
MA: I think of nudity as another narrative tool. Very much like violence (or any other aspect of life, as a matter of fact) it needs to have relevance in the story and some emotional pay-off for the reader.
Nudity or sex can also be a tool in the hands of the character: Stella is willing to use her beauty and her body to gain the upper-hand when she sees it fits her plan but Delroy does that as well in a scene with Mark, for example.
It’s true that a woman’s nudity comes charged with being used as a commodity too often and it needs to be dealt with a special respect and awareness, I do my best to do so in my stories.
Designing the World
The overall color palette used throughout this book is fairly muted. What made you choose a more muted pallet over a vibrant one?
MA: Taste. It is the way I like it and gives me the chance to use colors when I need a point of attraction in the layout of the story.
Yet, there are some pages that you make incredibly vibrant, like when the character Stella is going over her own memories. Why did you choose to make pages like this one specifically vibrant in color?
MA: Again: story dictates what (I think) works best to portray it in the most effective way. One color can be the focus in an otherwise muted page or a whole sequence can benefit from the emotional charge that they can bring.
Pages like page 34, where a child is running away in the town, are masterful transitional/action sequences. How did you draw each panel to show a solid transition without missing the mark, either by going too far ahead in the sequence or staying too far back?
MA: I guess the answer is the same for every sequence one has to build: stay with what is important story-wise, build momentum without losing readability. It’s one of the things I enjoy the most!
There’s a cute Doctor Who reference drawn, right before time travel is introduced into the plot. Was this meant as a “foreshadowing” to the reader that time travel was about to come into play?
MA: Oops. I don’t remember this! Sometimes I can be unaware of references I put there, it can be something that stuck with me somehow and pops out just because I liked it…and I do love Doctor Who!
What would you say was the most important concept you wanted to get across throughout your chosen style of art in this book?
MA: I tried to have a style that evolves during the books: it starts as very realistic and traditional (down to having all places as places that you could really find if you went to the locations) and becomes more and more free and “loose” the more you delve into the weirdness and fantastic.
In the story, it is said the perfect love song doesn’t exist. Do you believe that the perfect art piece exists?
MA: Of course not. That is the beauty of it! I agree with Carlos and what Francesco has him say, when he plays, is something that I always find moving.
Be sure to get Cutting Edge TODAY, from Titan Comics!