Temperance Unbound: The Cathy Malkasian Interview
With Temperance, Cathy Malkasian (Percy Gloom) takes her art to a whole new level. A dark tale of violence set amid a vivid fantastical land, Temperance is an allegory that works wonders. We talked to Malkasian to get her take on the book and what it meant to her to produce this monumental epic.
This book must have been a massive undertaking. How did you approach it?
With dread, lots of dread! I knew from the outset that it was going to be a lot of work, but it really insisted on being written. All you can do in such cases is keep to your schedule and try not to look too far ahead. As long as you have a detailed plan that you’re happy with, you can move forward day after day. Of course, the drawings sometimes force you to alter the structure, and there is some revising of the whole. This can drive you mad, because you always hope for a predictable course, but long form works rarely have predictable courses.
One of the things I most enjoy about Temperance is the beautiful tone of the artwork in each panel. How did you achieve the art style you were looking for in this book?
Thank you very much. I appreciate that. Style is such an elusive thing to define. I just try to concentrate on character and story and make sure the designs are up to displaying a range of emotions. Everything has to feel emotionally authentic. This involves a lot of preparation and sketching until things feel “true.”
Did your background in animation work influence how you approached the visual storytelling of the book?
Animation is about acting and interacting, so yes, my background helped in this way. Animation also got me really excited about placing characters in space, learning shot flow and using environments to echo emotional states. These don’t always translate directly into comics, but they certainly help.
Why did you choose the word Temperance as the title?
Well, first there is the obvious meaning, relating to the character Lester and his drinking problem. But there is a deeper issue that runs through the story: moderation and balance. How do we manage the forces that make us? How do we balance reason and anger, desire and contentment? On the deepest level, how do we balance destruction and creation? These forces permeate everything, from the quantum to the societal levels. They form our chemistry, biology, and psychology. Changing the world around us doesn’t really fly if we don’t know ourselves. So the main characters in the story arrive at inner realizations that end up transforming their world-view and their world.
What did that theme mean to you as you worked on the book?
Moderation has been taking a beating in our culture for a while now. If you measure things by our shock-soaked media environment, then the whole world is wallowing in nuttiness and hysteria. Moderation has been reduced to a quaint ideal, but it’s really the engine in the back room, running everything. Minerva’s character has to embody moderation as she constantly balances passions and rationality for an entire population. Her “news” shifts daily to both form and react to the needs of the people. She’s doing what she has to do to keep everyone from going off the deep end. You may not agree with her methods, but the narrative she shapes keeps people in a comfortable state of suspense. As contradictory as that sounds, it is the definition of effective leadership in her world.
Which of the characters did you find you could most relate to?
All of them! Who doesn’t feel rage, compassion, duty, powerlessness, or even numinous knowledge from time to time? Who isn’t just trying to get on in life, avoiding conflict by keeping to a certain narrative? It’s not always a pretty picture, but there you are!
Now that Temperance has been out for a while, do you find that the reaction to it has been what you had expected? Or has it surprised you?
The critical reception has really bowled me over. I’m so grateful to the reviewers who really took the time to delve into it, because it is nota quick read. The negative reception is actually more of what I’d expected, for the same reason. It’s a book that demands your time, attention, and participation, and it is not going to give you easy answers. Some people may have been expecting another book with the tone of Percy Gloom. Temperance is entirely different, so their frustration is understandable.
Have you gained a new audience with this book? A new demographic or segment of people you didn’t necessarily expect to reach?
It’s hard to say. Cartooning is an odd profession. While you work very hard to connect with readers, you have little or no idea how you’re doing in that regard. I hope it’s connecting with comics readers and reaching out to people who wouldn’t ordinarily read comics. This is really an exciting time for this medium, but it may still be the case that new readers from the literary sphere will gravitate to non-fiction and autobiographical subjects in comics. Allegories might still be a tough sell!
Do you remember the first comic book or graphic novel you read?
Mad Magazine: Mort Drucker and Don Martin. I enjoyed that stuff more than candy, and that’s saying something. The mix of drawings and satire was completely satisfying. As a kid I didn’t read comics other than Mad. Decades later, I read Raw and got pretty excited about comics again.
What are you working on next?
As usual, there is a cloud of ideas floating around in my head and I’m trying to corral them, to get them to talk to one another. I’m not really sure about much at this point, but it’ll be nice when something gets me to the drawing table again.
-- John Hogan