MASSIMO GIACON ITW – THE WEIRD FACE OF POP

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We had a cool and instructive chat with Massimo Giacon, eclectic cartoonist and designer in primis, but also artist, musician and performer of a ‘weird-pop’ style very hard to label him.
Originally, in parallel with Trax project and its ‘underground experimentations’ (it’s the forefather of subversive collective Luther Blissett, from which the ‘no-name writers’ group Wu Ming), Massimo’s comics grabbed the eye before on Linus, Frigidaire, Nova Express and other magazines, then also on The Artist, Repubblica’s XL, Panini’s editions and so on.
Just like within the design sector Giacon created really bang-on accessories and pieces for companies such as Swatch, Artemide and above all Alessi (a must have the Mr Suicide bathtub plug) – not to mention his ‘sick’ ceramic sculptures created for one of the many art-shows and then got ‘out of his control’. Moreover Massimo has taught and still teaches at comics and design schools, boasts several collaborations and performances in several fields, and (sticking to a certain ‘punk attitude’) loves to enrich any idea with his signature creative ‘disturbing element’…
Giacon’s style is literally ‘weird and pop’ all the while, in perfect balance between the two – more or less weird and/or pop depending on occasions and needs – in any case the solutions of MG see the funny side of the Pop’s ‘bizarre face’, of the modern ‘epic fails’ of those who pursue an ideal but can’t deal with it. Here’s why his subjects are often clumsy superheroes, timid sex-freaks, creeps & weirdos, half-baked cosplayers and warm undead or creatures more dangerous for themselves than for others. It’s no coincidence if one of MG’s latest exhibitions – which travelled from Italy to America, Canada, Greece, Portugal and Switzerland – was titled ‘The Pop Will Eat Himself’, almost to highlight a personification of the ‘pop monster’ rising up against its ‘mad scientist’ (like in the more classic horror/sci-fi cult-movies)… Who knows if eventually it will end just like that – among many anecdotes Massimo explains that too.

YOU WERE IN THE TRAX PROJECT – HOW MUCH VITAL FOR YOUR FUTURE WAS THAT ‘UNDERGROUND’ EXPERIENCE?

Trax project was born by chance a bit, especially from an idea by V.Baroni and P.Ciani, I was the ‘drawing hand’, at the beginning they involved me in sporadically but then I was part of the native group. We all had a different background, I was just starting with comics, yet from that experience I understood that I did want to work within comics in a different way than “just entering and being part of that world”, I wanted to explore its potentiality… at the same time I was living of inputs coming from music and arts both established and more ‘lateral’. Trax was a conveyer system of experiences; from zines to postal art, from the ’70s situationists to punk and new-wave, and all those things represented its anthology in a period when there was no web, if not the postal one: a ‘web before the web’ (and many of those making postal art used to ‘force’ its limits, for instance attaching a stamp on a bologna slice and trying to ship it)… Nowadays’ web gives you a chance that you didn’t get before, in fact it’s difficult to talk about ‘underground’ as a concept; to me it was self-producing some stuff with my little possibilities and taking advantage of what I could have back then to spread ’em. Plus the underground concept also lies behind self-producing stuff at your own risk, because editors don’t publish ’em due to form and/or content: in the ’60s-’70s if you published something obscene or politically incorrect you could end in jail, now it’s hard to get there for something self-produced, except you’re doing it in a country where some things are prohibited.

YOU PUBLISHED COMICS FOR IMPORTANT MAGAZINES AS BARELY AN ADULT, AND AGAIN IN THE ’80S YOU ENTERED DESIGN-ARCHITECTURE STUDIOS (ABOVE ALL SOTTSASS, AS YOU RECALLED IN YOUR ‘ETTORE’ COMIC-BOOK); CV APART, DID DESIGN INFLUENCE YOUR GRAPHIC SIGN?

Not initially, because I have to say that design interested me relatively, and I ended up there by chance; if Ettore Sottsass hadn’t noticed me reading my comics and hadn’t made me notice how much our styles had parallel and similar elements (even if we didn’t know each other back then), to me design would have been a road less travelled actually, if not with sporadic collaborations – but Ettore introduced me into the world of the object, and without beating around the bush he made me understand how it wasn’t a thing, but how much it was part of the routine of the society we live in and we’ve lived in to this day.

YOU HAVE A RESPECTED NAME BOTH IN SOME ‘UNDERGROUND’ SCENES AND IN PROFESSIONAL DESIGN, FROM LOW-BROW TO HIGH-BROW – YET A SUPER RECOGNISABLE ‘WEIRD’ STYLE – DOES IT PLEASE EVERYBODY INDEED?



Well, I was lucky to have the chance of making my things in a field where there was money, aged nineteen I was publishing for Linus and Frigidaire, by twenty-one I was working with Sottsass, who was at the top of design back then – so maybe properly underground I’ve never been, or just within some projects (but in the ’80s when I started punk and new-wave scene to us underground was something old ’70s style) – underground today is only a term of convenience, we should come up with new words… Yet I recognise my belonging to this world somehow. Due to my style indeed I’m not so ‘mainstream’ even; it’s in the industry where they define me a bit disturbing – and I like it – because I don’t do it on purpose, but I’m not 100% in peace with the world, so this thing always comes out. Besides since as a child I’ve always been fascinated by weird and odd things – strange within the bizarro’s standards as well… You know, if you’re one running several activities without being a specialist of anything you’re into, our society seeks a bit not to understand you and never takes you too seriously – to me the funny thing is that I got identified in a different way in the different fields (comics, design, art, music etc) but as belonging to a different field from time to time, as to say “Good, good, but not of us”!

AROUND END-’90S IN THE US THEY SAW THE REBIRTH OF POP, AS YOU TOLD US, ‘POP-SURREALISM’, OR ‘NEW-POP’ (THAT OF JUXTAPOZ); ARE YOU CLOSE TO THIS AESTHETIC?



Around end-’90s/early-2000s, after R.Williams already established Juxtapoz like he said “in reply to the minimal and conceptual art supported by high-brow culture. Against a society promoting a ‘punitive art’ and our century’s visual arts”, gradually American low-brow got more and more accepted, yet paradoxically this new pop lives from way over time than the one of Warhol and Lichtenstein (it lasts from over twenty years) – really disruptive phenomena live short, usually, and that’s not a disruptive phenomenon, let’s say it’s proving itself as a constant actually – and it’s not going to end since it’s based on scenes that will always be loved (custom-culture, comics, tattoos etc) and on new scenes (like the whole street and public-art field, which meets the need of interpreting the contemporaneity ALSO through figurative artworks). On the other hand it’s an aesthetic which can be static – lacking of a political view of the world – save certain exceptions. For my small part, having an European background and culture, I still believe it can exist an ‘European declination’ of Pop, a little bit more conscious. In fact to me each project is a different work, as an Italian born with certain readings and masters, to me the culture of the project is very important – anyway yes, I always liked to feature a certain ‘disturbing element’ in everything I do.

ARE THERE ANY US’ LOW-BROW ARTISTS YOU ADMIRE?

I don’t love Mark Ryden particularly, technically he kicks ass but his weird effect sounds too fully-contrived to me (it’s not even ‘vital’ for its setting, nor so disturbing), while Robert Williams is always powerful in his works because he has got a constant of not resigning himself to wellness, and that’s reflected by its artworks; there’s something that ‘doesn’t work’. There are a few authors within painting that manage to have ‘something wrong’ and to make you feel it. For the underground field I quote Joe Coleman who’s really a disturbing painter – a cult author, a punch to the gut (if I talk about him people tell me he’s heavy, but regarding how many ones you can say it?) – and among younger ones there’s Gregory Jacobsen, who has a band called Lovely Little Girls as well, he’s to bear in mind; he got a painting technique worthy of Bosch and paints really weird stuff, just like the band makes really unclassifiable music…

YOU SAID YOU’RE A CARTOONIST IN PRIMIS – “STARTING & ARRIVING POINT” WHAT DO YOU THINK OF ‘GRAPHIC-NOVEL’ TERM, IS IT A SYONYM OF COMICS?



Well, it depends on how much you show-off! No, I’m joking. If you say you do graphic-novels maybe you can be considered ‘in a certain way’, but when I do comics I don’t like to be defined as a graphic-novelist; I seek and prefer cartoonist – simply because in the comics world I don’t limit myself to that, but I also do strips, short-novels, d’auteur-comics. There’s a proper definition for each and all the ways to recount through comics. It’s like for cinema, tv-series, sitcoms, fiction, cartoons, documentaries etc… they’re called with different names because despite being all images in motion with sound-fx they’re completely different ways to communicate.

REGARDING YOUR ICONOGRAPHY AND ITS DECLINATION IN MORE ‘UNDERGROUND OR ISTITUTIONAL’ PROJECTS, WHAT ARE THE BEST FOLIES YOU HAD THE CHANCE TO CREATE? FROM WHAT AND HOW DID YOU ‘DEFEND’ THEM IN BOTH CASES?

Two very different projects. The former is called Boy Rocket and is a book which had a pretty wretched iter. Written by Mimì Colucci, it was periodically published by Coconino on Black magazine, then it was collected in a volume by Black Velvet publishing house, but we did just one book and weren’t able to publish the conclusion in a second volume, because Black Velvet publishing closed and we didn’t find any longer somebody willing to publish such a strange thing (a tale with teenager serial killers, space and time travels, magics and a lot of trash), but given that even Lynch’s been allowed to do a new and even more radical Twin Peaks than the first one, maybe sooner or later we’ll have the chance to finish our book too. The latter project ended successfully, it was called Sexorcismo and was a memorable exhibition-happening about the porno-fetish world, yet with a certain sense of humour, you can still find the catalogue and a brief video on the web.

YOU ALSO COLLABORATED WITH AUTHORS SUCH AS D.LUTTAZZI AND T.SCARPA – IS IT A LOT DIFFERENT TO WORK WITH OTHERS?



Yes, and it depends a lot also by the author you’re collaborating with. That along Luttazzi was a really precise work since he had his own ideas, his script, he already knew well what he wanted, and I had to force him much to convince him that some passages had to be ‘fixed’ to make them work in a comic (anyway it was a very technical and interesting work for the both of us). While with Tiziano it was a proper 4-hand work because we’ve known each other all our life, we adjusted the whole thing gradually (we’re good friends and so we listen to each other’s ideas) – in fact that work even became a show we used to take around, with a video ad hoc created for the live where he was reading and I was doing the live sound-fx.



YOU ALSO DO SOME KILLER CERAMIC WORKS, THEY CALLED ‘EM ‘SICK’, WHY? THEIR ART-SHOW HAD A VERY SUGGESTIVE TITLE, DO YOU STILL BELIEVE THAT ‘THE POP WILL EAT HIMSELF’?

Having said that The Pop Will Eat Itself was a UK ’90s band I loved a lot (they also had connections with Alan Moore!), The Pop Will Eat Himself art-show is a work leaving me perplexed some times because it was born in a different way. It was a series of prints of designs portraying ‘sick’ characters, or with something sick – and it was indeed the representation of the ‘sick Pop’ – then a ceramic company contacted me and my drawings became objects. It’s just that at the end I wonder if those objects ‘rule the roost’ too much – it’s like they became out-and-out creatures – and taking form they seem to tell me “Mind that we’re not so sick after all. Or better, we’re one of the things that make you earn money. Keep it on, keep on bringing forth stuff like us!”. Paradoxically, instead of eating himself the Pop’s eating me perhaps…

ESPECIALLY FOR EXHIBITIONS-PERFORMANCES WE KNOW YOU LOVE TO AMAZE, TO CREATE A MEMORABLE EVENT, WHY AND HOW DO YOU ‘MODERATE YOURSELF’ HERE?

When I can and the gallery allows me to, I try and study something more, something ‘beyond’ the usual art-show. Each time I had a show I consider Art I always enriched it with an ad hoc performance. Once I had an exhibition regarding the real-imaginary relation – with my comics’ characters and their odd cosplayer part on view – and at the opening I was dressed as a loser superhero, with a hobo sign begging for charity due to the useless superpower: drawing with two hands, so during that performance people was giving me donations and I was drawing two-hands – or other times I don’t know, I would do portraits but blindfolded, or nudes but naked!… I liked a lot the XL experience, an experience born thanks to a group of cartoonists coming from different underground fields, and which later has been a training ground for many important authors (such as the Super Amici group etc); I really liked it when we used to go to fairs like Lucca Comics or Naples’ Comicon because we were a bit like martians; we used to give copies of the mag and to make inscriptions to everybody, plus we especially try and make exhibitions different from usual ones (for instance in Naples we made all a series of comics against the city’s neo-melodic and rap singers – at our own risk and danger!) and it was funny. Now that it doesn’t longer exist XL, which was heavily criticised as “the magazine that wants to be underground with the money from Repubblica”, I can say that to me it was pure punk attitude; we managed to be punk and to earn a bit of money in the face of Espresso Group, and to do things Repubblica didn’t like at all (actually they wanted to kick-out comics from XL despite director Luca Valtorta was holding on, while later on we had evidences that many people used to buy the mag for comics in general)!


AND ALSO REGARDING MUSIC YOU GOT STRANGE IDEAS AND TASTES (BIZARRE INSTRUMENTS, SHOWS AND COSTUMES), DON’T YOU?



Yes, I’ve always liked strange things in music too (my references are Kraftwerk, Devo, Aphex Twin, but also Sparks, Gwar, Tubes, Cramps, PIL), it’s an important part of my work but I’ve never made it as a job. It sounds like a paradox but it’s like that. We used to play with slapdash instruments, we added a bit of electronic but also the kids’ Farfisa keyboards bought at the market, we used to manipulate circuits, exasperate distortions etc – I’ve always liked to work like that. Back then there was a way more experimental attitude, you played with machines and cables, now there’s the pc and it’s all easier, I use Logic and notice that now it takes me five minutes perhaps to create sounds that once ago it took me hours to achieve.



A CLASSIC ENDING: FUTURE PROJECTS YOU WANT-CAN UNVEIL US?



Yep, I wanted to do a bit self-punitive art-show called ‘Famiglia Allargata’ (viz, Extended Family), I would draw 365 days a year what I saw on tv, for an art-show of 365 drawings about our extended family indeed, since at the end you realise you have a bigger familiarity with tv-characters than with your own relatives! Eventually this idea became a book I’m making with Panini, 100 series seen by me, and not 100 reviews of the best or greatest ones but actually 100 series I’ve actually seen. So inside there are objectively horrible things. Also of this work I’d like to make an exhibition, maybe in a very dark gallery, no lights, giving the public a torch and they have to light up paintings to discover the portraits covered in cobwebs, while as a background there’s a chorus of ‘Gregorian medley-alike’ voices made of tv-series’ soundtracks, as if it were a mass.