Laughter from the Darkest Pits of Hell
Belzebubs, the hilarious and all too spooky realistic comics on life love and black metal by JP Ahonen
Belzebubs is a “trve kvlt” documentary in comic strip form, writer and illustrator JP Ahonen warmly welcomes you to join in the frivolous fun and satanic giggles that follow.
JP Ahonen is the author of the graphic novel Sing No Evil (Perkeros) and Villimpi Pohjola Sunday strip, published in Finland (yes, the Moomin-head-shaped country in Scandinavia). Belzebubs is his improvised therapy project, a playground for silly ideas and an exercise in simply, in his words “getting SHIT DONE”. JP enjoys cooking, having a few pints with friends and getting tattooed but hates writing biographies in third person.
So we at IndiePulse saw an opportunity to get the dark fiendish scoop on the why and where and how on this hilarious look and the most evil of evils, face paint and sarcasm.
IPM: What is a “trve kvlt documentary”, in the US, we are not familiar with the term?
JP: Hehe, well, I figured I needed some sort of description for the series, so I went with that. The whole definition is a little tongue in cheek, as the term”trve kvlt” is used more or less ironically these days. The adjective is/was used to describe obscure music, bands and artists that very few know of. As the strip series fools around with”mockumentary” style interviews from time to time, I felt it quite fitting.
IPM: How long have you been an artist, when did you start?
JP: I’d say my artistic career started out in 2003, when my Sunday comic strip Villimpi Pohjola (or Northern Overexposure, as I’d translate it) started out in a Finnish newspaper. I was still studying graphic design in the University of Lapland at the time, but started doing more and more freelance illustration gigs on the side. So yeah…damn, over 15 years now.
IPM: Since this is a music mag, what are your musical tastes or interests?
JP: Oh, I listen to a wide range of stuff, really… Jazz, electronica, soundtracks, post-rock, progressive metal, death metal, et cetera. At some point I tried to find the right atmosphere for a specific scene or project I was working on, but nowadays I just try and get my mojo working, you know? I might find myself listening to death metal while drawing smiling kids for a school book, or whatever. Recently I’ve been listening to a lot of Ihsahn, Anathema, Lunatic Soul, Tiny Giant, Be’Lakor, Insomnium, If These Trees Could Talk, Bonobo, Grails, The Cinematic Orchestra, just to name a few…
IPM: Here, for the most part, there is a very slim interest in the face-painted Death Metal scene, and many of the local bands are, well, not very good, but bands from Europe are phenomenal, admittedly some take themselves too seriously, why did you choose the Belzebubs as your medium.
JP: I think I’ve always mixed little metal and occult elements in my projects, so I guess Belzebubs was just something that was bound to happen sooner or later. I’ll have to correct you a little, and note that we’re talking about black metal here, not death metal, per se.
Anyhow, I suffered a rather nasty burnout a few years back—something I’m still clawing myself back from—and for some reason I thought it’d be a good idea to fight fire with fire and draw myself out of the pit, you know. In an attempt to loosen up and simply get shit done, I started improvising these quick little strips and gags and just pushing them out there. I think the characters just came out in the wake of my graphic novel Sing No Evil, which also its fair share of corpse had painted characters. I don’t know if this self-therapy project has really helped me with my issues, but I feel it’s one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I can’t remember when I’ve had this much fun on a project. If things pan out, I have some pretty cool things in store.
IPM: I have always been fond of the old TV shows, The Munsters and The Adams Family, though Dark and monstrous, there was good family values and close family bonds, I see that in Belzebubs, as well as young teens dealing with their emotions and feelings. Who are the family “characters” and whats the motivations?
JP: Yeah, most of the strips revolve around daily family issues, I just find them the most chuckling, interesting and rewarding scenes to write. I like to fool around with contrast, anyhow. There’s just something tickling about throwing these corpse painted grumps into mundane situations.
There are two main storylines in play, one focusing on Sløth and Lucyfer’s relationship and kids (Lilith and Leviathan), and the other revolving around Sløth’s band (featuring his band mates Obesyx and Hubbath). I have a vague idea of which direction I want things to go, but I try to give the characters and situations room to develop and write themselves. I’m often as surprised as the readers, which keeps the project rewarding in itself.
IPM: Recently you’ve been doing some strips where one of the Belzebubs girls likes a guy at school and I find the awkwardness of the character trying to share her feelings with the boy hilarious, do you draw some of the material from personal experience dealing with people?
JP: Ha ha ha, well, I do make an ass out of myself every day, so…
Surely there’s a part of me in every character, but I enjoy letting them surprise me. As for Lilith’s endeavors, I think we’ve all been there, you know? At least I’ve made all the clumsy mistakes in the book. Even though we’ve been together for 17 years now with my wife (I’m 36 now), I can still recall the shy and clumsy attempts to woo her.
IPM: I am particularly fond of irony, like in the “Hail… Satan” strip, when the baby wakes her parents to say God is watching and Dad drives him off running, and of course, the young lovers’ strips, the play on words and the quirky ironies really shine through, do you find it easy to do what you do in the strips?
JP: I’m glad to hear all this! I guess it’s rather effortless. Sure, I put in a lot of thought and time to make them work, but this is something I’ve been doing for over 15 years now, so I’m just glad to hear it works. Apparently I’ve unlocked an achievement or two…
IPM: Belzebubs, being a family of Death Metallers in a “normal” world is interesting enough, but have you ever done, or ever consider doing a strip where they have a family member who is a normal, straight laced church type that does or says things to freak them out?
JP: Well, Leviathan had that short rebellious “phase”. I think I’ll revisit it later on, too.
IPM: Episodes like “Don’t push it, Sløth” reminds me of my wife, she has this way of not taking a joke either, what was your influence on this one?
JP: Ha ha, yeah, I have to admit we kid around like that with my wife every now and then, but she would literally do that to me if I were to fool around with others.
IPM: Belzebubs is almost a polar opposite of your other work on Villimpi Pohjola, which is excellent artwork, I am truly sorry I cannot read it, but it is very reminiscent of another graphic novel series I used to read “Love and Rockets” which I am sure you are familiar with, I say this because Villimpi Pohjola is super detailed where Belzebubs is very “simplistic” , yet both have considerable weight in conveying and communicating you thoughts, so, question: how do you, as an artist, and storyteller, bring so much feeling and emotion through what are technically strokes on a page?
JP: I’m just winging it, hahah! Nah, I don’t know…I guess it helps that the scenes and events in my comics feel very real for me, you know? Like, at times I feel like I’m watching a tv show in my mind, and constantly pausing, rewinding and editing things on the fly. I just try and capture as much as I can into the art work, the pacing and body language—all of which are things I absolutely love and find positively challenging in this medium. I used to make home movies, music videos and sketches with a few pals back in my teens, so I think that sort of…mindset, if you will, has shaped my way of storytelling and ”voice”.
Actually, I try to find a different style for each project I’m working on. I think the most ludicrous project was Sing No Evil, which ended up being just pure madness. The artwork needed to emphasise and support the protagonist’s anal perfectionism and the sort of ”devil is in the details” theme, so I ended up losing myself in the pages, much like Aksel loses himself in music. Ironically, the book nearly ended me, so I’m very cautious about how and when I have the means to tackle the next volume.
Villimpi Pohjola used to be more relaxed, but that has also gotten more detailed and ”stiff” after Sing No Evil. Belzebubs is definitely a counterreaction to that, with a slightly rougher line, simple characters, no colors, et cetera. I’m afraid the details are my trademark, though, so I find myself slipping all kinds of things into the panels anyhow.
IPM: Tell us about your books, like sing no evil and others that you think our fans may enjoy.
JP: Sing No Evil is my first graphic novel, which was co-written with my good friend KP Alare, who’s also a graphic designer / illustrator by profession. It revolves around an imaginary metal band that starts to learn the true nature of music and sound. I hope to be able to finish the trilogy at some point, but since the release of the first book, I’ve been swamped with freelance work and other issues. I’m now a father of two, soon three, so family comes first.
…as you’ve probably noticed from Belzebubs as well.
Personally, I would love to see a full graphic novel of Belzebubs, if only for the fact that the world need more laughter, so Laughter, Music and Mayhem, mixed together would be perfect
In Belzebubs , See you in Hell sounds like an invitation to a good time J
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