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Sean Dietrich's Mess: Shooting the Piano Player as Catalyst

A comics interview article by: Tim O'Shea
Sean Dietrich's art has always stuck in my mind since the first time I saw it (when I interviewed him about Industriacide a few years back), partially because it reminds me of Ralph Steadman (a good thing, in my book). So when the opportunity to talk about his upcoming new work, Mess, presented itself, I was more than willing. Dietrich's publisher, Rorschach Entertainment, divulged the following official word on the work:

"Sean Dietrich...returns to his ink-stained roots with a new tale of shadow and escape in Mess.

Vincent, born with arms four feet long and legs only twelve inches in length, might look like a monster, but he’s also the best piano player and jingle-writer in the city. After 25 years spent performing at the same bar, hidden behind a curtain to showcase his music while hiding his deformities, Vincent—left to die in a dumpster by parents never meant to have him—finds his life turned upside down as shots ring out on his journey home one night.

Mess is in the July 2007 Previews Catalog (JUL073785) and will be available in stores September 2007. For more information, as well as a sneak peek, visit Rorschach Entertainment."

Tim O’Shea (TOS): A few years back, when I interviewed you--in discussing influences on your work, you said: "I try to use music, life, whatever, ...to get ideas for page layouts." This new story is about a deformed piano player, so I'm curious--any particular type of music that gave you ideas for the layout on Mess?

Sean Dietrich (SD): Yes, actually, Ohgr's (Skinny Puppy) song Earthworm inspired the dumpster baby theme--I was originally going to title the book Earthworm, but once the theme of the story and the over all feel for the artwork was established, Mess just seemed a much better and more fitting title. The piano player occupation for Vincent was inspired by a story I heard about a New Orleans man who played piano at a bar in the French Quarter for decades--one night as he was walking home he was shot and killed. I sort of tied the themes together of working hard for everything and then in one instant it can be destroyed, and it was a profession that accentuated the deformity of his arms being so long.

TOS: Again, hearkening back to our previous interview, you acknowledged that on some level, your work Industriacide featured "a lot of political and social aspects". Would you say that Mess is replete with its own political and social aspects. If so, when delving into political aspects, do you ever worry about alienating a portion of your audience?

SD: There's definitely no political spin--other than maybe the thugs with the Soviet Era hat--in the book. And as far as the social commentary it's pretty light--the basics of treating your fellow humans with respect and dignity even though they might be deformed in some way, which is something we as a race are still trying to figure out yet failing miserably. Thinking back through my books, I've never really worried about alienating my audience. I've got enough books and artwork out now that people know what to expect if they've seen anything I've done, so I think most move on pretty quickly if they don't want to read books that are mostly populated with alienation, deformities, alcohol and drug abuse, political and social bashing, and all of the other atrocities I include in my book. I do make sure to balance everything out with themes that, ultimately in the end, provide a positive message in the end, and of course I always try to make you think--I want to make you keep coming back to these books again and again, picking up on small details, obscure references etc.

TOS: This book marks a return to the art style you used in Industriacide--do you like trying different stories in different art styles?

SD: Yes, I like to experiment a bit with my style, but I'm pretty confident I've achieved the next step towards my ultimate comfort level with my artwork in Mess. As I stated in the press release, I did hear a couple of my fans looking at my last book FERVOR and commenting that they liked how much 'darker' the artwork looked in Industriacide. They loved that it was drenched in black ink and gave a real sense of the artwork conveying the mood of the story--that's all I need to hear to start the process of experimentation.

TOS: Your pages are so intense with energy and a certain sense of chaos, yet still bordered with some sense of panel design at the same time. Do you do thumbnails or how do you sketch out the story before doing the actual heavy lifting of the storytelling?

SD: I do thumbnail out the panels on the page in relation to the story-more so now with my latest books as opposed to Industriacide where the story was so chaotic, it was basically a process of making sure there were enough panels to convey the theme of the page more so than worrying about the artwork being 'sequential'--this may not sit well with many comic professionals, but I don't buy into the whole "your artwork has to be able to tell the story without words"--the beauty of this medium is that it's the perfect blending of words and art, and in my books I like to make sure one relies on the other.

TOS: Would you ever want to revisit the characters of Mess again, or are the tales all told in this one shot?

SD: I would love to revisit all of my characters some time. As far as Mess, the first thing my buddy Rich, who's a journalist in New Orleans, said was that the doctor was his favorite character and he loved the voice of that character, and if I could, please do a spin off series, so we'll see. I still get asked to do an industriacide part 2.

TOS: After Vincent, who would you say is the most critical person in the story of Mess?

SD: The doctor/orderly who is on the cover--I didn't give him the cover for nothing. He was such a fun character to work with I would love to tell the story of his life etc. which I've been kicking around some ideas for.

TOS: Over the course of crafting the story--was there any particular person's back story that changed for you over the course of the work--or was everything set in stone at the outset.

SD: Like I said, the piano player in New Orleans, and the theme of Vincent's life itself was personal in nature. I was starting to brainstorm the themes of this book and, at the time, I was looking at my own art career, reflecting on the fact that I would dwell too much on a small success or event etc., instead of continuing to push forward, so I incorporated that into Vincent's story as he, after reaching a small level of success, falls prey to the elated feelings of it and wastes away. I'm on a much more stable track in my art career now, doing more live events, shows, working on a ton of new artwork, etc. so it was a nice assessment of my own life through Vincent's eyes. It's helped to push me this month to start the blitzkrieg of getting my art and books out in front of as many people as possible.

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