In France, Krent Able made his debut in the the pages of AAARG magazine (RIP) in 2012, feeling right at home among the violence and dark cynicism of the mag. Hidden behing a name that is nothing more than "a collection of letters that look good in the Coca-Cola font", he can let his wildest side run free. His style is a strange and burstling combination of sweet horror and revolting gore, mixing surrealism with the colorful pop imagery of the 80's. As skillful with the pen as with his devastating bad taste, he has dabbled in music, publishing or movie-making -- for an unashamedly weird artistic carrier.
Rat Devil : Apparently your real name is Steve Martin and Krent Able is just a pseudonym.
Krent Able : Yes, my human name is Stephen Martin, shortened to Steve, but I’ve never used it for my comics. When I started out I needed a name that sounded more exotic, more extravagant, not this name which, as well as already being taken by a famous comedian, was clearly lacking of fantasy. For me, Krent Able is the physical incarnation of the madness, humour and anarchism of my comics. It also gives me the opportunity to distance myself from my work and do things that ‘Steve Martin’ would probably have doubts about before committing to. The advantage is that I can simply blame it on Krent and disclaim responsibility : “What do you mean I had flown Lady Gaga’s cloned vagina ? “
Rat Devil : Where did you grow up ?
Krent Able : I was born in a town called Grimsby in the North of England, into a stable working-class family where I had a relatively peaceful and pleasant childhood. I went to the local comprehensive school, I was a fairly well-behaved kid, did average at school except for art, which I was usually the best in the class at. After school, I liked listening to my dad’s record collection (a very good one), sitting in my room and reading comics and watching tv. The estate where I lived was surrounded by countryside, so I would go fishing, birdwatching and exploring the woods. Nothing out of the ordinary so. My first job, at the age of 15, was working at the local butchers, where I would do all the horrible jobs : emptying the bins full of animal parts, and crawling underneath the pigs hanging in the refrigerated room to clean the coagulated blood off the floor. Sometimes my friends and I would steal cow heads and eyeballs and use them in pranks, like sticking eyeballs to lampposts, hiding and watching people’s reactions as they passed, ah, ah. My next job was working at a ‘Shell Shop’ near the seaside, pulling dead sea creatures out of their shells and making the shells into toy animals for tourists to buy.
Rat Devil : Before discussing your comics, I discovered while preparing this interview that you used to play in an industrial metal band.
Krent Able : Ah ! Ah ! Yes, it was in the early 90s when I moved to London for my studies. I was living in squats with my friends, spending most of my time partying and experimenting all sorts of drugs. As I was more interested in music than art, I convinced a friend of mine to buy a 4-track tape recorder and a drum machine, then borrowed a guitar and started writing songs (even though I couldn’t play an instrument and was far too lazy to learn). When I had enough songs, I got some friends together to play them and incidentally form a band we called Rancho Diablo. Our influences ranged from Suicide, The Stooges, Revolting Cocks to Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel. One day we decided to send our demo to record companies and we were quickly signed by Mute Records, the label where Dépeche Mode or Laibach, among others, started. We made an album, toured Europe, and then we imploded. I have very good memories of that time.
Rat Devil : How did the idea to expose pop icons through your comics come about ?
Krent Able : As a teenager, I would sometimes doodle silly comics in my sketchbooks, but never made any serious comic strips at any of my colleges. The tutors in UK colleges at that time were mostly ignorant and disdainful of comics as an art form, so I never focused on making any. As you probably know, in the UK comics are generally looked down on as being stuff for children. Around 2009 I was at a stage where I wasn’t sure where to go with my art and music. That’s when I found a free music magazine called The Stool Pigeon in a record shop. I was impressed by the aesthetic and the punk attitude that it had. Inside, there was an advert asking for contributors for a comics section they wanted to include. I had thought about doing comics anyway, but I had no idea what direction to take. It finally seemed natural to combine my knowledge of music with my love of drawing, the horrific and funny worlds I love. That’s when the idea of making fun of musicians like Kanye West or Justin Timberlake came up. I present these musicians as some kind of monsters. I just exaggerate the narcissistic ego of these pop stars until they become appalling, that they care little for anyone but themselves. Such characters are inherently funny and for me, it’s really fun to watch people who literally don’t give a shit about anything but themselves.
Rat Devil : So the character of Nick Cave as the Doctor of the Strange was born in the same way ?
Krent Able : I got the idea for Dr Cave early one morning when I was taking a shower. I’ve talked to other writers about it and they agree with my theory that running your face under running water helps the brain come up with good ideas. As with most new ideas, it was a combination of two separate elements : before working on The Stool Pigeon, I’d had an idea for a comic strip about a doctor, and I just had to combine it with telling a story about Nick Cave. It seemed to fit quite well and Nick Cave turned out to be perfect as a psychopathic doctor with a penchant for magic wanking.
Rat Devil : In one of your interviews, I got the feeling that you have some sort of special relationship with monkeys.
Krent Able : I have never had an intimate relationship with a monkey, or even met one. I just think that almost any work of art, book or film, can be enhanced by the addition of a monkey. Is it a coincidence that films like King Kong or Planet of the Apes were so successful ? Now imagine how bad they would be without all those monkeys. Think about it.
Rat Devil : Your work combines scabrous humour, dark universes, and various horrors and monstrosities. Where does this sensitivity come from ?
Krent Able : It’s hard to say for sure. Probably from watching Doctor Who and tons of classic black & white horror films like Frankenstein or King Kong, 70’s stuff like Jaws. I’ve always been quite imaginative and fascinated by the invisible, the extraordinary and the forbidden. For example, when I was too young to see them, I loved looking at horror movie posters and wondering what the movies were like. Then I became a teenager around the time that VHS invaded Britain. I was exposed to a host of amazing and extreme films. Add to that the Northern English sense of humour, which is often seen as dark, surreal, sarcastic and sharp, and you have the perfect cocktail of the would-be maniac ! Ah ! Ah ! I have nothing against the human race, I’m a good guy and nice to my fellow man, I just find mutations, decapitations and exploding heads very fun to draw. I studied anatomy on real corpses in art school and found the insides of bodies fascinating. Sometimes I add to that moods and images from my dreams and use them as the seed of an idea. Most of the time I already have an outline for a story, but I just meditate on it as I go to sleep and my half-haggard brain brings in some pretty cool energy as it heads into dreamland. The subconscious is much freer than the conscious and if the idea is interesting enough, I remember it in the morning. Blood splatter, body parts flying through the air, speed, action and impact are exciting aspects to draw and it’s exciting to try and capture them as best I can so that they have the most visceral effect on the reader. Faces and especially hands are the most expressive body parts to draw. I exaggerate these hands, especially by giving them a clawed and evil look. I was probably influenced by the drawings of Brian Bolland and his Judge Death character, the most famous antagonist of Judge Dredd. Bolland, as well as being an incredible artist, is a master at drawing evil-looking hands. Discovered at the age of 7 in the pages of 2000 AD, his work has forever marked the young mind that was mine. So it’s a big influence, as is the work of Dan Clowes that I discovered later. In the end, my work is not meant to be upsetting or depressing, but rather chaos at its most joyful, a positive carnage of sorts.
Rat Devil : What about all the genitalia, orgasms and borderline horrible orgies that populate your work ?
Krent Able : That’s the side of me that’s back to being a bad boy, the dumb teenager who draws dicks on the shithouse wall at the local bar. People are so uptight about seeing genitalia, let alone their own, that it’s fun to tackle the thing that pisses everyone off. Besides, cocks and pussies are very interesting to draw, vaginas in particular, they are incredibly complex. I love sex and orgasms and I obviously don’t find it all that horrible. If I could have sex all day I would, so I wouldn’t bother with my comics. I’d just come and make other people come. I’d much rather draw a cock coming than a bike. Orgasms are life ! The fact is that in the UK in particular, people can be very sexually repressed. When we grow up, capitalist culture, media, advertising and films distort our view of sex by telling us that it is something ‘dirty’ or that it needs to be hidden. At the same time, we are insidiously encouraged to think about it constantly and obsessively. The British tabloids are as much about titillating our porn fibre as they are about throwing in a well-intentioned pseudo-moral on the subject. There is something unhealthy about it, which I explore, exploit and rebel against in my comics. Sex is a tender little button in people’s minds, and I like to have fun with it. When people laugh at it, I hope to give them a kind of release valve.
Rat Devil : What is your relationship to technology ?
Krent Able : I’m not massively interested in technology, I just use it as a tool. I’m not the kind of person who has to have the latest gadget. My phone is quite old, and children mock me whenever they see it. Saying that, I’ve recently bought an Ipad to draw with, and, learning all the stuff it can do with it is the one time I’ve actually felt like I was living in the future I imagined when I was a kid. My vision of our future is…well, it’s not looking good is it ? We seem to be devolving, yet we have access to more powerful technology, from drones to facial recognition, to our data being used to swing elections. Trump, Brexit..I doubt any of these rotten things would have been possible without the misuse of today’s technology. Our children are basically little corporate drones, working for Mark Zuckerberg, and manipulated by algorithms. So, my basic view, and it’s not particularly original, is that technology is fine, but humans are often bit too stupid, greedy and irresponsible to be trusted with it.
Rat Devil : From Black Mirror to Years and Years (both British TV shows), why do you think British people have such a relationship with technology, at least when it comes to anticipation ? Is it something genetic or does it emanate from your sensibility ?
Krent Able : I’m not sure that the English see technology any different than other nationalities. Perhaps we’re naturally more cautious or cynical. We do have a certain sense of humour, that comes across in our films and especially tv programs. We’re good at black humour, and the surreal and absurd. The view of the future, in films like Brazil and the books of JG Ballard, is always dark – maybe that informs or expresses our worries about the future and technology. You could also make the point, with Brexit, that the English are just scared of the future and progress and want to retreat into some fantasy dream of the past. Who knows ?
Rat Devil : You are the initiator of the collective work I Feel Machine, which describes and criticizes our relationship with technology and the media. How did this project come about ?
Krent Able : In 2017 I created a self-published mini-comic with fellow comic artist Julian Hanshaw, and the theme was technology. The comic went well, so we thought that technology is so omnipresent in all our lives that it seemed to be a subject that would resonate with people. We approached the publishers SelfMadeHero, and basically pitched it as a comics version of Black Mirror. The simpler the pitch, the better ! We then asked some of our brilliant comic artist friends to join us in the project and contribute stories. We just asked people whose work we liked, who we thought would do something interesting with the technology theme, as well as make work that would complement each other and come at the theme from different angles. We were lucky to get some of the best comic artists working today onboard : Shaun Tan, Box Brown, Erik Svetoft and Tillie Walden. I’m a big fan of Shaun especially, and he was rightly nominated for an Eisner Award for his brilliant story.
Rat Devil : What about your contribution ?
Krent Able : My story was called Bloody Kids, and is a grimly satirical and horrific story of teenagers and mobile phones. It’s the darkest thing I’ve done, and quite different to my previous work – I actually found it a little disturbing to write. When I look back on some of my older work, I’m often surprised that people actually published it. In general, my work never grosses me out, it mostly makes me laugh. When I’m working on a story, if at some point I don’t question the intention or the story, then I think it’s not worth drawing. Otherwise you’re just doing things that people have already seen and what’s the point of bothering ? But here there was an extra element. As a parent of a teenager, I know other parents who have children the same age. Often whenever I got together with these fellow parents at dinner parties etc, the same conversations would arise, about how addicted their children are to technology, mobile phones, and the dangers of social media, and how concerned and powerless the parents feel. I thought it would be interesting to write a story taking this theme of parental paranoia to absurd extremes, and exploring areas that make the older generation uncomfortable. I think it’s partly the parent’s fear of their children growing up and having sex, and their diminishing control, along with a fear of the unknown. So I turned that fear into an actual monster.
Rat Devil : And from a technical point of view ?
Krent Able : The story came out very quickly like a stream of consciousness, and required very little editing apart from the usual process of polishing the dialogue later. When I write a story I just quickly sketch the panels one after another without working out how they will fit on a page, and then scan all the panels into photoshop and arrange them into pages later, so that the pacing and page turns work. For instance, if I want to have a surprise in the story, I have to time it so that you only see it when you turn the page. When I’m happy with all this, I design the characters in more detail and then draw the whole thing properly. I want each story to be as effective as possible, so this part can take a long while – I often draw two or three versions of each panel, trying it with different ‘camera angles’ and so on. I want the art to express exactly what I’m trying to communicate.
Rat Devil : Most of your stories are one-shots and usually quite short.
Krent Able : The main reason I tell a lot of short stories is because they take a lot of time and work, and are also very poorly paid. But even if they are short, my stories usually go to their conclusion. I once left a story unfinished. It was Test Drive with a human motorbike. It was intended to give the impression that the reader had stumbled across an episode of a strange story in a strange comic book, and was unable to find the rest. It’s a fragment of a story, and the reader’s imagination completes it. Sometimes with old comics it’s hard to find the full story, and I like to play with that concept. The story I’m currently working on is 24 pages long, which is quite long for me. The strip looks like a surreal action movie — a kind of Die Hard but directed by David Cronenberg, Ah ! Ah ! It is to be included in a book that will be the sequel to I Feel Machine, entitled I Feel Love. This sequel will be in the same format as the previous book, six artists telling twisted love stories. We had an equal number of male and female creators this time : Anya Davidson, Kelsey Wroten, Benjamin Marra and Cat Sims plus Julian Hanshaw and I who are also doing the editing. We hope to do another I Feel… book and make it as a trilogy. We don’t have an idea for this third book yet and I haven’t pitched it to the publishers yet. It will also depend on the success of this one. I Feel Love was released on April 1st. I am also working on two longer stories that will appear in a book in collaboration with the artist Shaky Kane. Kane is a legendary comic book artist who has worked for 2000AD, Deadline and many others since the early 90s. His work is influenced by Pop Art and Jack Kirby, with a healthy dose of weirdness. His comic The Bulletproof Coffin is a must. It was a great pleasure to work with him. We each contributed two stories and designed and edited the book together. I wrote and drew my stories and he wrote and drew his. There is a certain confrontation in terms of style, since the book starts with his story, then one of mine, then one of his, and ends with another of mine. We did it with the idea that if you like his work, you’ll probably like mine. My influences are old Saturday morning cartoons like Scooby Doo, EC Comics, superhero comics, old horror movies or underground comics. One of my stories, Creepzone, is a remake of a 1940s superhero comic called Nightmare And Sleepy. The other story, Black Fur, is also a superhero comic but this time with a flying bear. This comic is due to be released in June by Image Comics, a British publisher.
Krent Able : I was heavily involved in the entire process of making those films — writing, editing, designing, finding the music, casting, and raising the money etc. but my friend Matt Harlock (American-The Bill Hicks Story) actually directed them. It was a very good collaboration. With the short horror comedy film Deep Clean I came up with the original concept (it was originally for a comic strip) and then I was involved in every step of the project to make sure the film stayed very close to the vision I had and didn’t get lost. I’m like what the Americans would call the showrunner. I’m not sure if I have the right temperament or skills yet to be a director. I don’t know one camera from another. And you have to be very assertive and high energy and good at telling people what to do. My personality isn’t naturally like that. Maybe one day when I’ve learned more about directing, but at the moment I want to collaborate with talented directors and make better stuff than I could make on my own. Like Dirty Harry said, ‘a man’s got to know his limitations’.