Interview de Derf Backderf (VO) (28/01/2016)
We were lucky enough to meet with Derf Backderf in Angouleme to discuss his latest graphic novel entitled Trashed. (read the french version here)
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I have just finished reading “Trashed”, it’s an outstanding and captivating description of an unfamiliar world.
Oh thank you, it is very different from “My friend Dahmer”.
Very different yes… actually it’s incredible, I didn’t know anything about this job, and what people put in their trash… car engines, gas ranges, tree branches, excrement, dead animals, human body parts even…
No, no one knows about this job. Well yes Dahmer threw away his first victim. He chopped him up. It’s crazy when you think about it.
So do you really have to take anything, even if it’s heavy?
When they put it out? Yeah pretty much… I am trying to think… no I can’t think of anything we left behind.
How long did you work as a garbage collector?
About a year. When you are 19, it’s a big chunk of your life. It might not seem so bad now, but when I was in the middle of it, I didn’t see the end. I thought I would be a garbage man for ever, it was tough.
It must have been really difficult during winter time?
Well the rain was worse… actually the snow was pretty bad too.
What’s the best memory of the job?
Best? Do you mean happiest? (laughs)
There must be one!
No, no happy memories, it was pretty much horrible. The one that sticks with me is the kennels, the dog kennels… that will never leave me. The bags of dog shit. That was pretty bad. I usually save those stories for dinner parties (laughs).
And I guess you had to try to keep calm at times, dealing with the residents?
Oh well yeah, it’s part of the job, you are treated like crap, the garbage man is a peasant, just a worker. But you shouldn’t piss them off, that’s a big mistake… if you piss off your garbage man, well that won’t turn out well.
Do they retaliate do they?
Oh yeah, oh sure! Garbage cans in the trees, run over the mailbox…
Is the book part true, part fiction?
It’s mostly fiction, but all those stuff on the truck happened to me, or to somebody else and I heard about it, and I pulled them into the story… but the characters are all fiction.
In your stories you seem to be fond of eccentric characters… The Baron in “Punk Rock and trailer parks”, Jeffrey Dahmer… and Magee in “Trashed”! He’s an incredible character… does he exist?
Oh thanks! He is based on a friend of mine, who has unfortunately died about 5 years ago. So McGee had a short, spectacular life… he is no longer with us. I miss him.
You could say he’s the main character in a way.
McGee? Oh yeah, he’s my favourite character in the book. He’s erratic, unpredictable.
Can we still find the very first edition of “Trashed”?
In the US? Yeah, it’s still out there. There are still copies on Amazon I think. My first publisher keeps all my books. He keeps reprinting them, because when “My Friend Dahmer” came out with a big publisher in the US, it was a big hit. The first book was published with a very small publisher in the US, which no longer really even publishes. But he keeps resupplying Amazon, so he keeps making new prints of “Punk Rock” and “Trashed”.
The first “Trashed” was about you wasn’t it?
Yeah that was a memoire.
Did you have to redraw quite a bit of it?
Yeah all of it. The new “Trashed” does not repeat anything, it’s all different. The old one is very primitive, it’s old.
Any chance of seeing a French edition?
No I don’t think so, it’s too old, I’m not real comfortable with that, it’s early work.
Do you like it?
When I did it I liked it, it got nominated for an Eisner Award, which is the Oscars of comics in the US, for best writer/author. It was a great way to start even though I didn’t win. The stories were drawn in 97-98, and were eventually published in 2002, it didn’t come out until 2002.
I guess as an artist you are probably very critical with you old work?
I am still very fond of that book, because of what it meant. That was the first time I moved to bigger stories, so it was the beginning. So you know you have to keep remembering it for what it was.
In “Trashed” you are very critical of the political economic system in your country. Corruption, subprime crisis, housing crisis. In fact “Trashed” is composed of 2 parts: the main story, which is quite funny and refreshing, and a well-documented account of waste management policies.
Yeah in the US editions that’s in the story. In the French edition we put it at the back. In the US edition it’s right within the narrative, within the story… the big thing about the dump, the big thing about the garbage truck, the double page spreads, those are in the story in the US… but in the French edition we thought it would be better at the back. It was a good choice I think, because it’s all a little bit American, you do things a little differently over here. I mean in terms of scale, our garbage dumps are much bigger than here, we have all that room, America is so vast, all of France would fit into Texas.
You seem to be a bit pessimistic about the garbage situation…
Well yeah, there’s no end, I mean look at all this stuff (pointing to plastic cups)… you go around Paris, and see the garbage cans overflowing. We produce so much trash. I don’t know what you do with your garbage.
Well we do try to recycle… I am not sure whether it’s going to have a long term impact.
That’s not really a solution. It’s better than nothing, but you use energy to recycle things, so you are burning energy, making pollution. And you can only recycle some of the materials, mostly packaging. Aluminium and glass can be recycled again and again, but not plastic… and it’s all made out of oil (Derf taps on the plastic recorder then says “sorry I forgot you were recording!”).
Would you define yourself as an author with a cause?
No, it’s just something that I was a part of, and I thought was worth telling, because nobody really thinks about it. But I don’t want to be too serious or preachy. When you are a garbage man you are not really in the green party. The garbage is there, it keeps coming, it never stops, and you’ve got to pick it up and get rid of it. You just become part of the process.
So you don’t want to get into politics, go up against Donald Trump?
(laughs) No he wasn’t running when I was a garbage man! Actually I was a political cartoonist for many years, that’s what I did before books… not mainstream political cartoons, they were for alternative newspapers, back in the 90s and 80s… I did that for many years, so I’ve had enough of politics. It was fun for a while, but you can only do it for so long and then you burn out. It’s like being an athlete, you have a very short career and then you are done.
Because it wasn’t mainstream press, did you feel completely free?
Yeah I could pretty much do anything I wanted.
I was talking to your French publisher Serge (Cà et Là), he said that the French version of “Trashed” came out before the US version, because your US publisher was being difficult with the language used in the book, was that the case?
No, it’s just a different publication schedule, they time it from Christmas, my publisher puts out his books on a specific date, and Serge wanted to put it out a couple of weeks early. I had no problems, my American publisher is great. They let me do pretty much whatever I want to do.
One last question, we have seen you sign books in Angouleme, and were surprised to see you doing so standing up!
It’s more comfortable, I don’t like being hunched like this, and people are up here. I get a long line and the chairs suck, these chairs are horrible. It’s just better to stand, there’s no other reason other than that.
Thank you Derf!
Interview réalisée le 28/01/2016, par Blue boy et Alix.