Gipi, Stripburger 45

Interview with Gipi

Since 2006, Gipi (Gianni Pacinotti, his pseudonym is of course the Italian pronunciation of his name's abbreviation) is probably Italy's most famous creator of non-genre comics. In January 2006 he received the Best Album Award in Angouleme comic festival, just a few months after receiving the Best Author Award in Lucca. Born in 1963 in Pisa, Gipi started publishing in various italian magazines in 1994 and is working with the Bologna-based publisher Coconino Press, with whom he first published a collection of short stories Esterno Notte (2003), followed by some more extensive works like Appunti per una storia di guerra (2004), Gli Innocenti, Questa è la stanza (both 2005) and S. (2006).

The title of the extensive anthology that was published last fall in the Graphic Novel series (a weekly supplement of Repubblica / L'Espresso in association with the Cococina) is no coincidence, nor is the title of his website, Baci dalla provincia, Kisses From the Province. The Italian province, geographically undefined, is, along with the labyrinths of the adolescence, the Italian's leit-motiv in his latest works.  These two poles coincide with the drawing style, the sequencing that sways between the character- and word balloon- rich pictures and wide panoramic images. A master of seemingly loose lineart, supplemented by watercolour or diluted ink, handpicked his story Two Mushrooms to be published in Stripburger.

Bologna, March 16th 2007

Paola Bristot: Lately, you’ve been in Paris often. What do you do there? 

Gipi: I live between Paris and my hometown. I have a small place in Paris, 16 square meters, 4x4, where I cannot stay for very long; you start to go crazy after a while. And what do I do there? Nothing… I observe the city and by doing so I began to lose all of my orientation points – points I used for writing stories in the past.

P.: Since location is very important for your narration and your style of drawing this change can lead you towards new stories.  

G.: Certainly. I used to tell stories based on my way of life and I did not pay attention to other people’s lifestyles. Recently, my way of life has changed; partly because I’ve become older and partly because I earn more money then I did when – I didn’t earn anything. I can no longer tell the kind of stories I used to tell. If I would write a story about youngsters on the street now, I would feel like a hypocrite. I am in a different world now, one that I haven’t learned to observe yet. I’m in a strange and very difficult period.

P.: There is a prevalent provincial feeling in your comics. They are also intimate explorations and discoveries of realities where time passes much slower than in the city.  

G.: It is a question of spaces and aesthetics. I spent the last 20 days in Italy and I rediscovered things which made me draw for all these years. The problem is that I don’t feel the same about them anymore. I still come back to my places even though the source of inspiration has changed. It is because I have discovered another dimension. I feel that to speak in the “old way” would be to speak a dishonest language.

P.: I understand. Wouldn’t you agree that this is a general Italian issue nowadays? 

G.: For me it is a question of personal growth and social status change. I traveled to Bologna in the first class of the Eurostar train – until recently, this was unimaginable for me. Now the problem is that the structure of my narration was based on “being on the street and having nothing”. Telling stories about first class travels is more difficult for me. I haven’t found the right vision yet. I hope I will find it, I am trying to focus on stories based on plot but the themes that interest me are changing and I am afraid of them because I come from a very low social class and I don’t know the level I am going to. I don’t have a vision and I don’t have a way to put it in words. I speak about the fact that I am really down right now. Fantastic!

P.: No, that is not true; it’s a phase in evolution, it is an exploration of a different style in a new period of time. If your narration has been very coherent, then the form of your representation has changed. Perhaps it used to be more concrete, more picturesque and more descriptive and has later acquired a more radical language. I really like your refined landscapes, your careful observations of nature depicted so well in your diary-form stories, stories possessing a width and depth, like the story Two Mushrooms you chose for publication in this issue of Stripburger.  

G.: The landscapes never represented a question of aesthetics for me. They represent The Spirit. When I draw the sky, I don’t do it because I like to draw clouds, I do it because I feel the imbalance of power when I look within me and when I look from the inside out; when I see myself as a human being I always feel small … So the only way to show the inner misery – since that is what interests me most about people, their smallness – is to juxtapose it to something very clear and powerful.

P.: This is a time of rethinking the language of your comics, then. You are looking for new forms of narration, be it through film or music or other ways that might bring you to a new way of seeing your world.

G.: The issue has always been there. I always had periods when I would get really into other media, like music, video … And every time a tiny inner voice would tell me: “Gianni, you’re just wasting your time.” But then, when I would go back to writing or drawing, I’d see what has happened when I was filming or writing a scenario or, like recently, playing music. I spent ten days in the studio and kept telling myself: “You shouldn’t play, you should draw!” And when I got back to writing I realized that the rhythm of narration has changed! Know what I mean? It’s like I have a clearly defined path but I keep getting lost and keep doubting it. It is the path of narration, narration combined with images. But when I get into something it is absolute, it seems like my chosen path.

P.: Essentially, it is a different way of thinking about a story.

G.: I think so, yes. 

P.: These things are connected. It happens to other painters as well that they use a variety of media. Explorations of forms don’t have to be meant for themselves. You can always choose another medium; music, video … They are always explorations of the self.

G.: Yes, because music creates an energetic effect which cannot be created while you sit in solitude at your drawing board. When I draw, this energy stays with me.

P.: And yet we speak of a specific form of expression.

G.: It is a form of expression and primarily, a rhythm.

P.: It is a vision.

G.: Certainly. Speaking in the language of film this vision comes back to you when you define frames or when images settle in you after you’ve been staring through the camera lens for too long. For instance, I never use photos; which is to say that everything I do has to be seen through an analytical observation of forms – as opposed to a superficial and artificial gaze. OK? When I observe nature with my analytical eye, the images stay in my memory and imagination and they become quite reliable material for further use. When I draw a story, I never use neutral backgrounds with moving people in the front. It’s like I would have a real frontal scene and I’d move backgrounds into it. This camera perspective turns into a storage of images which are later used in the story. Everything is connected. The problem is I tend to forget about it and then I worry…

P.: So you don’t keep a sketch book, you learn as you work.

G.: I made many sketches, I have drawn from nature a lot, but that is all past now. Now, I hide myself in my studio and work. I think that my last book, S. (Coconinopress, 2006), the one about my father, has drawn a line. It represents the end of seven years of thinking, of a way of writing and drawing. And now I am here, I finished one game and I still have to find a way to start a new one.