Max M. Dowdle is creator, writer and artist of Shattered With Curve of Horn, an online graphic novel being released in two-page weekly installments. We caught up with Matthew via email to ask some questions about the series.
AP2HYC: It’s easy, as with all “artist as protagonist” types, to read Matthew as an author surrogate. To what extent were his character and situation influenced by your own life?
Max: I have a complicated relationship with the character of Matthew. There’s a lot of me in him, but also a lot of other artists I’ve known. I like to think of him as a “pessimistic-optimist”. By that I mean the cranky façade that he puts on is really just that, a front to mask his insecurities, but there’s really someone sweet, and just a little bit sad underneath. He’s that classic case of someone who has everything they want and need, and yet is still not settled. I think what it really comes down to is that sometime along the way in my past I could have turned into someone like Matthew, but for whatever reason, whether it’s by choice or chance, I turned out a little more even-tempered. All that being said, he was my favorite character to write, probably because I do feel like I can relate to him on some level.
AP2HYC: If Matthew does bear any resemblance to you, how do you feel about the extent to which he can be seen as an unsympathetic character, i.e. his prejudice against Pierce, etc., versus the military upbringing that has obviously influenced him strongly?
Max: Shattered With Curve of Horn has been an interesting exercise for me because there isn’t really a discernable protagonist or antagonist. I really tried from the start to strike a note of realism with each character, imbuing each with hopes, desires, histories, etc. and then letting the story unfold from there. So, while Matthew could be seen as unsympathetic, especially in the way that he treats Pierce for much of the story, my hope is that the audience comes to understand Matthew’s perspective, as well as the other characters’, as the story progresses.
AP2HYC: Were there any particular influences behind the creation of Shattered With Curve of Horn? There’s a prominent shout-out to Egon Schiele, for instance.
Max: Oh, yes, absolutely. I spent about four months working out the script and the pre-planning. The story began with a set of limiting factors. I wanted a small set of characters, no more than four, a limited environment, no more than two, perhaps three locations, and a set time frame within the story during which everything would play out. Through a series of brainstorming sessions a story about inspiration and its origins and transference began to present itself. Somehow the location of a hotel room cropped up and this led me to think about this small [Richard] Linklater film Tape from 2001. The whole thing takes place in real-time in a hotel room with a cast of three. Now, I barely remembered Tape, and I purposely didn’t re-watch it, but I remembered that it dealt with the theme of revelation, and I thought this might work for me as well. By this point the story had mostly been uncovered and I began to settle on the visual style I wanted to pursue, and to work on the minor themes and weave symbolism into it. Besides Schiele there are lots of little shout-outs and Easter Eggs that reference art history (I was an Art History major as well as a Fine Art major).
AP2HYC: Any plans to reveal what the bull with the ‘S’ cape symbolizes? The obvious mythological connotations aside, can you reveal how it connects with the broader themes?
Max: Yes, in addition to the themes and symbolism mentioned above, there’s of course the bull. I have a strong attraction to using animals in my work as a vehicle for symbolism. I suppose in some ways it comes from a desire to give voice to the voiceless, or at least to harness some of the innate power of a particular animal for narrative purposes. Without giving too much away I will reveal that Stevie the Steer’s full purpose will be shown, and he might just be the most important piece of the puzzle, or he might not. You’ll just have to read on and see.
AP2HYC: The accompanying notes to Shattered With Curve of Horn provide a nice little insight into your artistic process. How do you think they impact upon the reading experience?
Max: That’s something I decided to add as a sort of fun, supplement facet around page 45 or so. I think it came out of a desire to add a “behind the curtain” interest to the web updates, and I figured that if a reader wanted to read it it’s there, and if they wanted to ignore it they could. It’s obviously not something that will be there in the print version, but a book is normally a private experience, where you can get really lost in the story. On the web, the story is updated over a long period of time, and it’s a noisy bustling place so it seemed fitting to show some of the structural notes.
AP2HYC: What have you found to be the benefits and downsides of releasing weekly two-page installments, and was the move inspired more by web-series or serialized novels?
Max: The decision to release two pages a week came from wanting to give readers a sense of what the book would look like in printed form. So each update is one spread, just as if the book were sitting open in the reader’s lap. This was really necessitated by the fact that there was a series of dream sequence spreads that I just didn’t have the heart to break up into single pages. The one major downside that came out of updating only once a week was that readers had to wait seven days for two new pages.
AP2HYC: Matthew describes his artistic style as “metaphysical realism”. Do you think this term applies to the story as a whole, and, if so, considering it’s a pretty rich philosophical vein, how would you define it for readers who may not be familiar with the concept?
Max: I absolutely believe Metaphysical Realism can be applied to the story as a whole, but not as Matthew uses it. I’ll attempt to explain myself: Matthew’s usage of “metaphysical realism” to describe his work is independent of the philosophical stance of Metaphysical Realism (in our world). Matthew is attempting to represent a sort of “world beside our world” in his work, that is, he’s attempting to represent the “Platonic Ideal” through artistic means. Conversely, Metaphysical Realism, as philosophers understand it, states that reality “is how it is” completely independent of our discovery of it. And I think this sums up the world of Shattered With Curve of Horn very well. The characters in this story have very little control of the reality of their own, shared history. This begs the question: are we more than our memories make us?
AP2HYC: Shattered With Curve of Horn feels like a one-off piece of storytelling, if I’m not much mistaken, but can you imagine setting other stories in the same “universe”?
Max: Yes, Shattered With Curve of Horn will be completely resolved by the last page. I don’t believe these characters will ever resurface in any “starring roles” as their story will be tied up, but I can see stories taking place in the same universe. I find the art world in general to be a very rich ground for storytelling and I already have another story outlined that really gets a lot deeper into the same themes.
You can check out Shattered With Curve of Horn free here and, if you’re feeling generous, even contribute to their Kickstarter campaign. Our review of the series to-date is due out week after next, so watch this space.