A few weeks ago the deputy-deputy-megadirector of this magazine asked me to make an interview with American indipendent comic artist Box Brown.
At first I was like “Sir, I write about videogames, but I’m not a journalist… how can I…”. Then he just said I was going to receive the book, for free. That actually happened, then I wrote some questions (to be sincere, no intelligent questions came to my mind after all), and I wrote to Mr Brown:
Considering that Tetris is not your first biography (the other one – super cool and recommended is Andre the Giant), how do you choose your subjects? (well, this time it’s a videogame, whatever…). With the heart of a fan or with the cold calculating brain of someone who sells stories?
Mostly it’s always something that I have an emotional connection to. Something that has stuck with me over many years or sometimes the subject just becomes an obsession and I can’t get it out of my brain. Lots of stuff from the 80s when I was a kid.
In this story there are so many characters, diverse and coming from different ages and cultures – Aleksey, Vladimir, Gunpei, Robert Henk – which one is your favorite and why?
Well, I love Alexi and Henk for different reason for sure. But to me my favorite was Gunpei Yokoi. He was such an interesting character and thought about things so differently than his peers. He ended up being so influential to what we know as videogames and I didn’t know anything about him before beginning the book.
What sources did you draw from to tell learn their stories? Did you call some of them on the phone?
Yes, I spoke to a handful of people on the phone and read everything I could find about the subjects. Sometimes people prefer to be e-mailed and sometimes I even find people via facebook. It’s always thrilling to talk to people on the phone. For my Andy Kaufman book I spoke with famous Pro-wrestling manager Jim Cornette and it was a big thrill.
Tetris is such complete book, it tells an incredibile story, so incredibile like only real life could be. How did you manage the writing process of this complex and wide story in 250 balanced pages?
I just got lucky I guess. I could probably go back and add things forever. I think about it all the time. Tetris was definitely one where I was paring down all the information that was there, whereas with Andre the Giant it was more about building a story from the very few sources out there.
Now a series of comic artists hardcore questions all at once. How do you take to draw a page? What tools do you use (I mean the exact names)? Looking at your pages I costantly think of rulers, set squares, or maybe you have a drafting machine? What are the measures of a Tetris page? Do you make layout/storyboards (if so, is it super accurate or rough)? How much computer work is there?
So I usually make little thumbnail drawings to start. I do the writing of the story in the thumbnails. Then I just draw on paper with a 3H pencil and ink with an 08 micron. I use a plastic see-thru blue t-square to make the straight lines and sometimes I have circle templates I use too. I scan in the inks and fix stuff up in photoshop.
Is there a specific reason why you choose the yellow as unique color fo the story?
I wanted the final comic to glow the way videogames glow.
Are good at Tetris? What platform do you use to play it?
I used to be really good for a 10 year old when it came out. I played on the original gameboy mostly. That’s my favorite version and the one I am the best at. My favorite thing about Tetris is that when you play it it puts you in a meditative state where you can access the thoughts in the back of your mind.
What do you think of Columns (by Sega)? Do you remember, back at the time of the Game Gear, it had the ambition to become the new Tetris…?
It was pretty crappy. Although Dr. Mario was essentially the same game! Dr. Mario for some reason was 100 times more fun!
My girlfriend humilates me at Tetris, she’s no match, with puzzle games in general (like Puzzle Bubble), she’s from another league and I suffer for that, because I crave to become The Wizard of my own house… Was your granma good at Tetris? (You mention her in the book’s credits)
Yes! My nana was pretty good at Gameboy Tetris. She used to play with one hand at first and it was very cute and funny.
Please, tell out far away Italian readers what is Retrofit Comics and how it work.
Retrofit Comics is my publishing company! So far we have put out 60 titles! WE just finished a kickstarter for our latest season. These are usually shorter stories by comic artists from all over (mostly the US).
How does it feel to be a cool comic artist in America? Do you get invited at super cool exclusive parties where cool bands play? Or do you just pass your days filling paper with small triangles and little man spitting bubbles full of words?
99% of the time you are hanging out alone all day and once in a while you go for a walk to get coffee. Once in a while you get to fly to a city and sign books then you always have to come back to drawing by yourself. I’m about to go to Toronto right now! Every once in a while I get to do a poster for a cool event and get to go to the event. Last year I did a poster for The Mountain Goats and we got to go to the show and backstage. That was really fun!