Interview: Dirk Schwieger on “Moresukine”
Dirk Schwieger’s Moresukine is different from other series I’ve focused on in these weekly webcomic creator interviews for a few significant reasons — first and foremost of which being that it’s no longer updated. The last comic was posted more than two years ago, back in in June 2006. However, when I saw that the German creator was a guest of NBM Publishing at this year’s Comic-Con International, I jumped at the chance to include a Q&A with him in this series.
For anyone unfamiliar with Moresukine, the 24-part webcomic chronicled a year’s worth of "assignments" Schwieger undertook at the request of readers while living abroad in Japan. Fans would send him tasks to accomplish — anything from "meeting a traditional swordsmith" to "spending a night in a pod hotel" — and he would write, illustrate and post a new comic each week based on his experience trying to complete that mission. The aim of the project, according to Schwieger, was to make the most of his time in Japan by offering himself up as someone through which his readers could live vicariously. The title of the series, Moresukine, came from the Japanese pronunciation of "Moleskine," the type of notebook he used to record his experiences.
A few months ago, NBM Publishing announced that it would be collecting Schwieger’s online comic and publishing it in print form, complete with extra material contributed by webcomic veterans James Kochalka and Ryan North. Now that the paperback Moresukine collection has hit shelves, I spoke to Schwieger about the origin of the series, his favorite assignments and what we can expect to see from the talented creator in the future.
COMICMIX: Can you start from the beginning, Dirk? How did this project happen and what did you want it to be when you first conceived of it?
DIRK SCHWIEGER: Well, I was in Japan for one year. You could say that it was a travel-logue kind of thing, but the catch is that it’s not just about what I deem is important or what i want to tell, but people were invited to send in emails with requests of places that i should go to in Tokyo, where I lived, or certain people I should get in contact with. And I couldn’t refuse. I had to do all of the submissions in the order of their arrival.
It started very mundane. There is a webcomics portal in Germany, where I come from originally, and it’s called Electrocomics.com. I had some stuff up there and they said, "Oh, you’re going to Tokyo. Maybe you should do some sketches regularly." So they created this blog. I never had a blog before, and never intended to have one. I was kind of naive about the whole thing… but now I know. There are interesting blogs.
At that time, it was very important to me to get around the navel-gazing thing. This was one of the reasons to invite others and have this community effort of exploring the country — to have me sort of remote-controlled from outside the city.
CMIX: What were some of your favorite assignments?
DS: Oh, that’s so… hmm… there’s so many… that’s difficult.
CMIX: How about your least-favorite assignments?
DS: [Laughs] For the best one, the first thing that comes to mind is really Takao-san. It wasn’t really that hard to hop on a train and leave the inner city and just be in nature and enjoy it. There were other times when I had assignments saying "Okay, go find biker gangs." That takes so much more time. It took weeks, probably months, before I found them. I was out every day looking for them. They don’t just drive by your front door.
So yes, I think Takao-san was one of my favorites — having this nature experience in the middle of this huge, vast concrete desert was amazing. And it was kind of like taking a break from this strict weekly schedule that had to performed after my daily job, which was quite a challenge.
CMIX: Outside of what you learned from each assignment individually, what else did this project teach you?
DS: There was a lot, really. For one thing, I wasn’t a Japanese culture aficionado when I arrived there. I was pretty naive about the whole culture, but all of these people around the globe had such a detailed knowledge of certain places that i should go to, or certain people that i should check out. So just from a travel perspective, it was amazing for me to have all of these experiences that you will never find in a travel guide.
CMIX: You had quite a few personal travel guides, it seems…
DS: Yeah, I would never searched for a traditional swordsmith in the middle of Tokyo, but through the pressure of this project I was forced to find one. I was harassing people to tell me where the fuck I could find a Japanese swordsmith in all of this madness. And yes, I wouldn’t have had the energy to see all of these special places without this project.
CMIX: Can you tell me a bit about the extra material that will be in the print collection of Moresukine?
DS: I didn’t really add any new missions, which you might expect. But this is a Japanese thing, it’s the way things are done — to first do it online, and have all of this virtual communication, which very much happens in Japan. And the other thing is receiving an assignment and fulfilling it. By this structure, I tried to mirror something of Japanese society. Having come back to Europe, I couldn’t possibly continue with that, because I’m in Europe now, not in Japan. So in order to give people something more than what was on the Internet, there are 40 extra pages of me inviting other webcomics artists from around the globe, and the tables were turned. I gave them an assignment.
They had to agree before they knew what they were being asked to do, so some people didn’t want to do it, but the ones who were up to it are in there now. And I’m happy because it’s people like James Kochalka, for example, and Ryan [North] of Dinosaur Comics. What they didn’t know is that they all had the same mission: In their hometown, they had to find a Japanese person, have a conversation and document whatever happens.
CMIX: So, what’s next for you?
DS: The thing is, I’m not really the "travel guy." I don’t think I will end up doing 20 documentaries, but there is this one project I have to do.
I spent one year in Iceland, and I don’t know if you’re familiar with the popular belief there in something I would call "invisible humans," but it goes up to the official level of roads being built around the places where these people are supposed to live. These people, who are called "hidden people" in Icelandic, are pretty advanced in their technology. So they fly UFOs and they jump dimensions and they are really science-fiction people. They have this stealth technology, so they only show themselves to you if they decide to do so. I’m sitting on a treasure chest of about 60 interviews with eye witnesses, and I’m really looking forward to opening that chest.
It’s on the verge of truth and fiction and it tells you so much about the nature of perspective to have a rock-bottom documentary where I’m making up nothing. I have it all on tape, including the way they modulate their voices when they tell me about it. I want to go into extreme detail to depict the reality as it is in Iceland now. And these stories will read like fantasy and science-fiction, because it’s about people being affected by these "elves" as you could say.
CMIX: So I assume you’ll be writing and illustrating this project just as you have with past projects?
DS: Yes, I will be writing and drawing it. That’s the interesting thing, because when I see TV documentaries on this phenomenon — and there are quite a few — they can only show some fog or something to represent the invisible. But what I can do is show these hidden people just as realistic as I show the people who are telling the stories.
So I can make a point about truth. … I’m just really looking forward to making this documentary.
There are a lot of non-fiction comics around — like Joe Sacco’s stories, with comic characters telling you and showing you about the Serbs — or other books that tell you about this or that in reality. It’s an important thing for me to do as a form of journalism — to look at truth and fiction this way.
The collected paperback edition of Moresukine is available now from NBM Publishing. You can also read Dirk Schwieger’s Moresukine webcomic as it was originally presented on http://tokyoblog.livejournal.com/.
Want more interviews with webcomic creators? Check out my ComicMix Webcomic Interview Archive, and feel free to send your suggestions for interview subjects to: rick [at] comicmix [dot] com!