By SHAWN MACOMBER
Culture is like water flowing down a mountain: It finds a way to where it needs to be.
Which is to say, though Jussi Piironen grew up in a small Finnish town of around 7000 residents, he could nevertheless find a slew of Marvel, DC and Image comics in his native language at the local supermarket as well as Bande Dessinées (i.e., legendary Franco-Belgian comics) at the library. “Quite early on I started making my own comics, printing them and selling the magazines to my friends and family,” Piironen tells RUE MORGUE. “Even as a kid, I took making comics quite seriously, spending evenings and summer holidays getting the next issue ready.”
But it was not his only love.
“When I took the train to the big city nearby there were second-hand bookstores that carried Fangoria and Gorezone along with comics from smaller publishers,” he says. “I had discovered import horror movies a bit earlier, and that was a time I was a full-on gorehound. The bloodier, the better! Nothing was good without gallons of blood!”
These two loves come together spectacularly with the release of his wild and vital graphic novel interpretation of genre fiction legend Joe R. Lansdale’s Hap and Leonard tale MUCHO MOJO, aptly summed up in press materials as an “incredible, mad-dash thriller, loaded with crack addicts, a serial killer, and a body count.”
Piironen recently spoke to RUE MORGUE about his gorehound youth, inspirations and working relationship with the man who gave us Bubba Ho-Tep, Incident on and Off a Mountain Road and other classics.
Can you tell me a little bit about how you first encountered Lansdale’s work?
Discovering Joe R. Lansdale’s work came at the same time as my DYI comics in the mid and late ’90s. There were some short stories published in horror anthologies, and I instantly fell in love with them: They were scary, extremely bloody and very well written. The first comic I read from Lansdale was the horror Western Jonah Hex: Two-Gun Mojo, a collaboration with the great Timothy Truman. It was part of the line they published in Finnish along with Lobo, and the new coming of Batman as his own magazine had canceled a few years earlier.
In the summer of 1997, my friend and I bicycled to the local kiosk and both bought the paperback version of MUCHO MOJO. Both of us read it in a couple of days and couldn´t stop talking about it. The impact of the novel was so strong. I guess we kinda mirrored the friendship of the boys to ours. We are still best friends, and we still love the characters.
I immediately ordered Savage Season from the mail order company, and after MUCHO MOJO, they published a lot of Hap and Leonard in Finland.
How did you become professionally involved with him?
I was illustrating another horror comic for the Hap and Leonard graphic novel series’ previous publisher and found out that there was a limited edition of Lansdale’s The Ticket coming out from them. After a couple of wild twists and turns, I was adapting and illustrating the entire line of Hap and Leonard books into the graphic novel form.
What are some of the joys and challenges of bringing the Hap and Leonard characters to life?
Hap and Leonard have a lot of hardcore fans out there, so I felt tremendous pressure to make everything right for them. The timing couldn’t be better, there was the TV show coming up, and Sundance TV even used my illustrations for the first graphic novel, Savage Season, to promote the show. Talk about a strong start and massive promotion for the comic!
As a collaborator, what would people be surprised to learn about Lansdale?
Mr. Lansdale is a very kind and sharp man … but you already knew that. Just a great author to work with.
Has working creatively in the Lansdale universe changed the way you approach your personal work?
When starting MUCHO MOJO, I changed my style back towards the style I had a decade ago when I didn’t color my own stuff. I mainly focused on the black and white stuff then, and the artwork was packed with details and crazy textures I did inking with [my] fingertips and splashing ink with a dry brush.
So I tightened my art and added a lot of details in the coloring state also. I don’t use assistants … so MUCHO MOJO was a gigantic task to illustrate with all of the details. I really pushed myself to the extremes … especially in the fight scenes. [Every] idea I had, Joe approved, and you can find it in the graphic novel.