Salon de Voltaire: An Intimate Dialogue
Every era produces a personality that best typifies its zeitgeist. The Voltaire of "The Age of Enlightenment" was one such personality. He is regarded as one of France's greatest writers and philosophers. He was highly regarded by the idle rich, for his cleverness and rapier wit. That isn't to say that he escaped reckoning for his impudence. "He was a poet after all, and poets were meant to be beaten". It was amusing for an injured nobleman to see the object of his injury humiliated as well.
The age we live in has produced a man of
no less import. His name aptly enough, is Voltaire as well.
The arena's in which he exercises his gifts are stop-motion animation,
music, and comic books. Those qualities that made the Voltaire
of yore a hotly courted presence at every get together, are present in
the Voltaire of today. He is a man of unusual charm, and wit.
Well, good evening Voltaire what an unsurpassed delight to cross blades with you once again. Please feel free to express yourself freely here. The content of your responses will be presented in full, we live in a free society after all...
In your own words, please tell me how you came to choose your moniker Voltaire. What significance did the man, or his ideas have for you, so much so that you would appropriate his name? Let me note, that you've acquitted yourself admirably in its use.
V: Nope! I shall tell you no such thing! Every body should have their mysteries. This one will be mine. I will tell you this though, Voltaire (the dead one! as opposed to the Undead one!) was one of the greatest minds and personalities of the last thousand years. Not because he had so much informational knowledge, which he did, but because he saw through the hypocrisies of humanity and commented on them through satire. In essence, he was able to educate people about the world around them by making them laugh.
I imagine you are a man of liberal education. In your estimation, is formal or informal education of more use to the artist? Do you think that the strictures of a formal education, can impede and/or cloud the development of ones creative force?
V: You imagine incorrectly. I never went to college. I graduated High School as a Junior so I never had to do my fourth year. Not that I'm so damn smart mind you, but because my desire to get the hell out of school and away from all of these loathsome people that I was forced to spend my days with was a GREAT motivational force. I think that schooling is important for some. I mean let's face it, do you want to be on an operating table and hear the surgeon say, "I've never done this before but uh, that organ is a pretty color. Let's start with that one!" However, some of us are better off without schooling. I teach film at a university here in Manhattan. I tell my students that it's good that they are in school because they have access to all of this film equipment. But at the end of the day, you don't need to go to school to be an artist. You either have it or you don't.
Can you give me
some sense of why you were drawn to stop-motion animation as an art form?
Is it the focus of your animation endeavors, or are there other disciplines
within the field of animation that interest you? If so, what are
they and why are they of interest?
I really love the whole process of stop-motion. Unlike computer animation, stop-motion requires that you make an actual model and I really enjoy that. I've always been big on action figures so in essence, I get to make all of these cool toys. And after the commercials or films are done, I keep the models and display them in cases. My apartment is full of monsters! It's really nice to look around and see all of these creatures that I've animated.
I understand you've originated a couple of comic books Chi-Chian, and Oh My Goth. By what avenue did you arrive at comic books as a means of personal expression? How has this form of art fulfilled your need for expression? How has it been received thus far? What kind of following does it have nationally and internationally?
V: Okay this is the part where I get myself shot! I have to admit that I never read comic books as a child. I really preferred watching movies and so I got into animation.
Eventually, her story had grown into this HUGE saga! I knew everything there was to know about her world, her history, her parent's history and so on. It was time to get the project in motion. However, at the time I was sort of at a loss as to where I was going to find the 14 million dollars necessary to make this film! That's when it occurred to me that I could tell her story in comic book form. It would require no initial investment and I could do all of the work myself. I started going to Yaffa cafe in NY every night at midnight and drawing what would become the first issue of the Chi-Chian comic book series. It took me about 6 months to draw the first book! As I mentioned, I had never read comic books so I REALLY had no idea what I was doing! After the book was done, I took it to The Sci Fi Channel. I was directing station IDs for them at the time and pitched the idea of creating a station ID for them with the Chi-Chian character. They liked the designs and commissioned me to create a 10 second ID. In the piece, a stop-motion Chi-Chian electrocutes (ever so coyly!) a giant robot with several thousand volts of electricity. With the Chi-Chian spot running on Sci Fi, I sent the prototype of the Chi-Chian comic book to Sirius Entertainment and they happily agreed to publish it. They commissioned me to create a 6 issue series. I was really happy with the way the book came out and how the story developed but was majorly disappointed by the way it was received. It simply didn't do as well as I wanted it to. I attribute the lack of sales to 2 things: first of all, there was really very little if any promotion and advertising so most people never even found out it existed! secondly: she doesn't have big tits and she doesn't kick guys in the nads! (a popular trend in comic books these days that feature a female lead character)
Luckily for me, I received an email from the Sci-Fi Channel's website a few months ago. They remembered the station ID that I did for them 3 years ago and asked me if I would be interested in creating an animated Chi-Chian series for their website!!! So now I'm in production of a 14 episode animated series! The trailer for the series launches on Halloween at http://www.scifi.com/chichian/ and it's like NOTHING you've ever seen on the net! It's the very first stop-motion series created in FLASH. Instead of drawing all of the images, I actually make models, photograph them, scan them into the computer then have them animated in FLASH. The series is completely photographic. Imagine Tim Burton getting together with Ray Harryhausen and H R Giger to make a Japanese Anime and that will give you an idea of what this thing looks like!
It's really exciting and sort of ironic. 11 years after the creation of Chi-Chian, she is finally an animated project as I had originally intended.
I started creating little religious scriptures of my own called Oh My Goth! In these 8 page booklets, I would be chased by the minions of Satan as they tried to prevent me from playing another show and somehow by the end it would end up with the information for my next show. I would draw them in a night and then spend hours and hours at Kinkos copying, folding, stapling and hand writing addresses on them. I must have made thousands of them! My goal was to provide people with five minutes of free entertainment. Whether or not they came to the show, they would at least be laughing for a couple of minutes. I would also hand them out at Goth clubs and let me tell you, it was pretty funny to see a hundred kids sitting on the floor in the dark reading these things and trying not to laugh out loud (wouldn't want to let your friends see you smile, now would you?!) OMG! took on a life of its own. People would come up to me on the street and ask me when the next issue was coming out.
So, two issues into the Chi-Chian series, I somehow convinced the folks at Sirius to publish an Oh My Goth! series. I was drawing issues of OMG! in-between creating issues of Chi-Chian. It was SHEER MADNESS!!!!! I practically lived at YAFFA cafe. Surprisingly, the Oh My Goth! series really took off and did better than the Chi-Chian series. I created 4 issues which were later compiled into a graphic novel and I am now working on the 3rd issue of Oh My Goth! Humans Suck! (the second OMG! series)
Having probed your interests in animation and comic books, let me ask about the music. Why music? I've heard Devil's Bris and now Almost Human. I've seen the live show, and I am amazed with the alacrity with which your music moves. It's very singular in my listening experience. Tell me, what does music mean to you? Who do you enjoy now and in the past, for what reasons? What styles have influenced your music? Unwind here, tell me about your thoughts and feelings as regard the direction your music is taking, and where music is at this point in time in it's development.
V: Alacrity? What the hell's that?!!! I didn't go to school, remember?
I had a band in junior high school called First Degree. We played covers of Rush, Judas Priest, The Kinks, etc... basically, what ever we thought was cool. We probably sucked something awful! But if we did, we didn't know it.
I never stopped writing and playing music.
I just did it at home for my own enjoyment. Then one day I was invited
by a friend of mine to see a "solo, acoustic, Goth performance" he had
booked for a local club. I was like, "Sole, Acoustic, Goth? Is that possible?
Where's the drum machine? Where are the electric guitars?" After the show
my friend asked me what I thought and I told him that I thought it sucked!
I said, "I put on a better show every night in my living room!" He called
me on it saying, "Okay, well then you're doing your show here at the club
next Sunday." I was like. "DOH!" And so I played my first show in
March of 1995. I had so much fun that I just kept on doing it! (Animation
is a slow and painstaking process that takes days and days of me working
by myself to create a few mere seconds of moving images. Playing live shows
is completely different. You get an immediate response from the audience
and I LOVE THAT!)
I eventually formed a band comprised of violin, cello and drums with me singing and playing acoustic guitar. Within a year of our first show as a band, we were signed by Projekt. We put out our first CD in June of 1998 called The Devil's Bris.
Two years later (August 2000) we released
our second CD, Almost Human. (Hey wait a minute! If my comic book
is called Humans Suck and my CD is called Almost Human, does that
mean that my CD Almost Sucks?!! SHIT!)
That's why I've decided that my next CD
will be all Gangsta Goth tracks.
You make your home in New York. Why New York? Where were you born? If the choice was yours, where would you call home? Why? I understand you travel a great deal. Where have you been? In terms of the goth "community" how do goths compare with their counterparts from one state to another, or country by country? In your estimation, where does the healthiest "scene" exist, all finery and attitude aside?
V: I was born in Cuba, had the misfortune
of growing up in New Jersey (hey, it's really tough being a freak in NJ)
and now I live in NEW YORK FUCKIN CITY !!!!! As far as I'm concerned, NY
is the center of the world! This city has such a great energy, especially
for a nocturnal soul such as myself. There is something to do 24 hours
a day. I am a total workaholic and this city is really conducive to working
ALL of the time if that's what you want to do.
Anyway, after you've been here for a few
years, you get use to the pace of things and things don't seem so other
If you are a type "A" personality, NY is the place for you. But be warned, if you get use to NY you will never be able to live anywhere else. I've been around the world and Tokyo is the only other place I could live. They are just as psychotic as New Yorkers. They work 20 hours a day there. I love it!
The hi-jinks provided in an election year, must afford you many opportunities for mirth. Please describe an animated scenario as it applies to those vying for the office of president.
V: Oh God, I don't know. I hate politics. Politicians are like Goth scene promoters. The only people who would want the job are power hungry morons that have no discernible skill other than talking a lot of shit! I don't trust anyone who wants that kind of power. Or fame for that matter. There is NO good reason to WANT to be be famous! Fame is a terrible thing. It limits you. You can't go anywhere, you can't just relax and be yourself in public and people who have never ever met you think they are your best friend. (I know this for a fact because I'm convinced that Bjork is talking directly to me and sending me secret messages in her songs! ; )
Success is a different thing. Having the financial freedom to do what you want to do is very liberating. God knows I don't want to do anything because I HAVE to!
Please tell me
about your impressions of Convergence6. How do you think it compared
with Convergence past, and other such gatherings of gothic folk?
What were the highlights for you? What did you think of Seattle,
had you seen the northwest before? I understand New York won the
bid for Convergence7. What are your feelings on that? To what
extent will you be involved in your own city's plans?
It was just so damn fun and I met a lot of really great people. The club we played at (The Show Box) was amazing! (Great sound! Two thousand enthusiastic people in the audience, sharing a stage with Peter Murphy, etc! What more could you want?)
Seattle was a trip! I had no idea that we were so popular there. I heard my songs in every club I went to. You know, they say a prophet is never appreciated in his own land... ; ) I was convinced that my songs were a dance floor killer! Here in NY, people will be jumping up and down to Ramstein and one of my gay assed waltzes or tangos will come on it's like... "time to go get a drink, honey!" In Seattle I was really thrilled to see people enthusiastically swaying about to "When You're Evil" like a bunch of drunken, gypsy pirates! (as it should be!) I felt really at home there.
As far as C7 is concerned, I couldn't really tell you much about it. I haven't been approached by the organizers and unless a ton of people come from way out of town, most of the people here have seen me play a bunch of times. I LOVE LOVE LOVE playing in NY. The crowds are really good to us here. But playing out of state gives us the opportunity to bring our show to people who have never seen us before. And that's a very good thing.
For curiousity's sake, I have to ask about your involvement in the goth community. Where were you, and how old were you when you first heard BauHaus ? What is your connection to, and affinity for gothic folk? I also believe you're providing a valuable service in skewering their pretensions in song and comics. Kudos.
V: When I was seventeen, I was a stone
cold Duranie! I wanted soooooo desperately to be the sixth member of
I understand you have a new project in development with the Sci-Fi Channel. Would you be willing to share the details of this new venture with me? I'd also be interested in hearing about the Oh My Goth graphic novel, if you'd care to share?
V: As I've mentioned, I am in production of a 14 episode animated series based on my first comic book Chi-Chian. This is the most exciting thing that has ever happened in my career! I LOVE Chi-Chian! She is a character that is very close to my heart. She is an innocent young woman, very pure of heart, living in a dark, future New York (after the New York/ New Jersey War!) who struggles to hold onto her purity while being surrounded by evil, ignorant people. It is such a pleasure for me to be able to bring a character that Goths can identify with to a mainstream audience. I hope that it can in some way expose "normal" people to the Goth esthetic and mentality in a positive way. Unfortunately, Goths are rarely seen in the mass media and when they are they are usually portrayed as evil, goat killing, Satan worshiping, chicken sucking freaks ( I for one, haven't killed a goat or sucked on a dead chicken in weeks!). And as far as the Goth audience is concerned, outside of Tim Burton's films, there is so little for us to look at that out there. There is a huge deficit in quality Goth entertainment! (how many grave rubbings can you do before you just want to fuckin chop your head off?!) Now because of the photographic nature of the series, file sizes are going to be unusually large, so please be patient with me and I promise to do the very best job I can to make the longish download time worth the wait!
Tell me about a day in the life of Voltaire. How do you spend your day? What are your passions and causes? Do you volunteer time, or money to...oh, soup kitchens, the forgotten children's fund, or subversive political organizations?
V: Yes, I am presently collecting money for the Voltaire needs a vacation fund! I'm sorry to say that I am an incredibly self centered person whose constant obsession is creating comic books, music and animation (and undoubtedly a host of other projects that I have yet to get to) There aren't enough hours in the day to make all of these projects come to life. So I chose the ones that I can get done and bust my butt about 20 hours a day to make them happen. I really am truly an obsessive workaholic.
My cause is (above and beyond just exercising my creative demons) educating people about the horrors of the human species and the terrible things we do to each other. I hope that through entertainment (and humor) I can in some way change the way people behave towards one another and help them to stop being such DICKS! to those of us who are different and don't quite fit in to the mainstream's perception of what is "normal". I also strive to reach out to people who don't quite fit in if just to tell them that they are not alone and that they are right in believing that the way the world mistreats them is WRONG!
At the moment, my daily schedule goes as follows:
11:00am My interns show up at my place and we begin work on the Chi-Chian series We make rubber animation models, photograph them, scan them into the computer, do Photoshop work on the files, I draw storyboards for the episodes, direct the animation, spend time on the phone with the marketing, publicity and e-commerce departments and engage in the day to day administrative duties of directing and overseeing the production
7:30 pm Interns go home. I keep working on-line with the animators. In-between downloads, I work on writing songs for the next CD. I book shows, answer emails, book convention appearances and do these ANNOYING INTERVIEWS!!! ; )
12:00 am I go to Yaffa cafe and work on Oh My Goth! Humans Suck. I know it's weird that I draw in a cafe but I need the loud music and non stop coffee to keep me stimulated (not to mention awake).
7:00 am Go home, go to sleep
11:00 am It all starts all over again!
My one great, totally recreational activity is wandering aimlessly around Manhattan (and occasionally picking up an action figure.)
I understand you're a father, and husband? Tell me about the ways in which these roles complement your life and art? How old is your son now? What kind of hopes do you have for the future he'll live in? Make three predictions about the near future.
V: Being a father kicks ass! I happen to be blessed with a son, Mars (2 and a half), who has a GREAT personality and a wonderful, usually happy temperament. Also, I can use him as an excuse to buy more action figures! The one down side of father hood and being a husband is that I have to try to be conscious of the time that THEY require of me. I can get very carried away with my projects and forget that I need to be around for them even if it's just to BE there. It took a little bit of time to get use to, but now I insist that we all take the time to have dinner together and spend a couple of hours afterwards just being together. I also really enjoy putting Mars to bed. It's a nice, quiet time. We lay in bed and read books. (mostly Halloween books! hee hee)
I hope to instill in my son a sense that he can do whatever he wants to do in his life. We've traveled quite a bit. He just got back from Singapore, Hong Kong and Thailand with his mother. I want him to know that this is a huge world with many different cultures and perspectives. I'm sure that he will grow up to have a very broad outlook on life.
Three predictions for the near future:
Honorable Mention: London After Midnight will not win a Grammy.
What are your plans for Halloween? What do you have planned for New Year Eve? What kind of projects are you involved with at present and upcoming? Please feel free, to take this time to share anything you'd like to on a personal level.
V: The Sci Fi Channel is doing a simulcast of the Halloween parade from NY and they have commissioned a costume designer to create a Chi-Chian costume. So there will be some hot Asian model dragging a huge worm down sixth avenue. I don't think I want to miss that! No plans for New Year's as of yet. We're suppose to go to some crazy Caribbean island for a friend's wedding around Christmas so there is talk of staying down there for New Year's Eve.
New projects: Besides all of the wacky shit I've already mentioned, I have created a short film for the Cartoon Network's website (www.cartoonnetwork.com) called Vampires From Outer Space that is loosely based on Oh My Goth! That should be on line around Halloween.
On a personal note, I read every email I get. I try to respond to every single one. And I am not wearing pants right now.
Thank you for the opportunity to do this interview with you! I hope I haven't been too long winded! I hope to see you again soon!
It was a pleasure
to have this opportunity, I'd like to thank Voltaire and Projekt
Records. It was a privilege to dialogue with you once again, compadre.
I appreciate the Candide(ness) of your responses. I wish you every
success in the future, and hey, don't be a stranger...*
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