Terry Bisson’s recent Tor.com story, “TVA Baby,” didn’t seem to want to be illustrated literally. After thinking about it for a while, I asked Rick Berry to work on it. I thought his strong use of line mixed with expressive brush strokes could do the job of depicted a serial killer as a man that couldn’t quiet contain himself. Rick took the project on, expressed a great admiration for the story, and took the illustration in a direction I never expected—a baby with a TV remote in one hand and a gun in the other.
When you first read the story, are you already thinking in terms of imagery, or do you try to read it through as casual reader would first?
In this case, I definitely wished to have the story “talk” to me first. With a novel it’s often more practical to have a synopsis and discussions with the art director. The advantage with a short story is that it does its magic in a shot; best just to let it mess you around a bit and then work it out.
Did other images enter your thoughts or did you latch on to the baby pretty quickly?
There were numerous flickering frames of arresting images, some quite spectacular but after a time you wind up on the hunt for something essential; for that you’d better really get the point of the story.
How do you feel the baby represents the story?
Bisson tells you right at the outset what the story really involves. It’s like hiding something in plain sight; I liked that very much. After I got past the almost comic book glitter of the raked action I had to settle down and really think. Bisson throws a cartoonish surface tension across the piece; stopped there, you would have mistaken the clue for the meaning.
Over and over the killer tells you he’s a “baby” and this is how he knows he’s right about everything. As a definition for a sociopath, someone stuck in their “infantile omnipotence” phase of development, but here you have an adult body still viewing all situations only in terms of whether or not they please; that’s a pretty good idea for monster.
I was taken with the wit and intelligence used to make the cartoon thinness of this killer’s world—and how Bisson used this world not only as a clue to the monster’s make-up but also to wrong-foot the reader. When you hit the surreal strangeness of the standoff in the Walmart, all the TVs flickering within the consciousness of murderer, you feel the world begin to tilt. A wonderful bit of writing. I’m minded of that bit where Nietzsche says that if you peer into the abyss, rest assured the Abyss is peering back at you.
Here’s our Baby, totally confident in the Abyss, conversing with it in fact. He says, “Move over.”
What are you working on now?
Several things: A number of paintings for OperaBoston; a project derived from a conversation with the opera regarding my love of all the great “venue” art of the past, i.e. Lautrec’s Moulin Rouge lithos, Bakst’s posters for the Ballets Russes.
Also a poster with Phil Hale for the international media festival in Lucca, Italy this year. This is part of the gig insofar as Hale and I are the invited artists this year; god knows what kind of mess we’ll make when we get there.
I’ve received a writer’s grant to complete a graphic novel. Quite exciting really.
A solo gallery show in Boston this summer.
...and doing an art demo at San Diego Con in July.