Interview: Curt Pires on 'Memoria'
We chat with the scribe about his new thriller and how he manages his influences so they don't take over his narrative.
What's that line from Seven? The one where Morgan Freeman's Detective Somerset quotes Ernest Hemingway, "The world is a fine place and worth fighting for. I agree with the second part." Curt Pires' new comic, Memoria, lives somewhere within those words. It's the saga of two police detectives stumbling into a particularly nasty case only to discover how its violence spreads into everything and everyone around us.
Memoria beats with a black heart, the thump echoing a bubbling nihilism within our society. Curt Pires grabs hold of the detective genre and wrings it dry. He's influenced by brilliant cinematic and prestige TV creators, cats like David Fincher, David Milch, and Michael Mann. He sees what they're doing in their medium, and he's jealous. He wants for comics what they have for their art form. But there's also something more at play than simple elevation.
Memoria is out now from ComiXology. Illustrated by Sunando C, colored by Mark Dale, and lettered by Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou, the comic seemingly leaves a residue of filth on your fingertips. This book is dirty, and that's the best possible compliment for an icky little treasure like this one. You can't put it down, but if you do, you'll want to wash your hands afterward.
Pires swims in the muck of his influences, but he does not want to be a slave to those influences either. Chatting via Zencastr, we delve into the movies and films that hover over Memoria. We discuss how he took his desire to deliver a prestige procedural in comic form and how operating within this format and narrative affected his personality. And at some point, yeah, Alan Moore's From Hell comes up. In this headspace, Spring-Heeled Jack creeps in the shadows.
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Brad: I've read several interviews with you regarding Memoria, and in most of them, you mention True Detective and Michael Mann, and David Fincher's Zodiac as influences upon the work. Like you, I love all those things. And in one of those interviews, you also mentioned how you never want your product, your story, to be trapped by those influences. Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Curt: Just because you're influenced by something cool does not automatically make what you're creating worthwhile. I think there's this tendency for creatives to fetishize their influences. They think it immediately makes it interesting. I'm just like, "Well, it's great that you like those books or movies, but like, what are you adding to the conversation?" So, that's my goal with anything. To make sure my stories push things forward and not just contribute to the noise.
Brad: Yeah, what I appreciated about Memoria was that when we enter the story and the investigation, we see that something wild and horrendous is occurring with these deaths. They are catastrophic, and the history behind these deaths and who the killer possibly is stretches way back. But the closer we come to an answer, the evil reveals itself as a rather ordinary evil.
Curt: Yeah, one of the things that were interesting about the story to me, and sort of the direction we went in, was showcasing how evil people hide inside of institutions. Institutions that govern our world are really rotten from the inside. Logging on Twitter or following the news every day, you see how governments around the world fail to protect their people or act in their interests. It's one crisis to the next, and you just realize that all the money's dirty. All the governments are corrupt, and it's the stage for this type of story. We tell explore where these predators hide inside these institutions and use it to shield themselves.
Brad: Right, so, when I'm reading your book, I sense the same anxiety and disappointment that I have when I observe these evils in the world. But I wonder, in creating Memoria, is it an exorcism that you're committing, or are you just leaning and falling deeper into this despairing narrative, which is the narrative that you and I, and the rest of the world are trapped inside.
Curt: Well, I think the story uses that as a backdrop and a space to play. I think it doesn't particularly strike an optimistic note, and not to give too many spoilers, but I think we see a few characters who are victims of these systems and can't escape it. I don't think there's really a catharsis to be had because we're still trapped in the cogs of these machines. What I find interesting in Memoria, and in my own life, is just what happens when I refuse to play by other people's rules. You say fuck it and fuck your system and just do it my own way. Just as my two detectives do that to varying degrees of effectiveness. That's a particular element I relate to. When they're just like, "Okay, everything is drawn, and I'm just gonna burn it down and do it my own way. If you die doing it, you die doing it.
Brad: Yeah, unapologetic resistance is something that I respond to more today than I ever did in the past and I see that in your two detectives. They are two very flawed human beings, but there is a point where they can't back down. They have to stand as they are in front of this evil. There's no choice for them. There is something honorable about that. Something that you would like to see elsewhere.
Curt: Yeah. An interesting comment that another journalist made - David [Brooke at AIPT] - he remarked on how they're sort of cowboys and I think I agree with that.
Brad: Right. Totally.
Curt: That mentality I admire, even though obviously there are problem areas with those sorts of narratives. They are not exactly the most rational or enlightened but there's something poignant about that cowboy archetype.
Brad: Well, I wonder, for you, does living in this world affect you, or are you affecting the world? Are you in control or is the story in control?
Curt: I think it's a mix of both. I think as ideas come to you, you don't really know where they come from or why they come to you? Our brains are basically like computers. If you take in enough media, and you engage with enough narrative, you start to think about things on a higher level and I think that's basically my superpower or what makes me so good at what I do. I take all the information I put in and I try and think of new ways to approach these stories and new vectors from which we can attack maybe stale narratives. It's a reinvention of tropes and stories. It resonates because of how it taps into generalized anxiety. Everyone's feeling it. As we said, the institutional corruption, and the fall of the American empire post 9/11.
Brad: So, for you, when you're absorbing the things that influence you - the books, the comics, the movies - how do you find the hook, or the added insight, to make this comic something more?
Curt: For this one, what made me want to do it was my approach and execution. I wanted to bring a level of prestige drama to it. I don't think that gets done in comics, that TV prestige thing. I'm thinking of stuff like David Milch [Deadwood, NYPD Blue] or the first season of True Detective or Cormac McCarthy's stuff. All that rich, dense, poetic material that's also violent and grounded in the cowboy and mystery narrative. I want to bring that to comics in a way I don't think it's really been done. The only comic example of it I'd really cite would be From Hell. But that one is a bit more intellectual and fetishistic about its information. It's brilliant, but I don't think I really take that approach to my writing.
Brad: I always wondered if David Milch, when making Deadwood, if he ever had From Hell on his mind. There is some connective tissue between what Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell were doing there and what Milch was seeking in From Hell.
Curt: I wonder. I know Nic Pizzolatto, the True Detective creator is a big comic book guy, but I don't know about David Milch.
Brad: He doesn't seem like a comic book guy, but I so want him to be.
Curt: The thing about From Hell, and Alan Moore's work in general, is that the establishment recognized his comic books before the establishment recognized most comic books. So, I don't think it's that much of a stretch to imagine that David Milch, at some point in his career, as an academic, might have found a copy of From Hell. It's just a matter of, was there someone cool working on his staff, who sorta shelved it in his library. That's really interesting to think about.
Be sure to follow Curt Pires on Twitter and on Instagram. You can also keep track of what he's up to via his website. Most importantly, head on over to ComiXology, and read Memoria, out now.
And if you'd like to hear the rest of this conversation, please consider supporting our Patreon. The un-edited discussion is available at the $1 level.