We’ve been a long time fan of the Finnish comic book artist JP Ahonen. Mostly famous for his Belzebubs web series, he has other amazing works like ‘Sing No Evil’ (read our review of the graphic novel here). With his Belzebubs creation taking off even more with a recently released full-length album by the fictional band on Century Media Records and him dropping by for a visit at Tuska 2019, we couldn’t pass on the opportunity to have a short chat with the man behind these beloved characters…
GRIMM: Nice to see you again. How are you doing?
Good. Tired like you? But yeah, no worries. Like I’m in my work mode now so I’m getting hyper again.
GRIMM: You probably haven’t really been enjoying the festival much yet?
No not yet. Like I came straight for the interview at Solmusali and then I had a signing and now I’m here so haven’t seen anything yet a bit of Lost Society… 10 minutes
GRIMM: Any plans to see something today?
I’d like to see Heilung, Opeth and Slayer at least. Stam1na was when I was signing. So unfortunately I couldn’t see it.
GRIMM: But luckily, Stam1na you can catch quite often in Finland…
Yeah (laughs) Yeah, there might be other chances.
GRIMM: Because you mentioned Heilung, what attracts you to those guys?
I’d like to see the live show and how it looks because there’s a strong atmosphere and everything so, nice mystique, in a way. So yeah, I’d like to see that. Like, I bumped into them, like ages ago on Bandcamp or something like this. I was like, this looks really, really interesting. And now it’s like everywhere. It’s great.
GRIMM: Someone on my team was wondering, you’ve been signing at a lot of comic book festivals. But now you’re signing at a metal festival. Are you experiencing that different?
It’s, it feels like, I feel like a phony when I’m here, you know. It’s like, but I’m just a geek, like, I have these comic books. And then you have like, folks from Stam1na or Slayer or whomever, like signing records and stuff something and then I’d be like, like, a wannabe like, yeah, I’m here with my comic book. But it’s, it’s all good, like, people are, are pretty much the same. And everything. So it’s… people are cool.
GRIMM: When you started Belzebubs, did you ever expect it to go like this far?
No (laughs) no, I thought that I will keep on going like, as long as I have ideas or like have the time for it. Luckily, I had like 40 week buffer at first, because I had done the material ready for the mini comic. So I just like scheduled them on Facebook, and then it just rolled on its own basically. Each Friday, I’d just check in that “Okay, it’s been published, everything works”, and then answer to some of the comments and all that. And then suddenly, like, once a week, it went crazy. So yeah, that was pretty overwhelming in itself. And, yeah, it’s been interesting. And super fun. And in a weird way, it’s been in the works for 20 years, because when I was 16, or something, I had this idea of combining comics and metal somehow. But that didn’t really work out back then. And then when Perkeros (in English: Sing No Evil) came out, I hope that maybe that could be the project that picks up in a way that I can get, like proper music and an animated music video or something, but that sort of faded. So once again, I just like buried this whole concept and idea.
And then all of a sudden, like this picks up so that I have this traction and like the necessary contacts and everything like that. So it’s great and in a weird way, it was when I started doing the comics online, I of course wanted to play around with the medium and include, like sound and loose animations and stuff. But at first I was aiming for maybe just like 20 second clips or something like that. That you’d first somehow base it in the first two panels, like, “yeah, we just came from a video shoot, and then didn’t go well”. And then in the third panel, when you like a swipe in Instagram, you’d have like this scene from the music video and just like a snippet of music, and then another panel in the end.
And I, yeah, I thought that I’d make that on my own. But luckily, some musician friends, pitched in and asked if I had similar plans. And I’m like, yeah, this is, this is my idea, but I don’t have time for it. So there were, yeah, there were two of us. At first, I was like, fooling around with something. But luckily, my friend, he prodded me, like, a bit and said that, yeah, do you think we’re thinking too small? Maybe we should, like, make a proper song. Or maybe a few, have a demo approach with it somewhere. And I was like, “Look, I know you’re busy. I don’t want to, like, intrude in your stuff”. And yeah, in a weird way, it was already in the works when the comic really started taking off. So it’s like, “Okay, well, maybe we should really like, not, well, postpone it too much. Like, “we’ll do the demo when we have time” and stuff. We sort of made it a priority at that time. Okay, well, maybe there’s something there, we need to like, see if it picks up. And now it’s in this phase.
GRIMM: How much fun was it to do those animations, those video clips?
It was pretty neat. Since I did basically the key frames and like visuals for the whole thing. And then, send that over to Pyjama Films in Turku, and they did the tweening and made them actually move and stuff. So each time they sent me some, like tests and short snippets of “Yeah, this is what we did today”. It was like, Christmas, you know, “now it’s moving like, this is amazing and stuff”. But yeah, it was a lot of hard work, because I was working for months. And I did everything pro bono so that we could actually pay Pyjama Films. I’m not a very good businessman.
GRIMM: You’ve done now quite a few interviews in name of the band. How much fun are those still?
Depends on the questions, of course. Yes, some are, euhm, the questions are usually pretty much the same. So I’d hate to just hit copy paste on each. So I always try and script write something new and either shift the characters like okay, now this and this is answering and stuff like that. So I try and make it interesting still, and incorporate some of the like, actual character there as well. So it’s becoming a little challenging when when you have the same questions, but when there’s something a bit different then it gives you more more freedom and chances to play around.
GRIMM: Coming back to mentioning Perkeros. Is that like, completely buried? Or are you going to possibly do something like that?
Let’s see. Especially now that I’m absolutely swamped with work and I still have like, tons of things I need to do and want to do with Belzebubs. It would feel a bit weird to just like, “I’m gonna take this other thing now”. Yeah, I’d like to do the sequel or sequels to somehow get closure for the story, but yeah, it’s once again a bit difficult when you know that you’d be swamped with that project for two years, and you don’t have any income. So yeah. Unless I become like a millionaire with Belzebubs, then I might have like, the chance to, okay, now I can do this. And I will be like, financially secure. But yeah, it’s it’s always a juggle, like even even now with Belzebubs, there are so many things I need to do, and I don’t have anything to invoice. So I’m really in a pickle. And I think people don’t realize it. From the outside, it might look like he’s got it made now like he has like a quarter of a million Facebook people. He has an album and several like language editions of the book and blah, blah, blah, and a big label and stuff. And I’ve never been so poor in my life. So it’s a, it is a gamble. And it’s, it’s sort of… I want to keep on pushing it as long as I can and see if there’s actually like, becomes something worthwhile that myself and hopefully, like, the people who are in the band also get something worthwhile from it. But yeah, who knows, it’s up to the fan base, I guess.
GRIMM: So… people: buy!
Yes (laughs) buy it, everything… send money….
GRIMM: If money would be there and interest would be there. Would you ever like consider like a Gorillaz type of thing like that? Doing gigs with the animations and stuff?
Yeah, so I’ve been toying around with that idea. For longer, obviously, but I’ve been doing research on how to pull the stage production together. Because we we’d need a lot of pre production, obviously, the animations and everything. So for the past months, I’ve been more stuck in emailing and research instead of drawing, because we need to have like a, quote, how much it cost before we can actually do something. But the good thing is that some festivals have already approached and there’s like, there’s a need or interest. So it’s possible, but of course it would sort of be a bit of a pancake if we just like, go as normal people we need to have the actual characters. And we don’t want to like put on this huge bobblehead or something. Like “where are the Belzebubs?” Oh, no.
GRIMM: In a way it would be funny, but yeah.
GRIMM: One more thing that I was wondering about, like Belzebubs is in that whole, kind of black metal thing and such. Have you ever gotten like very like negative responses of those like real black metal fans?
Surprisingly, yeah, surprisingly little. I think there has to be like a forum where they’re all writing about it. Talking shit about it, but I received surprisingly little. Yeah, everyone always asked if I I’ve gotten the shit from, like, musicians. No, no. Like, I know, Cradle of Filth, the guys and Lindsay, they are fans and some black metal bands in Finland.
GRIMM: I was guessing so since she was on the album…
Yeah, I hate it but I’ll do it… (laughs)
GRIMM: “It pays well”… Oh wait…
Like, hopefully people understand what we’re doing and okay, it might not be Trve Kvlt, in the sense that we’re recording in a cave somewhere in Bergen and like, I don’t know, make the make the CD booklet ourselves out of like, calfskin or whatever.
GRIMM: It was kind of interesting to see that the music itself was like, kind of very sort of serious in a way. That comedy element is totally not there, if you wouldn’t know the comic series. That funny side comes back in the music videos then again, though…
Yeah, but even with the music videos, I hope that there’s like a story arc in those, that eventually they’ll get it right. But the good parts will get longer I promise, so that eventually maybe one of the music videos will be like “we didn’t fuck up!”
GRIMM: Okay, thanks for the talk.
Thank you! See you around here!
GRIMM: I was gonna say “any last messages still” but I’m guessing it’s “Buy my stuff!”?
No, hail Satan!