W. Maxwell Prince Murders Your Favorite Works of Art in The Electric Sublime

Comics Features W. Maxwell Prince
W. Maxwell Prince Murders Your Favorite Works of Art in The Electric Sublime

If you imagine the world just outside the frame of the Mona Lisa to be a peaceful renaissance setting, The Electric Sublime’s Arthur Brut sure has a surprise in store for you. Debuting next month from writer W. Maxwell Prince, artist Martín Morazzo and colorist Mat Lopes, The Electric Sublime follows Margot Breslin, newly anointed director of the Bureau of Artistic Integrity, a not-so-secret agency tasked with policing “art crime.” When famous works of art start ending up…different, she’s forced to call upon Arthur “Art” Brut, a special consultant whose relationship to the art world makes him an invaluable resource—and lands him in a mental institution.

TheElectricSublime_Issue001_cover.jpgPrince gave Paste an early look at the first three issues of the upcoming IDW series, packed with murderous Warhol idolaters, fine-art sacrilege and the most interesting wooden drawing model in the western canon. Check out the interview below to learn more about the head-tripping series’ take on the intersection of creativity and mental health, as well as a first look at Morazzo and Lopes’ interior art.


Paste: The Electric Sublime is all about art, so let’s start by talking about Martín Morazzo and Mat Lopes’ contributions to the book. Between the bizarre real-world crimes and the surreal dreamscapes “inside” these works of art, Morazzo is stretching a wide range of artistic muscles. How’d you connect and how has working together influenced your approach to The Electric Sublime?

W. Maxwell Prince: I had made a shortlist of a handful of artists that I considered to be very good, but for some reason weren’t currently doing published work. Martín was the first and only person to respond to my emails, and I think that was probably for the best. (I found out later he’s got some very specific family history that drew him to the pitch—the sort of stuff that makes him a natural at visualizing a world where art history and mental illness meet.) Mat was recommended to me by another colorist, and, as the story often goes, there’s really no other team that could have worked on this book.

Between Martín’s Quitely-meets-Crumb style, and Mat’s delicate treatment of Martín’s lines, we’ve wound up with something here that, to my mind, is the perfect execution of art-about-art.

As for my approach, I find myself now conceiving scenes in their precise tag-team delineation, which I think has freed me to write a lot more ambitiously; I know that whatever I scribble down, the two of them will knock it out of the park.

The Electric Sublime Interior Art by Martín Morazzo & Mat Lopes

Paste: In your announcement interview, you talked a bit about tackling the complex reality of mental health. Do you plan to explore the contrast between the manic Art Brut of the “real” world and the much more focused, capable Art Brut of the Electric Sublime? Is Brut’s mental state an inevitable consequence of breaching that divide?

Prince: That’s a good question, and you’re hitting it right on the head: every second Arthur spends in The Electric Sublime makes him more unfit to operate in the real world. One arm of the thesis of the book is that capital-A Art can act as a sort of salve to madness. It’s a therapy that so many people exercise. But for Arthur, it’s paradoxical: every second of his “therapy” just destroys his rational mind more and more. He has to jump into paintings, but it’s ruining him in the process.

Paste: Brut connects with the Electric Sublime via painting—will future issues or arcs reveal the worlds within other media?

Prince: Absolutely. The hope is to have Arthur contend with the magical worlds of not just painterly art, but also sculpture and music and the written word. Anything with a rich internal world and history is fair game.

Paste: What is Director Breslin’s personal connection to art? Her partner is a painter, but Breslin doesn’t strike me as the creative type herself. What led her to the B.A.I.?

Prince: For starters, her father, T. Holmes “Brez” Breslin, was a jazz musician, and good friends with Margot’s predecessor at the B.A.I. If we’re greenlit for an issue #5, you’ll get to meet Brez and learn about Margot’s relationship with him. And you’re right: Margot isn’t what we’d call a “creative type.” But this actually makes her uniquely fit to head an organization charged with maintaining Artistic Integrity—she’s got no emotional connection to the artistic world, no stake in it other than doing her job well. It gives her a clearness of mind that I think might not be possible if she, say, really loved the works of Da Vinci.

It’s interesting though: she’s utterly surrounded by and drawn to artists and musicians and expressive thinkers. There’s a reason for that. We’ll find out why eventually.

The Electric Sublime Interior Art by Martín Morazzo & Mat Lopes

Paste: The B.A.I. doesn’t seem to be a closely guarded secret in the museum world of The Electric Sublime. How aware is the general public of what Art Brut and other sensitives are capable of?

Prince: Much like the actual world of art, the B.A.I. and its fantastical mission act just on the periphery of popular consciousness. Those that spend enough time in museums know something’s going on—but who spends a lot of time in museums anymore?

Paste: The plot hinges on real works of art, from the Mona Lisa to Warhol to The Scream. Was there anything you couldn’t incorporate for legal or rights issues? Any great Damien Hirst or Yayoi Kusama subplots left on the cutting room floor?

Prince: We’re operating under pretty plain fair use laws: all of the works featured are made by artists long dead, whose images have scuttled into the public domain. To boot, the whole problem in the world of The Electric Sublime is that something about these famous paintings has changed—they’re different than they’re supposed to be. Martín has done a great job altering classical works; his winking Mona Lisa might be more compelling than the original. I guess you can say we’re doing something like graffiti.

The Electric Sublime Interior Art by Martín Morazzo & Mat Lopes

Paste: Is there a cathartic element to literally murdering great works of art? By the third issue, you’ve violently disposed of two of the most recognizable figures ever committed to canvas. Did you take a particularly frustrating Art History course in college?

Prince: I actually remember LOVING my art history classes. I didn’t declare, but I believe I had enough credits to have an Art History minor.

And I used to spend hours making these (pun incoming) baroque flash cards to prepare for tests. This was back when college campuses didn’t monitor how many color printouts you made in the computer lab. I’d print a color version of each painting I had to study, maybe a hundred works, glue that picture to one side of a flash card, and on the other side I’d write all the pertinent info like title, artist, medium, current location, etc.

I was able to sell those babies for a few hundred dollars at the end of each semester.

But yeah, I suppose I’m doing some serious violence to painterly figures. It’s not cathartic, not really. I’d describe it more as something like Controlled Blasphemy. Here’s this sacred work of art, and I’m diving in, pulling it apart and chopping off the central figure’s head (or burning her alive, as it were). I experience a perverse kind of thrill each time I do away with something holy. But then I get nervous and feel like I’m being needlessly irreverent. It’s like ripping a page out of a Bible, or something.

Paste: Your next announced work is One Week in the Library, an “experimental graphic novella” with artist John Amor incorporating comics, prose, poetry and infographics. Is there anything else in the works that you’re able to tease?

Prince: I’ve got a few things brewing that aren’t announced yet, but One Week [from] Image is the big next thing after The Electric Sublime. I’m really proud of both projects. I don’t think they’re like any other comics currently being published. And they’re both a lot more honest than anything I’ve ever done. I hope people agree.

The Electric Sublime Interior Art by Martín Morazzo & Mat Lopes

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