All of my PRIMITIF COMIX reprinted in a single volume, 136pp paperback with a nice colour cover.
PRIMITIF is one of my earliest characters and first appeared in 1983. A lot of the stories here were drawn in what must have been a productive period, 1983-1985. Some of them appeared in the pages of FOX Comics in Australia, and Escape Magazine in the UK.
Early tales 1983-1986
The character is pretty much a mask – a mask made of cork, wood, stone, or lava, depending on which story you read. Once you’ve drawn the mask, you’ve drawn Primitif. The mask is intended to be expressionless, but I like the challenge of tweaking the lines slightly to indicate emotion. His body is quite squat and chubby, although sometimes he might have muscular arms (though nothing like the muscles of a comic-book superheo). I draw lines all over his body to represent his tanned hide. He wears a loincloth and otherwise goes naked. There’s lots of action and lots of flying through the air.
These early stories are fables intended to depict something about mankind’s plight. Primitif always gets into trouble for defying the gods, or showing impertinence, and is punished by a great fall. This keeps happening time after time and he might not learn from the experience, and although humbled for a time it’s not long before he’s back to his old aggressive self. His enemy is anybody in the village who slights him, he takes exception to every insult, and he’s quick to fight or seek revenge. So far it’s like a morality tale – don’t fly too high, don’t get too proud, don’t tell God your plans.
The Rape of the Land story is slightly more nuanced. It allowed me to exhibit some ecological concerns in 1984, showing a proud and defiant Primitif despoiling the planet and harming all other forms of life (fish, birds, mammals), simply in the pursuit of his own personal gain and gratification. Looking back on the story now, it seems as though he’s somehow compelled to do this, and can’t stop himself even when it’s clearly doing terrible damage to himself as well as the rest of life on Earth. The “vomiting” scene is one I’m quite proud of, a simple metaphor for pollution in the sea or in the sky, as his head swells up to a bloated ruin and a stream of sewage pours out.
For the Serpent Eyes story, I liked the idea of an unending series of punishments being inflicted on Primitif from an unseen, outside force – conveniently explained as the agency of the cruel Gods who rule over him. He’s momentarily cast as a painter, an artist, but his eyesight is seemingly sacrificed to his own art. He also mysteriously transforms into a snake, another creature that must also be sacrificed.
The character suffers yet more pain and degradation in the Volcano Mask story, another “rise and fall” tale, this time using his own mask as the central image which the story revolves around. Once again he appears gifted with a form of “second sight”, which he squanders almost immediately. I was also disturbed to find how quickly he was willing to dispatch his enemies, a trope which resurfaces in the Insect Talisman story.
Later stories 1990-2014
I’d always thought of Primitif stories in colour, even when drawing him in black and white – I always knew he’d have a red body and a yellow mask. Full colour appealed to me enough to embark on a lengthy story in 1990, which ended up as The Land of the Dead. This was one of two stories picked up by Marc Baines and issued under his Kingly Books imprint. The Dead story is another strange fable, full of made-up legends from cultures and countries that never existed, speculating about the afterlife. It’s probably bit overlong, but I like the moments where the “dead world” – not necessarily Hell – is depicted as a bleak and silent place. Again, I can’t resist moralising, and there’s another lesson at the end, proving once again that the stubborn Primitif doesn’t really learn anything. The story appears here in black and white.
In 1996 I managed to complete two chapters of a “Mud” story. The odd format indicates I was probably intending to sell it to a magazine called Scenes from The Inside (an independent comics magainze in the UK), but this never happened. It’s unfinished, and inconclusive; as he’s submerged in a swamp, realisation of some sort gradually comes to our hero in fits and starts, in the form of hallucinations, delirium, and fever dreams. The drawings are strong, but I violated one of my own principles with this story, and used word balloons. A Primitif story must be told in captions only, written always directly under the panels (like a DC Thomson adventure story, or Rupert The Bear).
Evidently these later stories come from the “dark period” of Primitif. Things got even more pessimistic with Sting of the Arrow, drawn around 2003-2004. This was the second story published by Kingly Books. For some reason the writing became very impressionistic, the prose terse; I like Stephen Drennan’s review of it, where he suggested the captions were like translations of ancient cartouches, provided by some academic scholar making their best guess as to what they meant. So the story isn’t completely clear or explicit, keeping coherence at arm’s length in favour of very dramatic drawings. However mysterious it may seem, it was in fact based on a personal experience. I managed to turn what was, to me, an impossible and inescapable real-life situation into fiction, using knotted twine as the central metaphor. The arrow is another symbol, but not the important one.
Bleakest of all is the Revenge Mask story from 2014. This is another one where the artwork is in full colour, using gouache paintings with black outlines overlaid at the printing stage. I thought the results looked just dandy. It’s printed here in black and white and does gain from having two panels to a page, making a much faster and snappier read. A stark text was spun out into a hideous tale of revenge going wrong, much like it does in every hokey comic book or B-movie where the hero dabbles in revenge magic, only to have his curse return on him.
This 2023 edition of Primitif includes a “concordance” of sorts on the last page. I decided to make a note of every time certain images appeared on the page, count them up, and index them, arriving at an informal benchmark about the frequency of a “trope” or “motif”. Not unlike a wordle or tag-cloud, I suppose. The outright winner was “flames / fire”, although images for “knife”, “volcano” and “skull” also ranked highly.