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  • Plague Labs interview by Octopus

    Read the interview, discover the collection

    Plague Labs interview by Octopus Read the interview, discover the collection


    Michele “Hiki” Falcone, the man behind Plague Labs, is the Italian king of ROM hacking, the art that breaks down video games and builds sick and weird new versions out of the pieces.
    While video game mods have always existed, hacks take it to the extreme. Plague Labs cartridges, produced and sold by Michele in extremely limited quantities, always sell out instantly. So much so that Michele now earns a living programming punk and horror video games that are totally unwatchable and yet quite beautiful. He started out in tattoos and comics and video games were the natural evolution, at least the way he tells it.

    Plague Labs: I started out doing comics but what really interested me – and still does – was inventing characters, character design essentially. I started designing them as a child, hoping to create an iconic franchise that would attract the attention of the ‘people who put the video games in the weird plastic boxes.’

    Octopus: Let’s start there. Which comics did you find most inspirational?
    In my head, graphic design and visual art in general are all part of the same thing. That's what I dip into to generate my own personal creations; I have never consciously separated comics, video games or gadgets. Characters, styles and colors existed for me; it was only later that the medium used to deliver them reached my infant brain. I draw on everything I have seen and see, from Hideshi Hino (author of Oninbo and many other horror comics, ed.) to Donald Duck. To this day, my best ideas have come to me from doujinshi (amateur self-published manga, ed.) by unknown authors.






    And what was your inspiration for the illustrations that feature on the Plague Labs x Octopus hoodies and tees?
    It's basically a collage of sprites from my most famous hack. 変態M3M0R135 is a pattern composed of the “Hentacool” and “Hentacruel” monsters, two of my hentai-gore mutations of videogame characters. The Octopus tentacle theme fits perfectly with the most extreme otaku perversions, blending pixels and hentai. The 悪夢M0541C graphic is – as the name suggests – a deconstructed mosaic of illustrations from the latest chapter of the saga, which fit together like a dark nightmare where the boundaries between sex, drugs and violence blend into a single, confused psychedelic pattern. Which is one of the main themes of my work.


    And what about all the metal references in your games?
    I have a real love for music. To be honest, I wouldn't know where to start if I ever tried to imitate something that didn’t really belong to me. What I try and do is a perpetual iridescent patchwork of multimedia influences: if you think you're seeing traces of metal, hip hop, punk or noise, it’s because you are. I live each and every one of these characters and, so far, it looks like they coexist quite peacefully most of the time. I see cultural movements (and all the rest) as a single holistic center of gravity and it's impossible to approach that with a monotheistic approach, whether musical or otherwise.

    Have any of your horror parodies ever angered anyone?
    The label ‘parody’ is a sort of shield, I use it to make use of the universal right to free speech. Like all artists, I believe, I wish to express myself without any physical or mental restraints. Copyright, for example, is a far too fragile barrier against the authentic need for artistic expression. Let people get angry, in the meantime I’m working on how to transform my experience into something extremely personal yet shared by many people. I want my work to be a key that opens an ancient door in our brains. Then if people go from there fanatism or terrorism, well historically very few artists have let that kind of reaction bother them.


    How are your video games received in Japan?
    In Japan - and everywhere else, including Italy - my work is still very underground. And when it comes to our Japanese friends, I’m also up against the linguistic and cultural barrier. I haven't communicated enough with Japan; I think that word of my existence is only just getting out. In any case, I consider my work a long-term product, it's certainly not destined for the hype of the moment. I have definitely received more interest from Japan since my work was exhibited in the biggest retro game centers there.

    You call yourself Hiki Komori. And you chose that name at a time when hikikomori hadn't really arrived in Italy.
    “Hiko” came first as a Japanese version of my name, back in the 2000s, when I didn't know anything about the phenomenon. Once I found out about the meaning of hikikomori from the anime Welcome to the NHK (which is still very niche), I thought it would be cool to fully appropriate it as it's very similar to the way that I conceive of art: closing myself up in a very small space and immersing myself neck deep in otaku culture until the inevitable paranoid degeneration begins. The term is originally written in hiragana, the kana used to write Japanese sounds, but I like writing it in katakana, the alphabet used for foreign words, in order to underline my being “gaijin” or foreign.

    What was your favorite little monster when you were a kid?
    Hmmm, how can I describe him... he's a round, shadowy, poisonous ghost and he loves being in dark rooms. He’s my favorite, über alles. It's all part of the infinite love that I nourish for this design, so simple yet so iconic, and from the awareness that I have had since I was little that I wanted to invent this kind of character, or even just theorize them. Instead, destiny had me find them ready-made and gave me the opportunity to mutate them.

    Creating video games is a collective group task, by definition. But the way you work is radically different and you’re on your own.
    I would dare to call myself a ‘video game artist’ even though I think I’m miles away from that really. My games are often broken, confused and contorted to the limit, whether by stylistic choice or due to technical limitations. But that is exactly what fascinates my hardcore fanbase: the idea of immersing themselves in worlds that they thought they knew and then the surprise of finding that little or nothing matches the canons they remember. The cards are reshuffled and they rediscover their childhood, almost reliving it in a parallel universe. This vandalized nostalgia, which I call “pixel vandalism”, is an artistic movement that has yet to fully express itself. I feel a bit like a pioneer of a movement that tries to combine engineering and art and – like all pioneers – I might not know where this road will lead but I know it's the right direction. It couldn't be otherwise.

    Interview: Michele Serra