These are the last batch of sketches from the preparation of Portugal.
Portugal is available in stores and digital now.
This video made during an exhibition organized by the Alliance Française of Washington around the book Three Shadows (published in the US by First Second). It was especially intended to be viewed by students at the Baltimore MICA Art School. That’s why the captions and commentaries are written in English (an approximate English, corrected in part by the friendly participation of Thomas Delooze).
The book mentioned in this document, Portugal, will be published by NBM this December.
The upcoming series of posts will show some behind-the-scenes images created during the making of Portugal.
On some inconsequential day, all filled with myself, I dared declare on the mike of a radio show that an author ‘faces creation alone.’
These aren’t the exact words but I’m still ashamed to this day to have pronounced publicly such an inept comment.
Even if the work of a comics author is a fairly solitary practice, the fact is one never creates alone.
Outside influences, close or far removed, encounters, intellectual, friendly or of love, all feed in, of course, to the work of an author.
These are often even decisive.
After reading through the first draft of my script for « Equinoxes ,» my editor Jose-Louis Bocquet remarked, amongst a thousand pertinent critiques, “something was missing:” A stronger link between the characters, so as to flow between them more naturally. Also a means needed to be found of assuring good transition between the comics passages and the written monologues.
He was right and I was tormented for weeks, not able to find solutions to these problems.
Rather happily, I’m lucky enough to live with Roxanne Moreil, a woman far more curious and cultivated than I am. She spoke to me of Viviane Maier, whose work in photography had just been discovered the echos of which had reached Europe.
(autoportrait of Vivian Maier. 18 october 1953, New York)
I was, like many, impressed by the quality of her photography and by the nobility of her own personal story. Vivian Maier had constructed with resolve a masterful oeuvre without any recognition, glory or financial reward.
From her story, now known across the world, was born in “Equinoxes” the character of Camille, a young photographer, anxious, filled with doubt, whose portraits provide access into the internal voices of the characters.
And thus did Camille become a key element of the story without whom it would have been banal.
Thanks be then to Jose-Louis Bocquet, Roxanne Moreil, and Vivian Maier.
Meet me on my tour! I’ll be at SPX and Brooklyn Book Festival this weekend.
Comics has a common point with golf, Thai cooking, and probably most human endeavors.
If you keep practicing it for years, eight to twelve hours per day, you end up acquiring a kind of expertise.
But this expertise does not prepare you for when, once your script is finished, the question comes: “how to draw this story?”
No, not ‘a story’ in a general sense, this particular story, the one you just wrote.
Does it require a very controlled style, or conversely, a more spontaneous one? What degree of realism is necessary for it? Will color pencils give a better rendering than ink or brush of the characters’ emotions?
For a few years now, I’ve become convinced (and it may be one of my few theories I’m certain of on the matter) that the style of drawing, the choice of graphic form has a profound influence on the narration.
The consequence of this conviction has been to forget about having one ‘style’, a regular way of drawing, but find the right form for each new book.
I reach that goal too scarcely to my taste, constrained by my technical limits, but I push myself nevertheless.
Some books even require changing styles while in the story. In the case of Equinoxes, it seemed necessary to differentiate each season.
The characters go in the direction of their summer, from shadow to light, and the drawing needed to participate in this progression.
Drawing the first page of this book was drawing the first step in this progression.
To achieve this, I used a secret method used by many authors.
This consists in going around your drawing table, look at the white sheet, drink some coffee, smoke some cigarettes, get up to read your e-mails, return to the drawing table, get up[ again to go do some shopping, come back to the drawing table, get back up to see if any new emails came in, etc, etc…
All this for a number of days without managing to draw one single line.
You have no idea whatsoever how to draw this story and it’d be best to change careers. You sleep little, have a stomach ache, you’re utterly ridiculous.
But, after a while, the anxiety is so strong you draw anything, whatever, as it comes to you, instinctively.
And this ‘whatever’ bizarrely becomes the first page of the book.
This first version of the first page of the prologue to Fall enabled me to draw the second, then another, etc… in their first version, these first pages looked like this:
A few months later, having gotten to the Winter prologue, I finally found a style which seemed more appropriate for these parts of the narration.
It was essential all the prologues have the same style, so I had to redraw these first 15 pages.
Accepting that you will make mistakes to find something seems an implacable rule.
Come meet me on my North American Tour
To this simple question, the author generally tries to provide a simple, concise answer with possibly a touch of humor, intelligence and modesty so as to put forward his best foot, both for himself and his work without seeming pretentious.
However, amongst all the possible answers, experience tells me “I’m not really sure…” is the least recommended.
And yet this might be the most sincere, for many reasons.
The first is the inevitable and depressing permanent gap between what you start off trying to accomplish in a book and the result you laboriously end up with. You start a book with the ambition of building a cathedral, but you often end up with the feeling you’ve barely slapped together a shaky wood cabin.
The second reason, much less depressing but just as inevitable, is the difference between what you think objectively you’ve portrayed in a book and what each reader will subjectively get out of it. You think you’ve told a modern tragedy but some readers are convinced they’ve read a sarcastic comedy, while others see in it a series of off-the-wall tales. Go figure who’s right.
The third is the frightening propensity of humans, authors included, to act consciously while animated by unconscious wishes. You thought you were talking about a cantankerous queen; you realize years later that was your mother.
So in fact, to try to answer this question seriously, it’s sometimes necessary to go around it and in particular to go back up to the origins of a story.
The starting point of Equinoxes is a series of monologues written in my notebooks.They were descriptions of brief moments of introspection as we all go through, fed by confused and contradictory thoughts. Moments where fear of failure, frustration, regrets, fleeting desires, hopes for a better life, disappointments with friends, the joys of love, etc… emerge within us and disappear just as quickly. We forget them and, of course, share them with no one. However, these interior monologues tell us as much if not more than our actions and our spoken words.
These texts seemed to sketch out roughly portraits of these characters of which I knew nothing, other than their fleeting feelings. Who were these characters, the links between them, and from where came this desire to evoke these interior thoughts?
The only solution open to me to answer these types of questions is to do comics.
This is how the story constructed itself. Interior voices were born from the characters, the characters were born from the stories, and, little by little, their destinies crissed-crossed each others’, creating a common story.
At times there are elements of engagement, political militancy, disappointed friendships, rambles through the Musee d’Orsay in Paris, feelings of love, Christian faith, and more globally some pretty serious existential crises.
The original texts have been reshaped many times but they have remained in this ‘literary’ form in the book. And they summarize, possibly, its subject, what it ‘talks about:’ the strange paradox of human existence. The Other is a stranger. He/she is as inaccessible to us as we are to her or him. Yet, we desperately need to be in touch with each other.
And from this common lot, this banal tragedy, can be born at times the miracle of beauty, utopia, feelings of love.
Sketches done in the New York subway, summer 2015
See more about his Equinoxes, coming in September.