HERVAL ANSWERS 15 QUESTIONS WITH JULINDA MORROW
Herval is a master of simplicity. His art is elegant and understated.
He represents the many admirable qualities that I have come to love about the European bande dessinée market. Not least – topmost, perhaps – of those qualities is the exceptional craftsmanship with which Herval invests his work.
I can’t help but feel that regular exposure to Herval’s art would significantly influence North American tastes in sequential art.
A gallery of Herval’s graceful art follows this interview.
Julinda Morrow: What path led you to comics and sequential art?
Herval: I have loved drawing from a very young age. At six or seven years old, I did my first BD [bande desinée]. I would draw any story that came to mind. I was much more productive than I am today! Grown up and ready to enter an active life, I wanted to go towards animation. But because of my lack of training I had to look elsewhere, and landed a job in an advertising agency. I continued to draw BD for my pleasure, on my own time; one day, I contacted a publisher and followed through in a professional capacity, all the while keeping my day job.
JM: What schooling or training did you receive?
H: I should have gone to art school but wasn’t quite sure enough about my future. I found myself in the Department of Modern Literature. As for drawing, I am self-taught. I learnt by studying books and others’ work, and mostly by drawing a lot.
JM: Who, in your opinion, are the pioneers of sequential art?
H: This is a question for historians of BD. They refer to the grottoes of Lascaux, or of Rodolphe Töpffer. For my part, I am very interested in the BDs of the 1910s with artists such as Winsor McCay or Hergé in the 30s.
JM: How do you define sequential art?
H: I see it as a sort of bridge between drawing and literature. Its relation to these allows the emergence of the notion of time – the passage of time between two panels.
JM: Do you find that sequential art provides you with near-limitless possibilities for storytelling or do you experience it as constraining?
H: No, of course BD has its limits. For example, there is no sound, no music, no movement; [otherwise] it would be cinema! But in reality the limitations make it interesting. It becomes a game with the reader. We give the direction, the info, in drawings and the text. But it is the reader who completes, interprets and even “creates” the story. It is up to him to imagine the movement, the musical accompaniment, or an underlying storyline that is not in evidence. We are often disappointed by the cinematic adaptation of a book we liked. This is because the book, with its limitations, gives us more room to use our imagination. Therein lies the strength and the charm of a BD.
JM: What qualities or resources do you believe are most important for a sequential storyteller to have?
H: One has to love it beyond reason. It can be very demanding work to write a BD. To keep a good perspective, one must do it with joy, passion and perseverance. And to make a living at it, one must be very productive!
JM: How do you approach your work process?
H: Up to now, I have chosen to work with script writers. This lets me concentrate on what I love the most: drawing, staging, decor and costumes, the characters… In fact, the writer sends me a section of his story, page by page. From there, I start by the staging, a sketch of my page in print format, or smaller. Then, I blow it up on the photocopier to draw more precisely and to add details. Then I pencil in – I do not ink – a finished version, at the light table. Lastly, I scan and fill in the colour with Photoshop.
JM: How many hours a day do you work? Are you uniformly productive on any given day or more productive on some days than others?
H: I have a draftsman job in an ad agency four hours a day, sometimes more. Then I go home and work on my BD for five or six hours, sometimes less, often longer. I also work on it most of my week-end time.
The days are not all productive in terms of production, sometimes I spend hours on a detail, or on research or on a difficult drawing.
At least, working with a writer, I do not have the anxiety of looking at a blank page. I know what I have to do; I just have to find the best way to go about it.
JM: Was it a struggle, at the start of your career, to find work and make ends meet?
H: By working in advertising first, I was assured a certain work security, which gave me more freedom for my BDs. Had I not been working on the side, I would never have been able, for example, to survive on the earnings of my first album. Things got a lot better while working for bigger publishers, but unless one is extremely successful, one must not expect to earn a fortune in this field.
JM: What has been your most valuable professional experience?
H: Working with great pros such as Eroc, Yann [le Pennetier] or [Didier] Crisse, people that I look up to, is a blessing and a real pleasure. Obviously I learned a lot through them.
For drawing in general, I think my experience in advertising has taught me how to be efficient and to respect deadlines.
JM: What inspires or informs you creatively?
H: I think I was very selective when I was young – this is good, this is bad. I like this, I don’t like that… Fortunately, I have broadened my window of inspiration! Everything can be interesting, even things that look bad!
JM: What is your position on digital comics? Are they a good thing or a bad thing?
H: I see it as an evolution of BD. It seems rather natural and beneficial. It represents a wider scope of distribution and more accessibility than the book. Today, anybody can make a BD and publish it on a blog. I am a bit less convinced by the attempts to animate the reading of a BD online – making the panels appear one at a time, or the speech bubbles, or create movement in a picture, etc…For me, this becomes something else. It’s not without interest but it is a bit of an unhappy hybrid between BD and animation.
JM: If you were to make any changes to the industry or the market what changes would you make?
H: I have no idea; I only regret that the market is so harsh for authors. There is so much pressure, these days, to have immediate success in order to make it. Publishers no longer take chances on long term projects…or even on medium term…
JM: If you could apprentice under any artist at any time in history and anywhere in the world who would it be?
H: I am both insecure and proud to be self-taught. Of course, I would have dreamt of learning with a master such as Moebius. But he, unfortunately, has passed away and in any case I never did try to contact him.
JM: What, in the future, would you like to accomplish creatively?
H: I have very few books in my portfolio. I hope to have the opportunity to produce many more. I am still challenged by technical problems when I work on a page of BD. I hope to overcome this to the extent that I can concentrate on the story and the expression.