INTERVIEW WITH CATEL MULLER & JOSÉ-LOUIS BOCQUET
A variety of international stars gathered on May 5 & 6, 2012 for this year’s Toronto Comic Arts Festival (TCAF). Sequential Highway was fortunate enough to interview a few of the festival’s very engaging and outstandingly talented guests.
Julinda Morrow: How did comic books come to be your chosen form of creative expression?
José-Louis Bocquet: I think I became a fan of comic books since about six years old when I began to read. I don’t know why. We never know why we become a fan. Since I was eleven years old my idols were comic book artists or writers. I wrote my first article about comic books in a fanzine. At fourteen I created my own fanzine but I didn’t draw because when I was about twelve, I tried to draw but after one page I thought, I will never be André Franquin. He was the creator of Gaston Lagaffe, and he drew Spirou et Fantasio. He’s one of the Belgian masters in Europe. I was a fan of Franquin and I said it’s too difficult to become a cartoonist like him [so] I stopped drawing and I started to write. I wrote for my first fanzine when I was fourteen years old – I wrote and I did interviews with some comic book creators. And at seventeen I established my first imprint, my own imprint to publish a book with drawings of Franquin. Of Andre Franquin! My idol! He gave to me some humorous sketches of monsters and I published this book. At eighteen I wrote my first comic book script for a Belgian magazine called Spirou, in which were published The Smurfs, Lucky Luke, Spirou et Fantasio and Gaston. It was a huge magazine for comic strips in Franco-Belgium. The first comic book that I wrote was called Le Private de Hollywood. It was a detective comic book translated in Canada in the beginning of the eighties in Ace Comics [under the English title] The Hollywood Private Eye. This was my first step into comic books and ah, Catel…
Catel Muller: It was the same but at five years old I was a little drawer, I was drawing and I was a fan, too, of comics – of Picsou magazine…When I was about twelve I discovered Claire Bretécher. She’s a very famous French comic book artist.
J-LB: Yes, Claire Bretécher; she’s the first female cartoonist in the history of comic books in France.
CM: …So I wanted to become Claire Bretécher, but I had a problem. It was too difficult to write stories I realized it was very difficult for me (to write) and was easier to draw. I was a student in art school in […] Strasbourg and then I took my portfolio and went to Paris in 1990 to try to publish my drawings. I saw that the world of comics was a man’s world. There were no women…just one or two women. That scared me a bit, so for ten years I illustrated children’s books…
J-LB: …Around fifty books…yes. For children.
CM: Early in 2000 I began bande dessinée comics. I presented at Les Humanoïdes Associés, a French publisher the story of Bridget Jones, the French Bridget Jones, but it was before Bridget Jones (the English version) and my Bridget Jones was called Lucie, which was the first comic I made, the story as well as the drawings. It was a graphic novel and it met with a little success in France. I met José-Louis in Angoulême. I wanted to continue comics but I had too difficult [a time] to write scripts so [meeting José-Louis] was lucky for me. We continue together, he writes and I draw.
J-LB: And meanwhile I stopped writing comic books; for fifteen years I wrote only detective novels or scripts for movies or for television, I was a comic book fan but I stopped writing comic books, stopped reading comic books and when I met Catel…
CM: …He was a generous and wrote an article about Lucie, very good…
J-LB: …One of the first comic books I read at this moment. oh yes, I thought, here is a woman who creates comic books so the comic books universe must be changing. When I started in the comic book business there was only what we, in France, called bande dessinée. It’s like the Adventures of Hergé, fifty pages, hardcover. When I met Catel, there was [a] woman and [a] graphic novel and now…[like a perfect storm]
CM: …Black and white.
JM: Do you map your work out in rough before beginning to draw, or do you, from the beginning of your project, let the work flow from page to page?
J-LB: For our work, I begin the work that I have researched to do and it could be a long time, for Kiki or the following one Olympe [de Gouge ] for the research, and after that, I begin writing. You’ll see Kiki, is in sequences. It’s a series of chapters…a story with twelve pages, another story thirty pages, and another, six pages. […] When a chapter is written I meet with Catel, I read my script and Catel begins the storyboard page by page like…it’s a rough draft…
CM: …He tells me the story and I draw while he is telling it to me, but before I have made sketching and locations…
J-LB: …before you start to draw the pages. But the storyboard we don’t really know what the specific location will be. We know it’s in Paris, but it’s after the storyboard, after the rough [draft] that Catel begins the locations, does the research for the fashion, the architecture, for the cars. It’s long, hard work for her before she starts to draw each page.
CM: After that, I draw each page with a pen first and after that with pen and ink.
JM: What is the single most important element of a comic book? Would you mind explaining your choice to our readers?
CM: A good story for me, and for you [José-Louis] good drawings. That’s all – but it must go together well. If you’re missing either a good story or good drawings, it’s not a good comic.
J-LB: And I write my stories specifically for Catel; I imagine her drawings…We are really a team; I write for her and she draws for me.
JM: What moves you creatively?
CM: …We don’t know…but…
J-LB: …It’s very, very difficult to answer this question. Everything…It’s difficult… Maybe if we found the answer we would stop creating.
JM: If you were to have a favourite tool of the trade – one you couldn’t live without – what would it be?
CM: Pen, pencil and paper.
JM: Are you currently working on a project you’d like to tell our readers about?
J-LB: We just finished a new book that was published in France a month ago, and it’s like Kiki, a very big book. Kiki is three hundred pages and the new book…
CM: … [It’s about] the French Revolution. It’s [about] the woman who wrote [about] the rights of women in France…
J-LB: …the declaration of the rights of women…
CM: …She was very pretty, sexy and intelligent but too much so for men. So they killed her…
J-LB: It’s one hundred pages longer than Kiki. It’s the same publisher and we’re now promoting it in France and in the rest of Europe. In North America it’s Kiki but in Europe now it’s Olympe de Gouge.
CM: …One month ago.
JM: Are you a tea drinker or coffee drinker?
J-LB: Yes, coffee.
JM: Are you a “day person” or “night owl”?
J-LB: Day person.
JM: If you had to choose one comic artist that has most influenced your work, who would that be?
CM: Oh, a lot of influences, I think. Movies influenced; books influenced; drawings influenced. For me, for example, the most influential was Maus by Art Spiegleman because it was a graphic novel…black & white…the subject…everything about it. Claire Bretécher, for drawing; very light and very feminine.
J-LB: I don’t draw.
JM: Do you feel that your native country has an influence in shaping your style and your professional outlook? Do you imagine that where you grow up is sharply reflected in your creative work?
CM: Probably, of course.
J-LB: Yes, because we are involved in a comic book project like Kiki, and Kiki – it’s Paris. Catel was born in Strasbourg…ah […] four hundred kilometres to Paris; I was born in a suburb of Paris. But you know, France is a small country and the centre of this country really is Paris. I think, when you grow up in France you must… Paris is always an influence. That’s why now in France we talk about women from Paris. Kiki here and Olympe de Gouge.