Will Scott Interviews Bengal
Bengal is an impressive French BD artist. His work is infused with the best elements of popular culture from North America, Europe and Japan.
I am very happy to bring Bengal to the attention of our Sequential Highway readers. Once seen, his art is very hard to forget.
Will Scott: Every artist must learn to use perspective effectively. Your work, in particular, is punctuated, defined by your dynamic use of perspective. Why is it such an important element in your art?
Bengal: Oh it’s pretty simple: it allows me to add a lot of depth, or motion directions, in the panels. It works well in about any kind of narration, manga or BD alike. You can make the eye of the reader go a certain way. You can create distortion also, if you want to convey a feeling of pressure, of illness even, with fish-eye effects and the right angle.
Perspective is really not hard—and I don’t say it to brag at all really—it’s just that once you grasp the logic of it, you can do anything with it without limit.
WS: What inspired you to pick up a pencil and draw? Were you always intent on a career in comic books or did you find comics by way of another artistic interest?
B: I started drawing when I was 11. For some reason I suddenly wanted to draw all those amazing animes I had been watching on TV since I was a little kid—back then it was at first Captain Harlock and Grendizer, but then it evolved towards Saint Seiya, Dragon Ball, and all the hundreds of awesome Japanese animes over the years. That’s why I started. I had no idea I’d actually have a chance to later be doing it professionally, of course, but that was my only hobby so… It ended up being serious when I reached my later teen years. I figured I’d try doing pages then, and I learnt a lot by reading tons and tons of BDs and mangas. I would eventually meet the right people later, my writer mainly, and that’s how I set foot in the world of publishing.
WS: How would you categorize the type or genre of comics that you create?
B: I’m not too good at categorizing my own stuff… I’m sure that since day one I have been influenced by both mangas and European BD; I have a very basic and old culture of American comics—I know Superman and his early friends only through their adventures from twenty-five years ago or so…So I guess I’m trying to emulate manga [and project it into] BD, in a way… yeah, that’s probably what I do.
WS: What’s your creative process? Is your work part traditional print, part digital, or have you moved into digital-only?
B: Oh, I still pencil on good old paper, and it’s highly unlikely I will ever stop. I have a mechanical pencil that is perfect for my fingers; I tried hundreds before finding the one, and I am also very selective of the quality of paper. Now I draw on a type of manga paper of a particular brand, since the Schoellershammer paper disappeared slowly over the past years. Then I move on to the computer for the colors, as [using the computer] allows me infinite control over this aspect of the work.
WS: What’s the BD scene like in France? Is there a sense of community and lively creativity? Of healthy competition? Is the market for BD strong and growing?
B: Hmmm… good question. The French publishing market is pretty fucked up at the moment, if you ask me. More and more BD’s are published each year, publishers see their overall sales go up, they make more money, but in the inflated market each artist sees the sales of their own book go down. If it keeps going in this direction, I’m afraid it’s gonna cave in on itself like a supermassive star (hahaha). And in the meantime, it’s getting harder and harder to get some exposure for your releases.
On the artist’s side, there definitely is a sense of community though, rather friendly, and the forced competition doesn’t affect that. If authors have some fighting energy to expend, it is towards the publishers at the moment.
WS: When people ask why European BD artists are often more skilled, more proficient in their craft than their North American counterparts, several factors can be cited: a better education in the fundamentals in art; the rich tradition of art in Europe; the progressive attitudes European society has toward incorporating art into everyday life; grand art galleries; unique architecture; a market that supports a broader range of material and, by North American standards, encourages and rewards ingenuity; and a market that allows an artist a longer period of time to produce material between publication. Would you agree with this picture of the BD art scene compared to that in North America? What elements of your environment would you say have been particularly important to your development and to your concerns as an artist?
B: I’m not in the right place to tell, really… but I can give my two cents. The way I see it, unlike the European platform, the American one didn’t emulate and incorporate many of the other comic art forms, like manga & BD. There are several exceptions of course, but overall, when I open a comic preview…well…it gives me the feeling manga & BD are not an influence anywhere in the American production. While here in Europe we translate hundreds of mangas, hundreds of comics, they’re a huge part of the market, and that allowed artists just like me to bathe in a large stream of influences. And it shows in the production.
Now I don’t know if it is because American customers don’t care much for anything else than the good old superhero recipe (which is totally alright!), or if the publishers themselves don’t look enough in this direction, or if most of the artists themselves don’t have an interest in comic styles abroad… I don’t know.
So yeah, I feel immensely lucky to have had such a huge import market here, that totally informed my current style and knowledge, grabbing bits of influences from everywhere unconsciously!
WS: I see much Asian influence in your work. What about Asian comic art interests you? Did the influence initially come about without your intention, in the course of your artistic development, or had it always been a deliberate focus of your work?
B: Well since it all started with my passion for animes on TV, long before I even knew those were made in japan, there’s no wonder I have been so influenced by Japanese storytelling methods and styles. When I got my hands on my first paper manga, in a Japanese library in Paris, I was literally entranced! The smell of the manga paper, the size of it, the fact that it had no colors: I discovered so much at once. I remember it clearly: that day I bought a Dragon ball, an Akira, and two other mangas.
That was a revelation: I instantly wished I could do that with my life—mangas. That is unrealistic of course in Europe, as having assistants is not part of the culture in the French publishing system, and we wouldn’t be able to make a living off such small and inexpensive books. But I truly wished! And I kind of still do. That’s the itch that doesn’t go away and…well…it makes a large portion of my style of storytelling.
WS: What are the titles of some of the BD’s you have worked on? What are they about? Who are your publishers?
B: I have produced Meka (Delcourt Publishing) in two volumes; it’s a story about giant robots fighting and the consequences of war on civilian victims. Then Naja, (Dargaud Publishing), in five volumes, tells the adventure of a cold-blooded female assassin who has to deal with two other gifted assassins from her own crime league who are after her. Both those series were written by my partner Jean-David Morvan, a famous writer around here. Then I produced Luminae (Ankama Publishing) by myself, an attempt at doing Medieval fantasy, but it will not go on as it doesn’t seem to find enough of an audience.
I’m again working with J.-D. Morvan; now on a short three-volume series about a demon-girl hired by God in a contemporary world to cleanse the angel ranks of the rotten ones. I’m having a blast on this, truly my favorite project so far; it will be released over 2013.
WS: Would you like to work with more American publishers? Is there a specific title or character that you would be interested in working on?
B: I would love to, precisely because of what I told you earlier: I only know basic stuff about superheroes, and I like what I remember of Superman, Spiderman, the Alpha Flight (an old Canadian team of heroes), Batman, Daredevil, etc… and so, yeah, I’d love to work on a story that would have the touch from back then. I had been hired by Marvel to work on a Spiderman one-shot four years ago, but it never got completed as there had been some problems with the scenario. I had twenty-two out of thirty-eight pages done… it’s my biggest professional frustration to date, hands down. I was really proud to do a Spiderman piece.
Now it seems the American market tried to slow down a little on the overproduction of parallel stories and such, so I can’t even get in touch with anyone at the moment… I would love to even simply have covers to do. But my dream is to do a Superman or a Spiderman piece – that’s the early fan in me speaking. I would love that.
WS: What do you hope your audience sees or perhaps discovers in your art? What would you like to be known for?
B: I’m not necessarily aiming at it, but I’d love it if people could easily know a piece is from me when they see one. With my early color illustrations, about eight years ago, I had something very personal going on, or so I was told, and I wish I could always produce something unique. I’ll never be an immense artist, I’ll never do huge BD sales, but I would really like to at least be a little bit unique in today’s gigantic flow of artists.
I also enjoy doing solid storytelling in my books; that matters to me more than actually drawing well in the panels. Storytelling is everything in a book. Doing it correctly—successfully allowing the reader to read the pages with ease and at the pace I intend them to—gives a great feeling of pride.
WS: What drives you to create? Can you see yourself in another profession?
B: Ideally, I’d stick to art all my life, obviously. But I have other interests among which there is one that I could absolutely do as a job— herpetoculturist [breeder of reptiles]. But I can do it in addition already so I’m totally satisfied.
I don’t really know what drives me to create… Maybe I deeply need to show something I’m good at? I will totally admit that it matters to me to see my work appreciated, critiqued, shared. So maybe that’s why. That must be part of it. I also often have in mind images that come from nowhere… and I think I have then a good reason to produce them. I don’t think I’d want as much to be an artist if I didn’t have anything personal or original to offer…Maybe.
WS: Your use of colour is distinctive and consistently interesting. Are you always actively looking for a new palette? What role does colour play in your art?
B: First, thanks.
I can’t really explain how I perceive colors but, to try to sum it up, I see them as masses, elements of the image. A saturated zone will pop in comparison to a grey one, no matter what hue it is. And I “think” the color around such principles. I make zones pop to the eye, I mute some others… what matters is to make a piece instantly legible for the eye. In consequence, the palette itself doesn’t really matter, I could go with anything —but I tend to prefer some pastel tones, as you must certainly have seen, in previous works.
At first, it was my colors that were totally giving my work personality, my line has never been anything special, I believe. But I have been trying to invert this [relationship between color and line] over the past few years and I’d like to think I made progress in line art, because it’s always time to learn how to draw properly. I hope I will someday, to go along with my colors.
WS: If you could give one piece of advice to an aspiring artist at, say, the high school level, what would that advice be?
B: The same advice I always give: read tons, watch tons; be interested in anything, particularly if you don’t like it. Enjoy bad movies; learn stuff you don’t usually care for. Build a culture. And of course draw tons after that. But really you will get nowhere if you are not curious, that’s guaranteed.
WS: Your work often deals with the more fantastic elements of the BD genre. Do you have plans to create more highly realistic, slices-of-life stories, or do you imagine yourself continuing in your current direction for the foreseeable future?
B: Well I’m interested in doing more things than I’m actually able to. For example, I would love to be able to pencil an entire contemporary story about everyday human beings, without any fantastic element. I love to read such stories –the manga Beck, for instance, the simple story of young guys trying to form a rock band. Sadly, I don’t think I know how to do that.
So for now, yeah, I stick to doing what I know best, and my next ideas are either a shonen-like fighting story, or a sci-fi project that I’m actually thinking of Crowdfunding to get it going.
Maybe that will change in the future, with more reading and more series-watching. Maybe I’ll feel strong enough to tackle a totally different type of story. But for now I have more action scenes to do!
Thank you very much!