Will Scott Interviews Olivier TaDuc
The world of comics is an interesting and colourful playground. If one is open to new ideas and different languages the amount of outstanding material available is mind-blowing.
Olivier TaDuc is a beautiful artist that I am happy to bring to the attention of our North American readers. Like Hermann, Bourgeon or Cosey, Olivier brings a realism to his work, but also a sense of humour and adventure. I’m rather shocked that no one (publishers, are you listening?) has brought his sweeping series Chinaman to the English-speaking comic book market.
Ladies and Gentlemen, Olivier TaDuc.
Will Scott: Would you mind telling our North American readers something about yourself as a person? How would you describe yourself?
Olivier TaDuc: I am a comic artist, aged 51. I am French but my ancestors were from Vietnam. I have been a comic artist since 1986, so it has been quite a while now and so far I have already published 20 comic books.
WS: Did you intend to become an artist from a very early age? Did you come upon your talent in the course of some other pursuits? And how did you come to choose making BDs for a profession?
OT: To be honest, I used to draw a lot as a child. Indeed my earliest childhood memories are associated with drawing but because of my upbringing— my parents wanted me to become a doctor—I mainly considered that a hobby. I started studying medicine as they had planned, but because I failed the first compulsory competitive exam, I managed to persuade my parents to let me become a comic artist, even though it worried them a lot.
WS: Please tell our readers about your series Chinaman. How many volumes are there in the series so far? And what inspired the making of this series?
OT: There are nine Chinaman volumes so far. What inspired this series was my deep love for Western and Martial Arts movies. It had always been one of my dreams to create a story linking those two genres. So when I had the opportunity to go to the USA in the early 1990s, I visited the museum of Chinese immigration in San Francisco with my wife—an English teacher—and we found many books full of relevant information about Chinese immigrants in the US. A few years later I wrote the first story with my scriptwriter, Serge Le Tendre, and my wife, Chantal. And this is how the adventures of Chinaman began.
When I create a page of comic art, I imagine the scene the way a movie director does: my eye, in a way, works as a director’s camera.
WS: Some of the Chinaman stories are set in the Wild West. Do you address the prejudice that Asians faced during that time period, or is Chinaman less political and more of an action-oriented series?
OT: I personally think that even though it began as an action-oriented series, this story is also political since I was particularly sensitive to the prejudices Asian immigrants had to face in the US in the mid nineteenth century. Maybe my Asian origins made me more interested in that. Moreover I wanted to testify about the unfair living and working conditions those immigrants had experienced then (as it was not well known at the time) and to pay a tribute to them, while also telling an action story.
WS: Would you say that a work’s storyline and art contribute equally to the success of a BD or does either one tend to have more weight than the other?
OT: Generally speaking, when it comes to the first volume of a series, I think the drawing in a BD has more weight than the storyline because potential readers are indeed attracted to the drawing and the style at first. Then the story becomes more important when you publish the subsequent albums since it must be interesting enough and gripping enough to make the readers want to read the rest of the hero’s adventures and buy more books.
WS: When you create a page of comic art what do you think about? Do you consider deliberately how each character should act? Are you very deliberate in achieving rhythm through the size and shape of the panels—or is this an intuitive process?
OT: When I create a page of comic art, I imagine the scene the way a movie director does: my eye, in a way, works as a director’s camera. First I start casting the characters for the parts they must play, then I look for the best setting for the scene; in order to do that I must either rely on reference material or on my imagination. Next, I try to find a sort of balance between the various shots I will select for the scene, to make it as lively and dynamic as possible. There must be a mixture of full shots, close shots, medium shots, low angle or high angle shots, etc…I have been inspired by other comic artists or movie directors who have thus taught me how to use those tools.
WS: I enjoyed looking at the behind-the-scenes pics on your blog. It made me smile to see you using masking tape to mask off your pages before painting. Many years ago, we called masking tape and rubber cement frisket for an artist’s budget. It’s simple and effective. Yet, today, so many people prefer to use the computer to colour, even draw their comics. Do you like the look and feel that a traditional approach gives your work? Do you employ any digital techniques at all?
OT: When I started my career as a comic artist, I first worked in a very traditional way, using paper, pencils, nib holders and nibs and black India ink. Then I discovered information technology and started to use a computer to colour my drawings, thanks to software like Photoshop or Painter. I even drew entire volumes of my series Mon Pépé est un Fantôme/Grandpa is a Ghost on my computer thanks to Manga Studio. But lately I have decided to try something new and take advantage of both the traditional and digital techniques. So for my new series Griffe Blanche/White Claw, I do my pencil drafts on my computer and my Wacom tablet ( also called a Cintiq). Then I print the drawings on a special sheet of paper (for watercolours) in light grey and ink them. Finally, I colour the page using watercolours and coloured inks. As a result, I can enjoy having original comic art pages. I can show them to my readers during exhibitions and eventually sell some of them. I find the result more successful and more lively with this technique and the readers I meet find the pages more stunning and beautiful.
WS: Do you gather much reference material before starting a project or do you draw strictly from memory—or from creative imagination?
OT: Before I start a project I tend to gather a lot of varied reference material such as books, film…and, of course, the internet can prove very useful when I need some specific information.
WS: Please share with the young curious artists that follow our site, the tools of the trade you use: paper, pencils pens, ink, paint etc. What is a typical day like for you? How many hours a day do you spend drawing?
OT: I use Winsor and Newton or Raphaël brushes, permanent Japanese Carbon ink, Carbon, Lamy or Tachikawa fountain pens and Pentel brushpens.
Since I colour my comic pages directly, I use a special kind of paper for watercolours: it is a French brand called Arches Aquarelles.
I draw almost every day and I generally devote between seven and nine hours a day to that.
I am not sure that print will disappear one day. I have the feeling that some people will always cherish books and want to collect them.
WS: And what advice would you have for the aspiring BD artist? Should they attend arts school? Are there a right way and a wrong way to break into this field?
OT: There are no rules but I think it is slightly better to attend an arts school in order to become a BD artist, even if I did not do that personally. It can be an asset since an aspiring BD artist will have the opportunity to learn various techniques there and to meet people who share the same desires and centers of interest.
WS: Is there a project that you have been involved in that is particularly memorable or that you have particularly enjoyed doing? Are there aspects of the work that you find especially frustrating: has any project caused you greater frustration than others?
OT: Ever since I started working on personal projects like Chinaman —and later Mon Pépé est un Fantôme/Grandpa is a Ghost and Griffe Blanche/White Claw—I have totally enjoyed doing that, probably because these series correspond to my Asian roots.
WS: How strong is the BD market in Europe? Are you concerned that print will one day disappear? Are you a fan of the emerging digital comics?
OT: The BD market is above all strong in France and Belgium, which are the two leading European countries in that field.
I am not sure that print will disappear one day. I have the feeling that some people will always cherish books and want to collect them. And I hope I won’t be the only one left thinking that a work of art cannot be fully appreciated in a digital way. Personally I am not a fan of digital comics…I truly prefer books.
WS: Who, in the European and North American BD world, has inspired and influenced your work? Can you name some current BD artists that particularly excite you?
OT: I have been inspired by French artists like Giraud—also known as Moebius—and Chéret, Belgian artists like Hermann or American artists like Joe Kubert, John Buscema and Neal Adams.
As far as current French BD artists are concerned, I really appreciate the work of Emmanuel Guibert or Christian Rossi .
WS: Is there anything you would change in the way the BD market is managed if you had the power to do so?
OT: I am afraid I can’t answer this question since I have learnt to adapt to the rules of the BD market whether I like them or not. What I enjoy is drawing and colouring and I can’t devote my time to anything else. Of course I wish all publishers could be truly interested in comic art and could understand that selling books has nothing in common with selling canned food. They should be more committed and more involved in the destiny of every book they publish.
Thanks to my wife Chantal for translating my answers.