[from the drawing board of Fabrice Parme]
I’m not going to talk about how Tiny Tyrant came
into being. That’ll be for another time.
Instead I want to tell you about the birth of
another work I created with Lewis Trondheim.
In June 2004, Trondheim and I were invited to
attend a comics convention in Haarlem, in the Netherlands. Lewis was just starting to work on his book Désoeuvré,
in which he explored how comics artists handle getting old—a crucial question
that he was asking himself and his fellow authors (and, not
uncharacteristically, a weird premise for a book).
After a pretty packed first day at the
convention, we were heading back to our hotel. Lewis was wondering where to go next in his career. He explained that he had rummaged around a
lot and couldn’t really see what else he could invent. I think he was a bit tired, to tell you the
truth, because I don’t for a second buy the thought of Trondheim ever being short
of original ideas. To help him get over
his despondency, I pointed out that, sure, he might have explored tons of
different directions in terms of storytelling, but everything remained to be
invented from the standpoint of drawing. I talked about composition, color, signage, modern art, cubism, abstract
art; about the possibility of designing the page differently based on graphic
networks, on shapes. He told me to keep
talking about these things, that he found it nourishing.
When we got to the hotel, we sat down at the
desk in his room with paper and pencils. I started filling his notebook with sketches and scribbles to explain a
bit better what I had in mind. My idea
was to take the formal ingredients underlying comics and rearrange them
differently—for example, not using panels or strips. Lewis thought that was a really fun idea, but
as it was getting late he said we should try to find a common thread of meaning
holding all those ideas together, and first grab some sleep. I headed back to my room with shapes swirling
in my head.
By breakfast the next morning, Lewis had found
the common thread: an alien from outer space crash-lands on Earth in the middle
of the Jurassic period. Through a
labyrinthine system you can follow various routes taken by this character,
spanning all epochs of humanity. Depending on what path he takes, the alien will get eaten, crushed,
trampled, chopped to pieces, etc. Only
one path will allow him to repair his flying saucer and return home. The story was as bare-bones as possible: an
issue of survival, no frills. Exactly
what was needed to cause the form to blossom. No panels, no strips, no text balloons. A fresco 32 feet long, starting with the cover and ending with the back
cover. As we ate our breakfast, I
continued to fill Lewis’s sketchbook with diagrams. The authors at our table were watching us
with interest. We explained to our Dutch
publisher what was going on. Right away
he was game. A month later I found the
title: OVNI (that’s UFO in French). At
the same moment Lewis was launching Shampooing, his imprint at Delcourt. OVNI would be for Shampooing first, then for
our Dutch publisher.
All that was left was to give birth to the
beast, which involved a 14-month pregnancy for the colorist and me, and a
14-day process for Lewis.
To be able to produce the book we had to come
up with a new method. Computer-assisted
design gave us the greatest flexibility in coloring and the use of archives and
image banks, as well as the most freedom to invent through collage,
distortions, variations, filters or compositions. That’s why the original pages of OVNI were
done on the computer, with some parts drawn on paper then scanned and others
done directly on screen using the graphic palette.
Trondheim’s script looked more like a musical
score: there were indications concerning the roads to follow; there were
pratfalls, jokes, open proposals. I
followed his score whenever possible. Sometimes I improvised, because the composition of the image impacted
the story. I took side roads, moved
jokes, dropped a few and suggested new ones. Even when a two-page spread was almost complete, Lewis would still come
up with new solutions and original finds. Working on the computer allowed us to course-correct until the last
minute, because we were working on several layers—up to 50!
In the end, I believe the book truly looks
like no other and demonstrates that there’s always plenty of stuff left to
When the book came out in France, a producer
wanted to make a series of cartoons out of it. Would it be impossible to adapt? Not necessarily, it’s just a matter of
going back to the drawing board and finding the trick.
[UP NEXT WEEK: COLORIST HILARY SYCAMORE]