My new book, Au-dessus l'odyssée, will be out in a week in France. My editor at Atrabile, Daniel Pellegrino, did an interview with me, to find out inspirations for the book. Voilà!
So, Au-dessus l’odyssée is probably your craziest, weirdest book to date! Was there a « leading idea » between all those stories? What drove you to do this book?
I don't know! Covid? I suddenly had lots of ideas, and just had to sit down and draw them. It was all done between December 2020 and June 2021. It's a mix of all sorts of ideas. And at some point I just gave up trying to keep a single theme or tone. There are pastiches and parodies. There's a meeting of high culture and low culture. There's Dostoyevsky and also Spock from Star Trek. I've done similar things before, but this time there is more of it, and it's collected in one book.
Femme, homme, oiseau begins like a simple « date » story but then the dialogues goes really surrealistic, with a lot of visual references ?
I had this idea in my head a long time, of the bird character from Shhh!, where he puts on another hat, and that makes it possible for him to speak. So, he goes on a date with a female bird character, but there is no connection, they talk past each other. And I show that with partly the text being surreal, partly by them being replaced by other characters, some from pop culture. It was an interesting experiment, I think, to work more with the text, and I hope that it still works as a story.
Then we have Perec, détective privé, where things goes missing: a character, and then the text. (A « caractère » in French can mean a letter). Perec as Philipp Marlowe?
I used George Perec first in a story I did about Leonard Cohen. I can draw Perec as an animal character, and it's still possible to se who he's supposed to be. I think originally it was supposed to be Bukowski as the detective, but I ended up using Perec and have the story take place in France. And in the 70's. It was fun to draw people with bellbottoms . The story is influenced by something Julio Cortazar did in a story, where he only showed the first half of a sentence, and then it's up to the reader to guess what happens in the second half.
After that we have your own version of Perec’s Je me souviens but by the end it goes elsewhere (without spoiling it).
Yes, I enjoy a lot of his work, including Je me souviens. And Perec was not the first to do it. He got the idea from an American writer. There is also a Norwegian writer I like, Ragnar Hovland, that did his version. So, I felt I could do another version, to be one in a line of other people. But yes, there is a twist in the story.
Vampyros Dyslexicos refers to Jess Franco’s Vampyros Lesbos, a cult Spanish Z movie from 1971. But your vampire is dyslexic ?
I don't think I've ever seen that film, but yes, the title of my story comes from there. The lesbian vampire film is its own genre. I only know some of the British Hammer films, especially The Vampire Lovers, with Ingrid Pitt as the vampire. The story is basically the same in my comic. It's based on an old novella called Carmilla. In the film, Ingrid Pitt uses the name Mircalla as a cover name. I thought it was funny to imply that she was not only a lesbian vampire, she was also a dyslexic vampire.
Sceau VII is a sort of parody of Ingmar Bergman’s Le Septième Sceau. You don’t think Bergman is funny?
He's not the funniest director. He's made lots of dark movies, that actually, maybe, could use some jokes. He did one movie, All These Women, that tried to be a comedy, but is not that funny. I still haven't seen all of The Seventh Seal, only parts of it. The chess scene is of course famous. It has the character of Death. Which I find to be almost a Jason character! I felt I could use him, and do my version of that scene. To hopefully be a bit funny.
Le Prisonnier dans le Château is a « mashup » between the cult tv show Le Prisonnier from the 60’s and Kafka. Are you a « fan » of both?
I still havent read any Kafka. I got his Collected Novels and Collected Short Stories on my shelf. So I'm sort of guessing what The Castle is about. I had seen some episodes of The Prisoner before. I got the collected series on dvd last year, and watched the whole thing. It's pretty good. Very 60's. I wanted to do a story based on that. There are surreal elements there. It's almost kafkaesque. So the idea came quite naturally, to combine those two elements.
Crime et châtiment in less than 20 pages! And told as some kind of documentary, with the characters facing the « spectator »!
Yes, the idea is basically Crime and Punishment as a true crime documentary. I saw one or two of those on youtube, just to get a feeling of the structure. The use of interviews on camera and then re-enactment of important scenes with actors. I had read the novel many years ago. It's a big novel. So Instead of re-reading it, I just found a resumé on the net. And I also watched the Russian film version from the 70's. It's about 3 hours, in black and white, with subtitles. But it's really good. And it's on youtube.
There are a lot of things in Ulysse: you are at the same time « deconstructing » a kind of typical thriller story but you also have James Joyce, a Leprechaun, and then, a character from a Tarantino movie (I assume)?
Yes, the idea is Ulysses as a stupid American action film. Where they use only a couple of elements from the novel. And again, I haven't read the whole thing. I got to around page 50. I still plan to read the rest of the book. So this story is also based on a resumé. There is a leprechaun, yes, because that's a cliché about Ireland. Something an American filmwriter would know about. And also a female killer, Mai Lass. Who is maybe sort of Faster Pussycat Kill Kill. She has an eyepatch, like Elle in Kill Bill, but Tarantino took that from another film, a Swedish film called Thriller. That I've never seen. There's also Snake Plissken, of course. It's just a great look for a character.
I’m not that familier with Ionesco. Was he a banana fanatic?
No, not at all. I don't think so. I like his writing, especially The Bald Primadonna. I wanted to do something in that style. So the story is sort of a documentary about him, after his death. There's some biographical information, where he was born and so on, and then interviews with people who knew him. But If you make a biography about Ionesco, it has to be surreal! So one person says he once saw Ionesco eat a banana, and then the rest goes from there.
Giallo is a typical Italian kind of murder movie. Why did you decide to narrate your Giallo as a poem?
I had a period where I saw a lot of giallos. There are certain elements that are repeated in all those films. A killer with black gloves and so on. So I wanted to do a pastiche of that. But at the same time bring in something else. So I decided to do it in the style of Edward Gorey, in rhyme. Like his book where all the kids die. And that made the whole thing more fun.
In Contretemps dans la ville lumière you have Spock dressed as the Japanese painter Fujita. Do you think they look alike? Is is because of the first name Leonard?
No, it was because of their hairstyle. Both of them had that bowl cut or whatever it's called. I was never a Star Trek guy. But I got the original series on dvd, and watched it last year. And it's quite fun. The low budget gives it a charm. Almost all the planets they go to look like Earth. And it has the famous time travel episode, The City on the Edge of Forever. I wanted to do something with those characters, and then using Leonard Fujita, it gave me the idea that Spock goes back in time to Paris in the 20s. Which I've already used in other stories. It was just an interesting period.
Qui viendra à bout de l’araignée reads as a very weird Dr Seuss story – he is really famous in America, probably not as much in the French world. Did you read his books as a kid in Norway?
No, I haven't read anything by him. I don't remember what books I read as a kid. I think we had Three Robbers by Ungerer. But I wanted to do sort of a childrens book story. Which then maybe goes in another direction. And I've seen some images from Dr Seuss, like The Cat in The Hat. And I like that limited use of colours in that book, which gives it an oldtimey, vintage feel. Crictor by Ungerer was another inspiration.
Un million et un ans avant J.-C. Is a dinosaur story and a time travel story.
I wanted to do a story without text. And using cavemen that don't talk was one of the ideas I had. It's pretty much inspired by One Million Years B.C. Unfortunaely without a Raquel Welch character, but still... The idea of people and dinosaurs living at the same time. And then there is also a story by Ray Bradbury, about hunters travelling back in time to hunt dinosaurs. Which is just a bad idea. Don't do that.
Would you say the following two stories are an hommage to the E.C. comics (and Bradbury?).
Yes, E.C. comics, both the horror stories and the science fiction stories. You have the Bradbury stories of astronauts going to Mars. But there were a lot of those stories. Always with a twist ending. And of course, Wally Wood was an inspiration. His spacesuits and rocketships. I can enjoy those stories, just looking at the artwork. It's too bad they're so overwritten, with the text often saying what you already can see in the images. But that was the style of that time.
From Outer Space is another great mix of two different genres: the images are your version of the famous Ed Wood movie Plan 9 From Outer Space but the text reads more as a kind of autobiography-comics?
Yes, it's an autobiographical story. My one drug experience. That was not too pleasant. I had thought about maybe doing a comic about it, but it needed something more. And then I thought about using images from Plan 9 From Outer Space. And actually, I almost for every panel found some image that fit with the text. I never had any visions or anything from taking LSD. But the film is so surreal, that it actually has that drug trip feel. So it fit, I think.
Then the books ends with a serie of one or two-pagers. There you got to cast about everybody from Elvis to Moses, Alan Delon, Van Gogh, the Werewolf, David Bowie, Athos (who seems to be one of your favorite) and a lot more. Did you had to cast out some characters?
Yes, I like Athos a lot. It's possibly my favourite character of those I have created. He just appeared in my book about Ernest Hemingway, and I want to use him in more stories. There was one more two page story, that I never finished. It also took place in London in the 70's, like the David Bowie strip. Athos meets Michael Palin and Terry Jones from Monty Python in a bar and strike up a conversation. But it didn't quite work. Maybe some other time.