Some people go a long way for love. For the adorable little fox known as Rex, love takes him from his home on Earth all the way to another world entirely, one filed with imaginative creatures and crazy sci fi action and adventure, all chronicled in the upcoming 200 page graphic novel “The Saga of Rex” by creator and artist Michel Gagne.
Originally published chapter by chapter in Kazu Kibuishi’s anthology series “Flight,” the “Saga of Rex” collects the entirety of Gagne’s story and lands in comic shops everywhere this November by way of Image Comics. The story, told almost exclusively without text save for a brief introductory narration, centers on Rex after a enigmatic spaceship captures the little fox and transports him to the planet of Edernia. There, love blooms when he meets the biomorph Aven and Rex embarks on a journey that transverses both other worlds and various genres.
A veteran animator that has worked with companies including Warner Bros. and Disney/Pixar, Gagne wrote, illustrated and colored the entire 200-page story that spanned seven years and seven volumes. The creator took a break from spinning his fantastic tales featuring some of the most adorable characters ever and spoke with CBR News about “The Saga of Rex,” crafting an intergalactic love story and what the future holds for the little lovestruck fox.
CBR News: Your main character, Rex, looks like the most adorable thing I’ve ever seen in my entire life – how exactly did you go about creating him?
Michel Gagne: I actually created the character in 1998 for a children’s book that was called, “A Search for Meaning: The Story of Rex.” That was actually my first book. At the time, I was working at Warner Bros. Feature Animation and my production assistant suggested that I had a really cool style of illustration and that I should do a children’s book. I said, “I’m not a writer, so how about you write a story and I’ll illustrate it.” So, I started doing some illustrations and I did this fox illustration. I did it as a sketch and I gave it to him and said, “Okay. You go write a story based on this character.” A couple of weeks later, I came back to him with about 20 additional illustrations and I said, “Here’s a bunch more illustrations and you can write a story around these.” About two more weeks [passed and] I had the entire book done and finished. I had actually written it myself. That’s how my first book came about. I said, “Scott, man, I’m really sorry. I was waiting for you but I the inspiration struck me and I ended up doing the whole book by myself.” So, that’s how my first book came about and the character of Rex came about.
Moving on to the upcoming “Saga of Rex,” can you tell us how that book come about? Was it the same deal where you sat down and just did the whole thing in one go?
I was doing a signing at the Golden Apple Booth at a Wizard convention in Long Beach, probably eight years ago or so, and Kazu Kibuishi came to me with a binder with all the artwork for “Flight” volume 1 in it. He showed it to me and said, “We have a deal with Image – they’re going publish volume 1, we’re already planning volume 2 and we’d love if you could do something for us.” I told him that I had this character that I had created back in 1998, and that I always liked that character and I always thought I could make a graphic novel with that character. I said, “Would it be okay if I use ‘Flight’ to do a chapter with every volume so I could build my own graphic novel in the process?” He said that would be awesome, so that’s how the whole thing started. I started doing all the different chapters with all the “Flight” volumes, and by the second chapter, I had figured out the entire story. “Flight” gave me the chance to do this graphic novel in a manageable way. To tell you the truth, this graphic novel would not even exist if I didn’t have an outlet like “Flight” to do it in.
When you first started developing your main character, why did you decide to go with a fox? Did it just sort of pop into your head and you went with it?
Well, I’ve drawn cute animals my whole life. and I used to give pictures of cute animals for Christmas to my whole family. I would draw a cute fox or a bunny and stuff and give it to them. Everyone in my family was like, “Oh, you should do a story with these cute characters,” so maybe that stuck in my head, you know? I like to draw either cute or disturbing stuff, and often times I mix them. I’ll do disturbingly cute. I like to go back and forth like that.
“Saga of Rex” has those cute animals, but it also has weird, crazy, sci fi creatures. Did it allow you to explore those two areas of creativity that you enjoy?
Yeah. I’m a huge science fiction fan, so my big hobby is reading science fiction – especially Golden Age science fiction novels. I like a lot of weird stuff and other worlds and all that. Everything I do is almost always in weird places and weird planets.
For those who haven’t read the various chapters in “Flight,” what can you about the story in “Saga of Rex?” We know it follows Rex the little fox, who gets pulled out of his world and into this crazy space adventure.
When you read the book from beginning to end, you’ll actually get a much clearer picture of what the story is about than if you had read it in “Flight.” The last volume of “Flight” actually features the first chapter of the story.
The first chapter that was published in “Flight” actually ends up being the second chapter [in the graphic novel]. So, when you see it in order, it’s going to make a lot more sense. Essentially, “Saga of Rex” is a love story, or maybe a mating story. It’s about these weird creatures called the Blossoms that actually mate with various entities from throughout the universe. They send these ships that go and find species that are potential mates and Rex gets kidnapped by one of those ships. It’s pretty high concept and a lot of the stuff is going to be left open for interpretation. [Laughs] In my head, I have a very definite story of what it’s all about, but I’m sure a lot of people will get a different meaning. That’s why there’s not a lot of words. There’s actually narration in the first chapter that sets up the premise, but after that, there’s no more narration or captions. People will be making up their own minds as they go.
As you said, the story is told very much through the art and through reader interpretation. As a creator, do you find it difficult to tell a story without words, solely using images?
Actually, telling the story with just images was actually easier. The words [in the first chapter] actually came about after Kazu started talking to me about adding words to the latest chapter of “Rex” because he wanted all the stories in “Flight” volume 7 to have captions or narration. He asked me if I could add narration to the story, and that was actually a little bit of a challenge because I had always thought of the story as purely visual storytelling. So, adding words was actually a bit more difficult for me. But once I got the flow going, it went quite good. I’m actually happy I added this narration for the first chapter, because I think it really helps setting up the whole premise and some of the concepts that would not have been possible to convey without words.
You’ve actually done considerable work in animation, having worked with Disney and Pixar and on movies like “An American Tail” and “The Land Before Time.” How has that experience helped you when it came to working on this massive graphic novel?
When I’m doing “Saga of Rex,” I always see it moving inside my head, like I’m doing my own film in a way and I’m doing it all by myself – which is actually kind of cool, because when you work on an animated movie, there’s a whole crew there and hundreds of people. When I look at the images, they’re not moving, but I can almost see motion. I’m hoping that’s what the reader will get as well, this sense of a motion picture feel to it.
As we discussed earlier, this title features animals and weird creatures. As an artist, are you constantly aware of making sure to convey the proper body language and facial expressions in order to get across the emotions you want to when working with non-humans?
I’m always thinking about that with colors and everything, as well. I mean, it’s very instinctual. I don’t really think about it. A page is finished when it sings to me. When I know there’s nothing left to add. It sings to me, and then I move onto the next page. “Saga of Rex” was thumbnailed extremely, extremely loosely, and although I had an overall story in mind, the book was very much done in stream of consciousness. I would start telling the story one page at a time, and I would very much operate on a stream of consciousness basis rather than starting everything solid. I think I made a lot of discoveries and a lot of cool things happened because of that – because it was constantly open for new things and I let inspiration come to me as I kept working. It took all kinds of twist and turns that even I wasn’t expecting. I kept surprising myself as I was doing the book, because the story kept happening right in front of my eyes – almost as if it was dictating itself to me.
Looking at this story, it’s huge – 200 pages in total. Do you have any other tales left for this character? You already did “Story,” and now “Saga.” Is the “Epic of Rex” next?
Well, I’m not sure what’s going to happen with Rex. I already have a story that I was planning on doing for the next “Flight,” but I don’t think I’ll be able to do it because I actually have work on a massive video game project. I don’t know if you’ve heard of it, but it’s called “Insanely Twisted Shadow Planet.” This is actually a project I’ve been working on with a partner since 2007. If you like the art in “Saga of Rex,” you’ll immediately recognize the style when you see the video game. I know Kazu was talking about an offspring of “Flight,” and we’ve talked a little bit about that. If it’s not with that, it’ll be with something else. I don’t plan too much about the future. I’m very focused on current project usually, but I leave all the doors unlocked. If something comes through, I look at it and see what happens.