There are few artists working today in the comic book industry that so passionately unleash their creations on readers like superstar artist Yanick Paquette. Speaking in person with the French Canadian illustrator is even more intoxicating as he fervently explodes into quixotic tales of past conquests and future adventures as one would expect from a new world explorer or a swashbuckling pirate.
Having worked with iconic talent like Alan Moore (“Terra Obscura”) and Grant Morrison (“Batman, Inc.”), Paquette’s latest collaboration is “Swamp Thing” with Eisner Award-winning writer Scott Snyder (“American Vampire”), which launched today as part of DC Comics’ line-wide New 52 rebranding.
CBR News sat down with Paquette last month at Fan Expo in Toronto, where the always candid artist happily discussed the new project while flipping through his personal copy of “Swamp Thing” #1, which had been hand-delivered earlier at the convention by DC Comics Co-Publisher Dan DiDio.
Paquette shared details on how the Swamp Thing character has interweaved through his own history as an artist and spoke with great admiration about the gifted creators that have written and drawn the Len Wein/Bernie Wrightson creation since his debut in “House of Secrets” #92 in 1971.
Jeffrey Renaud: You were just talking with a fan and you shared that you are inking “Swamp Thing” yourself. That’s a departure from your normal monthly comics creation, isn’t it?
Yanick Paquette: Well, yes and no. In “Batman, Inc.,” because we were so late at the end, I would say half of #5 is not inked at all. We’re doing the stuff digitally now, so we were just printing the stuff directly [from my pencils]. I send my .psd file or whatever, flattened .tif, to the printer, and nobody complained. It came out and it looked OK, so for “Swamp Thing,” we said, “Let’s make it a rule. Let’s not have an inker.”
In a way, I’m inking it because as I draw, I draw with ink, which allows me to build shadow. I would not dare give something like this [points to a page of “Swamp Thing” #1] to an inker. I was really kind of nervous about how it would look. “Am I inking too tiny?” “Is it all going to disappear?” But I am really happy with how it turned out.
How did you hook up with Scott Snyder for this project?
The thing is, years ago I met a young kid at San Diego who I thought was really good. I brought him to the DC booth and I told [DC Comics Vice-President Art Direction & Design] Mark Chiarello, “You give a job to this dude, right now.” That was [“American Vampire” artist] Rafael Albuquerque. He was already good like he is now, but he’s even better now. So, he got a job and we became friends. I’ve always followed what Rafael was about to do. [Whispers] I barely read comics, which I’m ashamed to admit but I’m just too busy. But it was always like, “Look at Raf. He’s on ‘Blue Beetle.’ He’s doing good.”
Then he went to “American Vampire.” I started reading the stuff, and I find that it’s really good, so I followed the series, and when “Batman, Inc.” came out, we had a really good month because “Batman, Inc.” came out strong. David [Finch] was putting out his “Dark Knight” and we had like, not a party, but a big email exchange. We were like, “Yeah. We did good.” We crushed Marvel for that month, or whatever. I saw Scott’s email and he saw mine and he wrote to me and we exchanged emails and said, “Ah. We’ve got to do something together.” At the time, I was really just Grant Morrison’s puppet. I would do whatever he wanted me to do, which is a good thing.
It’s not a bad gig!
No, you want to be the puppet! It was good. [However,] if the opportunity would arise, I would jump at it to have a chance to work with Scott. And then, the New 52 came and [DC] offered me some other options, but Scott really pushed. “But I got this thing going.” I think he really pushed the door so that he would work with me on this thing.
I think the initial idea for DC was to put me on some more babe-licious project, which I am also known to be able to do, like female figures. But I wanted to do crazy, weird, scary things — and frogs. Artistically, I’ve been drawing for a long time and this project, by its very nature, because it’s a genre horror, is kind of rare. It gives me an opportunity of doing stuff, stuff I’ve never done before. It’s really sparked my creativity. You can’t go to work and do the same thing all the time.
Swamp Thing is more than a character. It’s almost a style. It’s like a James Bond movie. James Bond is a character, but there is a way of doing a James Bond movie. You can do a movie in a James Bond fashion. It’s the same thing with Swamp Thing. It’s associated with horror but also with innovation and expanding storytelling possibilities because of Alan [Moore], mostly, I guess. That’s the appealing stuff and that’s why I went and chose this. Because I just didn’t want to know what I’d end up doing. Both me and Scott had this in mind, to try and push it and make it as original, different and weird as possible.
Of course, it’s a DCU book not a Vertigo book, and that’s also, in the big plan of the book. It’s clear that Swamp Thing is now part of the DCU because the Vertigo incarnation didn’t work quite that well in the last few years. So there is interaction with the capes, even in the first issue. But we’re doing crazy, crazy, crazy things, too.
Did you go back and read Alan Moore’s run to prepare for yours?
Strangely, I would say that “Swamp Thing” has been there in many important moments in my life. It’s kind of weird to say. I discovered my first real kick out of an artist was Bernie Wrightson when I discovered his art on “Swamp Thing.” I was like, “Oh — you can work on comics but be a noble illustrator at the same time, carrying all the knowledge and understanding of light and dark and the ins and outs of true artistry.” It’s not just crazy, punching-in-the-face stuff. You can do nature and complex composition and stuff. Bernie was clearly the most important influence when I started. Not professionally, but when I started to draw. I always wanted to do, like Bernie Wrightson, the huge feathering like he was doing, and the cross-hatching. Later on, my first real illumination about writing was when I read Alan Moore’s “Swamp Thing.” When I read that, I was like, “Wow. Comics can be that too? They can go that far?” And now it’s my turn.
Swamp Thing, contrary to, say, Batman, hasn’t been drawn by everybody and their sister. It’s a small group, spread through the years, but they all have something in common. They are all, I would say, noble illustrators, but in a classical way. Not to say that manga is not noble, but I would see it ill-fitted to put someone like Joe Madureira on “Swamp Thing,” although, he may do something very original and interesting. “Swamp Thing,” to me, at least, is really this very illustrative kind of thing. Frankly, I feel this is my domain. I feel at home doing this kind of illustration in the first place. If you look at the pirate Batman [“Batman: The Return of Bruce Wayne” #3] I did, it’s that kind of mood. Sometimes, you do a book and you feel at home. You feel like, “This is what I am supposed to do now.” “Swamp Thing” is that for me.
I did many projects, and sometimes I didn’t feel like I was home. I felt at home maybe once with the “Terra Obscura” stuff. I was just like, “This is my place.” And if Alan [Moore] would have wanted, I still would have been doing it, like Volume 10 of that thing.
But this, again, this thing is freeing because madness is allowed, and needed, in a way. I just go there and I feel like free. I am really excited about how people will react to it because it’s really different, I am guessing, from all the 52 other books. Maybe not “Animal Man” — I think “Animal Man” will be the other book in our crazy corner of the DCU. But for the rest, it’s going to be different. It’s still the DCU. It’s not Vertigo, which is an important distinction, I guess.
I am really looking forward to it. I want people to say, “Wow. What is this?” Because it’s horrific. It’s revolting sometimes — in a good way.
So it’s pretty scary?
Oh, yeah. I scare myself, sometimes. Scott has these really horrific ideas. He’s like, “Let’s make this,” and it’s like, “Oh God, not this. It’s revolting.” I want that. I did, like two years ago, or something, “Weapon X” with Jason Aaron. It’s an X-book and it’s supposed to be Wolverine and his claws and everything, but it was not. It was really like horror, psycho-drama in a madhouse. That was so much fun. Again, I felt like, “This is cool.” I didn’t know Jason before that, and now, I would love to work with him again. But I am exclusive to DC, so he is out of my reach for now.
But this, again, it’s not that I don’t like the spandex stuff. I am quite capable to do it and I did it for years, but as I grow older, I need some sort of other hook to it. When I did Batman as a pirate, for instance, that was clearly a pirate story. That was the opportunity of really exploring this genre that doesn’t really exist anymore, like the pirate/high adventure stuff. I was very glad to do it and tried to do it as pirate-y as I could. That Wolverine story that I did was mostly “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest”/horror flick. Again, that was my angle. I was going to do a horror, psycho, “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” — and Wolverine will be there. [Laughs]
To a certain extent, “Batman, Inc.” was really a world-traveling kind of a thing. All my energy was about setting the place where we are and respecting the culture because it’s so easy to fake Japan or fake Argentina. “That’s just a guy with a mustache.” [Laughs] I wanted to do a lot of research and make sure people from these places would look at these comics and be happy and say, “Oh, look. They respect us. And look, Batman came to this corner! He was there! Batman!” So that was my hook.
â€¨For “Swamp Thing,” I want to do nature. I want to do craziness. There are so many hooks. And again, horror — I kind of like that.
It sounds like you’re really enjoying the collaboration with Scott Snyder.
He’s calling, which is almost rare these days. He calls and we discuss things like, “What do you think about having the villain like this ,or do you have another idea?” This is rare. I love Grant, but he never calls. [Laughs] With this combination, we can push the crazy agenda further. We have something in the second issue where I really wonder if people will understand what we are doing. I don’t want to do any spoilers, but there is a fly that is having his own adventure, almost, for a few pages, like in parallel to the Swamp Thing. It’s a weird storytelling device that might not work, but we’re going for it anyway because we’re just finding it funny and creepy at the same time. This is the kind of stuff that you need to talk about. “Can we do this? Do you think it would work?” So yeah, [Scott] is wonderful with that.
I am sure he could do a novel by himself and it would be wonderful, but I have the feeling that he is one of those guys that really adapts to who he is working with and plays to their strengths, which is how you do it, really. Alan Moore is maybe the master of that kind of stuff. When he did “Promethea” with J.H. [Williams III], both of them were obsessed with paranormal and spiritual stuff. That was so personal to them that you could see it. And Chris Sprouse with his very controlled, kind of retro line, got a controlled, kind of retro story that perfectly fit him with “Tom Strong.” The same thing with Gene Ha, who is able to draw in such crazy detail. “Top 10” is a baroque masterpiece. The same thing goes for [Stephen R.] Bissette on “Swamp Thing” and [Dave] Gibbons on “Watchmen,” which is again, controlled settings so you could go very far in terms of architecture with him, something you may not want to do with Bissette, which is a lot more, let’s say, free. [Laughs]
You don’t want control, you want freedom and spiritual awakening and whatever. This quality of being able to see the strength and play this is, I think, a mark of a great writer. I am super-glad that I am hooking up with Scott now before he became out of reach. [Laughs] I have been lucky, though. I’ve got Alan. I’ve got Grant. I’ve got Jason, who is another one that is going to have a long and fruitful career. And Scott.
While “Justice League” and “Action Comics” are getting a big marketing push from DC Comics, as expected, “Swamp Thing” has been getting a push too, which is great. Was that a surprise for you?
I believe the initial numbers were surprising. It’s “Swamp Thing.” You don’t expect it to be there. But I think [the initial sales numbers] are good and, yeah, there is a push. I would credit Scott with winning [his Eisner Award], which attracted a lot of spotlight for what we are doing. He did super-good on “Detective” and “American Vampire” gathered all sorts of trophies and stuff, so people will say, “What’s he going to do with this?” Plus, we’ve been showing artwork because the artwork for it is so weird and different. People are like, “What’s going on here?”
And I am glad. I hope people will like [what we are doing] and it will sustain the book. The story is a long-form, and when I say that, I mean to say, when I work with Grant, I do one issue and I collapse. I feel like I did half-a-run or a year of something. It’s not the same with Scott. He takes his time to tell the story in a moody, long-form fashion, so people have to stick around.
Is that the plan, for you to stick around for a lengthy run?
The plan is, from the start, and I don’t want any excuses, that there are going to be fill-in artists. From the start, I told everyone, I’m not going to do this thing monthly. I just can’t. We need a fill-in guy to help me out. I will do all the covers and I will do the first arc, the first two issues. I will do part of the third. I won’t do the fourth. I will do the sixth and seventh issues. I won’t do #8. I will do #9. It’s really just a back and forth collaboration. I would have loved to do it all, frankly. The story is that good. I would have loved to do everything, but I couldn’t. So Scott, [Editor] Matt [Idelson] and I devised a plan that we will have fill-ins, but in a logical fashion instead of just hurting the book by suddenly jamming someone in. Where there is a flashback or something like that, we will try to make it as logical, and artistically valuable, as possible. That’s the plan.
Coming from a more European market, where people have a year to do a piece of art, sometimes I’m like, why do we have to go so fast? Or, why can we not discuss a project that is going to happen in two years so I will have the time to do it all? But that’s not how the [American] market works. There is a polarity with comics, as compared to the European graphic novel, is that a comic is a literature form, an art form but also it is a magazine that must support ads. It’s always the question of, “Do we satisfy the needs of the retailer and the folks that have a product to sell?” They have the public; they need a product to sell. Or do we instead favor the long-term sale of the book, because all the great successes of the past five or six years are books that were notoriously late. Books like “Ultimates” and “All-Star Superman.” You don’t want to have “Ultimates” #9, drawn by some joker that we’ve never heard of. You want all of it being done by [Bryan] Hitch. And then you get a beautiful book. It’s the same with [Frank] Quitely. You don’t want Quitely not doing one of those issues. What’s the point? Now, you have a beautiful book that can sell for 10, 14 million years. Just imagine “Watchmen” #3, because Gibbons was a bit late, was drawn by some dude in two weeks. You don’t want that, but that’s a long-term thing and the long-term is not always the agenda — but I wish it would be, more often.
That’s long-term. What about short-term? I know you can’t get into specifics just yet, but what can we expect from the first few issues of “Swamp Thing” in terms of storytelling?
Swamp Thing is the Green elemental, right? But to make him a part of the DCU in a way that you can’t just extract him to some other Vertigo incarnation, Scott had this good idea to make him part of its very fabric. Other characters in the DCU are almost failed elementals, so there is a connection. Swamp Thing comes with the mythology that there is a Green, there is a Red, now we have a Black and Blue, whatever. A character like Poison Ivy, she’s almost a Green. She’s almost in touch with the planet. So there is a link to be done, and when you can establish between the good guys and the bad guys and everything, with the mythology that already comes with Swamp Thing, it will be part of the DCU in a way that you can’t mess with him again. It will be pivotal to the others. That’s the plan.
We don’t want to bring back Swamp Thing; we want to nail Swamp Thing to the DCU while we keep doing crazy stories with him that is almost un-DCU-esque.
“Swamp Thing” #1 is in stores now