Summer crossovers featuring superheroes? Check. Events that will change everything "forever?" Check. Romantic story by one of the most critically acclaimed writers in comics? Well, with the announcement of Slave Labor Graphics' "Paris," by writer Andi Watson and artist Simon Gane, you've got what you've been waiting for all year long. CBR News caught up with Watson and took a visit with him to "Paris."
"It's about a broke, American art student in Paris, Juliet, meeting English aristocrat Deborah," Watson explained to CBR News. "They meet when Juliet paints Deb's portrait in exchange for art lessons. Debs is visiting Paris for the first time and loving it even though her Aunt keeps a tight rein on her. Both characters feel trapped by their backgrounds and their time in Paris is an opportunity to break free from the lives they're expected to lead. The reason for Deb's Paris trip is revealed later in the story and it adds a whole new set of problems for our would-be couple.
"Aunt Chapman is Deb's very English chaperone who's more interested in visiting desiccated ex-pats than the wonders of Paris. Billy is Deb's permanently amused brother who has an eye for a pretty thing, Paulette is Juliet's Simone De Beavoir loving room mate, Gerard the fellow art student who is in love with Juliet, and Renn, family friend of Billy and Debs. Oh, and Paris, Simon has made the city a very big character in the story. Ingres and Degas indirectly play a part in the book too. The whole cast has been a lot of fun to write, especially the supporting characters like Billy and Aunt Chapman. Chappers is so rude and old-school English, she's a hoot."
While it isn't uncommon for Watson to tackle this kind of "grounded" material, some fans were surprised by the retro setting of "Paris" and Watson explained that it came from his own interest in the era. "I read about the American fine art scene mid Twentieth century, formal art school training of that period, re-read my big book of Ingres portraits, some of Degas's letters and looked at the lives of English debutantes. I'm a big Nancy Mitford fan so I incorporated little bits or Mitfordiana into Deb's character.
"Europe had been the centre of the fine art world for the first part of the twentieth century, Paris especially between the wars. Post WWII America really starts to lead the way in painting with the abstract expressionists and the Europeans who'd fled to the US and started dealing in art. This ties in to the theme of the book, how old ways give way to the new."
Though the comic features two female lovers, Watson says it's not being done in an attempt to "titillate" viewers and isn't worried that this non-traditional relationship will upset any readers. "Upset people? I dunno, comics being comics I'm sure it'll attract readers rather than repulse them. When Simon gave me a list of things he'd like in the book, the female lovers was one of them. The challenge for me was to write something that wasn't exploitative and was a natural part of the story, not tacked on for the sake of cheap thrills. That's the cool thing about collaborating, trying stuff out you wouldn't normally."
From "Breakfast After Noon" to "Little Star" to "Dumped," one of Watson's trademarks has been the powerful, personal messages permeating each series and, in the case of "Paris," expect Watson to continue to bare his soul. "We set out to do a story that had the same flavour as our favourite rainy Sunday afternoon matinees. Films like 'Roman Holiday' and the like, unashamedly romantic movies that look fantastic. It's about living honestly rather than hypocritically, but we're not hammering anyone over the head with big ideas, we're hoping to entertain as much as anything."
Watson also isn't concerned by those who might groan and say, "another Andi Watson romance comic," because the multi-faceted creator feels that his work isn't defined by the romance. "Does anyone groan when Jim Lee announces he's going to do another superhero book? There's often a romantic element to my stories, but it's part, not all of my books. I think it's a wide open subject, love of people, love of work, love for your children, love of objects, love of art...I've told different kinds of stories in and around that theme."
Though fans have become accustomed to seeing Watson's scripts brought to life by his pencilling-- with Marvel Comics' "Namor" being the only real recent exception-- this series has its own artist and working with Gane is something that Watson has been anticipating. "We've sort of known of each other for years and years, going right back to our being part of the Brit small press scene. I've been an admirer of Simon's work for as long as I've been aware of it. It was at one of the Bristol cons we got talking and discovered we liked each others work and thought it'd be cool to work together on something. Simon had vague ides of doing something in '50s Paris with Bohemian types. I took his shopping list of Boho type characters, married them with the debutante aspect and we got working on it. It all seemed to come together very smoothly. I think Simon was wanting to stretch himself a bit and I was lucky enough to be able to work with him and write a story we're both very happy with."
Part of that happiness comes from the creative synergy shared by the two creative partners, with Watson admitting that he's been able to play with his writing style and tweak it to work for Gane. "I've scripted what I thought Simon would like to draw, but also what I'd like to see him draw. It's been so cool getting the pages in and being able to pore over them with a big smile on my face. I've done quite a few work-for-hire jobs and the artists have been good at what they do, but I haven't loved their art. I love Simon's work, so it's been a very pleasing experience. I also worked with fewer panels per page and a bit less dialogue. I tried harder to make the dialogue concise and not smother the images and take more care with the structure, get that as tight as I could. I think my script made Simon focus on facial expressions and the acting a bit more, too.
"We both got a lot out of working together. It's been nice to be able to focus solely on the writing and concentrate on putting the story together as a whole. It was helpful that we decided to get the lions share of the story done before soliciting too, that way we could take our time and put that extra care and attention to detail in that can get lost under the threat of deadlines. I was certainly able to enjoy writing without any anxiety about the clock ticking and that reinforced the sweet tone of the book."
While some creators are unnerved by the "events" and crossovers dominating the comic book news sites and sales charts, Watson says that it's nothing new to him. "It probably doesn't help as retailer dollars are spent on ordering all the books that are tied in, rather than investing deeper into the catalogue. They eat up even more shelf space than usual. But, y'know, that's business as usual in the direct market. There's always some sort of Big Two fussin' and feudin' over market share and always will be. We just have to duck when the crockery starts flying and keep on making good books."
If "Paris" and "Little Star" aren't enough Watson for one year… then you're in luck. "I'm writing an original graphic novel for Vertigo. I'm currently working on issue #5 of 'Little Star,' my six issue bi-monthly series for Oni Press, there'll be a collection of that out next year, and I've been working on my website www.andiwatson.biz"