Take a critically acclaimed writer, add a heavily lauded artist and combine them with a company known for making comics that buck the trend and what do you get?
No, not Hilton- we're talking about the new Slave Labor Graphics mini-series from Andi Watson (who spoke with CBR News earlier) and artist Simon Gane, set to hit shelves this winter. CBR News caught up with Gane to learn more about the book and he provided a brief introduction for prospective readers.
"It's a love story set in 1950's Paris (later in the series, England and New York)," explained Gane. "Juliet, a down to earth American art student meets Deborah, an upper class English girl, and they have more in common than they at first realize. They're both restricted by the roles society and family have mapped out for them, and their paths towards freedom echo the changes in art, technology, personal and political views of the time. The supporting cast is strong and often funny. There's nerdy Gerard, Juliet's bitter and infatuated friend, Paulette, the scantily-clad and animated beatnik to name but two, all given their unique voices thanks to Andi's truly strong dialogue. At face value it's a fun book, partly inspired by old movies of the era, and intentionally with that same mix of drama, humor and glamor, but there are all sorts of twists and turns as the story unfolds.
"The genesis is that when Andi asked me what I'd enjoy drawing, this is what I suggested, heaven help me."
Gane was determined to work with Watson-- a feeling returned by the creator-- and the artist explains that the mutual desire was born out of respect. "Quite simply, because he's a very good story teller, and one who's able to utilize all the nuances of the comic book medium. Being blunt, he has more respect for its potential than say your average superhero writer does. He jokes that his books are popular with collector's girlfriends, but actually, you couldn't ask for more. The industry couldn't ask for more."
The angular style of Gane's art may be foreign to fans of the "biff bam pow" style employed by the market dominating superhero comics, but if you're a fan of European comics, you'll likely notice the influence of some of the familiar culprits. "My favorite cartoonists are far too many to list, but Hergé (creator of Tintin) is the biggest, I think visually that's more apparent in 'Paris' than with some of my previous work. He created a whole world in his style, as many of the greats do. His work might seem like a slightly obscure choice to someone living in the States, but in England Tintin books are sat in every 'book corner' in every classroom, I just got more obsessed with them than my classmates did! I've got to confess I don't really know where the angular thing comes from, I'm probably just pressing too hard."
When Watson spoke with CBR News, he said that a lot of the series evolved from Gane's desire to do a retro piece and Gane himself can't quite say what makes Paris so appealing to him. "The era appealed because it was a chance to get my teeth into the clothing, the cars, all the every day objects like the telephones, stuff you wouldn't often get the chance to draw. It just seemed more fun than say drawing today's England, but that's not to belittle the role the setting has within the story. What impressed me with Andi's script was that he made the setting and era a key and essential part of the plot. It then gave me focus-- or maybe the excuse-- to put a lot of work into the backgrounds, because it was for the sake of the story rather than just for the sake of it."
Even with his intense love for all things Parisian, Gane admits the setting and time period offered him many challenges-- because he wanted get things right where ever possible-- and he didn't expect what came next. "The downside of having such a specific setting is that it escalates' one minute you're thinking 'Ah, an attic apartment in '50s Paris, that'll be cool to draw.' The next thing you know you're like, 'Shit, how would the light switch have looked, what stove would they have had?' and so on. At least I got to google "50s panties" though.
"At one point I actually went to the street where I'd already set Juliet's apartment in order to get a different view of it (I was on holiday anyway, I didn't go just for this purpose!), only to find it was rebuilt and unrecognizable. I ended up coming home, buying a movie set in the same area on eBay. What I didn't expect was that the biggest challenge turned out to be drawing the characters and their facial expressions, and they're really what matters in a story such as this. Andi's a subtle and precise writer and where possible he'll let the pictures do the talking, so there was extra pressure on doing justice to his thoughtful panel descriptions. I felt more comfortable as the series progressed (the four issues are completed), but it was this side of things that drove me the most nuts."
"Paris" focuses squarely on a non-traditional relationship between the two female leads and Gane admits that it is tricky to portray it in a way that someone won't label exploitive or preachy. "I rarely thought about this element whilst drawing the story, it was only when I'd show someone else some pages that it might occur to me," admitted Gane. "Love is love, and that's just how it's tackled. Nothing Andi would write will very be preachy or exploitative (damn!). But you're right, it is a non-traditional relationship, in comics at least. I wouldn't go as far as to say it's the duty of independent cartoonists to tackle non-mainstream subjects, but it seems like a wasted opportunity if they don't. If you're afforded more freedom than you would be if producing a Marvel comic, then make the most of it."
Many fans have expressed a desire to see Watson and Gane team together again, perhaps switching creative duties, and that idea appeals to Gane. "Ha ha! It'd be worth it just to see the look on his face. Nah, as much as I'd enjoy getting back his art, I couldn't write a script worthy of it. Mine always tended to be pretty one-dimensional and not exactly what you'd call subtle, the very opposite of Andi's stories. But I'd absolutely love to draw another project with him, it's something we've started talking about but he's a damn busy guy. Should any of his editors be reading this, would they kindly start canceling his other titles please?"
For the time being, Gane's fans can look forward to some upcoming work from a variety of genres, as he reveals, "I've drawn a 27 page Sherlock Holmes story called 'The Engineer's Thumb' for 'Graphic Classics: Arthur Conan Doyle,' out in November. It's a good story, pretty scary, too-- severed digits, a dude stuck in a hydraulic press, all sorts. Other artists in this volume include such maestros as Roger Langridge and Rick Geary, so I rest my case."
If you haven't pre-ordered "Paris" yet, and issue #2 is in the latest "Previews" for those who want to get ahead of the game, Gane implores you to do so, adding, "It's an Andi Watson comic, it's a good read. It's a different take on a universal theme and has been a true labor of love. I really worked hard on it. I never churned it out for the sake of it. It was always very exciting to read Andi's scripts when they came in, and I worked hard to live up to them. This should come across when people read it."