Talking Comics with Tim | Nicolas Hitori de on <i>Spell Checkers</i>

Soon after friend of the blog and writer Jamie S. Rich sent me an advance PDF of his latest Oni graphic novel, Spell Checkers (set to be released by Oni this Wednesday), he also offered me the opportunity to interview artist, Nicolas Hitori de. Getting to email interview Hitori de about his collaboration (with Rich and the project's other artist, Joëlle Jones) was a chance I could not decline. Here's publisher Oni Press' official description of the book: "Three teenaged witches use their power for popularity, good grades, and the good life. When nasty graffiti starts showing up about them at their school, they first suspect one another. But when they start losing their powers, and their magical fetishes disappear, they realize this is an attack from outside their circle, and they must join hands (and wits) to defeat the usurper and her demon companion!" After reading the interview, please avail yourself of the 22-page preview from Oni.

Tim O'Shea: Were you a fan of Jamie S. Rich's work before signing on to draw Spell Checkers?

Nicolas Hitori de: Totally. I discovered him in early 2000 when he was at Oni editing Chynna Clugston’s Blue Monday and their other publications. And I read his first book with Joëlle Jones, 12 Reasons Why I Love Her, and it really moved me because of the beautiful art and great storytelling. You Have Killed Me definitely solidified my status as a fan, and it still seems incredible for me to work with such talented artists.

O'Shea: Your past work has been in France, how much of a challenge was it to collaborate on an American-based project? Were there adjustments you had to make?

Hitori de: They’re many challenges. It was my first comic and English isn’t my native language, but to tell you the truth, I didn’t really have any problems working on it because Jamie’s script is so well written. The communication was also quite easy, thanks to the internet and to Joëlle & Jamie, who were both understanding with my poor English. Maybe the only real bother was the time difference, but that wasn’t really anything.

O'Shea: Creatively, how did you decide the way you approach Cynthia's eyes (they disappear) in certain scenes?

Hitori de: The gray-toned disappearing eyes is a classic graphic code in manga. It’s usually used to show how mysterious and dangerous characters are. As the typical manga-style is well known for being cute and childish, I find it interesting to use a lot of mainstream anime symbols for these three haughty girls, creating a funny gap between the images and the crude dialogue.

O'Shea: Was it your idea to use gray tones on your pages (while Joëlle Jones flashbacks scenes were in starker black and white)?

Hitori de: I can’t deny my manga influences and I like how some Japanese artists uses gray tones as a narrative tool. Also, I haven’t mastered black and white the way Joëlle has. Jamie and the Oni press team gave me complete freedom on this project and were absolutely open minded to all my ideas. It was a real pleasure to work under such conditions.

O'Shea: You really execute some interesting panel layouts on certain pages, was that something you and Jamie discussed doing or was that totally your idea?

Hitori de: Jamie’s script was actually very clear with panel description but I was free to draw the panel layouts by myself. I think panel arrangement is especially important for the storytelling, it gives the book rhythm and establishes atmosphere. I’m heavily influenced by cinema and I always try to think of the page as a movie storyboard. I also like how dynamic manga pages are, with big twisted panels and characters coming out of them.

O'Shea: Had Joëlle completed the flashback scenes before you started your part of the first book? Did her take on the characters influence how you drew them?

Hitori de: We both started the pages at the same time. Joëlle had done the first quick sketch of the girls and I had to redraw and personalize them with my own style. I just asked her about some references like the magic dolls to maintain a story coherence. As her pages are flashbacks to when the characters are in their younger teens, and even before, their physical appearance and clothes don’t have to be entirely compatible.

O'Shea: The Spell Checkers project is a commitment to three graphic novels, how intimidated were you when taking on such a long-term project?

Hitori de: Three 150-page graphic novel are sure intimidating but, it’s also a exceptional challenge and opportunity. This kind of long-term project allows us to develop characters and stories and to work on this large a number of pages also enables my artwork to improve. I’ve read the second volume script and I can tell you that I sincerely can’t wait to start drawing it. It’s going to be grand.

O'Shea: Looking over your work on this project, are there certain scenes that were your favorite to draw?

Hitori de: I love the whole book but some scenes were funnier to draw. I especially like when Jesse is outside on the bench by the baseball field because I made it a kind of tribute to classic manga scenes where the girl is having romantic thoughts while clouds roll by in the background, except this time, she’s hatching a scheme. The big party double-page was also pretty amusing to draw with all the teenagers partying everywhere.

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