Here is an interview with cartoonist, illustrator and designer François Vigneault. We chat about his graphic novel, TITAN, and related matters. The French edition of TITAN was nominated for multiple awards including the Prix des Libraires and the Joe Shuster Award, and now we finally have the English edition published by Oni Press and available as of November 10, 2020.
TITAN by François Vigneault
TITAN, a graphic novel set during a worker’s revolt has, like any good science fiction, a “torn from the headlines” relevance to it. Politics and protest are clearly on the forefront now. In the U.S., we have one of the most consequential presidential elections in history. It will be a brave new world, on so many levels, that we will all enter into later this year. So, an intriguing sci-fi thriller graphic novel will definitely fit right in. For this interview, I ask François about the book and, specifically about the two lovers caught in the middle. We also discuss the whole process of creating comics, moving up the ranks as an independent cartoonist, and the life of an artist in Montreal, Quebec.
Hope you enjoy the video interview. Here is some additional material exclusive to this post:
What authors did you turn to for guidance or inspiration for TITAN?
There were definitely a big mix of influences and inspirations over the years, but I will mention a few that pop out to me:
Grendel Tales: Devils and Deaths by Darko Macan and the late Edvin Biuković is a comic I first read as a teenager and it had a big influence on me, like TITAN it is a story of love during wartime and I think anyone who enjoys my book will appreciate this somewhat underrated gem… Biuković’s untimely death was a real loss to the world of comics.
Italo Calvino is one of my favorite authors; most of his work is very, very different from what I am doing, but one of my favorite volumes by him is Difficult Loves, which includes a range of tales ranging from “Wartime Stories” to “Stories of Love and Loneliness” which definitely had an influence on TITAN. I know I reread that book at least twice during the creation of TITAN.
Finally, I think probably the biggest influence on me for the last decade or so has been the late, great Ursula K. LeGuin; she somehow manages to surprise me again and again over the years. Every time I think I have her figured out, or know what to expect from her, she throws another curveball (or perhaps a right hook is a more appropriate metaphor) and I’m left pleasantly dazed by the experience. The singular way that LeGuin would mix interpersonal pain with cultural conflict has been and remains a tremendous influence on my work. I had the privilege of meeting her very briefly back when I lived in Portland, and I am so glad that I had that opportunity, even if all I did was gush about her work and get my ratty old copies of Earthsea signed.
What would you like to share about the writing, the subtext, to TITAN?
That question is very open to interpretation! So I’ll just briefly say that despite the many dark elements to the plot, the corruption, violence, and inequality that is present throughout the book, I do think that TITAN is ultimately a hopeful story, a story about the capacity of human beings to connect with each other.
How do you think TITAN mirrors our society today and what is timeless in your work?
I do think so, though I will leave it to others to decide if the mirror that TITAN holds up to our world is interesting, useful, or just plain boring. Definitely the book is very much inspired by our world, and sometimes feels eerily prescient in how very closely it maps to events that are unfolding right now (keep in mind I finished writing TITAN back in 2017), it is disturbing, to tell the truth. ButI suppose that shows that some of TITAN’s themes of injustice, state-sanctioned violence, and the cruel indifference of capitalism to human suffering are certain to be with us for a long, long time. But as I mentioned earlier, there is also a theme of connection, love, and reconciliation that is present in the book as well, and I hope that those ideas are timeless as well.
Be sure to visit François Vigneault at his website right here.
Titan. by François Vigneault. Oni Press, Portland, OR, 2020. 202pp, $19.99.
François Vigneault is one of the most original and fun cartoonists out there today. If you have not checked out his Titan comics, this is the perfect time since Oni Press presents a new collection of the series coming out November 10, 2020. Consider this an advance review. I will follow up with another Titan-related post closer to the release date. It is often said that the best science fiction has a timeless quality as well as comments with precision on its own time. Titan certainly is relevant to our tumultuous times full of protest. Meet João da Silva and Phoebe Mackintosh: one is a member of the ruling elite; the other is a member of the exploited working class. It is the not-too-distant future, about a hundred years from now. The old mining colony of Homestead, on a moon of Titan, is steadily working its way to obsolescence. In order to try to salvage the situation, MGR First Class da Silva arrives on the scene from HQ, planet Terra. His liaison officer is one of the best workers, Phoebe. What could go wrong? For starters, João and Phoebe immediately sense some hot chemistry between them. Meanwhile, the entire order of things is coming apart at the seams.
Page from TITAN
Vigneault has a very vivid and direct drawing style. Whether he draws with a pen and paper or directly on a digital tablet, he has nailed quite a fluid and expressive line. This is a wonderfully cartoony style with an immediate impact that attracts the reader to the characters and action. Vigneault has a way of evoking emotion that holds its own with any other drawing style with its authenticity. I don’t feel a false note anywhere. Any reader will get hooked into what becomes of João and Phoebe and, by extension, the rest of Homestead, even the whole freaking solar system! In the grand science fiction tradition, the fate of worlds depends upon these two–but also with a touch of irony to boot. This isn’t your father’s sci-fi, after all.
I’ll tell you one thing. Vigneault manages to pull off one of the trickiest of metaphors. In lesser hands, I think this would have felt like a heavy-handed gambit. The ruling class from Terra appear tiny in comparison to the Titan workers, genetically modified for maximum efficiency. When João and Phoebe become lovers, the symbolism is totally brought home, and the stark contrast is pretty powerful, even beautiful. João and Phoebe, as different as they are, fit together. João is small and nimble. Phoebe is large and strong. João can’t help but bring up his concern over whether he is big enough for her to which Phoebe reassures him that “size doesn’t matter.” Over the course of their story, the reader comes to appreciate how right they are for each other.
Panel excerpt: Phoebe reassures João.
Comics and graphic novels share much in common. If a comic strip, for example, is done right, it will entice the reader to go through it more than one quick scan. A reader may not even be fully aware of it but it is likely that the comic strip is digested a number of times, as in a loop. The reader seeks the stimulation and goes for repeated rewards. And then it’s time to move on to something else. But, at that moment, a comics loop experience is enjoyed. And so it can, and does, happen with graphic novels. There are certain passages that must be re-visited. Pages to go back to, pages to compare. Some academics theorize that comics are read in an entirely different way when displayed on a gallery wall and perhaps that even hurts the comics experience. Well, I don’t buy it. I say all this because Vigneault has managed to find that sweet spot in making comics where his creation entices the reader to linger, to re-visit, and to revel in the work. Not all comics do that and perhaps some comics creators don’t even factor that in. But Vigneault does.
I really good novel, or movie, or graphic novel, invites repeated consumption. It is built-in. That is going on here with Titan, a story of two star-crossed lovers caught up in events bigger than themselves. If the characters are compelling, the events in question can recede into the background and come up to the forefront as needed. Not all novels are created equal, of course! The point here is that Vigneault, in the driver’s seat as a auteur cartoonist (both writer and artist), fully understands how to drive a story forward. He is someone who would be fun to chat with over an interview. We would discuss process, storytelling in general, as well as social commentary and science fiction. In the end, what we would talk about would be the art of making comics. It’s not easy and, like the most complex of art forms, it seems to require a bit of magic. You will definitely find something magical about this graphic novel with its pacing, symbols, and daring.
What an honor it was to chat with Ted Naifeh at Emerald City Comic Con. He is one of a number of master cartoonists that has not gotten on my radar, due to my own limitations. This is The New York Times bestselling author of “Courtney Crumrin.” Oni Press has recently re-issued all its collected volumes. I give you a taste with a review of “Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things.” The humor ranges from pithy to laugh-out-loud. I can tell you that, as I scanned the books, along with original pages, I couldn’t leave without getting a fix.
Mr. Naifeh has a dapper style with a touch of steampunk. I refer to his writing and drawing of comics–and to the man himself. Naifeh brings to mind a number of masters of a certain stripe of gothic horror, like Edward Gorey, Mike Mignola and Roald Dahl. Ask Mr. Naifeh to name an influence and he’ll get even more specific, like fellow cartoonist, Phil Foglio. Our main character, Courtney Crumrin, follows in this tradition of deliciously witty work.
Whose Life Is It Anyway?
Childhood is meant for children. Adults don’t totally get it, as far removed as they are. They may have even sugar-coated the whole experience in syrupy nostalgia. It is left to the kids to navigate the often scary, if not utterly dangerous, terrain as best they can. So it is for Courtney. In this first volume the reader gets to see her begin life at Crumrin manor. Her social-climbing and spendthrift parents eagerly take up the offer to be live-in caregivers to a wealthy but highly eccentric old relative, Great-Uncle Aloysius. Little do they know that the old man has supernatural powers, is as healthy as ever, and simply finds them useful for his own designs.
“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things”
The sense of dread and wonder is palpable as Naifeh has little Courtney navigate through wealthy brat bullies at school; and various hobgoblins lurking in every corner at home. Naifeh’s quill is precise with his depictions. Readers will quickly find themselves immersed in the narrative. The scenes with Courtney battling, and then bargaining with, a goblin are particularly creepy. Naifeh is spot on with his balancing and blending the otherworldly with harsh reality. Sometimes, you cross a goblin and you simply don’t come back. But, if you’re made of just the right stuff, it’s the goblin who is put on notice.
“Courtney Crumrin Volume One: The Night Things” is published by Oni Press. For more details, visit Oni Press right here.
An Emerald City Comic Con 2018 exclusive variant of RICK AND MORTY PRESENTS: THE VINDICATORS #1 by J. Torres and CJ Cannon with Nick Filardi. This convention exclusive is illustrated by Jen Bartel (Storm)! Available at Oni Press booth #216.
Keep up with Oni Press at ECCC on Twitter. Click to enlarge signing schedule below:
The fate of the world rests on the shoulders of Alden Baylor.
The ideal graphic novel expresses one elegant theme over the span of about 100 pages and leaves the reader invigorated. METEOR MEN is such an example. Boy meets space alien. This is a story that turns that trope on its head over the course of a mix of realism and the supernatural. Jeff Parker (Batman ’66, Future Quest) writes a script with his distinctive quirky worldview. Sandy Jarrell (Batman ’66, Unfair) provides artwork that responds right back to Parker’s offbeat style. And Kevin Volo (Rex Zombie Killer, Max & Thorne) provides colors in step with this moody, enigmatic, and totally riveting tale.
Panel excerpt from METEOR MEN
If and when the aliens do descend from the skies, they won’t be anything like in the movies. They will be something totally out of the realm of our experience. That is a key point in any number of sci-fi tales. And that doesn’t stop Parker, like the seasoned pro that he is, from going in there and telling us his version. So, we begin with Alden Baylor, a teenager who already has much on his mind prior to any alien invasion. The kid is sitting pretty on an estate he’s inherited. Alden’s parents died in a car crash and his uncle is his guardian. So, Alden makes for an ideal young princely sort, complete with a common touch, not fully aware of his high station in life. He’s sensitive and gentle and will prove to make a great representative for us humans.
Page excerpt from METEOR MEN
We come to see that an alien race has descended all over Earth via a meteor shower. Among all the potential human connections that could have been made everywhere from Moscow to Timbuktu, the only one that takes hold is the one between Alden and the space creature that crash landed on his property. Alden’s alien friend is melancholy and mysterious. But, push comes to shove, and this guy is potentially dangerous–all for the sake of protecting Alden. Deeper into our tale, Alden learns far more than he ever imagined he would ever know not only about extraterrestrial life but about the very essence of existence.
Among alt-comics, there are basically two fronts: the more low-key comics that rely upon a niche audience; and the more vibrant comics that reach out to a wider readership. METEOR MAN is a vibrant comic. Of course, the hope is that any truly worthwhile comic finds readers even if it is essentially a labor of love. I see METEOR MAN as one of those “labor of love” projects that catches on with casual as well as seasoned readers of comics. Word of mouth has boosted its visibility and it has received good press, including a glowing review from WIRED MAGAZINE. I’m happy to add my praise.
METEOR MEN by Jeff Parker, Sandy Jarrell, & Kevin Volo
METEOR MAN is a 128-page full cover trade paperback. For more details, visit Oni Press right here. Order it through Amazon right here.
Here is some really good news. As reported by Variety in September, Ellen Page will take the starring role of Tara Chace, a British agent on the run from her own agency in Greg Rucka’s hit spy thriller comic book series, QUEEN & COUNTRY, published by Oni Press. This sounds pretty solid now with news of British director Craig Viveiros on board to helm this movie for Chernin Entertainment at Fox.