Next Gridlords
Sunday September 28
at Holocene

François Vigneault, interview by Suzette Smith

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Compared to the eloquent tone of illustrator/publisher/comics artist François Vigneault, I write like a stampeding rhino. I’m pretty sure I was asked to interview him because my name is French and I don’t intimidate easy. François told me he usually feels pummeled with questions about organizing/editing/publishing so I tried to steer conversation towards fighting and plush ladies instead. If you are my friend you will pretend that’s not what I always write about.

François, I’m making up some questions to ask you for your super personal deeeeeeep Gridlords interview. What if I just ask you for advice the whole time? Financial advice.

We can talk about anything. Usually when I am interviewed it is about my role in organizing/editing/publishing, so I’d be delighted to talk about art for a change? I am reading from my sci-fi comic Titan, so I’d be happy to talk about that. Themes that will be involved with that comic someday: Sexual chemistry, worker/management issues, genetic fate, music and culture, economics, getting caught up in the tide of history, science fiction stuff. You know.

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I’ve been enjoying Titan. The pages are so well designed and visually clear. I admire that because all my comics are like a stampeding rhino. Forgive me for not knowing, have you studied design?

No, I’ve never formally studied design, but I have been working in some portion of the graphic design world off and on for many years, from working on the yearbook and newspaper in high school to the typesetting stuff I do now at Scout Books, so I would guess that I am always trying to think about the surface of my work. I always want the way things look to be to be consistent and meaningful; I want the page to look like I have a concept of how it should look and why. But at the same time, I am a very spontaneous (read: sloppy) illustrator. I don’t pencil my comics very tightly, and I’m consciously trying to be loose with the inks in order to preserve some energy in the final product. I find myself drawn both to very meticulous artists, like Jaime Hernandez, and to self-consciously looser draftsmen, like Dupuy + Berberian. I guess I am trying to chart my own pathetic path between them.

Titan reminds me of this Ermanno Olmi film I Fidanzati or maybe it’s more like Il Posto, both sort of getting the mood right for a man in the strangeness of a new place and feeling conflict with a new culture. Do I have that right?

Your Italian cinema knowledge eclipses mine by a factor of like 1,000. I looked those movies up on Wikipedia and they sound cool, so I’ll be sure to check them out. On that tip, I was consciously trying to inhabit some French Nouvelle Vague feel in Titan, and that opening sequence was specifically my attempt to translate a cinematic “cold open,” with the “Titan” title emblazoned across the field of stars, and the ensuing “tracking shot” and “zoom” to the Wilco song. 

Do people in Portland feel larger in some way than people from San Francisco?

I hadn’t really thought of Titan being a response to my relocation to Portland from San Francisco, because the central ideas of the story have been in the back of my mind for so long. But I think that’s entirely possible, that some subconscious anxiety about being in a new place is coming to the surface in this story. But people don’t feel bigger, honestly… Maybe a bit smaller, actually.

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You said there would be sex later. Did you? You said “sexual chemistry” but there’s an implied immediate attraction between the titan character Mackintosh and the human character Cyrus. Do you care to talk about comics guys and their big girl* fetishes?

(Note: Here the phrase “big girl” is used in reference to the song Some Girls Are Bigger Than Others by The Smiths and seeks to perfectly express that this is both a fact and simultaneously meaningless.)

Yeah, spoiler alert: The whole story of Titan is somewhat of an excuse for me to indulge in making big girl sex comics. It’s like how the Matrix movies exist basically just to give “logical” reason for bullet time sequences. 

 Believe it or not, I was well into the project before I realized that I was tapping into a rich vein of “big girl” sexiness in the comics, R. Crumb and Johnny Negron and what not. 

That’s probably for the best — I am way less in touch with my id than those artists, so if I was consciously trying to occupy that artistic territory I’d be doomed to failure. 

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WTF? That seems to go against the time honored tradition that comics dudes are introverted virgins?

Comics dudes are not introverted virgins. I hate that bullshit. I think it was a tremendous disservice to the sex lives and self-consciousness of a whole generation of cartoonists that some of the most prominent members of the previous generation were such self-effacing introverts. In this day and age, drawing a comic isn’t a “nerdy” pursuit. I want every cartoonist I know to embrace his or her own coolness. The stereotype of the maladjusted misanthrope has got to go. Is there a hierarchy of creative coolness? What’s at the top? Architect?

No architect living, probably.

If we can figure this out during our interview we might be able to save thousands of high-school kids from pursuing anti-cool hobbies.

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I think you can do anything and do it a cool way. 

Well, yes, but that’s such a non-judgmental way of putting things.

I guess that’s just the way I see things. It’s hard for me to even play that game. Comics artists are cool. Some of them know and some of them don’t. Get with it, guys!

I’m just bored with the “I’m a cartoonist! I never get laid!” routine.

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A lot of my comics friends want to be musicians. It strikes me as strange because I was a musician for years and it isn’t very special. Everyone is a musician practically. And it eats up huge swaths of time. And it’s not as much fun as sitting at a big table making comics. 

I remember a good friend of mine once called my comics “offensively bad,” then he tried to convince me that I should start a solo music project instead. He said that I didn’t even have to be good at music, that I just needed to have a concept of what I wanted to have happen on stage. I was like, “You just described all the music I hate.”

Comics and music certainly don’t have to fight one another but where I’m at right now I like making comics more. It’s just weird to glut the saturated music market with another band when you could make a comic, a totally unique comic. Then again, I guess I was in a band for a long time.

Well, my comprehension of music is pretty limited. Zack Soto was chatting with me about the musical cues that Titan will include, and he pronounced, “People are going to make fun of you.”

I didn’t know if that was Wilco. The only thing I know about Wilco is Mermaid Ave. Can you describe your feelings for Wilco? 

It’s a good band. I was thinking about that song in my noggin for a bit, and when I looked up the lyrics it turned out to be more spot-on than I imagined, lots of surprisingly spacy content for a folky song.

But has anyone made fun of you or even realized it was a Wilco song? Besides Zack?

Oh, no one has made fun of me. No one has even seriously talked to me about any aspect of the comic. I think Zack was just warning me that my generally twee tastes might expose me to extended ridicule of the savvier folks out there.

I know that I make fun of people who make comics out of song lyrics.

I am here for you… make fun of me whenever you like.

Speaking of that, in Titan the phrase “Rape Me” is used as slang between Titan women. WTF. But also, in the tough town where I grew up, the women also joked openly about rape and murder. Were you trying to express how tough they are or just throwing in a Nirvana song?

Did you think that was too much? It seems to me that inevitably the slang of the future will have to be way harsher to our ears, but will be just everyday talk for them. We say things in our everyday speech that would totally shock previous generations… Or is that just me?  

Sounds good to me. You may describe your feelings on Nirvana here, regardless:

Nirvana was my go-to “favorite band” for a long, long time, but I don’t know if I would say that anymore. I don’t listen to as much music as I used to, and I certainly don’t get as passionate as I used to about it. I don’t know who I would say now. I love Nirvana because Kurt Cobain was so much the “real thing,” so clearly a raw and wild force, and yet somehow he ended up being at the very center of the culture for a bit there. How did that happen?

The busy/full panel feeling of Titan seems to really express a feeling of claustrophobia from being dependent on sharing the small habitable space with your crew. Is that something you were going for?

That’s absolutely an idea I have for the series overall, but I’m not sure how much I was attempting to convey that yet. This comic has these nerve-wracking visual problems built into it; just dealing with the scale between the titans and the terrans is draining. And you have to design everything in a sci-fi setting, no scenes with trees or other relaxing, free-form objects.

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Can you tell me about drawing/concepting the machinery of Titan? I like all those buttons and pipes. Seems kind of Who-y!!! (Note: Dr. Who)

Sacrilege, I’ve never made the acquaintance of the good Doctor. I mostly wanted old, like the station has been there for a bit too long. Homestead is meant to have suffered on the margins of the solar economy for a long while.  It’s a bit mysterious, a bit rickety, and as a bonus, fairly easy to draw freehand. I’m trying to be loose loose loose with this comic.

Okay, loosey goosey. When I first heard about Elfworld I thought that it was this day-glo surfer style magazine from the ’90s. This made me think, “How old is this guy anyway?” I bought Elfworld 3 from you and it was this beautifully made fantasy anthology comic. Why did you decide you wanted to do this fantasy comic anthology?

I feel that the indie comics culture was trying to be super serious and literary for so long. So I think that a lot of folks in the new(ish) generation want to cut loose and just have fun. 

What is the deal with Press Gang? Other than you’re like three cool comics dudes who support one another or that it was a Murder City Devils song, probably the best Murder City Devils song? Or is it a real gang? You get jumped to get in, jumped to get out. When I imagine you and Zack and Jason fighting it looks like cartoon cats.

It’s really brutal when we throw down. We are all total bruisers so it can get pretty vicious.

Heathcliff then.

I don’t know, I think it’s cool. We get to rep at shows for one another. Like I didn’t go to the Brooklyn Comics and Graphics Fest, and when I asked Zack how it went he told me “Matt Groening bought all the ELFWORLDS.” So, I’m not even there and my comics are getting exposure. I always thought that it didn’t quite make sense that all the indie creators were always doing their own thing. Seems like there are huge advantages to teaming up, ganging up, whatever.

Totally. Do you want to say anything else? Shout-outs to your peeps?

Um, no, I guess not. Thanks. Thanks for spending your time on this, Suzette.

I like it!

Buenos noches.

Good nachos to you too, my good man.

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