With a new English translation of the French erotic thriller, Monika, Part 1 (Titan Comics) out this week, from writer Thilde Borboni and Guillem March, Bleeding Cool was able to catch up with Guillem March to discuss his work with DC, Dupuis and the differences between European comic publisher and readership and their more conservative American counterparts.
Olly MacNamee: A lot of our readers may well only know of your work on titles such as DC's Catwoman but where did you get your start and how did America find you out?
Guillem March: I started my career at small Spanish publishers. From the very beginning I realized that the Spanish indie scene, or even the whole comics industry here, is very weak, so if you want to make a living from drawing comics you must work for the international market. That means, basically, France or US. And actually I started working for Dupuis, Monika´s publisher, first, before I joined DC. But DC was better at giving me a steady amount of work, so for many years I stayed at DC as an exclusive artist.
If you´re asking how I contacted DC, it was at the Barcelona Convention in Spain. The organization arranged meetings between Spanish artists and American editors, amongst others. There I met Mike Marts, who soon later was in charge of the Batman office. That´s why most of the titles I´ve worked on at DC belong to the Bat-family
OM: How did Monika (written by Thilde Borboni ) come about and why an English translation now? It would seem that this story was on Barboni's mind for some time.
GM: It´s Thilde´s story. I jumped in the project when the script was not written at all, but it was Thilde that convinced the publisher to go ahead it. Then they proposed the project to me. At that moment I was still exclusive, so I asked DC permission to work simultaneously on the DC books andMonika at the same time. It didn´t work at all, and for many months, maybe more than a year, I did almost nothing of Monika, while I was always on schedule with my DC books. The way of working of the French publishers is different for the American mainstream. You do your stuff in the time you need, deadlines do exist, but they´re not as tight, and by default everything you do is creator-owned. At the end I had to take a decision, and after several years of being DC exclusive I decided to focus on the French market for a while.
OM: It's rather erotic to say the least. Why do you think that European comics, films, etc. have always been more liberal in their depiction of nudity and sexuality both in the past and today? I mean, you seem to be shaping up into our generation's Milo Manara, if you don't mind me saying.
GM: Thanks for the compliment, but you went too far with it. Manara is an italian master, not only at drawing women. To me he´s just unreachable. Concerning the first question, I have the conviction that the main difference between US and Europe concerning art or any other kind of public speech is that in the US the audience is getting offended more and more easily each time, asking all kinds of art to be not-offensive. That is kind of reducing more and more what is considered admissible by the society. While in Europe, I feel you can be much more open as an artist because if your audience doesn´t like what you do, they will just ignore you. There is no need to go censoring everything.
Anyway, the morality of nudity has to do with social values. Nudity is not good of bad by itself. On the other side, I´d say that some depictions of violence are not good for any audience but less people complains about that. I can only be surprised that in US you're allowed to carry a gun but you can´t go nude on a beach. To me, that´s upside down.
OM: Is it fair to say that Monika, the eponymous heroine, starts off as a somewhat naive woman, or is she simply a reckless individual desperate for answers as to the whereabouts of her missing sister? She enters a masked ball party for the wealthy (and we know how those go down) and gets herself embroiled in a dangerous relationship pretty damn quickly. It's all a bit Eyes Wide Shut.
GM: Wow, you´ve almost spoiled the book in that question, so I´m not adding much to that. I´d say Monika may be a bit naive at the beginning, but she is resolute at the same time, and she wants to get to the end of the mystery no matter what it takes. Let the reader discover the rest .
OM: Is Monika the opposite of her sister, who seems to be involved in an underground political movement that is targeting the left-of-centre politician, Christian Epson? What can you even tell us about the enigmatic Erika?
GM: Erika is a mystery herself. Same as above, let the reader solve it.
OM: How much input did you have in the final story? Did you have free reign to design each character? And, if so, did you have anyone in mind when creating these characters?
GM: I was free to design the characters. Thilde had some suggestions, for example, she saw Monika as "played" by Eva Green, so in that case I tried to channel a bit of Green for the character, but it´s not very obvious since I didn´t want to lose my own style to get the likeness. Thilde is a novelist and she had few experience in writing for comics, so I could draw the book the way I wanted. From the page layout to applying colours by hand with watercolors. I´ve developed some different skills from the ones I had before; I went out of my comfort zone quite a lot. No computer involved, no CTRL+Z.
OM: In using watercolours to add colour and texture, you have created a more delicate art style to some of your work on American titles. Was this intentional?
GM: I try to fit in the market I´m working in. Of course I try to keep some style and uniqueness, but as a reader I find huge differences between American mainstream comic-books and European albums. From the how the process is set up to how final art looks. In my head I summarize them all in these sentences: For American comic-books, focus on keeping the schedule and, only when that is under control, try to draw better. For the French publisher, do the best art you can, they will give you more time to deliver if you need it.
OM: Do you prefer to colour your own art whenever possible? I suppose working on an album, rather than a monthly title afford you the time to do this?
GM: When I´m doing work for hire, I don´t feel the need to color my art myself. Also because at DC I used to work with a complete kick-ass colorist like Tomeu Morey, so I knew the art would look good. At the beginning I wanted to do it all by myself always, and actually I did my own coloring on at least 6 complete issues when I was at DC , but doing colors was a problem if I was asked to keep a monthly schedule.
With Monika, since I was more involved in the creation of the book and I wanted to try direct colours, I decided to do it all myself. It´s very time-consuming, so financially it would be better for me if I had stuck to only line-art!
GM: I´m working on two projects at the time, both of them for Dupuis, that keep me really excited. On one side, I´m working in a new book with writer Jean Dufaux. Jean is one of the most talented and very well known writers working for the BD market and I couldn´t be more happy to team with him. I´m doing direct colours again, and I´m pushing hard to step up my art on this book.
On the other side I´m working on a graphic novel written by me, so I´m coming back to the days I was doing my own stuff, with some more experience now. I´m putting lots of efforts on it and I´m very happy of how it´s turning out, the process is very organic since I can improve things on the way and I´m enjoying it a lot.
So right now I´m busy with projects for the French market, but I hope they´ll be released someday in US, and I´d like to come back to superheroes in the future. At least, from time to time. I like to work in the industry, and see how issues are released monthly. I´m kind of missing that pressure. I´m the meanwhile, I try to be available for covers, variants or small gigs that can fit in my schedule so people don´t forget about me at all.
Monika Part 1 is out now and should be available at all good comic book stores and online in the usual places.
Olly MacNamee teaches English and Media, for his sins, in a school somewhere in Birmingham. Some days, even he doesn't know where it is. Follow him on twitter @ollymacnamee or read about his exploits at firstname.lastname@example.org.