BOULET, the nom-de-toon of French cartoonist Gilles Roussel, is called the first godfather of the Paris Comic Strip Blog Festival. After his latest creation last month at the esteemed Angoulême Festival International de la Bande Dessinée, perhaps Boulet should also be called the First Son of this 24-Hour-Comic event.
It was at Angoulême 2012 that Boulet — pulling an all-day drawing session there for the sixth time — created “The Darkness,” the inspired narrative that had many in comic circles buzzing.
Even comics scholar/cartoonist Scott McCloud — who can be considered the godfather of the 24-hour comic — said this month of “The Darkness”: “Holy Moly, what a beautiful 24-hour comic from Boulet. Took a couple extra hours I guess, but hey, I could take an extra week and it wouldn’t look this good.”
Boulet — who began publishing the strip “Raghnarok” in 2001, and three years later became one of the first French cartoonists to launch a comic-strip blog — admits that he didn’t complete “The Darkness” in 24 hours.
It took him all of 26 hours.
This was where the comics community let out a collective sign of amazed exasperation. Or, perhaps more often, exasperated amazement.
Boulet credits experience with his creative success last month. “The first year [at Angoulême] was horrible because I couldn’t sleep the night before the event,” the native of Meaux, France, tells Comic Riffs. “I was so afraid I wouldn’t finish! Now I have a better idea of how you deal with time in this situation, so I go there more relaxed.”
Comic Riffs caught up with Boulet to talk about the seductive “Darkness,” his own creative light — and the elusive gray areas about the mysteries of romantic attraction, comic-style:
MICHAEL CAVNA: “The Darkness” is one of the better 24-Hour Comics — or even 26-Hour Comics — I’ve seen in some time. How do *you* feel about the final result?
BOULET: Er...hard to say! Every time I’d participated [in] the 24-Hour Comics [before], I ended with a sad-ending story. This time, I wanted to have a happy end.
I had a lot of fun drawing it. ... Usually I chose a less “ambitious” story, to be sure I will have enough time. This one was hard to finish [in time] — almost in time!
MC: Had your idea for “The Darkness” been germinating for some time? And how much of the story was done on the fly — was improvised — during the 26 hours?
B: I love caricatures and clichés. ... One of my simplest tricks in my comics is taking a cliché and putting it in the real world. I already had used characters like Jonas on a comic about manga, for example. It’s not translated yet. ...
The restraint was very hard this year, because you just had to put certain texts in the story — like: “He suddently appeared” — but it didn’t help you to find the story. The other years, the restraints were “pirate” or “in a museum,” which gave you a direction to work with. So I tried to find a justification for the caption boxes and found the idea of this character who would actually have real caption boxes above his head.
The rest was improvisation!
MC: As for the technical aspects, I don’t detect any underdrawing. What tools did you use — from pens to board — and how did you approach the challenge of inking so quickly?
B: For many years now, [I’ve been] drawing my webcomic. In the first place, I stopped using pencil because I didn’t want it to take too much time. So a few years later, I [got] used to drawing directly with ink. I did a lot of improvisation work — that’s usually the part of the job I like most! Recently I even did a whole exhibition in Lyon entirely improvised.
About the tools, this time I used pen and paper I bought the day before at the mall, I couldn’t say what they were — I have no idea.
MC: Are any of the characters based on anyone you know — including, perhaps, aspects of yourself?
Oh yes, they are. I totally knew a Jonas when I was in high school. A gorgeous guy who wouldn’t say a word, and every single girl in the classroom was in love with him. One of then explained me it was because he was so mysterious, gorgeous and elegant. I tried to point out the fact he was wearing velvet trousers and khaki cable-knit sweater but it was useless. She told me “anyway, it fits him”.
Marjorie is one of my friends too, but I exagerated a lot! It was more “the way I used to see her” ! The severe guy and the kind girl are also real people.
I think there’s a lot of me in the main character too, of course. Not in Jonas at all. I’m anything but dark. If I leave my shirt unbuttoned, I don’t get the same reaction at all.
MC: You’ve done quite a few 24-hour comics now — do they get any easier over time? Do you pick up any tricks ... shortcuts ... stronger coffee?
B: I [have drawn] seven of them: six in Angoulême — this one included — and one in Montreal. I will publish the very first one soon on my website.
About the event itself, I’m a lot less nervous. The first year [at Angoulême] was horrible because I couldn’t sleep the night before the event. I was so affraid I wouldn’t finish! Now I have a better idea of how you deal with time in this situation, so I go there more relaxed.
MC: Can you describe the conditions of where you drew the cartoon?
B: Every year if you are [a] professionnal cartoonist, you are invited at the “Maison des Auteurs” where you can participate on site with Angoulême school students and local young cartoonists. We are about 30 there. They have a nice crew to supervise the event — we had food, coffee, juices, and people were scanning our pages for us. You can even have a camp bed if you need a break and a short nap.
To clarify: I didn’t win any prize in Angoulême. This [was] just for fun, for the performance.
MC: Were you surprised by the viral online reaction The Darkness received?
B: I posted it on Twitter to some cartoonists I like very much, like Kate Beaton, Sarah Glidden (who participated in Angoulême this year) and of course, to Scott McCloud, who is the inventor of this concept. Kate was kind enough to share it, so I was sure a lot of people would see it ! And after Scott McLoud himself talked about it, I was sure it will be read more than I could have imagine !
I usually try to show my translation work where I can (social networks, Twitter, Reddit...) sometimes it works ! A few weeks ago another of my pages about quantum physics [“Quantum & Pixel”] went viral.
I’m always very proud when this happen. I love imaginating that people on the other side of the planet can read my work. So of course I was surprised, but very happy about it ! I still have five years of my french archives to translate, I hope it will happen a few more time !
MC: Do you have plans to now publish “The Darkness” in print?
B: I’m currently publishing my webcomic in books, it’s called “Notes” and I already have six volumes (one volume for one year). I’m working on the seventh, and after that I would like Volume 8 to be a compilation of all my 24-hour comics. So to reach the number of pages I’m looking for, I have to participate to the event one more time!
For the moment these books only exist in their French version, but I sure hope they’ll be translated sooner or later!
MC: What’s next on your professional plate -- what’s now on your schedule or your drawing board?
B: I just had a book published, with a young cartoonist, Pénélope Bagieu. It’s called “La Page Blanche” and we are currently doing a lot of promotion, so basically, I’m running every day in all directions.
After that ... I will have to work on my seventh volume of “Notes,” and meanwhile, I am thinking about a new adventures series — I published a few researches of it on my webcomic — just for fun. I want to try it for a while to see if I like working like that and then maybe trying to sell it.