by Alex Dueben
Annie Goetzinger has had a long successful career as a comics artist in France, but she was largely unknown in the United States until NBM published Girl in Dior last year, which was a success here just as it was in France. The publisher just released another book co-written and illustrated by Goetzinger, Marie Antoinette, Phantom Queen. The book, co-written by Rodolphe, concerns Maud, an artist in 1924 Paris who is visited by Marie Antoinette, and moves back and forth between the 20th and 18th Centuries.
This work is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to Goetzinger long career as a cartoonist, illustrator and designer. She’s been making comics since the early 1970’s, contributing work to Pilote, Metal Hurlant and many other publications. She’s collaborated with Pierre Christin, Victor Mora and other writers on many books including La Demoiselle de la Légion d’Honneur, Félina, and L’Agence Hardy and has won two prizes at the Angouleme International Comics Festival over the years.
Alex Dueben: I’m curious, what did you learn in school in France about Marie Antoinette?
Annie Goetzinger: I learned about the French Revolution. Marie Antoinette was not a protagonist, but she was mentioned as more of a reactionary than her husband, King Louis XVI. She called her brother–The King of Austria–to make war against the revolutionaries, for example.
She liked to play a farmer in Trianon but she hated to face the populace!
Dueben: Rodolphe has a note at the beginning of the book about what prompted the initial idea. Could you talk a little about how you came up with the story of Maud and setting it in 1934?
Goetzinger: Rodolphe and I read a testimony of two English women, at the turn of 20th century, who met several ghosts at Versailles. It was a long story but not enough material to imagine a script. So we decided to invent another character, Maud.
We wanted more contrast between 18th and 20th centuries. In 1934, we have modern media, the fashion look is short, modern design, Art Deco in general. You immediately identify the difference, don’t you? And Maud is much more glamourous than the English teachers.
Dueben: Did you do a lot of research into getting the clothes and style correctly, and spend time at Versailles and Trianon so they look correct?
Goetzinger: For such historical comics we must turn to other works. I studied the paintings for the 18th Century section. For the 1930’s section there are many pictures. The Trianon of our time is very different from that of the 1930s. At the time, the castle, and the park of Versailles was a bit abandoned. It really looked like a romantic place in accordance with the end of the story.
Dueben: Did you have to do much research into Marie Antoinette?
Goetzinger: I read biographies including that of Antonia Fraser. I read Marie Antoinette’s biography by Stefan Zweig, an Austrian author who died in the 1940’s. I’m sure he was in love with Marie Antoinette! He described a complex woman, how a young princess change into a queen, her frustrations, her desires. Zweig is contemporary of another Austrian, Freud–of course.
Dueben: Like a lot of ghosts she needs to be put to rest in some way. After the revolution, the bones of her and the King were dug up and reburied, but in your story, those bones were not hers. How did you come up with that as the ending? Do people think that this might be the case?
Goetzinger: The Phantom Queen is fiction and as in all fiction, there are some truth and some lies. But it is important to make the reader believe that this lie could be true!
Dueben: According to the book, Marie Antoinette has appeared to many people over the years. Did you invent that or have many people reported seeing her?
Goetzinger: Personally, I can tell you that in my childhood during walks at Trianon, I did not seen the ghost of the Queen as the two English women did but in 1912, but I felt a strange uneasiness around Hameau de la Reine (the Hamlet of the Queen) that I would define as an invisible presence.
There are still, now, people who talk about these phenomena during their visits.
Dueben: You both draw and paint the book. Do you see the color as a vital part of your artwork?
Goetzinger: I enjoy painting my pages. It’s an important part of my work. I like starting on white paper–virginal paper–and finishing, including writing in the bubbles.
Dueben: In the past 10-15 years we’ve seen novels like Chantal Thomas’, films by Sofia Coppola and Benoit Jacquot, and your book, which really paint Marie Antoinette as a much more complex figure. What do you think the reason for this is? Do you have any theories?
Goetzinger: I very much like Chantal Thomas’ book, but not the film of Benoit Jacquot. He misrepresented the novel. I like all of Sofia Coppola’s films, but not that one. Marie Antoinette is scatterbrained, frivolous. But I like Sofia Coppola mixing in rock and roll, and Marianne Faithfull as Marie Antoinette’s mother–fantastic!
Marie Antoinette was a person who changed with age. She was a good mother and she finished her life–her trial, jail and finally execution–with a lot of dignity. She was much more intelligent than was supposed, I think.
Dueben: You collaborated with Pierre Cristin for many years on comics and I’m curious as you’ve been writing books like Marie Antoinette, like Girl in Dior, is there anything you learned from him or other writers that really influenced your own writing?
Goetzinger: I worked for a long time with Pierre Christin and other scriptwriters, such as Victor Mora, for example. I make books alone when the story is close to my sensibilities like Girl in Dior or now a graphic novel about Colette.
Colette is a fascinating character. She was a writer, journalist, artist in music hall, lesbian. She married three times. She was the mother of just one baby, a girl. She seemed scandalous at her time, but she said: I want to be free. She was just modern too early.
Dueben: How is the Colette book coming along? Are there plans for any more of your work to be translated into English?
Goetzinger: The book, Les apprentissages de Colette, will be published in France on March 17. I hope it will be translated into English!